December 18, 2016
Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda, where gays and lesbians are routinely harassed, abused and even jailed. Many people, from clergy to government officials, believe that gays and lesbians are paid by foreigners to recruit Ugandans into homosexuality.
KAMPALA, UGANDA — Pastor Moses Solomon Male has a laptop containing videos that show what he believes is something terribly sinful: Homosexual acts, including violent ones.
“See, this young man had his behind ruptured,” the pastor says, pointing to one video. “I counseled him, and he sought treatment. Now, he has recovered.”
In this country where gays and lesbians are routinely harassed, abused and even tossed in jail, myths about homosexuality abound, including that it can cause cancer and that people are often injured while having gay sex. Many Ugandans also believe that gays and lesbians are paid by foreigners to forcibly recruit people to become homosexuals.
Male says he’s been condemning homosexuality since 2008, when young men first began to report to him that they’d been injured during sexual encounters with other men. The young men bring videos of the incidents—videos they say were created by the perpetrators to in some cases, prove to “foreign funders” that they’re engaging in homosexuality, Male says.
INSIDE THE STORY: Determined to write about LGBT issues in a place where homosexuality is illegal, a GPJ reporter faced embarrassment and hostility. When she finally found people who were willing to speak, the interviews were conducted in private. Read the blog.
He says he’s not sure how the young men are able to get copies of the videos, but notes that they often come to him with the same explanation: That the encounters, whether violent or not, were intended to recruit people into homosexuality.
Male clarifies that he doesn’t hate gay and lesbian people, but says he does hate homosexuality.
“That is why I have done all I can to help those indulging in it who want to quit, and educate those indulging in it ignorantly to realize the realities and challenges awaiting them,” he says.
In Uganda, even conspiracy to commit a “homosexual act” can result in jail time. Many people here believe that homosexuality was imported by Westerners who lure young people into same-sex relationships, even as some Ugandan lawmakers lean on Western religious leaders for support as they draft laws that aim to rid the country of anything other than heterosexuality. Those antigay lawmakers pushed through legislation that would have punished sexual minorities with life in prison, but that law was struck down in 2014 for technical reasons. There’s been serious discussion of a death sentence for gays and lesbians.
For people in this country’s often-secretive LGBT community, perhaps one of the biggest challenges is to overcome the deeply held myths and assumptions about their sexuality.
“Gay sex, like vaginal sex, only leads to injuries if it’s not consensual,” says Denis Wamala, a gay rights activist.
Wamala disputes other common beliefs, too: Cancer has nothing to do with sex, he says, and neither he nor any other gay person is recruiting children in schools.
“It’s not true. It’s a campaign against the LGBTI community. We are not training anyone in school, not even adults out of school. It’s an attempt to demonize us,” he says.
Confronting those beliefs is complicated by the fact that many people think consensual, homosexual sex is violent.
Samson Ganyana, a 30-year-old straight man, says gays and lesbians are the targets of a “witch hunt.” They should have the same freedoms as other Ugandans, he says, but he adds that people who engage in gay sex shouldn’t blame anyone if they’re hurt.
“The so-called victims do it willingly, like other types of sex, so there is no need to give them special treatment,” Ganyana says.
Joel, a 17-year-old boy who asked that his full name not be used, says he suffered anal ruptures after he was raped by an older boy at school. The other boy intimidated him, threatening to make his life miserable if he told anyone about the incident, Joel says.
“My anus began to be painful, then it remained so and until pain became unbearable,” he says. “During holiday, my mother noticed my discomfort, and I had to tell her.”
Joel says he got medical help for the injury.
Joel’s story feeds into another common belief: that gays and lesbians promote homosexuality in Uganda’s schools.
“Comprehensive sexuality education and including homosexuality is being taught in schools to indoctrinate children,” says Stephen Langa, executive director of Family Life Network, which opposes homosexuality.
Parents need to be proactive concerning sex education, so that their children aren’t “lured into homosexuality,” Langa says.
His group organizes events to promote abstinence as a national value. It also mentors young people on sexual issues and hosts training for parents to help them detect whether their children are engaged in homosexuality, Langa says.
Langa’s beliefs are supported at Uganda’s highest levels.
Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s minister for ethics and integrity, says he’s sure that young children are recruited into homosexuality in schools, but that he struggles to protect the nation’s “moral fabric” because he doesn’t have enough police or other personnel to carry out that task.
Joel, the student who says he was injured after being raped by another boy, says the government and school authorities need to protect students from experiences like his.
“In my case, the student bullied me into it,” he says. “I am sure there may be other boys going through that as well; the government can help us, and teachers should protect new students.”
All interviews were conducted in English.