Uganda Map


I have great respect for GLBTI pastors and ministers – and straight clerics, who support their faith’s central ethos of love, peace and tolerance – surely they have to bite their tongues a lot! I doubt I could manage it, but then as an activist I am not expected to.

Many times an older woman, who is a gender activist in the church – and whom I consider a mentor – cautions me not to come across as aggressive because it gives credibility to the patriarchal mindset to just wave me off as “just an angry woman”. Of course, although I do agree with her, that very patriarchal mindset is exactly what makes my point. I AM angry. And considering the state of the world today, shouldn’t I be? Shouldn’t we all be? Is it unreasonable to be angry at the manner in which those appointed by us to make decisions are making a right balls-up of things? Is it not right to be angered by mismanagement, corruption, inaction, injustice, discrimination and human rights violations?

Some people like to refer to the bible, in this case I would like to point out that this may well be “a time to be angry”. Faced by scenarios such as what is playing out in Uganda right now, I feel this is just such a case. Over a number of years, foreign evangelical “missionaries” have plied their trade in the country, slowly whipping the mob into an intolerant, hateful frenzy, ready to start lynching anyone suspected of being of a different sexual orientation or gender identity. Political and religious leaders are looking more and more alike, so as to be indistinguishable – nearly all of them publicly condemning the West for “interfering” in Ugandan affairs (despite the evidence that shows the Bill itself results from foreign evangelical influence) and defying efforts to defend the ideals of human rights, democracy and civilization – and all of this done in the name of God. Poor God. Always the scapegoat for the hatred of men. And yes, I do mean actual men.

I realize I get angry about such hatred and homophobia and injustice and unfairness – and the evil people do in the name of good. That is why I usually try to calm down before I post anything, but yes – it does make me very, very angry.

Around the world, human rights activists have been canvassing the clergy for voices willing to speak out against this move to legalize genocide in Uganda, and in the case of the USA, to get those religious bodies and leaders directly implicated in the events leading to the tabling of the Ugandan Genocide Bill to renounce it and strongly urge the Ugandan government to do the same.

Surprisingly, even the Vatican has risen to the occasion to condemn this bill, despite its official policy on gay and transgender people being that they “are a threat to Christianity” (and the rain forest) and “should be locked away for their own good” and of course, last year’s refusal to sign the UN Declaration to Decriminalize Homosexuality. Go figure.

Further afield, US Pastor Rick Warren, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams – and other religious leaders from various countries, are reported to have finally spoken out after weeks of pressure applied by some government figures and human rights activists from around the world.

“Weeks of pressure”?

I find it strange that such Christian leadership figures have to “give in” to weeks of pressure to speak out against what will amount to state-sponsored mass-murder. One would think the simple question “what would Jesus do?” would make cajoling such people completely unnecessary.

In my humble opinion, if those who considered themselves followers of Christ were to have considered that question, such a tragic situation would never have arisen in the first place.

Uganda’s response to Warren’s denouncement of the Bill – rejection – says it all – they are too far gone – and if that isn’t stone cold proof of why religion should stay the heck out of government, then the potential death toll if this bill passes, will be.

To take this issue further, closely related to the religious issue – in fact, flowing out of it – is the issue of the so-called “ex-gay” industry – the groups of internalized homophobic GLBT people preaching the religious right approved and backed gospel of internalized homophobia to their victims who are only too keen to be accepted by their evangelical faiths and a critical and heterosexist society. Of course, I will once again make use of the opportunity to show that they were directly involved in the Ugandan debacle. That is probably never going to go away.

The two issues at hand are obviously inextricably linked. The one issue (anti-gay rhetoric from a religious fundamentalist perspective) has directly caused the other (the Ugandan Genocide Bill).

While I applaud the people who have stood up against this Bill while still believing in the so-called “ex-gay” movement, and I am perfectly willing to work with them in defeating this bill, I have to stand by the fact that the “ex-gay” propaganda and advocacy is largely to blame for this. Please do not mistake my opposition to the “ex-gay” movement and its long-term status as a “lapdog” group doing the work of the religious right anti-gay movement, and my placing blame where it should lie – as a statement that I am unwilling to co-operate with anyone in opposing this bill.

One cannot simply defuse the one issue (Uganda) and leave the other lying around in wait for another opportunity to do just the same. A change must come into the equation – a catalyst to break this vicious circle, or a similar situation will result in future, given the same set of circumstances. I’m a big believer in logic, and I am forced to conclude that part of the solution to this problem (aside from undoing the disaster in Uganda and the other countries in Africa which the “ex-gay” movement has sunk its claws into) is the dismantling and defusing of the “ex-gay” movement as a whole. I say this because I see that honesty is vital in preventing future misunderstandings.

