Today I had a fascinating conversation with a young woman on the staff of CARE U.S.A. She is a native Ugandan, and we were introduced through a mutual friend who knows of my interest in finding ways to support lesbian and gay Africans. We talked about the status of gay and lesbian people in Uganda and the challenges of providing development assistance to stigmatized minority communities.
The situation of gay and lesbian people in Uganda is very oppressive. Tabloid papers publish the names of gay and lesbian people arrested by the police. These people then lose their jobs and are blacklisted from work in the government or private sector. HIV/AIDS education and prevention is targeted exclusively to heterosexuals there. Straight allies who come to the defense of their lesbian or gay family and friends risk ostracism as well.
Those who "come out" or are "outed" often are cut off from their families, lose their inheritance, are fired from their job, evicted from housing, and dismissed from school. Cut off from social support and financial resources, gay and lesbian people in Uganda are a very marginal, isolated, and vulnerable population. All this will sound very familiar to a slightly older generation of North American gay and lesbian people. It isn't so different from the situation of the thousands of homeless gay and lesbian adolescents in this country either.
Oh, and did I mention that the Church has abandoned them?
This was brought home to me as this young woman began to speak more personally about a cousin who is gay. He left Uganda, along with two of his brothers, to work as a security guard for a U.S. company doing business in Iraq. It was mind boggling to imagine a gay man in Uganda feeling his only opportunity in life could be found in war-torn Iraq. How dire must his situation be in Uganda to see Iraq as a step up?
Africans, including gay Ugandans, provide security for U.S. companies rebuilding Iraq, which our military destroyed, while Chinese and other poor people from around the world work in these companies' commissaries. I began with issues of human rights for sexual minorities and was immediately drawn into a discussion of international economic development, the status of immigrant workers', and the human and economic costs of the War on Terror.
There are those who say that the issue of justice for lesbian and gay people, justice for the poor, and peace work are mutually exclusive issues.
They haven't yet met my Ugandan friend's cousin. They haven't yet made the connections.