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Friday, 19 February 2010

Uganda : 200 courageous LGBT activists showed up for a LGBT conference


Ugandan gay activist Val Kalende at the Feb 14 conference

Source: IDAHO Committe - Feb 18

Press release

Summary: In spite of the anti-gay law prepared by the government of Museveni President, 200 courageous LGBT activists attended the conference recently organised by the IDAHO Committee correspondent in Uganda, which turned out to be a great success.

« All these Uganda activists who challenged the threats of the government are a strong response to President Museveni, and this is even a heroic attitude », commented on Louis-Georges Tin, President of the IDAHO Committee, who attended the event.

The Ugandan government is preparing what could soon become one of the most homophobic laws in the world. It reinforces the laws already existing, includes death penalty for homosexual people who are “guilty” of being HIV infected, and according to one of these articles, outing of gay and lesbian people would become a legal obligation.

In that dreadful context was organised on february 14th a conference the title of which was: « standing on the side of Love. Reimagining Saint Valentine’s day ». More than 200 people attended this extraordinary event in order to protest against the laws that could be voted in a few weeks, if not in a few days.

Among the participants were members of IDAHO-Uganda, Spectrum Uganda, Queer Youth Uganda, Integrity Uganda Chapter, and several other local organisations, giving evidence of their incredible courage. These organisations work in different areas, among students, among inhabitants of slums, among people infected by HIV, but all of them were inspired on this day by the same and unique hope: homosexuality should be decriminalised in Uganda. Freedom for all! This was the message.

Among the keynote speakers were the retired bishop Christopher Senyonjo, a remarkable man of the Uganda Anglican church, the correspondent of the IDAHO Committee, a pastor himself, the president and founder of the IDAHO Committee, Louis-Georges Tin, Patricia Ackerman and Marlin Lavanhar, American pastors. This strong focus on religions during the meeting was aimed to show that religious arguments, so often used by homophobic people against LGBT citizens, can be defeated, including by religious arguments. It is not because one is a believer that he or she is forced to be homophobic. To put it other words, religion can’t be used to break and violate human rights in any way.

Thus, this conference was definitely part of the IDAHO campaign for 2010-2011 on « Religions, homophobia and transphobia ». It took place on February because of the situation in Uganda, but it is a first step before other similar conferences on the same issue that will take place around may 17th in other countries like Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Brazil, France, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Malta, Russia, Belorussia, etc. Or course, in Uganda, given the dreadful context, this conference was very special…

The CNN and BBC journalists did not fail to feel the importance of the event, and gave the conference a very large media coverage. For the organiser of the conference, whose name cannot be mentioned for safety reasons, “this conference shows that gays and lesbians from Uganda will not yield to this unacceptable pressure.” “We will fight until the end”, he added.

Louis-Georges Tin, president of the IDAHO Committee who came to attend this event, also met the representatives of the French embassy to ask “France in particular, and the European Union in general to keep pressure on the Ugandan government. The economical sanctions should be considered by President Museveni as a serious threat. The European financial help devoted to develop the economy of Uganda, and paid by European citizens, cannot be a help for the development of hatred and homophobia.”

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Xtra reports from Uganda: Gay Ugandans gather to pray, plan
Ugandan gay activist Abdallah Wambere (aka Long Jones) at the Feb 14 conference. He consented to having his photo used in this report.

Source: Xtra - Feb 15

By Kaj Hasselriis

More than 100 gay and lesbian Ugandans packed a hotel conference room in Kampala on Valentine's Day to talk about anti-gay legislation that threatens all of them.

But the main message of the day, repeated over and over again, was a Christian one: Jesus loves you.

"Being gay or lesbian does not make you fall short of God's glory," the emcee of the conference, Abdallah Wambere, told the crowd. The main opposition to homosexuality in Christian-dominated Uganda comes from Christian conservatives, yet most gay and lesbian Ugandans are themselves Christian and fear that the homophobic preachings of anti-gay pastors are true.

"The Bible's message and the story of God's unconditional love can also be inspirational to the LGBT community," assured Sam Ganaafa, president of Spectrum Uganda, a local lesbian, gay, bi and trans organization. Spectrum Uganda co-sponsored the event along with the Unitarian Universalist Association of Uganda.

Many of the speakers at the one-day event were pastors, including an Anglican bishop from Uganda and two Unitarian ministers from the United States. The biggest cheer of the afternoon came when Rev Marlin Lavanhar, a Unitarian preacher from Oklahoma, said, "You can be a good person and be a gay or lesbian person. Please know you will reach the promised land. God bless Uganda!"

Conferences like the one held yesterday — called "Standing on the side of love: Re-imagining Valentine's Day" — are rare in Uganda. Organizers feared that anti-gay outsiders might learn about the event and try to infiltrate or disrupt it, so the time and location were only announced at the last minute, by word of mouth.

Since gays in Uganda are often accused of trying to seduce minors, organizers also tried to keep out anyone under the age of 18. Most of the people in attendance were gay men in their 20s, though there were also about 20 young women. Everyone who came was offered a red T-shirt with a rainbow heart on the front, and rainbow flags were displayed prominently around the room. Attendance was free; the biggest financial sponsor was the Austria Foundation.

"Let's resist bad laws being propagated," Ganaafa told the crowd. He referred, of course, to a bill before Uganda's Parliament that calls for the execution of gays and lesbians, the imprisonment of heteros who fail to report homos and the abolition of organizations that support queer rights.

"If it passes," Ganaafa said, "our lives will never be the same again. I encourage you all to talk, raise issues and be courageous." A petition was passed around the room for people to sign.

But participants had other concerns on their minds, too. During a question and answer session, the crowd's queries included:
  • "Why weren't politicians and cabinet ministers invited to the conference?"
  • "Everyone in my neighbourhood knows I'm gay. Am I safe?"
  • "What are we doing to educate people in the villages?"
  • "Why aren't we gathering research and statistics about Uganda's gay population to counter the anti-gay side's homophobic claims?"
  • "Where can I get reliable condoms and lube?"
  • "How can we end the culture of dependence that causes us to depend on Western agencies for help in our struggle?"
  • "How can we get together as a community to help each other find jobs?"
After the six-hour event was over, participants were offered free lunch and beer. Most of the people in attendance seemed satisfied with the day.

"I learned about so many things," said a young woman named Kevin Simbwa, "like what the Bible says about my being lesbian. Before, I thought it was saying evil things about me. Now I don't think that anymore. Now I'm confident to go to church and face my pastor."

"There were many people I didn't know here," said another lesbian, Warry Ssenfuka, "many people I've never seen. It takes time to collect all these people together like this, and it encourages unity."

A young man who only wanted one of his names — Titus — used, expressed concern that there was too much talk and not enough plans for action. "Though there are plans to do many things, there are no strategies," he said.

"Before we help ourselves," he added, "we need to help others understand what the bill is all about."

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