Eamonn McCann: Gay rights and wrongs – from the US to Uganda
‘Hatred of homosexuals in Uganda, as in much of the rest of Africa, has little to do with local tradition, a lot to do with the influence of western Christian evangelicals’
The US Supreme Court will decide before the end of this month whether gays and lesbians have a constitutional right to marry. If the court says yes, all state laws against equal marriage will fall. That outcome would represent another major step towards the vindication of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) rights generally (and, as a trivial aside, would allow us to congratulate American friends on their judiciary having caught up with the plain people of Ireland).
The perception of a steady advance towards gay liberation is entirely understandable here. The wave of joy from the Republic’s referendum splashed into Belfast last Saturday, when 20,000 samba-ed through the city centre to the tune of Paddy Nash’s perfect anthem, Let’s all stand up for Adam and Evan.
But, having indulged the giddy moment, we shouldn’t linger too long in a bubble of wonder. Elsewhere, LGBTI persecution persists. A fortnight ago, the UN Human Rights Council published its latest report on the state of LGBTI rights globally. It records a series of achievements since the last report, in 2011.
Fourteen states have adopted or strengthened anti-discrimination laws; two countries have introduced legal protections for inter-sex citizens; three have scrapped laws making gay sex illegal; 12 have introduced marriage or civil partnership laws. Almost everywhere, celebrities, politicians, sportspersons, etc. feel more relaxed about coming out.
Television programmes are more inclined to integrate LGBTI characters without fanfare or fuss.
On the other hand, the report details a range of locations where “knife attacks, anal rape, genital mutilation, stoning and dismemberment” are common; the seemingly systematic murder of transsexual women in Uruguay and black lesbians in South Africa; 310 homophobic and transphobic murders in Brazil in 2012; Islamic State’s murder of homosexual men by throwing them off high buildings; the “corrective rape” of lesbians in various places to turn them straight; the kidnap and assault of gay men in Russia and their humiliation through publication of videos showing their ordeal; the arrests, beatings and rape of lesbians and trans women in Egypt and Bangladesh; the torture and degradation of LGBTI prisoners in Honduras, the Gambia and Belarus; and more along the same dismaying lines.
Capital punishmentLaws remain in Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen allowing for capital punishment for consensual homosexual acts. In Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine and Uganda, “anti-propaganda” laws lay down sentences of up to 10 years for speaking about sexual orientation in public. The stated intention, as Vladimir Putin explained with regard to restrictions on visitors to the Winter Olympics in Sochi last year, is “to protect the innocent children from hearing wrong things”.
There are “rehabilitation clinics” in Ecuador where lesbian and transgender youths are detained – often with the collusion of their parents – and “subjected to torture, including sexual abuse” in efforts to cure them of their “affliction”.
The legal attitude to homosexuality hugely affects access to healthcare. Thus, in Caribbean countries, where homosexuality is illegal, one in four sexually active gay men is HIV positive. Where there are no such laws, the figure is one in 15.
Outside the US, the imminent verdict of the Supreme Court will be watched nowhere more closely than in Uganda. The current issue of Time magazine carries a striking picture of Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera on its cover. She is a Ugandan gay rights campaigner standing strong in face of a raging tide of homophobia. She travelled to Derry three years ago to deliver the opening address at Pride. No one who was there is likely to forget. A bright and bouncy woman full of smiles, she emerged, too, as one of the bravest people any of us had ever encountered. You have to be brave to be out in Uganda.
Under-pressure eliteHatred of homosexuals in Uganda, as in much of the rest of Africa, has little to do with local tradition, a lot to do with western Christian evangelicals. Kasha can name the pastors involved, and date their incursion into Africa. Retreating from the “culture war” they were losing in the US, men like Scott Lively of the Massachusetts Abiding Truth ministry allied with an under-pressure political elite to save Uganda by crushing homosexuality.
An increasingly ridiculous figure at home, Lively, having arrived by invitation of a conservative political group in 2009, now finds himself a national figure leading an appallingly successful hate campaign against Ugandan gays in their own country.
The connection between liberalisation in the US and persecution in Uganda is awkward. But the truth it illuminates is clear and simple. That freedom is indivisible. That the fate of each is bound up with the fate of all. That it’s one world we live in, and one struggle we have to win. In the midst of euphoria, it’s well to remember that the harder part is still to come.