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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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Supporters of Anti-gay Legislation in Uganda Hosting President Obama Thursday

February 3, 2010 Leave a comment

Heads of state and other dignitaries will gather this week to attend the annual National Prayer Breakfast. A highly secretive Christian fundamentalist organization called The Family hosts the event each year. The Family has ties to major players in our government and also boasts such members as the embattled Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and the governor from South Carolina, Mark Sanford.

The event has happened for several years and usually without much fanfare, but this year attendees and the rest of the country can expect much more hoopla over the event. That’s because a coalition of civil rights organizations are calling on the President and other invited guests to skip the annual event to protest the involvement of members of The Family who had a direct hand in crafting Uganda’s horrendous and deeply violent Anti-Homosexual bill. Up until recently this bill included execution as punishment for violation of the law. It was only amended after much arm-twisting by the international community. The new legislation does nothing, however, to address the other draconian elements that look to be codified.

If you don’t know much about The Family, it’s probably because they don’t have a web site nor any discernible appearance of a legitimate non-profit organization. Instead, the group is shrouded in secrecy and only really surfaces every year to host this annual event. The Family has been the subject of much scrutiny in the last year not only for its involvement with Uganda, but also for its shady dealings and influence with some of the highest office holders in America. Check out the video below of Rachel Maddow interviewing Jeff Sharlet, who has recently published a new book about The Family.

At a press conference in Washington today, organizers of an alternative to the National Prayer Breakfast, dubbed the American Prayer Hour, called on the Congress, the President and the world-at-large to repudiate the homophobic legislation and The Family, whose only reason for existing is to organize the prayer breakfast.

“It is irresponsible for any public official to associate themselves with a group that has such a checkered past,” said author FrankSchaeffer. “I don’t think that anyone with a conscience should participate in the breakfast, especially if there is a good alternative.” Schaeffer, whose father was instrumental in the up-rise of the modern Christian right wing movement, has been outspoken about The Family’s involvement in Uganda and its ties to leaders in government.

Schaeffer went on to compare to terrorists organizations calling The Family, America’s version of the Taliban.

“Our national leaders have got to stop and think a minute about working with a group similar to the Taliban and who, if they had their way, would do here in the U.S. exactly what the Ugandan’s are trying to do,” Schaeffer said.

According to Schaeffer, the National Prayer Breakfast has become The Family’s annual meeting saying that as soon as it is over, the wheeling and dealing for more influence begins.

“They deal in the currency of oppression. They see U.S. divided into ‘We’ and ‘They’,” he said. “Enough of the pussyfooting around on this. It is time to see who is interested in religion and who is just interested in power.”

The press conference marked the first in a series of events this week designed to spotlight and ramp up the pressure against The Family and its involvement with Uganda’s efforts to eliminate its LGBT population.

The most compelling moment at today’s event came when a soft-spoken gentleman, Moses, took to the podium. Moses is a gay Ugandan man who is seeking asylum in the United States in order to escape persecution at home for being gay. He is also in serious fear for his life so he delivered his remarks with a paper bag draped over his face to hide his identity.

He talked at length about his experience, which has included severe beatings, rape at the hands of the police and public outing. He praised the efforts of the organizers and called on all Americans to do all they could to bring sunshine to the human rights atrocities happening in his home country.

“In Uganda, one would rather die than come out of the closet,” he said. “When you’re gay in Uganda, you’re denied things like housing because of the threat you pose to spreading deviance.”

The discrimination has even infiltrated Uganda’s health care system as evidenced by Moses’ harrowing story of being raped by a local police officer. He went home to treat himself, knowing he would be denied assistance at hospital in favor of being reported.

When speaking about the Ugandan legislature’s decision to remove the execution provision of the bill, Moses called the move insincere. The bill still retains a provision that calls for a minimum sentence of 20 years for violation of the law.

“The average Ugandan dies at 51, he said, so if one is outed in their 20s or 30s they would in effect be handed a death sentence,” he said.

Other events this week include a protest outside The Family’s C Street House tomorrow evening. The protest is being organized by Full Equality Now DC. Protesters will gather on Capitol Hill at 5:30 and hold a rally outside the residence which houses members of Congress including  Sen. John Ensign, who admitted last year that he had had an affair with the spouse of one of his staffers. That staffer claims that the C Street House was the site where many of Ensign’s adulterous acts took place.

The week will culminate in the American Prayer Hour on Thursday morning. It will be running counter to the prayer breakfast and organizers are urging all who can to attend any of the several meetings happening all over the country. Prayer hours will be taking place in Dallas (where the Nat’l . Lesbian and Gay Task Force is having their annual Creating Change conference), Chicago, L.A. and even Anchorage, Alaska! For a complete list, visit AmericanPrayerHour.org.

According to the American Prayer Hour web site, organizers hope to “share our inclusive vision and worldview by celebrating our core values of diversity, justice, respect for all people and religious pluralism.” It is also very much about highlighting the anti-gay activists who are behind the National Prayer Breakfast and the role they have played in promoting homophobia in other countries, specifically Uganda.

The White House has already confirmed the president’s attendance at the breakfast on Thursday, despite repeated calls to skip the event. Bishop Gene Robinson said, however, that Mr. Obama’s attendance on Thursday is key.

“To get someone not to attend at this point is inappropriate. One of the things we like about Obama is his tendency to go where angels fear to tread,” said Robinson. “I’d rather he do go as it’s an opportunity for him to speak out.

In anticipation of the president’s attendance on Thursday, Harry Knox, who is HRC’s director of Religion and Faith and also a member of Mr. Obama’s Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnership Advisory Council, said every effort has been made to ensure the president uses the opportunity to repudiate the Ugandan effort and those of anyone associated with them. The administration’s recent actions have also been encouraging.

“At the direction of the president, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made it clear to Uganda that if this bill passes the country will have serious diplomatic issues with the United States,” Knox said.

No word exactly on what those issues could be, but most on the panel today agreed that Uganda’s substantial foreign aid could be at risk.

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