By Steven Hussey

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s motives for criminalising homosexuality are hopelessly uninformed, unscientific and proof of gross ignorance when it comes to sexual orientation.

He said, “No study has shown you can be homosexual by nature. That man can choose to love a man … is a matter of choice. After listening to the scientists, I got the facts” [1].

He certainly hasn’t got the facts, and his point is irrelevant anyway. When do we ever evaluate morality according to the genetic basis of a behaviour? Morality has nothing to do with genes. Further, while up to 40% of sexual orientation may be explained by genetics [2], a 60% environmental basis does not at all imply choice. Your ability to understand your mother tongue is no more of a choice than it is genetic; you were exposed to it in the earliest stages of life and you will never unlearn it. Of course, if a homosexual orientation were all about choice, the inverse should be true as well: heterosexuals are not a product of nature, because there is no “heterosexual gene”. Incidentally, more and more studies are suggesting that the prenatal environment and exposure to maternal antibodies can affect fetal brain development and influence sexual orientation.

If Museveni is so reliant on Nature as a source of morality, he should pay more attention to the hundreds of species now known to engage in explicit gay sex [3]. A growing number of studies are revealing that homosexuality has an evolutionary function [4]. Natural selection may actually favour its persistence in some species, including ours. The real “crime against nature”, then, is suppressing and demonising natural variation in sexual orientation! But of course Nature fails miserably as a moral guide. Cannibalism is no more moral as a practice found in Nature than marriage is disgraceful because no animal has ever married.

We must burn the straw man that is the nature vs nurture debate. It cannot inform us of what is right and what is wrong.

But Museveni doesn’t stop there. He has stated that oral sex will give you worms, that it is unnatural for the mouth to do anything but kiss, eat and speak. Museveni accuses homosexuals of being gay for the money. They are prostitutes, he says, and they “recruit” heterosexual people into practicing gay sex. By propagating such obviously ill-informed illusions about homosexuality, Museveni has created a gay cult that millions of heterosexual Ugandans actually believe to exist. It is a convenient scapegoat for Uganda’s social challenges.

The current scourge of anti-gay sentiment on the African continent is not merely a cultural variation. Criticising homophobia is not about Western hegemony. Uganda’s anti-gay laws are a pernicious attempt to use pseudoscience and false logic to legitimise and justify deep-seated prejudice. Moreover, in promoting hatred for benign sexual diversity, Museveni’s legal move is sure to increase gay teen suicides, homophobic murders and corrective rapes to intolerable frequencies. Stephen Fry proclaimed a telling truth in his moving documentary Out there: homosexuals are not interested in making other people homosexual; rather, homophobes are trying to make other people homophobic.

What Africa needs is an education. It needs to awaken to scientific and intellectual revelation. Education is the key to tolerance, peace and understanding. As African leaders continue to dwell in ignorance, its people continue to live in darkness.

Steven Hussey is a geneticist at the University of Pretoria and a Mandela Rhodes Scholar

Further reading:


[2] Långström, Niklas, et al. (2010) Genetic and environmental effects on same-sex sexual behavior: A population study of twins in Sweden. Archives of Sexual Behavior 39.1: 75-80.

[3] Bagemihl, B (1999) Biological exuberance: animal homosexuality and natural diversity. London, UK.

[4] Bailey, Nathan W., and Marlene Zuk (2009) Same-sex sexual behavior and evolution. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 24.8: 439-446.


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