Thursday, 3 February 2011

‘Bisexevil’ ~ Uganda: hate in focus

 

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When I saw this now almost-iconic image of Ugandan anti-LGBT sentiment in a news report back in 2010, I didn’t notice at first that the text on the hand-drawn sign forged a pun: bi-sex evil = bisexevil = bisexual.

Bigot humour. How droll.

Actually, what I’d noticed first was the determined period or full-stop at the end of the words, as if what was scrawled on this sign was actually a sentence and what it had to say was the final word on the matter. But then I noticed the teenaged girl’s eyes.

I didn’t see hate in those eyes the first time I saw this photo. I still don’t. The girl seems muddled, seeking direction, not entirely in control of the hateful spirit in the note she holds. The paper partially obscures her face – her mouth, actually – as if she’s not sure of her own words, so she’s letting the sign speak for her. She doesn’t exhibit the wild-eyed rancour or grim-fisted visage I’ve seen in other photographs, though she is rather riveted to what I assume is a person speaking at some spot in the distance. A pulpit, maybe? The people behind her are blurred, but they are in relatively disciplined rows and the crisp, clean shirts in focus add to the feel that this is a ‘Sunday best’ environment. I’m going with that – church. And in reading this image further, I’m going with the narrative that this girl, seeking leadership from the pulpit, either picked up or scribbled this sign in an attempt to curry favour with the crowd around her, the people she came with, and most importantly the ‘leader’ in front of her on whom she fixes her eyes: Look at me. See what I have here. I’m listening to you. I have no mouth of my own, carve me one with your words. I will follow your lead.

Hate is taught. And she is learning.

Fundamentalist religion in Uganda, all across Africa and the world, is leading the battle to attack lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, to deny them human rights, civil rights and even life. Home-grown Ugandan religious-based hatred is being buffeted by imported American evangelical Christians and their ’cures’ for what ails the non-heterosexual, non-gender-normative members of society. They begin by maliciously defining what LGBT people are: gay men are, by their definition, nothing but coprophagiacs and paedophiles; lesbians are mentally ill women pretending to be men and, as with the more highly publicised cases in South Africa, they can be cured by rape, often at the hands of relatives; transgender people are invaded by the spirits of dead people of opposite genders and can become victims of ‘crusades’ that use sexual and physical abuse to cleanse them; and bisexuals are recklessly predatory AIDS-carriers incapable of not forcing sexual relations with anyone in their sight and are thereby ‘evil’ – full-stop.

All LGBT people in Uganda live with the risk of shameless attacks on the street, in their homes, in churches, in sports facilities, anywhere someone chooses to shout out ‘there is one!’ and draw attention to them or, worse, cause an impromptu mob to attack. They risk loss of employment, mental and emotional abuse by strangers and loved ones alike, and often when they suffer from alcoholism, depression, suicidal  thoughts, extreme stress, peer pressure, threats of divorce or relationship break-up, they cannot access appropriate psychological and health care, because that means having to out themselves and their partners to medical personnel.

When LGBT people complain about such treatment and the enormous pressure it places on their lives, the response from religious leaders, politicians, medical professionals, educators, and society at large: repent. Just stop your wicked ways.

Well, gay men cannot and should not be asked ‘to repent’, if that means to never love, never make love, or to forever live hiding in a soul-destroying closet. Lesbians cannot just ‘be discreet’, wear frilly dresses and avoid reading lesbian magazines, so as not to draw attention to themselves. Transgendered people cannot just forget their needs and feelings and happily subsume themselves in the gender assigned to them at birth, occasionally attending ceremonies to clean their spirits. And bisexuals cannot indiscriminately choose any partner of the opposite sex to hide behind just ‘because they can’ and forever deny their ability to love someone whatever their gender and all the personal, social, communal and political realities that come with having that orientation to life.

The prevalent accusation in the west that bisexuals can never be taken seriously in the fight for LGBT rights because they can always hide under ‘heterosexual privilege’, just choosing opposite sex partners (no matter whom they have actually fallen in love with) and eschewing their ‘gay side’ in order to avoid persecution – this is a moot point in Uganda, where the bisexual movement has risen to stand alongside other fellow LGBTI fighters for human rights. Bisexuals are visible and working for change. Ugandan LGBTI individuals do indeed have to hide much of themselves on a day-to-day basis to protect their lives and livelihoods, but as a group and a force, the LGBTI community of Uganda is one of the most visible, brave and determined the world has seen.

And because of the murder of teacher and activist David Kato, the highly publicised deportation case of asylum seeker Brenda Namigadde, and the threat of the death penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality’ and same-sex relationships in Uganda, the world is beginning to take notice.

They deserve our support, not just in sentiment, but in donations to relevant activist groups, student organisations, churches and charities that help LGBT people, calls and emails to our political representatives, making our supportive voices heard in the media, and determining that no matter what sexual orientation we are that when we hear homophobic, biphobic or transphobic statements about people in Uganda (or anywhere in the world), that we speak up and let it be known that we do not adhere to such ideas and we will not tolerate hate around us. Each of us is just one voice, but our voices add up to change.

