Maverick Citizen

IN DEFENCE OF LGBTQI+ OP-ED

Christians take a stand against Uganda’s homophobia – celebrating courage, realising real lies

Christians take a stand against Uganda’s homophobia – celebrating courage, realising real lies
A masked Kenyan supporter of the LGBTQ community joins others during a protest against Uganda's anti-gay bill in front of the Ugandan High Commission in Nairobi on 10 February 2014. (Photo: EPA / Dai Kurokawa)

Instead of closing their ears and pointing fists at LGBTQI+ people, akin to the religious elites of deacon Stephen’s time, all African leaders ought to be dutifully entering into transformative dialogues with LGBTQI+ people.

This year, as the Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, they also celebrate the courage of deacon Stephen. He was lied to, brutalised and violently eliminated by the religious elites he encountered, according to Acts 7:55-60.

Just after his election to lead the board of deacons, the religious elites of his day, the Synagogue of Freed Slaves hauled him before the Sanhedrin Council on trumped-up charges. They unfairly tried him and the high priest presided over the trial. His trial had traits of mob justice. 

True justice was aborted. Failing to advance counterarguments against him they resorted to pointing fists at deacon Stephen and, ultimately, dragged him outside the city of Jerusalem to stone him. Deacon Stephen is globally celebrated to this day for his fortitude and courage to stand for the truth, filled with the Holy Spirit. 

He is a martyr of faith and never died but “fell asleep (7:60)”, not gracing his deceitful and death-dealing detractors with any hour when he fell asleep. 

They did not kill him. 

Instead of decolonising Uganda specifically and Africa generally, African politicians are building on the penal codes and furthering the prevalence of homo, bi, trans and queerphobia in Africa.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a martyr is one who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing and refusing to renounce their faith, sacrificing something of great value, even life itself, for the sake of the principle.

A transgender woman at a safe house in Kampala, Uganda, that supports LGBTQI+ residents. (Photo: Luke Dray / Getty Images)

Death-dealing in Africa

While Christians celebrate deacon Stephen, the humanity of the Ugandan homosexual and bisexual women and men, as well as the gender non-conforming people, was attacked and threatened with erasure. For the second time this year, the Ugandan parliament passed an anti-homosexual bill now awaiting the signature of President Yoweri Museveni to become a law.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Uganda’s anti-gay bill sparks a surge in homophobia, media censorship and mob attacks 

It is the most horrendous act to be promulgated by an African parliament since the penal codes bequeathed by European colonisers to their African colonies. Instead of decolonising Uganda specifically and Africa generally, African politicians are building on the penal codes and furthering the prevalence of homo, bi, trans and queerphobia in Africa. 

Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian Anglican Church priest and research scholar, at least, more than a decade ago, pointed out that Europeans imported homophobia now touted as African culture. 

Further, he uncovered the motives of the US Christian Right coalescing with their African counterparts and very close to the African political leaders concerning the anti-gender ideology, including the political transformation of African sexual politics. 

The collaborations have since heightened. 

What it’s like to be Ugandan and queer when your country turns against your identity

A transgender sex worker prepares her make-up for portrait at her home in Kampala, Uganda. (Photo: Luke Dray / Getty Images)

A day after the second passing of the Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill, Museveni delivered a keynote address, at a conference held in Entebbe, about “sovereignty, culture and family values.” He called upon African nations to lead the way in saving the world from homosexuality. Some African politicians and Catholic Church members have praised him and Uganda for standing firm and being illustrious to African states.

Against the sound and evidence-based advice of the African psychologists, Museveni suggested that the second bill be amended to include the rehabilitation of LGBTQI+ people. They pointed out, among other things, the dire consequences of conversion practices or reparative therapies for LGBTQI+ people. 

However, they ignored their advice.

The premise upon which the Ugandan bill was crafted is unscientific and unsound, more life-taking than life-giving.

The politics of sexual and gender identities is not a singular experience in Uganda. A fertile ground for other African countries to copycat Uganda exists. Those that are highly likely to do so include Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia. 

Reports recently suggested that the Gambian parliament has rejected a similar bill. That is a fresh breeze.

Realising real lies

We must thank the late Tupac Shakur, a globally acclaimed African-American rapper, for leaving behind a tool to unmask lies in prose attributed to him: “Don’t believe everything you hear. Real eyes realise real lies.” 

Consenting, same-sex-loving African people are fully human. In Julius Malema’s parlance, they should be left alone. Their dignity is as indivisible as the dignity attributable to homosexual people.

The premise upon which the Ugandan bill was crafted is unscientific and unsound, more life-taking than life-giving. Its proponents and their supporters have said much that is deceitful. They claimed, among other things, that homosexual people are paedophilic and that they threaten African families, traditions and values.

By a large majority, it is heterosexual people’s fingerprints on this crime scene of paedophilia. Saying so, however, is not an attempt to deny that there could be paedophiles among members of LGBTQI+ people. Rather than being a sectarian law witch-hunting citizens based on their sexuality and gender identity because they are not heteronormative and not conforming to binaries, what is needed is a law equally addressing everyone in the country. If one exists, enhance it for the same effect.

A transgender sex worker rubs lotion onto her legs before posing for a portrait at her home in Kampala, Uganda. (Photo: Luke Dray/Getty Images)

It is untruthful and unfair to accuse LGBTQI+ people of threatening African families, traditions and values. The real threat is patriarchy and misogyny that unfairly gives privilege and domination of women and girl children to men. That is what must be addressed instead of scapegoating LGBTQI+ people.

To deny that LGBTQI+ are fully human is to deny that they are God’s creation and are part of the diversity of humanity created by God. Tampering with their sexuality and gender identity, through reparative therapy or conversion practices, is assuming the role of correcting God’s creation and that they are a mistake made by God. It denies that God graciously gifted humanity with more heterosexuality.

In South Africa, we have learnt the hard way about how deadly denialism is. Similarly, laws targeting people, because they do not look like you or do not do things as you do them, are unjust. In the instance of apartheid, it was declared a crime against humanity and a heresy. Promoting heterosexism is evil. It requires repentance to absolve.

African political, cultural and religious leaders must wean themselves from giving undivided attention to the US Right. They do not mean good to Africa, nor do they help to contribute to centring Ubuntu in the discourse towards decolonising Africa. 

Instead, as Kapya Kaoma opines, their motive is to colonise African values and transform sexual politics in Africa. 

In another publication, six years ago, Gerald West, Kaoma and Charlene van der Walt have advised: “The temptation and the tendency of what the South African Kairos Document (Kairos, 1985) called ‘Church Theology’ is to impose pre-existing theology onto a new site of struggle. Sexuality has become a new site of struggle and the ‘old’ theology does not fit, for it is founded on heteropatriarchy… (2017, p.9).”

Instead of closing their ears and pointing fists at LGBTQI+ people, akin to the religious elites of deacon Stephen’s time, all African leaders ought to be dutifully entering into transformative dialogues with LGBTQI+ people. Until they are engaged, all the devised legal solutions will only be violent and death-dealing against them. Their human agency cannot and must not be ignored because Africa cannot develop by excluding them. 

They are rightfully and integrally African. Africa needs them too. DM/MC

Teboho G. Klaas is a social justice activist currently serving as the Religion Programme Officer in the Other Foundation and a pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Vosloorus (Ekurhuleni), heading his denominational ministerial formations and training. Formerly he served as the National Health Director in the South African Council of Churches and was the Deputy Chairperson of the Treatment Action Campaign. He cut his teeth in contextual theology working in various roles within the Institute for Contextual Theology and served as the National Coordinator of the Jubilee 2000 Campaign South Africa.

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