Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Arts.Advocacy+Wellness: "Trouble in Uganda"

I received these two articles Tuesday morning through the Black AIDS Institute and needed to share:

From “The Miracle of Uganda” to Impending Genocidal Nightmare
First Published: 12/7/2009    
The Ugandan Parliament is considering legislation that completely violates any standard of human rights. The bill would not only criminalize being gay – exposing gay and lesbian people to arrest and even death – it would also, in effect, criminalize even knowing someone who's gay, requiring that nation's citizens to report homosexual activity or face imprisonment themselves.

If this pending legislation passes, it will totally undermine HIV/AIDS efforts in a nation whose previous interventions have resulted in comparatively low AIDS rates, giving rise to the phrase "the Ugandan miracle." People who already have AIDS would be subject to tremendous stigma, as would those at risk for HIV. What's more, it would call into question whether Uganda is a place where the United States can continue to invest PEPFAR or other development dollars.

Most importantly, the passage of these laws would set people up for sexual-orientation-based "ethnic cleansing," including witch hunts that pit family member against family member, neighbor against neighbor, as previously happened in Rwanda.

So far, the U.S. response to these proposed statues can only be described as timid as best. But we call upon the United States government to stand by its commitments to human rights and against HIV/AIDS. There is no room for neutrality. We would be loud and forceful if the Ugandan Parliament introduced a bill that made it illegal to be female with the potential penalty being death. Our response to this legislation should be no less.

The State Department should declare its opposition to this legislation without delay. Ambassador Goosby must make it clear to the highest levels of the Ugandan health ministry that passage of such legislation would have severe consequences.

Uganda has been held up as role model for how developing countries can create public policies that change the trajectory of the AIDS pandemic. It would be tragic to allow this type of hate-filled policy to derail those efforts. There are been too many times in our nation's past when, given the opportunity to intervene in time to avert disaster, we were slow or too timid. Let’s not repeat those mistakes here.

Uganda’s Proposed Anti-Gay Law Triggers Worldwide Outcry

First Published: 12/7/2009    
International news services report that the Ugandan government is considering legislation that could make homosexuality punishable by death.

Homosexuality is already a crime in that nation – those caught engaging in gay sex can be imprisoned for life. But “The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009,” introduced last month, proposes that “repeat offenders” of homosexuality be executed. It also calls for the execution of gay men found guilty of "aggravated homosexuality," a charge that would be applied to those who are HIV positive, or who have sex with someone who is under 18 or disabled. The new bill would penalize any Ugandan attempting a gay “offense” with up to seven years in jail, no matter where they live in the world (which would mean they could face extradition). Plus, Ugandan inmates would be tested for HIV, and, if they are found to have it, would be put to death.

Even heterosexuals with knowledge of homosexual acts would be at risk: the legislation calls for prison sentences for straight people who fail to report gay activity to the police within twenty-four hours.

Some international gay activists, who fear the bill will prompt a witchhunt against the gay Ugandan community that could ultimately devolve into genocide, call the new legislation “evil.”

“It is very difficult for me to overstate how potentially devastating this legislation is,” says Kevin Frost, CEO of amFAR, the foundation for AIDS research. “It’s bad enough that it criminalizes the lives of Ugandans and punishes them rather than protects them. It goes so far to make amfAR’s work in Uganda illegal because we’re funding men who have sex with men outreach groups on the ground there. It would threaten any of our staff that travels there. They could be arrested and imprisoned.”

This is a problem, according to civil rights activists, because although the prevalence rate for HIV among adults in Uganda is only somewhere between 5 and 6 percent, this may not last if gay people don’t feel safe enough to openly seek preventative care. “Uganda is usually credited for effectively controlling transmission with active, early interventions,” says Ryan Thoreson with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. “It's part of the reason so many partners and donors are now alarmed. With the passage of this bill, the government would be rejecting a rational, epidemiologically-sound approach and letting politics and fundamentalism dictate their strategy for prevention, treatment, and care.”

Some blame a privately funded group known as “The Family" – one of the most powerful Christian fundamentalist organizations in the United States, whose members reportedly include South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, Senators Sam Brownback and Strom Thurmond and other influential U.S. leaders – for fueling the homophobic legislation, which may not be voted on for several months. The group is accused of using its heavy influence and funds through African-outreach programs to support the law. However, several nations have threatened to cut aid to Uganda if the bill passes – among them Canada, Sweden and the United Kingdom, some of Uganda’s largest donors following the United States. Uganda literally can’t afford to see this happen – it’s estimated that in years past, between 30 to 50 percent of the country’s budget came from foreign aid, the World Bank and other institutions.

At this point, activists say, the power ultimately lies in the hands of Ugandan president Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who has not publicly expressed his support of the bill but is said to be staunchly opposed to gay rights. They hope that with enough international pressure the bill in its current state will never make it onto the parliamentary floor.

“Without even focusing on the worst aspects of the bill, this could still be a really repressive piece of legislation,” says Thoreson. “This bill puts HIV/AIDS organizations in a pretty precarious position, and is likely to hamper prevention efforts for every sector of the Ugandan population.”

“Organizations like UNAIDs are working on this but I think what Americans need to do is call and speak to their congressmen and senators; reach out to the state department directly. Our leaders need to know that we expect the policies surrounding HIV and AIDS in this country to be reflected in our commitment to civil rights –human rights – overseas.”

Tomika Anderson is a freelance writer who has been published in such outlets as POZ,, Essence and UPTOWN.

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