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Americans Can Learn from Africans in the Fight for Sexual Freedom

October 3, 2010 Leave a comment

(This was posted originally September 20, 2010 at The Bilerico Project.)

Recent polling suggests that Americans are becoming increasingly accepting of same-sex couples and their families. The second poll in as many months shows that.
This is a remarkable statistic and is no doubt a result of all the work that thousands of gay rights activists and allies have done in laying the groundwork to change hearts and minds. The fight for equality, however, should be examined through the lens of the larger fight for sexual freedom in general.

We as LGBT people are a sexual minority and as we help this country’s citizens progress in their view of the definition of what love means, we are also exceptionally poised to help them acknowledge their own sexuality and that sexual freedom is a fundamental human right.

For Kushaba Moses Mworeko, or Moses, as his friends call him, the struggle for sexual freedom has meant having to leave his home country or face potential deadly consequences. Moses’ remarkable story was first told earlier this year when he was featured as a panelist at the American Prayer Hour press conference. The American Prayer Hour was an alternative interfaith service held in protest on the day of The Family’s National Prayer Breakfast. Moses, who hails from Uganda, talked about his experience as a closeted gay man in Africa. His story was especially significant as Uganda’s legislature was, and still is, considering passage of the homophobic Anti-Homesexuality Bill of 2009.

The pictures of Moses speaking with a paper bag over his head to hide his identity while he spoke at the National Press Club have become iconic images.

Since then, Moses has officially come out to the world revealing his face on the cover of Washington’s Metro Weekly. His story has also served as a rallying call in the international fight for equality as evidenced by a recent blog post at Truth Wins Out. In it, Moses called on Anglican leaders to denounce the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

It is time for Christian leaders in Africa to start promoting peace and stop persecuting LGBT people,” said Kushaba Moses Mworeko, who recently escaped to the United States. “I call on the Anglican Church to speak out forcefully against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and to support decriminalizing gay relationships across the continent. As the church grows in Africa it must choose to be a force for good and not intolerance.

To honor all this work, this week (September 23, 2010) Moses will be awarded with the Victoria Woodhull Sexual Freedom Award, the “Vicki,” for his bravery and for embodying the mission and vision of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, which works to affirm sexual freedom as a fundamental human right. Moses plans to work with the Woodhull Freedom Foundation to help them establish an Internet platform for global rights, which he will use to continue his advocacy and work.

The award ceremony is part of Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Day, a day long event taking place at the National Press Club this Thursday. The day will be capped with the release of Woodhull’s new report, “The State of Sexual Freedom in the US” at a 3 p.m. press conference. Bilerico’s very own Bil Browning is a also a featured panelist.

The award is named after the group’s namesake, Victoria Woodhull, a progressive suffragist who advocated for sexual freedom and who was the first woman to run for President of the United States.
Moses is humbled to be receiving the award and the attention he’s received in the last year has bolstered his belief that what he is doing is right.When it comes to his own thoughts on sexual freedom, Moses is very clear about what he feels is most important.

“It is okay for people to do whatever they want to do, provided the sex is consensual and safe,” he said.

Moses quoted Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood and early champion of birth control, to help explain his view: “Through sex mankind may attain the great spiritual illumination which will transform the world, which will light up the only path to an earthly paradise.”

Getting to this earthly paradise is something he is confident will happen for the U.S., Africa and the world in general.

“In Uganda, internet usage isn’t as prolific there as it is in the West. They do use it, but they don’t do much research,” he said. “My story has opened their minds and their view of the Internet, so if I keep speaking about it folks will slowly start to understand.”

Though he is 31, he says that he has never felt more free than he has since going public with his true identity this past summer.

“I look at myself as a person who is now free and empowered to do whatever I want to do with my life and I think that also encompasses the sexual side of myself,” he says. “I feel like I am now out of the closet and I think I am the happiest person around. I can function more normally now that I am free.”

