The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, and the Scientific Statement…food for thought if ever there was any. The circulated statement, which was prepared by authorities at the Makerere University Medical School and other Ugandan and (international) scientific professionals, concludes that there is no definitive gene responsible for homosexuality, and that homosexuality is influenced by environmental factors, for example culture, religion, information and peer pressure. In the report, the consulted science professionals also conclude that the ‘practise’ of homosexuality needs regulation like any other human behaviour, especially to protect the vulnerable.
In written communication from the department of Public Relations at the State house of Uganda, President Museveni is quoted as saying ‘What is important for us is the authoritative statement of those who are charged with the medical affairs of Uganda at this time because they are the ones who are historically responsible. The question I put to them was, are there people born like this? Now they are saying they are no such people. And if they put it in writing… because this is a historical document…that the one who was running Uganda at that time got worried, asked the experts what did they say about this and this is what they said….then my work is finished.’ Don’t you think though that it is important for the government and the parliament of Uganda to carefully and unemotionally consider the report that would be responsible for the passage of such a retrogressive bill? I think so. So all emotions aside-I have some questions about this scientific statement.
After reading the statement rendered, although I am not a scientist nor do I belong to a body of scientific professionals, I feel that it is important to commend a few conclusions in the said statement, which should be given cognisance for their progressive and inclusive language and both social and scientific relevance. The statement, in its conclusion states:
i.) Homosexuality is not a disease
ii.) Homosexuality is not an abnormality
iii.) There is need for studies to address sexualities in the African context
I concur with the report that there is a deep and longing need for studies to address the issues of sexualities in an African context and using African language. The scientific reports’ findings heavily quote and reference Western studies on the issues around sexualities, and homosexuality. It can be safe to say then that these findings stem from research that was carried out in global Northern countries, and are thus influenced heavily by the social norms and values of the countries from which the research reports originate. None of the referenced material quoted looks at local, Africa based research, nor does it consider the African context in its findings. In the light of this statement revealing that there is a great need for more research and studies into sexualities and the African context, it’s proposed, that before the president of Uganda signs the bill into active law:
a.) That a time period for intensive research in Uganda and Africa be carried out, and that African published papers, and research by African scientists, specifically focusing on the issue of sexuality and gender identity, be given. This will allow for a scientific statement and report that is African in content and context to be developed. As it stands, the scientific report produced cannot be taken as truth for Africa, and Uganda more specifically with all the reference material cited being Western sourced.
b.) The referenced material in the scientific report dates back as far as 1954. There have been considerable changes and advances in behavioural science since then, as more research is carried out in the world and more information is made available to us through science. More current studies on sexuality and behavioural sciences should be considered for the purposes of developing such a scientific statement. Science and technology change at a very fast pace and in order to develop accurate analyses of situations, we need to use the latest information that science avails us.
In the same spirit, I wish to challenge several conclusions included in the scientific statement produced by the Ministry of Health in Uganda. The statement in its conclusions stated:
1) There is no definitive gene responsible for homosexuality:
1a. Based on the research referenced, its dates and the sources, I consider this conclusion to be, well, inconclusive. While the scientists in this statement have sought to prove that there is no genetic link between human beings and homosexual behaviour, they have not also proven that heterosexual behaviour is in fact naturally occurring and that it is the ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ way of being. While heterosexual behaviour is more publicly visible and acceptable, the consulted scientists in their report have not proven beyond reason that heterosexuality is the genetic norm for intimate and sexual human interaction. The scientific statement presents the fact that sexuality, like a variety of other biologically occurring human traits, varies in degrees from masculine to feminine and vice versa- and that there is nothing unnatural about homosexuality, whether occurring in humans or in animals. If this is to be taken as truth, then it should be accepted that homosexuality exists within the sexuality spectrum and should be afforded its place not just in science-but in in everyday life.
2) In every society there is a small number of people with homosexual tendencies
2a. Statistics around the existence of homosexual women and men in Africa, and the taboo nature in which this orientation and identity is perceived, are largely non-existent. Data currently available is not extensive enough to come to the conclusion that gender non-conforming people are a minority people in every society.
There are indeed a multitude of heterosexual presenting homosexual practising women and men in Africa-therefore it would be inaccurate to conclude that it is only the gender non-conforming women and men that are homosexual, either in identity or in practise.
