I’ve read about Uganda’s recently adopted anti-gay law, stood in solidarity with LGBT activists during a demonstration mourning Ugandan victims of corrective rape, and I’ve seen Stephen Fry and Simon Lokodo discuss homosexuality on the BBC, but I had never heard a statement of support of the law directly from a Ugandan until yesterday night.
It was, oddly enough, in the middle of a red light district, where a Ugandan woman sat with me to talk. We chatted about how I was soon visiting Uganda, talked about the neighborhood where she was from, and then, she started drawing connections to her home from the neighborhood where we sat in Bangkok.
“There are prostitutes in my country too, but no ladyboys, like here in Bangkok. There are men, though. Men who have sex with men. And, lately, people in my country are angry about them. I don’t care if care if they want to have sex – men and men. That’s for them to decide, but they have to leave our children alone. We are putting so much pressure on our government to pass a law.”
She proceeded to talk to me about the propagation of homosexuality – she called it “teaching.” I remembered Stephen Fry’s anger and frustration at the assertion that homosexuality was something that was taught or propagated – as if homosexual individuals were recruiting team members! – so I probed deeper to understand what she meant by the phrase that they were “teaching” homosexuality.
“Jennie, I have seen with my own eyes a teenage boy after he was taught. I worked with his mother. There she was, crying. He was crying. He was there lying, naked and bleeding from behind.”
I asked more questions to fill in the gaps in my understanding. As the stories she has personally encountered unfolded, I heard of boys being groomed and raped by sexual predators. “The man was kind to him.” “The man offered him money.” “The man invited him to come visit the house.” “The man put something in his drink.” “The boy woke up naked and bleeding from behind.”
I challenged her assertion that this abuse would be called “teaching.” She continued to tell me of other cases in her community, boys as young as 12 who were “taught” how to touch other boys in sexual ways. Those boys later tried that behavior on their brothers and other friends. When questioned about his behavior, her friend’s son revealed that he was “taught” how do to it by a man at his school. So, she asserts that these “teachers” are gay men, whose goal, she believes, is to make boys into gay men.
I tried to inject some new vocabulary into the conversation, “That behavior doesn’t sound like teaching. It sounds like sexual abuse. It should be called rape.”
“No, no, no,” she shook her head, “It is worse than rape because it’s not natural, and it’s happening to so many boys! Can you imagine?”
Suddenly I wondered what it would be like to be a Ugandan girl, hearing the furor over “homosexual teaching” while silently enduring “heterosexual teaching” by a neighbor or family member.
“And what’s worse is that these men, after teaching our boys, they disappear. Or they say they are a gay activist and get support from other countries. Or they run to Europe. Some become powerful people with money. Sometimes, we in the community just want to kill them even without a law.” (recent killing of David Kato)
Her story became more personal now, as she shared how an adult asked one of her sons to stay after church to sweep the floor. When everyone had gone home, the man approached her son and began to “teach” him. Her son ran home as fast as he could and told his mother what happened. She looked for the man, but “because my son yelled and got away” that man didn’t show his face in their church again.
“In my country, it has gotten so bad. You cannot trust every pastor. You cannot trust someone because they are in the church. Now, some fathers are refusing to let their sons join the all-night prayer meetings. They accompany their sons to church and then bring them straight home.”
After my conversation with this woman, I wonder if the Anti-Homosexuality Act is, in part, a poorly written response to legitimate concerns about prosecuting sexual predators in cases of boy-child sexual abuse. I wonder what laws are already on the books to prosecute abusers and protect individual from sexual abuse. I wonder if those laws are applicable in all cases of sexual violence and enforced consistently.
I wonder how changing the vocabulary of “teaching homosexuality” and “sexual abuse” might change the whole conversation surrounding the anti-homosexuality law. Especially on International Women’s Day, I wonder how aggressively sexual abuse of girls in Uganda might be tackled if their voices were valued as much as those of the boys.
What do you think?