Despite this newly found freedom and the attention he has received in this country, Moses is quick to note that he does not consider himself to be the new face of the fight for equality. Rather, this humble man feels he’s most effective when he’s working behind the scenes of the movement.

“I’ll always speak out about injustice. That’s all I can do. If I’ve been of any help through my words then that is a good thing,” he said. “I thrive on feedback when talking with the other side and I don’t mind their responses to me, but the whole issue is that if I communicate with the other side that’s a good thing. We have to be able to engage them.”

Moses acknowledges very frankly that coming out has caused some pain for him and his family and friends, who have only recently learned of his activities here in the States. The calls from home have been endless and most are in disbelief that it is true. While he is disheartened at some of the negative reactions he has encountered, he is determined to keeping up the fight for equality here and at home in Uganda.

Moses is currently living in San Francisco where his case for asylum has been moved and he’s looking forward to working with local LGBT groups there when he returns later this week as he waits for his case to be decided.

He’s also working on his plans for the future which include a return to graduate school. His studies were cut short in Uganda when he had to leave and his application was positively received at Johns Hopkins University, where he hopes to soon matriculate in order to work on his other passions: social work and public health.

And, through this all, Moses says he will continue to do his part to ensure sexual freedom and equality for all. His core set of values is based on a simple yet profound idea that gets to the heart of the equality movement and the Woodhull Freedom Foundation’s mission.

“All I care about is having people free to express themselves the way they want to.”

Learn more about the work the Woodhull Freedom Foundation is doing and read their recent report on the  State of Sexual Freedom in the United States.

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Religious Right Has No Intention of Letting Uganda Anti-gays Bill Die

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment

This despite reports that the Uganda Parliament’s Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee doubts the Anti-Homosexuality Bill will pass.

Religious extremist Lou Engle’s group The Call is planning a rally next month in Uganda and will include calls to support the legislation.

From Truth Wins Out:

“He [Warren Throckmorton] reports that The Call Uganda, an organization which has both political and religious purposes and supports Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, is preparing for a large rally on May 2.

According to Throckmorton, ‘The relative quiet in Uganda surrounding the bill could easily be broken by this event.'”

Engle is a scary guy. His intensity is unnerving and he has a penchant for using disturbing images to get his point across. His work against families and reproductive health rights is legendary. His message is one of hate and he calls on followers to become martyrs for Christ.

Just check out some of The Call’s videos for a taste.

The Call Uganda is just the kind of thing supporters of the all but dead Anti-Homosexual act need to bring it back to life.

From Throckmorton:

‘I am quite concerned that this event could have the same kind of impact that the March 2009 anti-gay conference had in Uganda. At that event, Scott Lively told his Ugandan audience that gays were behind Nazi Germany and possibly involved in the Rwandan atrocities. In general the conference reinforced the desire of some religious leaders to persuade the government to create laws which would eliminate homosexuality from the nation.”

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British Government: Kill-the-Gays Bill Sponsor Banned if Bill Passes

April 20, 2010 Leave a comment

Just off the heels of the last week’s Senate vote condemning the Ugandan Anti-homosexual Bill comes the news this week that the UK plans to ban the bill’s sponsor MP David Bahati from entering the country if the bill is passed.

From The Guardian:

Civil servants in the Foreign Office, the Department for International Development and the Borders Agency are drawing up plans to block the visa of born-again Christian MP David Bahati if he does not drop legislation that would see consenting adults who have gay sex imprisoned for life and impose the death penalty on those with HIV – which will be called “aggravated homosexuality”.

The move is the most recent rebuke from the British Parliament toward the Ugandan government. Earlier this month, 118 British MPs publicly dencounced the homophobic legislation. Speaking for the group of MPS, activist Peter Tathcell said in a statement, “Even if the death penalty is dropped, the Bill will remain unacceptable. It will still violate the equality guarantees of international human rights agreements.”

This seems to be confirmed in today’s news:

The British government is concerned by a wave of anti-gay sentiment sweeping Africa that has also put pressure on homosexual people in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Nigeria.

