The first openly gay rights organization in the United States was established in 1924 by a German immigrant, Henry Gerber.
The Society for Human Rights had a significant and prophetic name. Over two decades before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Gerber understood that sexuality was defined as a human right. It’s true, this did not represent a breakthrough for gay people in the US in the wider culture: police raids led to the Society’s disbanding in 1925.
Rather, it was the beginning of a struggle.
Ninety-five years later, the Stonewall rebellion. This act of resistance, considered to be the most important milestone in the progress towards gay liberation in the US, celebrates 50 years in a few days.
With more countries understanding the essential truth of that early Society of Human Rights, that LGBTI rights are human rights, and with equal marriage recognized to a greater degree than ever before, LGBTI people in some parts of the world are beginning to see the fruits of that long, hard struggle.
Openly gay organizations cannot operate in Uganda
From the perspective of my own country, Uganda, however, an openly gay organization cannot operate.
The Anti-Homosexuality Act was passed into law by Uganda’s president in 2014 but later annulled by the Constitutional Court of Uganda on grounds that it was passed without a quorum, as required.
The annulment was a great win but it did not stop the harassment of LGBTI communities by the Ugandan Police and media, by Simon Lokodo who serves as the Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity, and by homophobic citizens.
Homosexuality is criminalized in most African states. Only a few don’t have written laws criminalizing same-sex intimacy, and one or two have begun the process of throwing out what is principally colonial era legislation introduced by the British to control African sexuality.
Instead of Uganda learning from those few African countries that are decriminalizing homosexuality and trying to fight homophobia, it is taking steps backward. For example, Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of Parliament in Uganda, threatened that Uganda would withdraw from the International Parliamentary Union (IPU) if they were to keep pushing for the rights of LGBTI people in a declaration on migrants and refugees.
Denying human rights to LGBTI citizens
It is perhaps the greatest human rights violation for a government to deny that any group of people can rely on universally recognised human rights, that they even have human rights at all, but that is what the Ugandan government has effectively tried to do to the LGBTI communities.
This is Pride Month and Gay Pride is considered one of the most precious moments in the gay communities’ year because that is when everyone gets together to celebrate who we are and where we have come from. People from all communities, including LGBTI communities and heterosexual allies, attend Gay Pride. It’s all about being happy and being yourself.
This is the time when openly gay activists and non-activists meet as well. The Ugandan government does not have a problem robbing us of such precious moments. Our events beyond pride, such as conferences, meetings, and educational workshops are always disrupted or banned; illegal arrests of LGBTI people are not uncommon. So it’s no surprise that Pride itself has consistently been crushed, often brutally.
Why do they hate us?
Where has all this hate come from?
Evangelical Christians, particularly from the U.S., have found a way of taking advantage of Ugandans. They lie to them and say homosexuality is imported, un-African.
As I have always said, homophobia is not African. Homophobia was imported along with the laws the British gave us.
Homosexuality is not new in Africa because it’s not something that can be invented or started. It breaks my heart to see minorities suffer the wrath of marginalization just because they’re not the majority. I don’t know why people think because a few people are doing something the rest don’t, it must be wrong or unnatural.
Why do those who hate us hate us? I don’t know. But here is what I do know, the LGBTI communities in Uganda, myself as an openly Ugandan gay man included, will stop at nothing in order to spread warm love, kindness, and the generosity that everyone deserves.
I believe we must spread love to receive love. I understand we still have a lot of work to do as Ugandans to achieve gay rights. That is why we can’t stop fighting even with the current harassment and injustice we face in Uganda.
Back in 1924 Henry Gerber and his colleagues in the US didn’t give up. They knew that LGBTI rights are human rights. A few African countries that have recognized this too and have rejected the importation of homophobia motivate us to keep moving and fighting. This is not a battle that can be won in a day, month or year, but we are hopeful. If others can do it, so can we.
Frank Mugisha is the director of Sexual Minorities Uganda. Follow him on Twitter.