The assumption was the same for HIV positive people in Africa until social and health systems made it moderately safe for people to come out about their HIV statuses. In the case of HIV, it was found that more people than assumed or anticipated had been knowingly or unknowingly living with the virus in shame and silence. These same social restrictions are experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identifying people in Uganda and Africa as a whole. It is not safe for gender non-conforming people to publicly affirm their sexuality, and therefore it is difficult for any real and valid statistic to be collected. This fear exists worldwide, even in countries where homosexuality is not criminalised, therefore if this conclusion is based on Western collated statistics, they are still likely to not only be flawed, but also not representative of the African [Ugandan] situation.
3) Homosexuality can be influenced by environmental factors e.g (culture, religion, information, peer pressure)
The above conclusion is also true for heterosexuality. It has to be. If, as the scientific statement argues, that homosexuality has no genetic links in its influence over human behaviour and sexuality, then neither does heterosexuality. I can then also submit that heterosexuality is a learned practise which is influenced by the same environmental factors as listed above. At which point, in the same way that heterosexuality is allowed to exist in a social space and without policing and abuse, so should homosexuality. If it is decided that heterosexuality is in fact naturally occurring and independent of socio-cultural influences, then the same body of scientists should also prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that homosexuality has genetic predispositions for majority of women and men in the world.
4) The practise needs regulation like any other human behaviour, especially to protect the vulnerable.
Attempts to regulate human behaviour, at best, have more often than not failed. Attempts at controlling human behaviour lead to gross impunity and violence carried out on people’s bodies for unprovoked and unsolicited reasons. Legislature that seeks to police and regulate people’s behaviour and sexuality is difficult to control, because it created fear and paranoia of anything different from what is considered the ‘norm’ in a particular community rules over humanity and acceptance. Because of this intolerance for ‘otherness’ it is very possible that many heterosexual people that present their gender orientations outside the accepted and expected binary box will become-if they are not already-targets of the same kinds of hate crimes that non-heteronormative people are subjected to.
The role and responsibility of the Ugandan government is not to regulate human behaviour, but to safeguard the rights and freedoms, which are the birth rights of all people who abide within its borders. Lesbian, bisexual, gay and trans-identifying people too are vulnerable to acts of hate and intolerance and should also be given due consideration when creating legislation that is meant to safeguard the rights of vulnerable groups or people.
Gender non-conforming women and men are mothers, aunts, sisters, brothers, grandmothers and relatives of people who are affected by sexual abuse, and a variety of other kinds of abuse too. A multitude of NGOs, CBOs and CSOs like the Coalition of African Lesbians which have been working on sexuality and gender issues, irrevocably and unapologetically reject any practises that lead to the sexual abuse and oppression of any human, of any age, and any socio-economic status. These organisations have been, and continue to be consistently vocal in their lobbying and advocacy work against abuse in all its manifestations on the continent. This of course includes the abuse of children and women, who at this moment, happen to be the most vulnerable people affected by abuse and violence.
The passing of such a bill pre-disposes all Ugandans to various levels of violence, depending on their assumed or perceived sexual orientation or gender presentation. This has been illustrated in various locally produced reports that show an increase in violence and the targeting of non-heteronormative people-homosexual or not. Such a bill limits the average Ugandan woman or man’s ability to dress, interact, associate and socialize in a way that is comfortable for them, and in many cases respectful to and cognizant of Ugandan social norms and practises. This inadvertently also oppresses a nations ability for creativity and functionality in a variety of spaces. Many Ugandans are already marginalised in many ways and places, and experience growing discrimination and abuse.
There would be widespread impact of such a bill on all Ugandans, from all walks of life, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identifying Ugandan women and men do not exist in a bubble and are not removed from everyday society. They are parents, teachers, government workers and law abiding citizens of this country and have a right to exist free of fear and intimidation in a modern, democratic state such as Uganda.
I think it’s very important for the President of the Republic of Uganda, to carefully reconsider his position on the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, if his decision is as strongly influenced by the Ministry of Health scientific statement as he suggests. Given the nature of the Bill and the nature of the information being gathered, His Excellency Yoweri Museveni should consider and commission an alternative report, carried out over a period of time that allows for more independent research into sexualities in an African context to be done and more facts about homosexuality in Africa be made available to the people of Uganda.
Science as a subject is still growing, and everyday there are new and thrilling discoveries made. Using ‘science’ to enact a bill that would endanger the lives of millions of Ugandan women and men would be history repeating itself. Remember Galileo Galilei? He was placed under house arrest for life by the Catholic Church, for suggesting that the earth revolved around the sun. As it turns out he was right, and the Catholic Church was wrong. It would be a gross miscarriage of justice to use science to fuel hate, and for Uganda to have to look back in history and be remembered as the country that used science to harm her own people. I don’t want that for Uganda, I certainly don’t need that for Africa.
By Sheena G.