Read about that uptick in violence here.

The issue appears to be coming to a head in the UK’s Parliament. The Guardian article also says an “unnamed” senior British official has said the issue could become a “major diplomatic incident if the Ugandans do not back down.” It goes on to report that the Ugandans seem to be using stalling tactics to delay passage of the bill until next year, especially amid the intense international pressure to kill this bill.

Box Turtle Bulletin says these “stalling tactics,” if indeed true, confirm reports that the bill is most likely not to receive a vote.

But with President Yoweri Museveni’s bid to extend his twenty-five year rule for another five years, the bill could be resurrected at any time if Museveni decides it is to his political advantage.

Dead or not, the American government should show its support for the British government’s moves.  The Senate resolution was a welcome step, but we need this vote coupled with executive action. The State Department can show solidarity with its British counterpart and give Bahati the same warning.

Let’s go one step further and issue the same warning to Museveni, too!

I’ve been told that the State Department is preparing to review the entire continent’s human rights record, a reportedly unprecedented effort. It is thought that this review should result in solutions to get various African nations to adopt more tolerant and accepting policies toward LGBT Africans. Homosexuality is currently illegal in 37 countries across the vast continent.

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Key Senate Committee Speaks Out Against Uganda Anti-Gay Bill

April 14, 2010 1 comment

In case you missed it today, the Senate Foreign Relations committee passed a resolution by unanimous consent late last night that calls on Ugandan legislature to kill the Anti-Homosexuality Bill currently under consideration.

From the HRC Back Story blog:

The Senate Resolution, introduced by Sens. Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., Tom Coburn, R-Okla., Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, expresses the United States government’s “unequivocal” opposition to the proposed Ugandan bill. Stressing the “universality of human rights” and the bill’s potential to undermine U.S. efforts to combat HIV/AIDS globally, the resolution calls upon the Secretary of State to more closely monitor human rights abuses that are motivated by sexual orientation and to encourage the repeal or reform of similar laws around the world. Next, the resolution will need approval by the full Senate.

This is great news as it means the United States Congress is one step closer to officially rejecting that bill on moral grounds. It is, however, just a resolution and has no kind of enforcement language included. There is a similar resolution making its way through the House.

It is encouraging to see language in the resolution that calls on the president and the Secretary of State to better monitor the continent for human rights abuses. Despite its lack of any kind of real effect, this resolution does bolster arguments made here and the rest of the blogosphere that American foreign aid should be withheld from any country that systematically persecutes minorities of any kind. It provides the kind of of leverage needed to apply more pressure to the administration to act.

Start pressuring!

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Anti-gay Evangelist Publicly Condemns Kill-the-Gays Bill

April 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Sometimes it’s true that it is better to be late than never.

Yesterday, Joyce Meyer , of the Joyce Meyer Ministries, sent an email to her supporters and followers condemning Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda. Meyer has followers the world over, including an office in Uganda, and has the messaging power of other huge evangelicals such as Joel Osteen and Rick Warren.

Meyer is certainly no friend of the gay community and has been outspoken about her objections to the “homosexual lifestyle.” Still, Meyers criticized efforts made in God’s name that would persecute other human beings.

From Meyer’s statement:

It is increasingly evident that the proposed “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” introduced in the Ugandan parliament is a profoundly offensive, dangerous and disturbing attack on the very foundation of individual liberties and human rights afforded not only to the good citizens of Uganda, but on the at-large global community.

If enacted, this hostile legislation will also further, and adversely, serve as a major setback in the global health efforts to combat Uganda’s AIDS epidemic and reduce the record-high infection rates among the country’s HIV population, an already at-risk community that could be further ostracized, threatened, and targeted as potential criminals.

The call to stop this bill is certainly welcome, especially given Meyer’s star power and influence. A more responsible preacher of God’s word, however, would have come out against this bill sooner, especially since it seems the bill may be going nowhere fast. Just last Monday, a group of 118 British Members of Parliament slammed the Ugandan government for entertaining passage of this legislation.

