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Uganda queer activists write the president

October 10, 2003

KAMPALA - The Gay And Lesbian Association (Gala) of Uganda have sent a letter to President Museveni demanding rights and threatening to form a political party and it has caused a rash of debate in the east African press.

In a letter to President Museveni, that was copied to the speaker of the Ugandan parliament as well as The Human Rights Commission of Uganda and all political parties in Uganda, the GALA-Uganda (Gay And Lesbians Alliance - Uganda) have declared their position on the intolerable situation for gays and lesbians in Uganda. After years of homophobic rhetoric from President Museveni and a life lived under the shadow of prosecution for being gay, the letter is putting the message and the issue on the agenda following the cabinet's non-inclusion of sexual orientation in the Constitutional review process.

The letter, dated October 2, 2003, says, "We believe criminalizing us because of our nature is unfair [and we] will not support any political organisation which doesn't endorse our rights."

The letter, signed by the chairman of GALA-Uganda, S.W.I. Lule also warns, "If you fail to honour our request, we will be forced to form our political party to represent our interests."

The letter has caused widespread debate in the east African press and placed the gay issue firmly back on the agenda. A cartoon in The Monitor, October 7, 2003 shows a man reading a newspaper that declares, "Gays threaten to form own party" - the reader in the cartoon is thinking, "Next they will form their own God!" Thus feeding into recent debate over the separation of the Uganda Anglican church from the New Hampshire diocese of the Episcopalian Church of the United States after it appointed openly gay Rev. Robinson as bishop.

The boldness of the letter is striking, it calls for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples and advises the president to read a selection of books which will help disprove the theories that homosexuality is unnatural and unAfrican. The letter also emphasises that gay rights are human rights and that homophobic legislation is contrary to Uganda's own constitution.

Whether the call will be successful in changing the minds and attitudes of Uganda's parliamentarians is debatable. It was reported in The Monitor October 6, 2003 that the Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister, Ms Janat Mukwaya, said that she has not yet received the letter. "I have not [received the letter] but I would advise them to read the Constitution. I don't think gays have a right in our Constitution."

Despite the uphill battle ahead, at least the action has raised awareness of the issues, once again making headlines and enacting public awareness to the fact that gays and lesbians do exist and are mobilising for their rights in Uganda.

Behind The Mask

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