Suntosh Pillay
Suntosh Pillay

Uganda and the science on homosexuality

The Speaker of Uganda’s parliament insists the Anti-Homosexuality Bill from 2009 be passed before 2013 arrives. With the apparent goal of protecting society from sexual deviance, the ill-informed targeting of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex (LGBTI) people illustrates the old saying that politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing the cause and using the incorrect remedy.

Fifty one Ugandan civil-society organisations joined the Ugandan Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, since October 2009, to advocate a positive sexual-rights agenda. Coordinator Jeff Ogwaro last week noted “with profound sadness” that an international outcry must continue.

This article provides a cursory overview of some reactions to the Bill by the scientific community, to increase public understanding that discrimination based on sexual orientation is unethical, unjust, inhumane and categorically opposed by leading scientific organisations.

South African psychologists took a lead in an open letter to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. In a statement by The Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA), Professor Juan Nel, a coordinator of gender and sexuality issues, noted that “research and clinical experience have found no relationship between sexual orientation and someone’s ability to contribute to the community and to influence children to become responsible members of society” and that sexual orientations “are naturally occurring minority variations of normal human sexuality … documented widely throughout nature”.

PsySSA affirms that “South African-based [and] international research has found … no difference between children who are raised by homosexual versus heterosexual parents regarding matters such as sexual orientation, gender identity, sex-role behaviour, likelihood of being sexually abused, self-concept, intelligence, personality characteristics, behaviour problems, peer relations, parental separation and divorce, general adjustment and accomplishment of developmental tasks”.

Like persecution based on race, religion, or gender, the stigma of LGBTI-identified youth often leads to socially-induced psychopathologies that arise from a misguided, unfair social system, much like the continuous trauma and anxiety that became endemic among black people during apartheid.

Furthermore, the human-rights agenda is complicated in areas where homosexuality is interpreted as “un-African”, and theories of bewitchment try to explain away sexual diversity. Historical records, however, show the presence of fluid sexual practices even in African and Arab contexts. Yet, in religiously fundamentalist countries, condemnation and execution is the norm. Refreshingly, in February 2010 the bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa reported being “deeply concerned about the violent language used against the gay community across sub-Saharan Africa” appealing “to law-makers to defend the rights of these minorities”.

Even back in 2006, at a session on homosexuality at the second Africa Conference on Sexual Health and Rights, hosted in Kenya, it was noted that fear, hatred and abuse at the hands of intolerant and unsympathetic peers and elders hampers the personal growth and well-being of African homosexuals.

The lack of credible and reliable evidence that the measures contained in the Bill will achieve its outcome of protecting families requires an intelligent pause and methodical reflection. Instead, it is being bulldozed ahead, blind to the massive global resistance.

Ronald Schlittler, a coordinator of LGBT concerns at the American Psychological Association, recently reviewed the range of responses to the Bill. For example, The International Union of Psychological Science added sexual orientation to its non-discrimination categories in its Policy on Free Circulation of Scientists (of which the Uganda National Psychology Association is a member) and encouraged its member organisations from 82 different countries to do the same. In September 2011 the International Council for Science (ICSU) included sexual orientation and gender identity in its Universality of Science statement. This was a major step, as ICSU is a non-governmental organisation with a global membership of 120 national scientific bodies representing 140 countries and 31 International Scientific Unions.

Schlittler notes that within the last year, numerous bodies have followed suit, ensuring rationality dictates policies. These include the Psychological Association of the Philippines in October 2011; the Hong Kong College of Psychiatrists in November 2011 and The Indian Journal of Psychiatry printed an affirmative editorial on homosexuality in January 2012. Practice guidelines for psychotherapy with LGBTI clients have also been published by numerous countries, including the US, Britain, Australia and Brazil.

The momentum of scientifically-based activism has been phenomenal since the removal of homosexuality from psychiatric diagnostic manuals in the 1970s and rise in public understanding and acceptance of sexual diversity. With the exception of the National Association of Social Workers in Uganda, who strangely supported the Bill in March 2010, which was condemned by the International Federation of Social Workers, professional bodies worldwide have expressed outrage at the Bill’s genocidal implications. US President Obama described it as “odious” and as early as April 2010, 118 British MPs added their weight, signing a motion of condemnation.

A signatory to an online petition wrote that “I’m a gay Christian with a wonderful man I will marry soon. We plan to have kids as well. I was bullied all my life for being gay, I believe I was born this way and science confirms this. God created the world we live in and he created me just the way I am. And I will not let others destroy what God has created”. Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, says he “will not be allowed to be treated as a second-class citizen because of my sexual orientation”.

The human rights of homosexual men and women are virtually non-existent throughout Africa. Globally, 78 countries have criminalised homosexuality. A report presented earlier this year by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, says merely being gay could result in execution in at least five of these countries.

Why are politicians blatantly ignoring compelling and unanimous scientific evidence that their policies are flawed?

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