Clearly, you cannot support both human rights and the oppression of human rights simultaneously – and you cannot promote one cause (intolerance) which is in direct opposition to the other (human rights).

My one wish (aside from killing the bill of course) is that all those “ex-gays” who are and have been in the driver’s seat in getting this bill as far as it is now, LEARN from it and resolve to undo their handiwork.

Some human rights figures have suggested that continued pressure will simply encourage Uganda to claim that “homosexuals in the West” are making war on Uganda for “standing up” for “what is right and Christian” and for their “principles”. Hmm. From the sound of it, they are dead-set on passing that bill unaltered anyway, and as for their “principles”, I think I have said quite enough about that for now.

If we stop applying pressure, they get their way. If we continue speaking out, they still get their way. Either way, they can still pass the bill, either way they will still blame anything they like on gay people. Catch 22. Silence, however = death. So I support making as much fuss of this Bill and drawing as much unwelcome attention to Uganda’s government as we can. And even if they pass the bill, we should go on and make them regret it until they repeal it. This Bill is a line in the sand that must be wiped out.

If anything, I think this co-operation of GLBT and “ex-gays” on killing this bill should open up a few things:

– our minds, because we share more commonalities than either of us is willing to easily admit. I am sure every one of us has wrestled with our sexuality or gender identity before accepting it – or not.

– our eyes, because now both of us see that speaking out against our own nature will lead to the sort of thing that is happening in Uganda – and the overall lack of enthusiastic support from those evangelicals who habitually back and motivate such actions.

– our hearts, because we know that either by our involvement – or non-involvement, action or inaction, whether as individuals or as a social group, many of us have in some way allowed this thing to happen.

– the way for us to make peace with each other as well as ourselves and to open the hearts, minds and eyes and the way forward for the rest of the world to accept us as well.

Let’s kill this bill and call it a retroactive abortion of all the potential others that may follow it.

I know it’s a complex situation, a difficult one… I just hope the masters of the “ex-gay” industry see it for the proof it is and don’t just see it as a chance to try and do the same thing in a different way, leading to more mistakes that may end up costing more lives. I know some of them are just taking on the bill the way they are out of a sense of guilt for what is happening there – but if that is what it takes to open their eyes, then we have to make use of it.

This Bill is an accusing finger which isn’t going to go away quickly, or at all – and we can’t let them or the world forget it – this situation and their direct involvement is another nail in the coffin of the “ex-gay” movement. They are either going to have to fold as an entity, or change their outlook and philosophy completely. In the end I think we may find ourselves rubbing shoulders a lot more in future. In fact I can even see that as a positive thing. But one thing is certain – that bill threatens not just us and them, but all human rights as well.

Perhaps instead of “gays and ex-gays”, we are going to end up being “gays and gays who aren’t quite comfortable with being gay”. It may still ruffle some feathers, but I think it’s a place to start.

The two common issues we as GLBT people and “ex-gays” share is our sexual orientation and gender identity – and the burden or stigma brought about by religious fundamentalism. In the end, the truth will win out – that the only thing that makes sense is that we should embrace our nature and question the value of religious fundamentalism – especially a philosophy which demands harsh treatment of oneself – or others, for a matter of birthright.

It isn’t who we are that is different – it’s how we deal with self-acceptance issues that differs. We need to work together to make this world a better, safer place for all of us – where we are free to be whoever we are happy to be. Both groups will need to work together in order to safeguard this future.

Our differences from each other are not biological, they are doctrinal and philosophical, and as long as we fight each other, we give those who disapprove of either of us, power over us both.

We argue back and forth, quoting religion and science, and cause confusion in those watching who know nothing about us, or what it means to be who we are.

I hope that the various community leaders know this is – and I hope they take this to heart. What has been done in the past is done. Uganda has been described as a religious right litmus test for the West, a “social experiment” to see what would happen if they had their way – and there it is then, now we see the results. It may have seemed right for various reasons, but obviously it didn’t work out – and given politics and human nature, it never could.

Imagine if we could all work together in building a world where both of us encourage tolerance instead of condemnation?

There is common ground between us, between the landmines. We all want peace, happiness and acceptance for who we are, and the freedom to be who we are, whoever that is.

Some might be saying “yes, that would be nice”, but out of skepticism instead of hopefulness. Well right here, right now, we stand at this juncture, and the future is up to us to make. It starts with a choice.

Make the right choice.

Christina Engela is a volunteer human rights activist, member of the Board of SA GLAAD and President of the Eastern Cape Gay & Lesbian Association (ECGLA) in South Africa.