Gay Rights Must Remain Above Racialization

By Graham L. Wilson

An edited version of this piece was carried in the March 16-31, 2014 issue of Canada's People's Voice.

Copyright (c) 2014 Graham L. Wilson. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.3 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included at this link: see my profile page.

The signing of a new anti-gay law by Uganda's president Yoweri Museveni (in a country already criminalizing homosexuality under colonial-era law), comes as one of many recent acts against homosexuals throughout Africa. The law comes hot on the heels of the Same Sex Prohibition Act passed in Kenya that goes as far as to ban "gay meetings", Nigeria's new Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, which has lead to scores of arrests, and a mob attack on a gay rights office in Ivory Coast in January. The Ugandan law has been particularly focused upon, having in its initial 2009 draft gone so far as proposing the death penalty for homosexual acts, and still providing steep penalties: 14 years for an initial act, and potential life imprisonment for "aggravated homosexuality". This also arrives after Russia last summer passed a much publicized law banning propaganda of "non-traditional sexual relations", whose vague wording could be used as a means of suppressing any number of groups.

Rightly, there has been much condemnation of these laws across the world, including from several Western governments, even up to calls to have boycotted the recently concluded Winter Olympics in Sochi and the suspension of development aid to countries like Uganda. However, there is an often overlooked common thread within these repressions: the support of, if not shared authorship by, conservative evangelical Christians in the United States, such as Scott Lively in Uganda or Brian Brown in Russia. These campaigns, popular among traditionalists in many countries, have been picked up by many leaders as a way of building up key political and electoral support among populations which are often ignorant and fearful of homosexuals. Hate becomes a potent political tool, while giving prejudice against gays legal beachheads and legitimacy in foreign lands.

The tactical advantage created by this back in the West is less publicized, wherein rights campaigners have directed their efforts on foreign nations, whose cultural and political situations are less widely understood. This has helped produce an air of hostility against the cultural "intolerance" of those in the developing world, taking on almost a racist tone. Therefore, the often fierce rhetoric aimed at Russia and Africa needs also to be balanced by introspection: are we as tolerant in the West as we would like to believe? The United States after all, still has regions where sodomy is still technically criminalized, despite federal court rulings, and recent draft laws in Arizona and Kansas trying to actively discriminate against homosexuals have received much coverage. An unfortunate undercurrent has been apparent wherein improved gay and other social rights in the West have been used as justification for imperialist actions in the developing world, while also being used to breed complacency about social oppression still present at home. Shifting the debate abroad helps those seeking to promote hate locally.

This is even more apparent when it is seen how the presence of such racial caricaturing is used to argue for the repression of homosexuals, with Museveni attacking the "cultural imperialism" of the United States and European Union, particularly in regards to the condemnation received from former colonizers such as Britain, France and Belgium. It is hypocritical, not to mention unhelpful, to try and use the improved situation for gays in many countries as a reason for a feeling of superiority over peoples elsewhere in the world, and goes against the measure of tolerance that is the undercurrent of genuine respect for human rights and human dignity. The tone of the debate must remain above such attempts to breed racial and national divisions, as it should remain above fostering a rural/urban divide, and so seek to produce mutual tolerance and respect for people around the world. It is imperative that all campaigners for gay and other minority rights resist all such divide-and-conquer tactics and keep the focus on the rights of people, not the nationality of the given oppressor, or the masses of people still ignorant as to the ramifications of such laws.

February 24, 2014