A Ugandan tabloid recently did a story “exposing” a Ugandan journalist and his “male pals”. Although the article did not outrightly accuse him of being gay, it made very blatant insinuations as to the sexuality of him and his friends. Several people have since commented that the article was part of an attack on him by opposition supporters because of his widely and loudly expressed pro-government opinions. That however, is not the business of this piece. The purpose of this article is to address the homophobia inherent in the tabloid’s coverage of him and his “male pals”.
Uganda is widely viewed as an extremely homophobic country. Following the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) and later its nullification by the Constitutional Court on technical grounds, homophobia still manifests itself daily in blatant and sometimes subtle ways. Although the focus of advocacy by LGBTQ groups is usually state-sanctioned homophobia, it is important to address the different manifestations of homophobia within Ugandan society.
Homophobia is generally defined as hatred or prejudice towards Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and other queer people. Whether it is expressed online, in print or in real life encounters, the one constant is that homophobia affects the physical and mental health of queer people, their ability to access services and opportunities and therefore their overall quality of life. Many Ugandans have accepted homophobia as part of Ugandan culture and so it usually passes without comment and is even encouraged.
Homophobia is a feminist issue because like most oppression under patriarchy, it is based on sexism. The tabloid’s expose focused on a few things to make the insinuation that the men in the story are gay. Most interesting was the focus on how they “hold each other’s waists” and have “men only” parties.
First of all, there is nothing wrong with men, whether gay or straight, forming bonds with each other and being affectionate towards each other. The expectation that men should be indifferent toward each other is based on the sexist notion that “real men” are hard and unemotional which is not only false, but also extremely harmful to men in the long run. The assumption also holds that men’s affection should be saved and only expressed towards womyn and therefore any man who expresses affection towards another man is gay, which is just not true. Bromances are a thing, many men form enduring platonic bonds with other men in which they love and support each other. The reality of relationships among men- both platonic and erotic, challenge this sexist notion everyday.
It is clear that the article was written with the intention of stirring hostility towards the journalist and his “male pals” because the majority of the Ugandan public and particularly readers of this tabloid are homophobic. Because of this, the responses of most of the men mentioned in it was to either explicitly deny that they are gay or re-affirm their heterosexuality by sharing stories of their “female conquests.” This is sad but understandable. If I were one of them, however, my response would have been to re-iterate the right of all Ugandans to live and love as they please and to condemn the homophobia inherent in the tabloid story. Even though it might not affect their lives as individuals or might have been levelled against them in error, those homophobic ideas continue to adversely affect the lives of LGBTQ people in Uganda. “Outing” of queer people by tabloids like this has previously led to assault, homelessness and even death of LGBT people at the hands of violent homophobes. No journalist with any ethics would be proud of endangering people’s lives in this manner, but this is the country we live in.
Finally this article serves as a reminder to Ugandans and Africans generally that it is our duty to call out instances of homophobia, sexism and other forms of oppression that manifest in our lives daily. It is not enough to claim that you are not homophobic/ sexist if you are not actively taking steps to address it among your peers.
Audre Lorde reminds us that none of us is free until we are all free; we should therefore be more concerned with each other’s liberation.