Fearless in Uganda

Ever wondered what it would feel like to be hunted and hated for your sexuality? Read Mac McClelland's indispensable report in Mother Jones on being out and gay in Uganda. It's a brilliant portrait, simultaneously intimate, terrifying, and inspirational.  Mac makes it impossible to see these men and women as foreign "others" facing the unimaginable; she makes it easy, rather, to relate to each one. For instance, reading this made me feel like I'd hung out with these women or their American incarnations:

She wants me to hide her identity, not because she's afraid of arrest or vigilantism but because we spend much of our time talking about how she has two girlfriends and one of them doesn't know that. We retire to the little cement patio in the back while, inside, a meeting commences among a pack of lesbians who look about as much like a pack of lesbians as a pack of lesbians can, polo shirts and baseball caps and shoulders squared.

In fact, I think I've dated one of these gals. Even when she's showing you horror, she makes it clear that this is not inescapably foreign horror:

He's got a scar near his eye from having a bottle broken across his face—a sort of mirror image of my old boss in New Orleans, who lost his right eye after being beaten when he left a gay bar.

But here's the difference: the penalties that these women and men face for hanging out and being openly themselves include "enduring a weeklong church-sponsored corrective rape." Nope, that's not on my list of dangers.

Mac also shows you how double-edged Western reprimands for these horrors can be, quoting one of her sources as explaining, for instance, that:

... "because of [pro-gay] support from the international community," and the Western media frenzy in response to the bill, "Africans feel gays are too powerful and want to take the law into their own hands." When Obama came out against the bill, Ugandans came out to protest, telling Obama and the rest of the gay-influenced West to mind their own business.

Or, she reports, the infamous "Hang Them" newspaper that outed some lesbians and gay men and led to one gay activist's murder sat, unbought, on the newsstands until "the Western media got ahold of it, and they had to do a second printing, bringing the grand total up to a few thousand." Ouch. And she then informs us that:

Human Rights Watch senior Africa researcher Maria Burnett points out that though it's obviously hard to get accurate numbers (and Uganda's population is a tenth of ours), "there were probably more LGBT people killed in the US" for being gay in 2010 than the zero that local gay rights groups report were killed in Uganda. (There were: 27.)...

Of course, it would be very unlikely for an out and visible butch lesbian to be refused campus housing in the U.S., as McClelland reports happened to Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, award-winning co-founder of an LGBT Uganda rights group. But the powerful article is worth reading, just to be reminded that every world is complex. Even our own.

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