Can we talk honestly about homosexuality?
Posted Friday, January 28 2011 at 00:00
David Kato, a gay rights activist who campaigned against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, and who sued a local tabloid last year after it named him as being homosexual, was killed in his home this week.
Police say they are investigating the circumstances of his death and it is not yet clear whether this was a homophobic attack in which Mr Kato was targeted for his sexual orientation or his thoughts about the matter.
Whatever the motive behind the killing, this incident reminds us of the homophobia that is widespread in our country and society – and the deadly consequences of not dealing with it.
Homosexuality is illegal under Ugandan law and the Anti Homosexuality Bill prescribes harsher punishments, including the death penalty for sodomy.
While such legislation might serve as a deterrent, it will not eliminate homosexuality and might cement the discrimination of sexual minorities.
The homosexuality question in Uganda has two major flaws. First is that a lot of the debate is shouted down from extreme positions of moral self-righteousness; as a result there is little common understanding among those who oppose gay rights and those who advocate for them.
Secondly, a lot of the debate is carried out or influenced by foreign actors – both in favour of and against homosexuality.
What we need is an honest national dialogue on homosexuality in order to forge a consensus on the rights of those Ugandans who choose to be gay and those who oppose homosexuality as a lifestyle.
Holding puritanical and extreme views on the matter, whether liberal or conservative, will divide us, rather than help us find a mutually acceptable compromise.
People like David Kato and others who might be gay are Ugandans and enjoy the same rights and protections of the law as heterosexuals. We cannot send them into exile neither, lock them away, or hang them.
We need to have an honest discussion about how to ensure that their rights are upheld without violating the rights of other Ugandans.
Peaceful and stable societies only emerge when we understand and try to accommodate those who are different from us, or who disagree with us – not by ostracising or killing them.