 

I am only one. But still I am one. I cannot do everything,
but still I can do something. I will not refuse
to do the something I can do.
~ Helen Keller
 
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David Kato Kisule, 1964-2011
 
 

13 comments:

  1. This is such an eloquent and timely commentary. I thank you for showing how bi people are standing up to fight for our rights. What a great read.

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  2. Thank you, Janice! Well, it's the bi people of Uganda that are bravely outing themselves, defining themselves, and setting their own agenda, as well as joining in with the overall LGBT struggle.

    Here's a Facebook page the main bi org in Uganda has:

    http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/group.php?gid=173360265011

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  3. Appalling and inspiring piece, thank you TSB. That picture at the top is incredible - so disturbing. As you say "hate is taught - and she is learning". Those churches have a lot to answer for.
    I knew that Uganda did have a bi movement a couple of years ago, but not that it was still active. I will check out their FB page.

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  4. Thank you, Sue... my understanding from an article in Bisocial Media from last year was tha that the bi movement was still active, though webpages where bi activists used their full names etc, and the Facebook page, have understandably become a bit quiet of late. But I understand they are still going. Please let me know here if that is not the case... I would write a followup to correct any errors in the piece above. Thanks!

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  5. Yes, strange. I joined the FB group too but let's see what response you get to your emails...

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  6. Dear TSB,

    Your deconstruction of the young woman holding the sign inspires me to look more carefully at the thousands of images I see every day. Thank you for bringing your insight to the fore and edifying my analytical skills, which had been somewhat numbed and dormant in this deluge of global upheaval.

    Much love,

    Toni

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  7. Toni - as always, my darling, you are generous with your support and encouragement. I am so happy this piece awakened something in you. What more could I ask for?!

    xoxo

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  8. Okay, just updating: the contact info for Bisexual Movement Uganda are outdated. As it was a university group, that could mean nothing more than students have graduated and moved on or that there were never enough out bi students able to keep things going. One of the named organisers seems to have moved to the USA with her partner. I have sent both of them an email and received a lovely supportive note back, but no more info on what is going on with the organisation back in Uganda.

    But -- there is something fishy going with the Facebook page that worries me. Genuine postings seem to have dried up back in late 2010 and a notice to an outside webpage was posted that turns out to be a website run by an anti-LGBT religious group with statements that are very homophobic/biphobic. So some 'infiltration' if you will has happened there at some point.

    This worries me based on similar things I have read that LGBT people in Uganda face from people trying to 'lure' them. See this following story by a lesbian Ugandan woman:

    "Earlier, in April 2003 we had been approached by a group of men who claimed to have a lesbian organization by the name Makerere University Students Lesbians Association. When we asked them where the lesbians were and why it was led by men, they said that the women were “shy.” Later we did some research and learnt that these men were not university students nor did any such organization exist." -- [Why would they do this?] -- "Simply because they wanted to use women for their own agendas. Otherwise why would a group of men claim to be a lesbian organization?"

    Having read things like that, the oddities on the Bisexual Movement Uganda webpage worry me. I worry for the very brave Ugandans who put their real names and contact info out there on the BMU FB page and their own website. They were very out and visible for a time and now this kind of shadow is hovering over their online precense.

    Hopefully I am wrong, but for now it seems that this organisation has gone quiet. With the overall murderous hostility going on, I don't blame them for making themselves more scarce nowc

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  9. Dear TSB,

    This deserves its own blog post! Really, some of your readers might miss this latest comment.

    How menacing, if indeed the facebook page was a front!

    Much love,

    Toni

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  10. Hi Toni -- I thought I might do a follow up, yes, when I get more info. I'm not sure the FB page was originally a front, but no one who started it or is listed as a manager seems to be around anymore and someone less-than-LGBT-friendly seems to have taken over long enough to post at least that one homophobic link... I want to wait until i can get more info if possible before making another blog post.

    (oh, and sorry not to respond sooner -- I should be getting notified when someone posts a comment here, but I did not. Will go fix and fiddle now...)

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  11. thanks friends for your comments we are so pleased to hear from you ,yes we have took long to reply we had a very big problem when our office in mbale was attacked and our computers were stolen yet as you know we are college bassed organization founded at the universty level we had no funds only we were doing it on little we get from our tution and contribution from our fellow friends but now we promise we back on line and ugandans will know that BISEXUAL MEN AND WOMEN we live to full fundermental human rights , we trying tolobby for funds so that we move on and make it to our victory fighting the ant- homosexual bill in uganda

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  12. Hello there -- so good to hear from you, no matter that it's been awhile. We, of course, understand how dangerous things are your you and all LGBT people in Uganda. Just glad you are back fighting for your human rights and pray you stay safe!

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  13. Hello, Things have been really getting hard but we keep the spirit and the aims at our forefront.
    We at Bisexual Movement Uganda are always proud of all those who care for the lives of Bi men and women that are always witch hunted here down here in our society.

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