The e-forum of Afro-Nets – the African network for health research and development – is an essential go-to resource for Africa health research news. Sadly, a recent story that should have engendered a sense of solidarity for Ugandan AIDS activists has, instead, generated an outpouring of gay-bashing of truly biblical proportions. On the 11th December, Brook Baker posted an appeal on the e-forum for people to sign a petition produced by the Centre for Health Human Rights and Development (CEHURD) asking UN special rapporteur for health Grover Ananda to: “investigate pending legislation in Uganda that would greatly increase criminal liability for engaging in homosexual acts, advocating LGBTI rights, or failing to report known homosexuals. In addition to extended prison terms, there are also provisions for mandatory HIV testing”.
This doesn’t sound good to me. So far 16 people have replied to Baker’s first post: 11 supporting the Bill, including a Research Officer in the Cameroonian MOH; 4 against it; and 1 abstention. No doubt there will be more posts by the time you read this.
For the most part, the bigotry is pretty unimaginative: ‘homosexuality is the devil’s work’, is ‘un-natural’, threatens the extinction of our species, etc. And perhaps no surprise to see Christianity underpinning some of the homophobia: “homosexuality is against God’s will”, etc. More interesting are the repeated appeals to an imagined gay-free African culture that risks being polluted by all this gayness. More tragi-comic are the Western/European donor conspiracies that entertain a number of posts: Homosexuality is a Western import, a donor-inspired initiative foisting such behaviour upon a heterosexual Africa as both “a condition or pre requisite for aid”, and an attempt “to limit the demographic strength of African nations”.
Issues like homosexuality excite bigots, and religious bigots have a calling. So it’s no surprise to find that Baker’s invitation lured so many homophobes out of their closets: Sensible people will most likely just read the original post, lament the homophobic legislation, maybe sign the petition, but not feel the need to reply. But thank you ‘Wendy’, whoever you are, for attempting to inject a sliver of rationality and humanity into the mix.
Am I making a point? Not really, although one of the respondents (in favour of the Bill) kind of gets to one: “I assume that the vast majority of the persons who have weighed in on this subject are health professionals since they subscribe to this list serve”. I’m struggling to understand how someone could be a health worker and also hold views that so directly contradict an individual’s human rights. I’m also now wondering how many Faith Based Organisations who provide health care for local communities also peddle the kind of misinformation and prejudice described above? And I think that this is a salutary reminder that an effective public health response requires so much more than money and drugs; it is just as much about educating and changing attitudes. No easy task.
Note: The title of this blog is a play (no pun intended) on the title of a classic 1970s British comedy ‘No Sex Please, We’re British’ written by Alistair Foot and Anthony Marriott. I’m not implying that all ‘Africans’ are homophobic, though clearly some are.