For the past 3 weeks I had been doing research on the Bill and the anti-gay movement in Uganda. I was shocked. I had not heard much about the bill, and from what I can tell, not many others have either. Like one news article said, Americans registered the news as lightly as they would a weather report.
Despite the lack of news coverage, the information out there was terrifying. The bill was proposed almost exactly a year ago, on October 14th, 2009 by Member of Parliament David Bahati. It calls for the life imprisonment or even the death penalty for Ugandan homosexuals. All, including parents, would be required to report any gay people they knew or they could face 3 years in prison. The famous Ugandan Pastor Martin Ssempa shows PowerPoints of extreme gay porn to his large congregation to illustrate what he thinks are the horrors of homosexuality. On October 20th, not even two weeks ago, the Ugandan tabloid released the names, pictures and addresses of the “Top 100 homos”, with an explicit call to action summarized by the yellow banner across the headline: “Hang them.”
As part of the IYLC, I started to organize a campus event. As I worked every day to promote the event and to learn more about the Bill, I felt a bubbling well of anger within. I was angry that I had not heard more; where has the media been? I was angry that my campus’ Pride group was not being more responsive; how could they turn their backs on fellow gays and lesbians in Uganda? I was angry that response to the Facebook event was so slow; how could people not be as outraged as I was that people might be killed—by the government—for being gay?
I resorted to standard campaign techniques: shock tactics. I felt the need to inspire the same outrage I felt. But to be honest, the supporters of the Bill made it easy. Here are some direct quotes: one headline in Uganda read "HOMO TERROR”, David Bahati said he wanted to “kill every last gay person”, and Pastor Ssempa tells his congregation that homosexuals “eat the poo poo” as part of their sexual practices.
I did not want to use ugly phrases in order to rouse attention, but the situation is ugly.
With my usual idealistic optimism, I ordered 10 large pizzas for the event. In the 30 minutes leading up to the event, I furiously Facebook chatted and texted at least 30 people–most of which had already been aware of the event. Nine people showed up. I never felt so frustrated with my peers—I knew at least 47 people had at least mustered the attention span for the 5 seconds it took to click “attending” on the Facebook event I had so carefully crafted. What about the 50 flyers that I designed, printed and posted around campus? Even the presidents of the clubs who had agreed to co-sponsor the event had not showed up. I was hurt, angry and disappointed. The most concrete evidence I’ve ever seen for a failure of my optimism to become reality was undeniable: 8 untouched boxes of pizza.
As we waited for people to arrive, I could not get over my anger. When we accepted the fact that no more people were coming, we started the event. I showed 4 video clips from Youtube (links below), and then we had a talk by Nikki from AFY, followed by a Q&A session. People also signed 3 petitions (links below) and postcards provided by AFY that would be sent to Obama. As I watched people’s reactions to the videos, and saw how engaged they were with Nikki and the discussion, I felt much better. Though we were few, we all cared. They felt the outrage that I wanted them to feel. Some offered to take some of the postcards back to their dorm rooms. And I vowed to become a better and more effective advocate.
Obama has already expressed his condemnation for the bill, calling the bill “odious”. But is it enough? In 1994, the United States (as well as the rest of the international community), watched silently with their hands behind their backs while in Rwanda, a neighbor of Uganda, the Hutus massacred the Tutsis in an unimaginably violent and heartless genocide. By the time the US finally intervened, it was too late. At least 800,000 people were killed over the course of 100 days.
In Rwanda, only 6 years ago, genocide could have been stopped. Today, in Uganda, we must prevent another one from happening—and this time it is not due to ethnic tensions, but due to homophobia.
Despite the apathy that exists, I still believe in the ability of all people to care, and I know that eventually it is them who will put an end to this bill, once and for all.
4mins – Missionaries of Hate: Mariana van Zeller Reflects: Vanguard- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z1S8xY4JKi0&feature=channel
3.5 mins – What Do Ugandans Think of the Anti-Gay Bill? Vanguard Scenes
6mins – David Bahati, Uganda Parliament: Vanguard
8 mins – ABC Nightline: Preaching Hate in Uganda