In a motion drafted in part by U.K. gay rights activist Peter Tatchell, the group of MPs called on the Ugandan government to drop the proposed legislation, claiming it violates the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights. The motion further calls upon the Ugandan parliament t to decriminalize “same-sex acts between consenting adults in private, and outlawing discrimination against gay people.”

Then there were reports filed Friday that members of a key panel in the Uganda legislature did not see passage of the bill happening.

“I think it is useless and will not achieve what it intends to achieve,” said Alex Ndeezi, a member of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee tasked with reviewing the bill before it can be presented to the house.

The panel’s chairman Stephen Tashyoba said the draft law was not a priority.

“As far as I am concerned, we really have more urgent matters to discuss like electoral reforms, which are already behind schedule,” he said.

I’m glad Meyer has finally stepped up and that lawmakers are responding to international pressure to kill this bill, but I’m afraid that the damage has been done.

It will be a victory if this bill does indeed fail, but anti-gay fervor has been whipped up by the bill’s author, David Bahati and Martin Ssempa as well countless news outlets and law enforcement agencies. People in countries all over Africa have of late been encouraged to report their fellow citizens suspected of being gay. In some cases, it seems that acts of violence have been condoned. Worse is the American involvement that has been instrumental in fomenting this homophobia.

Once this bill in Uganda is dead, the real challenge will be changing hearts and minds and teaching acceptance.

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LGBT Violence on Uprise in Africa

April 12, 2010 2 comments

I have been less than prolific on El Castillo in the past few weeks. So, to my devoted reader, I say hello again.

I’ll be expanding on my absence in future posts, but suffice it to say that my schedule is getting back to normal and there should be more to fill your google reader or your inbox or whatever portal you use to read this blog.

On with the business of the day. I have been writing some on the treatment of gays in Africa, specifically with regards to what’s happening in Uganda. I will be writing alot more about this in the weeks to come.

There was more news today about violence directed at gay men in the west African country of Senegal. Madieye Diallo, a gay activist who had recently succumbed to AIDS and had been buried, was exhumed from his grave site not long after his funeral. His body was then mutilated and then dumped at the doorstep of his parents.

The event has driven some gay Senegalese into hiding.

‘I locked myself inside my room and didn’t come out for days,’ says a 31-year-old gay friend of Diallo’s who is ill with HIV, ‘I’m afraid of what will happen to me after I die. Will my parents be able to bury me?’

A wave of intense homophobia is washing across Africa, where homosexuality is already illegal in at least 37 countries.

In the last year alone, gay men have been arrested in Kenya, Malawi, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. In Uganda, lawmakers are considering a bill that would sentence homosexuals to life in prison and include capital punishment for ‘repeat offenders.’ And in South Africa, the only country that recognizes gay rights, gangs have carried out so-called “corrective” rapes on lesbians.

Though it is officially illegal to be gay in Senegal, the country has long had a “clandestine gay community” and has generally been tolerated.

This wave of violence against LGBT people in Africa has spread across the continent and it has been helped along with support from various media outlets in that country that have made known their sympathy for draconian laws that outlaw homosexuality.

It is also due in no small part to the support of conservative American evangelicals who have taken their fight against gays and lesbians to Africa. For the leaders of this movement, they see Africa as the one place where they can make inroads with their message of hate and violence. Take, for example, their support for the Ugandan anti-gays bill that would imprison gay men and women as well those who associate with them. This involvement from American evangelicals has spurred recent actions from folks like Martin Ssempa and Ugandan legislator David Bahati, both of whom have done their fair share of fomenting a violent anti-gay fervor.

To be sure, what is happening in Africa has international repercussions. Still, there is a basic level of decency that all humans should be afforded, if no other time than in death. This alone should be enough to drive folks into action to help put an end to this kind of violence.

I’ll have more about what’s happening in Uganda in future posts.

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