22 November 2012

On Uganda

It is by no means a walk through a park full of rainbows to be gay in most of America, but there are still places around the world where the hand of repression is much more severe for LGBT persons. One such place that has been in the news periodically is the east African nation of Uganda. Since 2009, a legislative bill has surfaced periodically that threatens severe and sweeping penalties associated with homosexuality. The “Kill the Gays bill”, as it is also known, appears to be back on the table at the close of 2012.

I had heard of this bill before, but only today had I taken some time to learn more about the language of the legislation and its history in the context of Ugandan politics. A detailed discussion of the content of the bill and its evolution can be found on the Box Turtle Bulletin website, but here is a very brief synopsis of the alarming points:

- Homosexual acts are punishable with significant prison sentences, or in certain cases, by death.
- Homosexual acts are very broadly defined, so actions very far removed what most people would define as an overtly sexual act might be considered offenses under the language of the legislation.
- Parents, teachers, medical professionals or others who do not report people suspected of homosexual activity can be fined or jailed.
- Ugandan nationals who commit any of the acts encompassed by the legislation while abroad can be extradited back to Uganda for trial.
- Oppression of homosexuals in Uganda could increase even further in the future because the bill gives authority to an “Ethics and Integrity Minister” in the government (currently an anti-gay former Catholic priest) to create regulations to enforce the law.

It is clear in reading about this proposed legislation that it amounts to wholesale oppression of LGB persons and a potential witch-hunt of gay people and their supporters. It appears to be part of a broader problem of homophobia in Uganda, according to this Wikipedia summary.

While I do not generally think that one nation should interfere in the culture or politics of another, egregious violations of human rights are a different matter. Half way around the world, we might have little influence over the course of these events in Uganda, but perhaps adding our voices to the outcry over this legislation may help prevent enactment of this extreme legislation. A few ideas:

Write or call the US Ambassador to Uganda, Scott DeLisi.
- Write to the Ugandian Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, a strong supporter of this bill: rakadaga@parliament.go.ug
- Sign this on-line petition to urge the Ugandian President to veto any anti-gay bill passed by parliament.
- Write to your representatives in the senate or house to encourage the US to place diplomatic pressure on Uganda to protect human rights. Since we give monetary aid to Uganda, we have some leverage.

I am fortunate to live in a time and place where my very safety and mental wellbeing is largely protected from these shameful displays of hate and discrimination. Everyone deserves to be freed from oppression based on who they love.

14 November 2012

The tipping point

Last week’s elections were a historic moment in public acceptance of same-sex marriage. After thirty some consecutive defeats in state-level contests, all four states in which marriage equality was being contested in 2012 gave victory to advocates of same-sex marriage. Maine citizens overturned their previous rejection of gay marriage. In referenda in Washington and Maryland, the majority of voters affirmed the same-sex marriage laws passed by their state legislatures. Minnesota defeated an effort to incorporate a gay marriage ban into the state constitution.

These state-wide votes were not anomalies, but are part of a more gay-affirming environment that has very recently emerged in the public life of America. In the election last week voters also rejected an effort to unseat a Republican legislator who had supported the legalization of same-sex marriage recently in New York State. Tammy Baldwin was elected as the first openly gay person in the United States Senate. A half year ago, President Obama became the first president ever to give public support for marriage equality. Two recent federal court rulings on DOMA rejected discrimination against LGBT marriages. With repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell" policy gays can now serve openly in the US military.

The political victories of November 2012 are remarkable in light of the long road that gay people have traveled to be accepted here in our broader American society. And they are remarkable because of their speed: our other national civil rights movements to gain full equality under the law and in the workforce have been a long uphill battle that even continues in some degree today.

The tipping point seems to be upon us now. I don’t expect that every legislative debate, court case or state initiative will side with marriage equality from this moment forward, but it is more likely than ever that the coming victories will outnumber the setbacks. Younger Americans are strongly behind marriage equality. My own 10 year old son (with whom I have had very few conversations about homosexuality) said as much as we listened to a discussion of gay marriage on the car radio today. Without any prompting from me, he expressed that anyone should be able to get married regardless of who they are. Yes, on the question of equality, it is that simple.

In a way the gay rights movement is only partly about the right to marry. I think the broader struggle involves the collective aspirations of a minority people that have long been brewing and the consciousness of a nation more ready than ever to make peace with homosexuality. This movement is not just about a list of rights gained when civil authorities recognize a relationship. It is about achieving a society where gay people can walk down the street hand-in-hand with a loved one without shame or fear. It is about the hope that gay Americans have that their public and private realities can be one. It is about freedom from marginalization, shame, criminalization, vilification, misunderstanding and prejudice. It is about a nation, mostly straight, that is identifying the pull of justice on its conscience and finally moving to take public action on that faith. There remains those opposed to this broader movement, but momentum is not on their side. As evidenced at the ballot box and in the other political signs of the times, the tipping point appears to have arrived.

Ref: New York Times, 8 Nov 2012, page P7