Eight months ago, I stood shivering with my Ugandan colleagues on the steps of the Massachusetts federal court house. We had just witnessed the first hearing in the case Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) v. Lively—a suit filed by a group of Ugandan LGBTI rights organizations against American evangelist Scott Lively for his role in inciting the persecution of LGBTI Ugandans. Lively is well-known for advocating that homosexuality should be criminalized around the world.
At the time, we were cautiously optimistic that the case would move forward. Today, we are celebrating. Read More
This week, the Ugandan parliament approved a piece of legislation that violates its citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms, effectively ending true democracy in the country. The final text of the “Public Order Management” bill has not been released, but the most recent draft of the bill will essentially muzzle free speech.
If that bill becomes law, it will give the Ugandan government unprecedented power to prevent and halt any public gatherings of a political nature. The law will outlaw any “group” of people, defined as three or more, from meeting in any public place to discuss or critique the government, its laws or its programs. These kinds of everyday debates will now require prior permission by the head of the Ugandan police force. The meetings have to be requested a full week in advance, cannot be held after 6 p.m. and can be quickly dispersed if police feel they are disrupting the peace.
AJWS President Ruth Messinger described the situation in a statement:
Staff and friends of American Jewish World Service marching in the 2013 NYC Pride March.
Staff and supporters of American Jewish World Service hit the streets of New York City last week, joining the NYC Pride March and serving as the Jewish voice for LGBTI rights worldwide.
My colleagues and I were so excited to show our pride, celebrate the latest victory in the struggle for marriage equality in the U.S. (the Supreme Court decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8) and make it clear that our work will not be done until the human rights of people of all sexual orientations are respected worldwide.
Julius Kaggwa and a group of AJWS LA staff and supporters ready to march!
Los Angeles celebrated LGBT Pride the first weekend in June with its spectacular annual pride parade through West Hollywood. AJWS supporters marched with a banner proudly declaring that we are the leading Jewish voice for LGBTI rights around the world. Surrounded by volunteers decked out in feather boas, beads, and rainbow flags, we were privileged to march with Julius Kaggwa, a prominent LGBTI leader from Uganda, whose work AJWS supports. Perched on the back of a white convertible, Julius held up his arms in a victorious salute and crowds of jubilant supporters reacted with joy and admiration when they saw him. To say the least, this warm reception in LA is quite a contrast to what Julius experiences in Uganda, where the LGBTI community lives in fear and secrecy, persecuted by the state and right-wing religious activists. Read More
A Ugandan activist holds up a popular tabloid ‘Red Pepper,’ one of several newspapers inciting prejudice and violence against LGBTI people in Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal and LGBTI people are routinely denied their rights. Photo: Evan Abramson
A new report released last week by the Pew Research Center reveals alarming data about attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities around the world. Here are a few statistics that shine a spotlight on the countries in which AJWS works:
- In El Salvador, 35 percent of survey respondents believe the LGBTI community should be accepted, whereas 62 percent do not;
- In Kenya, 8 percent of survey respondents believe the LGBTI community should be accepted, whereas 90 percent do not;
- In Uganda, 4 percent of survey respondents believe the LGBTI community should be accepted, whereas 96 percent do not.
These attitudes are symptomatic of the oppression LGBTI people face on a regular basis—the loss of their jobs, unequal access to healthcare and limited opportunities for education. LGBTI people are ostracized, rejected, threatened and assaulted just for living their lives.
It gets worse.
Good news: A vote on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill has been delayed once again. Despite a promise by the Ugandan speaker of parliament to deliver the bill as a “Christmas gift to the nation,” it was repeatedly downgraded on parliament’s agenda.
Last Friday, parliament adjourned without taking action on the proposed legislation. It’s unclear whether the bill will resurface when the parliament reconvenes in February.
Local LGBTI activists are relieved but wary about what may come next. At a public event on Monday, Uganda’s President Museveni sent mixed messages about the bill, saying “If there are some homosexuals, we shall not kill or persecute them but there should be no promotion of homosexuality.”
Gitta Zomorodi is an AJWS program officer for Africa.
As stories about the resurgence of Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill inundate the blogosphere and international media, you could easily get the impression that Ugandans are rallying on the streets demanding the bill’s passage. In fact, the bill is not foremost on the average Ugandan’s mind.
“They are thieves, stealing the money.” The young man shook his head in disgust as he navigated our car through the traffic-choked streets of Uganda’s capital, Kampala. We were listening to an update on the Ugandan government’s latest corruption scandal: the theft of millions of dollars meant to aid the recovery of northern Uganda, a region grappling with deep poverty and neglect six years after the conflict there had ended. Read More
Photo Credit: Feministing.com
Today is Global Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, so we’re taking stock of sexual and reproductive rights around the globe. For many Americans, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the struggle to safeguard women’s health in the United States. We often forget about what’s happening in the developing world. So, a reminder:
- In Bolivia, Guatemala and Mexico, health coverage for indigenous families lags substantially behind the rest of the population. In Guatemala, maternal mortality among indigenous women is almost double that of non-indigenous women. Organizations like Asociacion de Mujeres Campesinas Q’eqchies “Nuevo Horizonte” are dedicated to promoting the rights and health of Q’eqchi women in Guatemala by organizing communities to work on projects to reduce sexual and gender-based violence; increase public education on sexual health and rights; and build women’s leadership and presence in community and municipal decision-making. Read More
Ugandan activists holding posters during the first Ugandan Pride celebration, which took place on August 4, 2012. (Photo Credit: The New Yorker)
Even though I live in New York, Uganda is often on my mind; especially the LGBTI Ugandan activists who are working to advance their human rights in an environment of violence, hostility and homophobia. Why do I think of Uganda and my LGBTI friends there so often? Because I work for American Jewish World Service, which supports grassroots organizations in Uganda that are fighting for the human rights of LGBTI people.
So, last week, when photographic images of Uganda’s first-ever LGBTI Pride event began to circulate through emails and online, including in The New Yorker, my first reaction—and the reaction of many other allied activists outside Uganda—was one of alarm. We worried about the risks of this kind of exposure in a country in which tabloids are notorious for publishing photos, names and addresses of outed “homos.” The aggressive outing of LGBTI people by the local media has helped fuel homophobia in the country. A photo of Ugandan gay activist David Kato appeared alongside the headline “Hang Them” just months before he was murdered in his home.
Photo: IAS/Steve Forrest
Originally posted on the blog of Human Rights and HIV: Now More Than Ever and on RH Reality Check.
Two years back, our Minister of Ethics and Integrity blocked a sex workers’ regional workshop that we had organized in Kampala. Because sex work is illegal in Uganda, he insisted that all our activities are illegal. He even called our activities “criminal.” He said sex workers should stop using HIV and AIDS as an excuse for breaching the law and that we should stop citing human rights as a justification for our “crimes.”
This is just absurd. Sex work may be illegal in Uganda but providing services for sex workers is not. The conference that we had organized was not about sex techniques or related to anything that is illegal. We were trying to build the skills of sex workers—in leadership, economic empowerment, personal development and entrepreneurship. We were also trying to provide information on their health rights, HIV and AIDS and sexual and reproductive health.