via Chicago Sun Times, by Frank Mugisha

The world listened last week as Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf defended her country’s laws that discriminate against its lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex population. In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, she spoke of preserving Liberia’s “traditional values” and said in part, “We like ourselves the way we are.”

It’s a sad sentiment I hear in my own country of Uganda: the idea that homosexuality is somehow un-African and foreign to our culture, an import of the West that must be stopped. But it is not African to restrict another’s freedom. It is not African to spread lies and dissent and urge brutality against others. And it is certainly not African to deny fellow citizens basic human rights. No, these are ideas introduced and fostered by our colonizers, not by our ancestors.

My organization, Sexual Minorities Uganda, works against these forces of hate and division, and we live every day under the threats of violence that keep so many LGBTI Ugandans from coming forward. In 2010, a local newspaper published photographs and addresses of many of us under the headline “Hang Them.”

But still we work, because there is so much work to be done: gay men to be rescued from jail after arbitrary arrests and beatings. Lesbian women who need to be sheltered after curative rape assaults. Friends to be healed after being denied medical care.

The anti–gay groups call this struggle a campaign for gay rights. But there is nothing gay or straight about the right to worship, to assemble publicly or to live without fear of sanctioned brutality.

In Uganda today, bosses routinely fire employees suspected of being gay. We can be expelled from school or denied medical attention. Our friends and neighbors can be persecuted just for being seen with us.
The Ugandan Parliament is pushing a bill that is inspired by hateful ideas brought to us, not from within Africa, but by anti-gay activists like Scott Lively from the United States. The new law would equate gay people with pedophiles and call on the LGBTI population to stop “promoting homosexuality.”

The original version of the legislation even called for applying the death penalty to gay couples, and although it may be revoked from the final bill, even the more “palatable” version seeks to silence our voices, criminalize anyone who speaks on our behalf and encourage the wrongheaded stigmas that increase our nation’s rising HIV prevalence.
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