Our Obligation to LGBT Ugandans

By: The Rev. Patricia Ackerman

The LGBT community in Uganda is part of a global minority, a family, a tribe. When one part of the community is under threat of state and extra-judicial violence as we witnessed here in Uganda, the global LGBT community is called to act. What we do should be directed by the Ugandan LGBT community, but all the LGBT citizens of Uganda we saw, in the hundreds, asked for international support.

In proposing to imprison LGBT their friends families, doctors, and teachers, the state of Uganda threatens to be in violation of multiple treaties. If the anti-homosexuality bill should pass, all treaties and UN instruments related to sexual violence, violence against minorities, human rights, human rights defenders and others will be violated by this bill. Under "The Responsibility to Protect", the state of Uganda will be in violation. Under RTP, a state is bound by the UN to protect vulnerable populations, not to rid themselves of a minority.

I witnessed Martin SSempa's hate filled rhetoric first hand. It is a xenophobic hatred calling for the extermination of the gays. It was chilling and terrifying. Though he is said to be a consummate showman, the crowd he inflames is extremely impoverished and disenfranchised. Should the bill pass, crowds will hunt and kill LGBT people on the streets of Kampala. This is being stated by the the dozens of LGBT people we have spoken to here in Kampala, the media, and even US Embassy personnel who have no plan in place to help the LGBTI.

I witnessed Ssempa and a dozen pastors place their hands on the head of David Bahati, the MP who introduced the bill. I watched as they "consecrated" him to "rid Uganda of homosexuals." Calling feverishly for Jesus to save the world from homosexuality, Ssempa projected bizarre pornographic images on a screen in the church. He described and demonstrated the pictured s & m acts in great detail before an audience of several hundred, causing women to fall off their chairs weeping and clawing the air, and children sitting stone like in their chairs. During his demonstration which depicted the eating of feces, penises, bondage and fisting, children in the church were forced to watch. Ssempa demonstrated the acts with his hands and mouth.

Ssempa is a permanent resident of the United States of America. He worked directly for "Pastor" Rick Warren for years, perhaps planning his anti-gay crusade. He is said by LGBT Ugandans to have had "another life in the USA" - you guess. He has a blonde wife, one LGBTI Ugandan told me.

My experience of Martin Ssempa is that he is wily and strategic. At times he makes reference to colonialism and donor interference, all from the pulpit of a perverted Christianity - the ultimate western import. At one point during the crusade event he was laid out on the stage pounding his feet screaming for Jesus to "save us from the homosexuals." He looked like a toddler having a tantrum except that he had a huge phallic like horn which he occasionally trumpeted. What is most frightening is that he is often on the nationwide radio inciting hatred and violence against gays.

Ssempa has poisoned the hearts of Ugandans toward their LGBT community. It was bad before but now it is criminal and genocidal. He pronounces warped statistics about gays being pedophiles terrifying parents that their children at boarding schools will be attacked and converted by gays. His network of support reaches far into the parliament. A representative at the US Embassy here claims that 75% of the parliament will vote for the bill. We have heard as much as 90%.

In the crusade, there were posters of Rick Warren labeling him a betrayer. In discussions with the LGBT community, the names of Americans Scott Lively, Caleb Brundidge and Don Schmeirer came up. During an interview with a Trans activist here, I asked what he would like to see happen to change the current situation. Not missing a beat he said, "I would like Scott Lively to come back to Uganda to apologize. It is right that he should return here and recant about what he has done." Scott Lively lives in Springfield, Mass. He was one of the masterminds of the current Anti-Homosexual emergency and a drafter of the bill. I hope we can plan an action to visit him and convey the content of this request.

LGBTI Ugandans are strong, smart, and strategic but they are exhausted and have few resources. When asked what we can do to support them back in the states one man, John Wambere, a leader of a LGBT grassroots org said, "Literacy. You can send us computers and help LGBT people learn to write so they can get jobs." Literacy is at 65% here in Uganda, and lower in the LGBT community as people are often harassed and bullied out of school for being gay. They also need legal support and assistance. If the bill passes they plan to sue the government. There is also the possibility of prosecuting Ssempa for inciting genocide, through international channels.

I asked LGBTI activists if in the event of a pogrom they have a plan. Currently there are few safe houses and LGBT move addresses, are on the run, and are constantly changing their phone numbers. They simply do not have the funds to go on this way. If the bill stays tabled or even if it is debated in the near future, LGBTs will continue to have an ax hanging over their heads. And we will continue to have an obligation to witness and act on their behalf.

The Rev. Patty Ackerman is the LGBT/SOGI Human Rights Program Officer at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office and is a former Director of Communications for Integrity USA.

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