Homophobia is the hate that dares speak its name
The recent resurfacing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, or the “Kill the Gays” Bill as it is notoriously referred to, has been a timely reminder of how homophobia remains a threat to human dignity. So how do sexuality, national politics and human rights align?
In numerous places around the world, homosexuality remains a site of intense political and social anxiety. Despite sexual orientation becoming a valid focus of international human rights law, over 80 countries around the world continue to criminalise homosexuality.
Uganda is now reconsidering legislation that would enhance the criminal penalties that already exist for people who engage consensual same-sex relationships. This may also include the death penalty for offences that are deemed to be of an “aggravated” nature.
If passed, the legislation would also compel HIV testing in some circumstances, and impose life sentences for entering into what is determined to be a same-sex marriage. Punishment would also extend to people who failed to “denounce” any violations of the Bill’s wide-ranging provisions by not reporting these incidents to the public authorities within 24 hours.
The scope of the Bill also extends to target what it refers to as the “promotion” of homosexuality.
While impinging on freedom of expression and the right to non-discrimination, attempts to criminalise consensual same-sex sexual activity will have negative public health consequences. Effectively the Bill forces same-sex attracted people into remaining invisible to avoid the threat of state-sanctioned violence and harassment.
Denying same-sex attracted people the capacity to participate in public discourse on health issues, and subsequently disallowing them access to appropriate sexual health information and services, fosters a culture of stigma, shame and unsafe sexual practices.
Historically, legal proscriptions on “homosexuality” in Uganda were a product of British colonialism. “Sodomy” offences or “acts against the order of nature”, as they are commonly referred to, were Commonwealth exports as a way of policing all non-heterosexual or non-reproductive relationships.
The ongoing refusal by the Ugandan Government to recognise the human rights of sexual minorities has been strengthened by fundamentalist religious conversations appropriated from the US. In 2009, Evangelical Christian leaders from the US spoke to MPs in Uganda opining that “homosexuality” is a threat to the “cohesion” of African families. The Family Life Network in Uganda has also exacerbated existing prejudices by speaking about homosexuality and pedophilia synonymously.
What is important to recognise is the transnational context through which homophobia operates. Fear of non-heterosexual intimacies and families is an anxiety that translates across different cultural contexts, regardless of economic or political capital. In Uganda, such prejudice has become especially dangerous in capitalising on public fears.
Echoing the words of the murdered Ugandan activist David Kato: “[The Bill] goes against the inclusive spirit necessary for our economic as well as political development. Its spirit is profoundly undemocratic and un-African.”
Homophobia, not homosexuality, is the danger in Uganda.
On 15 June 2011 the Human Rights Council passed a historic resolution expressing grave concerns at the human rights violations committed against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity referencing the principles equality and non-discrimination articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
With the lives of so many sexual and gender minorities at stake, we must continue to promote dialogues that seek to challenge homophobia and discrimination. For Uganda this must begin with the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
For those of us in Australia, this involves not remaining silent or complicit in promoting homophobia. We must demonstrate our commitment to protecting human rights by strengthening anti-discrimination laws and ensuring full relationship recognition for same-sex couples and families.
Justice can only be served in Uganda if it is willing to acknowledge the paramount importance of protecting the human rights of all its citizens. Amnesty International urges that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill must be scrapped.
We must all speak out to make nations accountable for human rights; otherwise the price for us all will be intolerably high.
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