By Lukoye Atwoli
Sunday Nation 02 March 2014
The Ugandan parliament recently passed legislation outlawing
“homosexuality” in the country. The law provides for life imprisonment
for anyone committing or promoting the “offence of homosexuality”, among
many other penalties and prohibitions.
It has been argued that
the fact that the Ugandan parliament passed this law and the president
assented to it is sad, but does not merit more than just passing comment
from anyone who is not Ugandan or directly affected by it. (READ: Kerry calls Museveni over anti-gay law) This
is fair enough on the face of it although, in such a digitally
connected world, it is difficult to isolate a country and argue for
internal self-determination on laws such as this that criminalise
behaviour that responsible scientists in the field do not consider
abnormal or even harmful.
More pertinent, though, is the fact that
the Ugandan action is part of a wave of intolerance being propagated
across the continent by forces intent on forcing their own particular
brand of morality on African countries. Nigeria recently passed
similar legislation, and efforts are gathering pace in Kenya to
introduce similar legislation in our parliament. This is the
reason I think it is important to make the following points so that when
the legislative debate gets here, nobody will argue that we did not
raise any opposition to it.
I have encountered, on social media
and elsewhere, arguments that opponents of homosexuality are disgusted
by the behaviour, or that it is somehow un-African and un-Christian.
Many of those supporting such legislation use these arguments to back
their viewpoints. We have, before this legislation was even contemplated, discussed all these points with vigour and often agreed to disagree.
in order to fully appreciate this matter, it is useful to understand
what “homosexual” means. First, it is a form of sexual orientation
referring to someone who is sexually attracted to persons of the same
sex. Second, it is a form of social identity, whereby an
individual identifies with people of homosexual orientation, and perhaps
also refers to themselves as being homosexual. Third, it is a
form of sexual behaviour involving intercourse or other sexual activity
between individuals of the same sex. (READ: Uganda newspaper names 200 'homos' after anti-gay law signed)
is important to appreciate that a person may meet one, two or all three
definitions of homosexual. For instance, one may have homosexual
orientation but never identify themselves as homosexual or engage in
homosexual behaviour. Similarly, one may engage in homosexual
behaviour without identifying themselves as being homosexual or even
while having primary sexual interest in members of the opposite sex.
is instructive that these “anti-gay” laws are often informed by the
third definition only, and criminalise the behaviour on the assumption
that this will end the orientation and social identities. Unfortunately
mountains of research on this topic suggest that such moves are futile,
and homosexuality cannot be “cured” by such moves.
It is also
true that the arguments about homosexuality being “disgusting,
un-African or un-Christian” are also informed by visualisations of
homosexual behaviour, often between males. While I can understand
some people’s disgust with this kind of behaviour, it is difficult for
me to link this disgust with the law-making process.
We simply do
not go out and legislate against behaviours solely because they disgust
us. How then is homosexuality different? Surely even the “crime” of
homosexuality needs a victim?
Dr Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and senior lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine. firstname.lastname@example.org