The speaker of Uganda’s parliament planned to pass a controversial anti-gay bill by Christmas. Yet the parliament has broken up for the year without passing the bill — legislation which calls for severe punishments, including death, for Ugandans found to be homosexual.
Speaking about the bill, Bishop Godfrey Makumbi of the West Buganda Diocese of the Church of Uganda said there are other, more pressing problems facing the country.
“I also don’t condone it, but sincerely it is overshadowing other problems,” he said, according to the Ugandan Observer. “Our prime problems are on everyone’s fingertips; corruption, dishonesty, impudence and impunity, human [child] sacrifice, poor service delivery and absolute poverty.”
It seemed that at last there was a voice of reason in the conversation about homosexuality in Uganda — that someone with real influence was pointing out that the law is absurd and at best a waste of time and resources.
But then he continued.
“Realistically this is not in our culture,” he said, “Because our African sexual values are completely heterosexual, I personally have never seen people fancying it here.”
By denying that homosexuality in Uganda exists at all, he’s taken it beyond thinking that there’s something wrong with a person who’s gay, to thinking that there’s something wrong with a society in which it’s possible to be gay.
When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Columbia University in 2007, he said something similar:
"In Iran, we don't have homosexuals like in your country,” he said, in response to questions from Columbia University President Lee Bollinger. “In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don't know who has told you we have that."
Both men seem to think that if there are gay people in their society, that’s a sign of some sort of moral weakness of the whole country. It’s a sad, twisted way to think about gay people, and it explains in part why conservative leaders in these countries seek to legislate sexuality. If homosexuality reflects poorly on the whole society, suddenly it’s not just a personal, private issue, but a societal problem.
Discriminatory legislation like the bill proposed in Uganda won’t end until this kind of thinking stops. The only cure for intolerance is education — people in Uganda need to see gay people living their lives like everyone else, not corrupting the moral fiber of the country. Of course, that’s easier said than done in a situation where being openly gay is equal to living with a sword hanging over your head, waiting to be attacked; whether by the passage of the anti-gay bill or by a hostile neighbor who’s bought into the propaganda.
The road toward informing the people of Uganda — and Iran — and promoting tolerance through education will be a long one. But if there are any socially conscious documentarians, photographers, or writers out there who are looking for a big, important human rights issue on which to make a mark, this would be a good place to start.