What is the homosexuality debate really about?

Author, Augustine Bahemuka. PHOTO/FILE/COURTESY

What you need to know:

As a country, are we ready to persecute culprits that are reprimanded for promoting homosexual acts in schools? It is one thing to legislate against the vice and it is another to actually persecute culprits.

It is one of the thorniest issues in African societies, which evokes all manner of sentiments, emotions and reactions. It is not any different in Uganda’s case where this volatile topic creeps up every once in a while.

The most recent public debate on homosexuality was sparked progressively: From the bold statement of Deputy Speaker of Parliament Thomas Tayebwa at the African, Caribbean, and Pacific States and the European Union (ACP-EU) summit to pictures and videos of same-sex students holding each other in “suggestive ways” that circulated on social media platforms to the story of a boy sodomized by his teacher in one the most prestigious traditional schools in town.

Even more, the Church of England voted to bless civil marriages of same-sex couples last month, a decision which caused deeper schisms in the Anglican Church globally, including Uganda and Kenya. The drama associated with homosexuality reached the highest offices of the land where the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was re-tabled on the floor of Parliament and passed.

The views shared by various people within the public square, academia, religious and cultural circles mixed. Here, I share my opinion on what I think the homosexual debate should be about; and why I remain skeptical that criminalizing homosexuality will solve the challenges posed by this problematic issue.

First and foremost, we ought to appreciate the complexity of sexuality in its totality: It pertains to the deepest nudgings and echelons of our feelings as human beings. It determines and influences our behaviour, dress code, choice of friends, etc. Scholarly literature provides that there are four kinds of sexual orientation: the majority of individuals are born heterosexual whereas others are born homosexual. These two seem to paint a white and black picture of sexuality; however, the other two – bisexuality and asexuality create a grey area from which sexual deviations sprout. Sexuality is innate and therefore, it is unjust to criminalize or reprimand a dimension that pertains one’s nature. This drives us to the critical distinction between homosexuality as an orientation; and homosexual acts; which may sound scholarly, but yet fundamental. The dialect limitation of expressing this distinction within the public square may be obvious, but not justifiable.

The Catholic Church and many local legislations repudiate homosexual acts as “against nature” and hence castigate them. Much of the public debate against homosexuality is actually directed towards homosexual acts and, even worse, the promotion of these acts through funding and recruiting young people into groups where this vice is supported and encouraged. We have heard loads of evidence from young people, some of school-going age, sharing their experiences. The recruitment patterns are not very clear as these groups are highly organized, well-funded and connected to key people through whom they access their unsuspecting targets. The gravest indicator of the vice of homosexual acts is the intellectual quagmire created in the minds of learners in schools who are introduced to strange ideas about sexuality and family life, without their consent.

However, how we deal with these realities and complexities is crucial lest we breed seeds of homophobia, which can be defined as culturally produced hatred or disapproval of homosexuals. Mid-last year, mainstream media treated us with images and videos of violence perpetrated against African immigrants living and working in South Africa, which occasionally grapples with the problem of xenophobia. Unjustified social narratives that make black immigrants the scapegoats to the high levels of unemployment and poor socio-economic situation of young South Africans are the key drivers of xenophobia. In other words, homophobia can also gravitate into violence against people, who simply by their way of speaking or walking or even dress code, may be associated with homosexual behaviour, hence be abused or physically violated.

How then do we safeguard young people and the traditional institution of the family from the perils of this vice? I speak of family because it is the most fundamental social unit and “cell of society” as St. John Paul II understood it.

 How can we distract and break the patterns of recruitment that are used to exploit and manipulate learners in schools? Cognizant of the other minority sexual orientations, how do we create safe spaces for these people to meet their health, psycho-social and pastoral needs? As a country, are we ready to persecute culprits that are reprimanded for promoting homosexual acts in schools? It is one thing to legislate against the vice and it is another to actually persecute culprits.

Mr Augustine Bahemuka is a commentator on peace, religion and society.  [email protected]