Thursday March 20 2014

No Ugandan should live in fear of persecution because of who they are

By Edith Kamya Mpanga

Regarding the feedback I’ve received in response to my recent article condemning the anti-gays law, I’d like to flesh out my position in response to the issues raised.
Respondents asserted that Ugandan society brooks no deviant behaviour on the mere plea of ‘natural orientation’. Rape, paedophilia, and bestiality were cited as unacceptable ‘natural orientations’ comparable to homosexuality. What is pointedly ignored in this argument is that unlike any of these offences, homosexuality is a victimless “crime”.

Even prostitution and drug abuse - often compared to homosexuality as unacceptable lifestyle choices - have a negative impact on society. Paedophiles and all those who coerce others into deviant sexual behaviour must face the full might of the law; but the life-imprisonment of law-abiding citizens for what they do in private is disproportionate in the extreme.

The question of whether homosexuality is natural or acquired behaviour was raised. Leaving that debate to geneticists and behavioural scientists, I’ll merely paraphrase an equally pertinent question, posed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu: Why would anybody voluntarily choose a lifestyle that is demonised by society, denies them progeniture, breaks family bonds, jeopardises employment prospects, and risks life-imprisonment and even death?

Pope Francis was more succinct in his affirmation that “Homosexual acts are sinful but homosexual orientation isn’t”. Alan Turing, inventor of the modern computer (who helped the Allies win WWII by cracking Hitler’s Enigma machine’s code) committed suicide after being forced to undergo corrective therapy to be “cured” of homosexuality. Wouldn’t it have been easier for him to denounce homosexuality since he had everything to live for? No doubt some people are indoctrinated into homosexual lifestyles under coercion. This, I unreservedly condemn. However, the fact that what consenting homosexuals do in private is deemed unacceptable by others is a shamefully flimsy pretext for imprisoning harmless citizens.

Respondents further alluded to the biblical condemnation of homosexuality. As a Christian, it’s not my place to ask why God created homosexuals and then condemned homosexuality, any more than it’s my place to ask why, despite His commandment “Thou shalt not kill”, God sanctioned the genocide, pillage, plunder and ethnic cleansing of whole nations as He guided the Israelites in the conquest of the Promised Land. Matters theological being beyond my realm of understanding, suffice it to say that insofar as Uganda is a secular State, it is incongruous for legislation to be driven by religious considerations.

As polarising as the above arguments are, they are nonetheless red herrings in the pertinent debate on human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that no person shall live in fear of persecution because of what/who they are. The law is in flagrant breach of this, condemning Ugandan homosexuals to the same fate as the Jews in Nazi Germany; blacks in pre-civil rights America and apartheid South Africa; the Suffragettes; and the ‘Untouchables’ in the Indian caste system. Existing laws dehumanised these groups simply for being something they could not help. Such societies sought to rationalise the irrational: pure, unadulterated prejudice. Alan Turing was posthumously pardoned by the British government last year. Could there ever be any conceivable justification for the loss to human progress of such a gifted scientist? How much talent must Uganda lose through the dehumanisation of valuable citizens before reason triumphs?

Mandela made South Africa the first African state to constitutionally recognise the rights of homosexuals. His timeless words should be heeded: “I am not truly free if I am taking away someone else’s freedom, just as surely as I am not free when my freedom is taken from me. The oppressed and the oppressor alike are robbed of their humanity.”

Ms Mpanga is an IT consultant.