Pride, Values, and Democracy

With Pride celebrations taking place across North America this month, I thought I’d shed some light on what Pride looks like in another part of the world. In particular I’ll focus on Uganda, a country where homosexuality is still illegal and considered highly taboo.

A new Bill put forth in Uganda’s parliament is calling for further criminalization of homosexuality, pushing for life sentences and even the death penalty for the offence of “aggravated homosexuality”, HIV positive offenders, or for repeat offenders. The law not only affects the LGBT community, but also the friends, family, teachers, and doctors of LGBT people under a very loose clause termed “abetting homosexuality”. Would a doctor providing care to a gay person be considered “abetting homosexuality”? What about a lawyer fighting to defend a gay client?

Though many governments around the world have criticized the proposed policy, a few countries have come forward threatening to cut foreign aid to the country. Uganda is ranked 154 out of nearly 200 countries on the Human Development Index, a commonly accepted aggregate of various quality of life metrics. For a country that relies on foreign aid for 2/3 of its national budget, this sort of action from the international community could leave Uganda’s poor, estimated at 35% of the population, significantly more at risk. Decreased food security, decreased access to education and health care, and a destabilized society in general would result.

We’ve seen countries like Zimbabwe who for decades have had trade and aid restrictions imposed by the West and the resulting negative impact on common citizens that this has had. In a country like Uganda, is the West prepared to see this same kind of suffering for the majority of people living in poverty in order to fight the battle against LGBT oppression, which could see marginal success if any? There’s talk that if the Bill does pass, it likely would never be applied in the courts. From another angle, is it the role of Western governments to impose Western values on countries like Uganda, where a vast majority of the population opposes homosexuality? Perhaps the battle is one of education and of development – of creating a thriving society where dialog and understanding can begin to take shape.

I think that a Uganda without extreme poverty, with access to education for all, would be a very different place for people of the LGBT community. While the West may have the best of intentions for extending human rights across Africa, would cutting aid to Uganda lead to a more successful democracy, a more educated society, and a Uganda of opportunity where dialog around gay rights issues can take place, or would it be the first step in a spiral  downward for Uganda’s poor. What sort of impacts would the latter have on the LGBT community?

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3 Responses to “Pride, Values, and Democracy”

  1. Mike Moll

    I fully Agree with this article. Having lived in Canada for two years and now back in Kenya (which boarders Uganda). It is clear to see the Social inequalities caused by legislation rooted in fear. We cannot be serious about combating HIV and Human rights if we keep our populations in the closet.

  2. ElysaHogg

    Sanctions, or in this case withdrawal of aid, as seen again and again, are ineffective in changing domestic policy (as the fourth round of sanctions against Iran proves) and harm the people they are meant to ‘protect’.

    As this isn’t a posting on effective development strategies I won’t comment on the damage that monetary foreign aid (not including food aid which is a different story all together) has in Uganda or in any other developing country. I will agree with Florin in saying that threats or punishment from the international community based on Western values is not appropriate nor well received by the state in question. However, international opposition to the same Bill based on the principles of human security is another thing. Protesting the treatment of the LGBT community based on universal human rights, would be far more effective in dealing with homophobia in Uganda. Make it an issue of human dignity and equality, not one of sexual orientation and cultural acceptance. **Not saying this is an easy task, but it is a necessary consideration!

    Nice point Mike- How can a country rise up if you marginalize any of its citizens?

  3. Dominika Ziemczonek

    I definitely agree that cutting off aid and imposing trade restrictions on Uganda are not necessarily going to affect the people targeted, but hurt the most vulnerable members of society (just as in Zimbabwe).

    Another issue here is that though it is the government that imposes and upholds these laws and restrictions, they do have a significant amount of public support behind them. Here we come to another problem, mainly one of imposing our values and interpretations onto another culture, perhaps despite the wishes and convictions of many of its citizens. What kind of a role does democracy have in perpetuating these kind of actions and beliefs?

    Though I agree that education may be a large part of the solution, it may not unfold exactly as we want it to. Extremist values and fundamentalism can and do co-exist in educated societies, and seeing the gradual break-down of these beliefs will take generations (regardless of the root of the change). So until that happens, what exactly are Ugandans and the international community alike supposed to do to secure the rights of gay Ugandans?

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