Recently, I complained to my brother that my laptop was slow, so we ended up window shopping at a local Best Buy. It's so enticing to drive into the parking lot where the blue and yellow sign is lit up as bright as a full moon. The layout of the store welcomes you into a fantasy world of electronic gadgets: tablets, laptops, smart phones, flat screen TVs, all to make you a happier person. If you have a passion for electronics, the lure of Best Buy is hypnotic.
So we amused ourselves as we investigated the latest laptops with Windows 8 and touch screens and computers called "Yoga" that literally bend over backwards and become a tablet, as well ones that twist and contort, and which would take me months to figure out what the hell I'm supposed to be doing with it in each position.
In the end, we both left the store having bought nothing at all. My brother had his reasons and I had mine. I am going to tell you mine (you'd have to ask him about his.)
You know, I really do love America and believe there are so many wonderful things about this country. I hate it when Americans put down their home with blanket disgust. But of course, we have our issues and serious ones: economic inequities, racism, poverty, crime and, in a prime example of of what Best Buy showcases: excess. There's not one thing in that store you need to in order to live.
I have partaken of American excesses in the past and will likely do so in the future, but not today, not yesterday and not tomorrow. My mind is on other things.
With so many causes screaming for attention at home and around the world, I find myself connected to one cause in particular -- the plight of the LGBTI population in Uganda. Why would an American girl like me, who lives a fairly comfortable life, feel so much connection for gay Ugandans? Perhaps because I have come to know several of these people via Facebook (FB has to be good for something) and I have grown very fond of them.
For the most part, the continent of Africa is a terrible place to be gay, or what we often refer to as "queer," in this country, to cover the gamut of sexual orientations that are not heterosexual and genders that are not our "norm" of male or female. Uganda is among the worst of the worst countries in which to exist as a gay person in Africa, or anywhere. And as is usually the case, white colonialism in the past, and current misguided American religious fundamentalist missionaries have had a hand in making life miserable for these people.
At the prompting of such American missionaries, the Uganda Parliament has been trying for several years to pass a "Kill the Gays," bill. They toned that down due to international pressure, but the Ugandan Parliament recently passed the Anti Homosexulality Law which requires up to life imprisonment for living as a gay person. Passed near the end of 2013, the speaker of the Parliament, a woman named Rebecca Kadaga, said the the bill was a "Christmas gift," to the people of Uganda.
I have been in touch, mostly with Uganda men, who had informed me of their lives. Not one ever asked me for a dollar. But, recently, I spoke with a Ugandan woman. She said she had to get out of Uganda. I said I didn't know how I could help. She said outright, "I need money." I asked, "How much money do you need?" and she responded "80 dollars." She added that she could use another $15 for food because it was a two day bus ride to Kenya. Kenya is no panacea for gay people, I have learned, but it is the closest and easiest country for Ugandan gays to get to, and it also is by degrees, less dangerous for them. They have a small chance at a better life.
I did not know this woman, or necessarily trust her, but I asked her to have Bryan (not his real name) be in touch with me. I have been talking with Bryan for more than a year, and I find him to be earnest and kind and loving. He was in touch with me very quickly after my request, so I figured the woman was probably legit, and I sent money for her and her girlfriend to get out of Uganda. I hear she has made it to Kenya, although I have no real proof. I have asked that she send me a postcard from that country.
Today I had a conversation with Joseph (not his real name) who also wants to go to Kenya. I asked, "Do you have a boyfriend?"
He said, "Yes, his name is Ron."
I said, "Would you go to Kenya without Ron?" To this, Joseph sent back to me a resounding, "NO!" And in the end, Joseph told me he was very grateful for my offer to help him out of Uganda, but Ron is in the middle of his studies and wants to stay in Uganda, and he "would not go without him."
Joseph would rather stay in a country that persecutes him than go to one where he might have a chance, if it means leaving his lover -- or should is say, his love -- behind.
The love is so pure, and yet, most people in his country, as well as many in our own, would call his relationship "abnormal."
Have you watched episodes of that ridiculous show, "The Bachelor?" Don't try to tell me that Joseph and Ron are not okay, but featuring one man and a bunch of air-headed women fighting and screaming over him are okay. Let's not even talk about how such a show sets back women 100 years and is an insult to our entire American culture and intelligence.
To make a long story short, instead of buying a new PC that could bend over backwards and become a tablet, I decided to send money to a number of Ugandan gays who want to go to Kenya as their only chance at a better life. Right now, Harold is on his way to try. Harold could not stop crying when I spoke with him. He has been jailed several times due to his activism on behalf of the gay community in Uganda. He was evicted from his apartment for being gay (that is legal in Uganda). He is desperate. I hope he makes it.
My lovely friend, Bryan, recently tried to get out, was questioned at the border, realized he needed to bribe the Kenyan border guards with much more money than he had, was nearly jailed, and then sent back to Uganda.
Bryan and I got upset with each other recently because we were so disappointed that he didn't make it.
"I threw money at a problem," I said, "And it was a mistake. Throwing money at a problem doesn't solve anything!" Of course, had Bryan gotten out, it would have solved something, and it provided him some small hope for a better life. It showed him someone cared.
"I was unlucky," he said to me. Sometimes, people do get lucky and are allowed to cross into Kenya, he added.
I have spent a certain amount of personal funds to try to help a number of gay Ugandans cross over into Kenya. I am still waiting to receive proof that even one has made it. It could happen, if one or more of them gets lucky and doesn't run into a corrupt border guard. I'm waiting for postcards to be sent to me with a Kenyan postmarks. Then I'll know someone or a few have made it.
I am not telling you this story to show you what a great person I am. I am telling you this because it's what I did recently rather than partake in American excess yet again. In the last year, I have learned that a friend of mine, just 50, died of cancer, that my own mother has stage four cancer, and these events, along with other issues, have me reassessing my priorities.
These Ugandans are young people, in their 20s and 30s, who deserve a better shot at life. I could write a similar statement about any number of gay people in other African countries, but it so happens that it is the Ugandans that I have gotten to know.
And although the Ugandan President vetoed the anti-homosexuality bill, he did not do it to protect homosexuals. He calls them abnormal. He believes they need to be repaired. He has reportedly been known to support corrective rape for lesbians, and god knows what to cure gay men. His veto can also be overthrown by Parliament. And regardless, gays are persecuted severely.
Eventually, I will buy a new, faster PC from Best Buy. I live in America, and I have this option. It is a privilege I have. And eventually, I hope to wrap my mind around a way to raise money to help gay Ugandans find a better life either within their own country, or by leaving Uganda. I hope to find some support out there for these kind and persecuted souls.