On page 27 of this week’s The Weekly Observer, John Vianney Nsimbe’s “Street Talk” section puts forth the following question to what is supposedly a randomly selected group of Kampala pedestrians:

Should gays have freedom of existence?

Having spent the last year of my life in a region where it often seems like there are more gay men than straight, the wording struck me as slightly unbelievable. You know, like, ‘is that a joke?’ Apparently not. Here are the answers.

Shantal Babirye, 20, Student – “Homos and Lesbians are unpleasant but we can just tolerate them provided they don’t do it in public. I know the Bible forbids it but it’s their choice but I hope my brother isn’t a homo.”

Beat Nabankema, 20, Student – “Homosexuality can’t be legalised. But some are apparently born that way. I feel sorry for them. They shouldn’t be marginalised but helped to change to control the vice.”

Sharon Nakato, 20, Student – “My friend, the government should banish gays from this society. I can never support immorality. We can’t bend rules to accommodate wrong behaviour.”

Sylvia Mukwaya, Entrepreneur – “As a mother, I wouldn’t want my son to be a victim because it’s unnatural and nasty. Homosexuality is a crime that should be punishable to protect our kids and society.”

Colin Wambi, Business Analyst – “No way! Gay acts are wrong and our society can’t embrace them by allowing gays the liberty to exist. The nation should fight such immorality. They can exist behind closed doors but not in public.

Deborah Nassolo, 20, Student – “It’s behaviour against Church teachings and if one can’t be counselled to change, the laws must be very strict from government to stop them from spreading; it’s a bad example.”

Christopher Wegoye, 27, Engineer – “Gay acts mustn’t be legalised. It kills our culture. Homos should be counselled so that they reform. Actually, they should be charged and strict laws imposed in order to stop other from adopting the act.”

Sean Birungi, 28, Banker – “I even don’t want to hear that word: Homosexuality. From a Christian view, God cleared the people in Sodom. If we let homos be, then we’re defying God. The act must be stopped.

Simon Muziki, 29, Medical doctor – “Crows don’t talk and neither do dogs sing. Why should men bed ben? It’s abnormal (anti-Christian) sex that tears the rectum muscles. Anal intercourse isn’t naturally suited. Gay acts are mental disorders that need counselling and a strong legislation.”

Maria Namirembe, 23, Teacher – “If gays believe what they are doing is right, why do they hide their faces when demonstrating for freedom to exist? Who would love their child to be gay? We must protect our kids and if one is caught in it, they must be arrested.”

One reason homosexuals may be shy to show their faces while advocating for greater rights is self-preservation. A series of articles by Stanford graduate Katherine Roubos on Uganda’s LGBT community eventually led to this (2). (Of course, the only time Uganda ever makes it to the international press is when there is a riot.) Not exactly a friendly forum for a gay man or woman to make case for the freedom of ‘existence’.

Every newspaper I have bought while in Uganda has had some sort of article, commentary, or letter to the editor about homosexuality. It’s an obsession bordering on mania. I’m sure Freud would have plenty to say.

The only problem with Katherine Roubos’ coverage of Uganda’s LGBT community is that it’s been covered by Katherine Roubos, a White, female American educated at one of the world’s preeminent and costliest universities. Which leads to beliefs about homosexuality similar to what is expressed in the two following letters to the editor from The Weekly Observer:

I detest that western item to the marrow and cast its proponents to the world of the unknown, so to speak!

– Oonyu Richard, Mayuge

Homosexuality is one of the worst acts that have come to Africa. Homosexuals should be sentenced to death because their acts are ungodly. They shouldn’t have a place in our society.

– Wilson Mugasha

In other words, homosexuality is a Western invention that came to Africa on commercial jets and liberally minded Hollywood movies. Roubos’ coverage of Uganda’s LGBT community is thinly disguised activism according to her detractors. Which is why, if gay Africans want more acceptance in African society, it’s a cultural change that they will have to bring about themselves. And they’ve already started.

In Ndesanjo Macha‘s recent keynote address at the Digital Citizens Indaba in South Africa, he brought up the fact that the internet has created a small place where gay Africans have been able to safely express themselves; who they are, what their lives are like, what their aspirations are. It’s a small start, but the power of media (big, small, and micro) to shift perception and cultural stereotypes is truly incredible. Just 50 years ago it was a revolutionary idea that two people with different colors of skin could marry each other. There was no way a woman or Black man could ever become president of the United States. And two men kissing on the street – never! All that has changed to a certain degree and the reason why is because we’ve become exposed to each other. We’ve still got a long way to go and adaptation is often a generational phenomenon for humans, but a change, it is coming.