Would You Rather Be Gay in Uganda or Israel?

Until about a week ago, the last time anyone thought about Uganda was either (1) never or (2) to convey a generic far away place that you would never want to visit. It’s sort of like saying Timbuktu but sounds … Read More

By / January 14, 2010

Until about a week ago, the last time anyone thought about Uganda was either (1) never or (2) to convey a generic far away place that you would never want to visit. It’s sort of like saying Timbuktu but sounds way smarter. Now, in a fiery fit of gay rage, the relatively tiny nation (roughly the size of Michigan) has attempted to compensate for its small size by stirring up homophobic hubbub. It’s already a world leader in illiteracy – desiring to become part of a not-so-secret society of nations that punishes gays with the death penalty is just one more feather in Uganda’s unsightly African floral headwrap.

The bill, proposed by MP David Bahati, adds Uganda to that list of other places you would never want or are currently barred from going to like Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates. Coincidentally, most of those countries are ones where Jews wouldn’t feel terribly welcome either. Sure, it’s all fun-and-games shopping for Dolce in Dubai until someone gets stoned to death for showing their sugar daddy a little gratitude. Normally, when crazy countries (see: Iran) make generic threats, members of sane societies create useless Facebook pages with impossibly long, almost incoherent names like "Ahmadinejad is a terrorist tyrant. Bring peace to the Persian people now. Join to help us reach over 1,000,000 members." But despite the similar onslaught of fruitless Facebook pages rising up in virtual condemnation against this latest humanitarian crisis, it indeed appears that Uganda’s rogue government isn’t just interested in having an international dick-measuring contest. For the first time in its 47-year history, Uganda actually seems serious about instituting social change. Naturally, in a country where 75% of the population lives on less than $2 a day, it couldn’t be for something truly good. Instead, Ugandan parliament members (with the staunch support of – who else? – Evangelical groups) have drafted legislation that would broaden the scope of what is considered illegal homosexual behavior. People with HIV/AIDS, who have prior convictions of queer conduct, and/or get caught in same-sex acts with those under 18 years old would be subject to the death sentence. As if that weren’t enough of a human rights violation, Uganda will also go after gay expatriates and individuals or organizations that support LGBT rights there. It may come as a shocker that gays even exist at all in a country where raggy shmattes rule the roads. There are, however, an estimated 500,000 sexual minorities who call Uganda home. At first glance, this whole setup doesn’t scream special, but there are several factors that make the Ugandan case unique. First, there are key players from the American Evangelical movement – namely, Scott Lively, author of the literary masterpiece 7 Steps to Recruit-Proof Your Child, "healed" ex-gay Caleb Lee Brundidge, and hetero conversion missionary Don Schmierer – that have allegedly contributed to these political developments through their travels and live talks. They’ve said they don’t condone the bill and claim they didn’t know about the implications of their so-called holy work in Uganda. At least it’s likely that one of the three will be caught cruising the bathroom stalls at the Minneapolis International Airport. Second, Uganda’s religious composition is drastically different from the usual suspects of LGBT human rights violators worldwide, because it doesn’t have a Muslim majority. In fact, Uganda is overwhelmingly Christian with over 85% of the population identifying as either Roman Catholic or Protestant. Third, Uganda has a curious place in Jewish history (yeah, Hebrew school skipped over that one, because it’s actually interesting). Once upon a time, the British Uganda Plan called for the creation of a Jewish state where ass-fucking fun is now poised to be punishable by death. It was a far better deal than the Nazi scheme to ship the Jews off to Madagascar, but one thing is clear: if the current state of affairs in Israel is any indication, gays would have been freely prancing around a Judeo-African oasis – and with at least a marginally better sense of style. But, sadly, not all is sweet in the Land of Milk and Honey. Last year, Israel’s reputation was tarnished after a masked gunman waged war on an LGBT center in Tel Aviv. And in 2005, Jerusalem’s relatively somber socio-political pride parade was marred when an orthodox male stabbed three participants. Israel’s black hat Haredim have long been aggressors against sexual minorities both physically and politically feeling more commonalities with their Christian extremist counterparts than most of their Jewish brethren. In a rare instance of cross-religious cooperation, they’ve even joined forces with the Holy City’s Christians and Muslims to ban pride marches in Jerusalem altogether – who knew that anti-gay discrimination was what it took to bring people from different religions together? Still, while Israel has to contend with its own share of gay drama, it’s reassuring to know that gays in Israel can, among other things, qualify for couples’ benefits, serve in the military, and see a drag show. To think, all of that happens in a country founded by people from socialist Eastern Europe and the most intolerable parts of the Arab World. Uganda’s homo hate bill is scheduled for a vote before parliament in late February or March. Until then, the best that gay Ugandans can hope for are a few meaningless Facebook pages and the off chance that Madonna or Angelina Jolie will be back on the market for more African babies. Luckily, some open-minded Jews are doing what they can: AJWS is already raising funds to help and support gay people in Uganda.

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