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Gay Rights in Uganda: How It Reflects a Flaw in Our Discourse on Gay Rights

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"There is no definitive gene responsible for homosexuality", said the Ugandan scientists that the Ugandan president consulted, it is "merely an abnormal behavior which may be learned through experiences in life." There are a lot of reasons I chose to highlight this statement made by the scientists consulted by the Ugandan president. Firstly, it explores a deeply important contemporary issue at play within the gay community, both in Uganda and the rest of the world. Secondly, the statement is deplorability at its core, and it personifies a human rights issue that needs to be addressed. Thirdly, it shows how one of the most powerful rhetorical tools adopted in the fight for gay rights in our society is beginning to fail us tragically. It presses on the importance of finding new ways to redress this historically useful yet impoverished oversight.

When the president of Uganda, Mr. Yoweri Museveni, refused to sign the bill passed by the Ugandan legislation into law, the gay community and human rights advocates sighed in relief. This was a bill that proposed clauses that made gay people in Uganda liable to life imprisonment. Mr. Museveni was always frank about his opinions on homosexuality, how he felt it was an abnormality that needed to be addressed.

However, he was also able to detect the stark unfairness in the law, and for a time stood against granting the bill presidential assent. However, after consulting with Ugandan scientists who claimed that homosexuality was nothing more than a social abnormality, the president has suddenly changed his mind. He is now willing to sign this defective, ill-thought-out and unpardonable bill into law.

Uganda is a country that already has a social, political and legal environment that is unreceptive to homosexuals, and this bill, as was the case in Nigeria, will only do more to worsen their condition. It will make life unbearable for homosexuals in Uganda, and it will also send people on a witch-hunt to try and "find the gays," irrespective of the costs. This bill also criminalizes the act of not reporting gay persons if one is aware that they are gay, and this will have an adverse effect of sending people into a frightful state of coming into contact with anyone who might be gay.

I say this because no matter how much you stand against something, reporting someone for that action that may very well cost them their freedom is a very different moral battle. Disagreeing with a person's sexuality is one thing, but not everyone has the misdirected ethical resolve to actually go to the authorities and report homosexuals, and so they will be afraid to encounter anyone who might be gay for fear of having to tackle, head on, this moral battle with legal costs.

This law might also send some people into a state of hyper vigilance. Some people will be keener on reporting people as homosexual without any form of confirmation. They will rely on unreliable stereotypical and cultural projections of people's idea of how gay people act, appear and compose themselves. All in all, this will cause more chaos than a whole country might be able to bear, even one that is as seemingly homophobic as Uganda.

This law will bring about a human rights conundrum that can only unfold into something that we will all come to regret. I made another assertion at the beginning, which was how the statement made by the Ugandan scientists highlights a fatal flaw that has been allowed to persist in the gay rights movement. Brandon Ambrosino published, what I think, is a very powerful and compelling piece on The New Republic that addresses this issue.

He explored the sexual rigidity that is presented as a result of the linguistic discourse that quite a number of gay rights activists have chosen to adopt in their fight for gay rights. He explored how this sexual rigidity was asserted in the place of sexual autonomy. When talking about their sexuality, gay people often argue that this is a part of themselves that they cannot change, and to a large extent this rhetoric is true and has been very effectual.

For a long time asserting that your sexuality cannot be changed, as Brandon Ambrosino argued, was a very effective way of dealing with stark opposition against the gay community. By saying that their sexuality was something that could not be changed, they combated the idea that people who are gay could somehow be "cured." So, asserting the idea of sexual rigidity, amongst other very complex factors, allowed for a real conversation about LGBT rights to start, but not without its social and rhetorical costs.

I agree that a person's sexuality is an uncompromising part of their identity. I also agree that to a large extent people are born with these sexual dispositions, but I will not go so far as to concede to the idea that there are not social factors at play that inform a person's sexuality. The problem with overlooking these social factors is that people, like those Ugandan scientists, will be pressed on looking for the genetic code that leads to homosexuality. This assertion of sexual rigidity for these scientists, and other people as well, translates to an undiscovered biological component of homosexuality.

Another problem is that sometimes, saying you were born gay, almost sounds like an apology for one's sexuality. It is almost like an appeal to accept your sexuality not in itself but because you were born that way and there is nothing you can do to change it. I mean anyone can see why this particular discourse has worked in the past, but it leads to this false assurance that an acceptance of the idea that your sexuality is something you cannot change is the same as the acceptance of your sexuality in itself. The new discourse within the gay community should be one of a right to sexual autonomy, and unadulterated acceptance of one's sexuality.

I am not saying that people should not emphasize the fact that their sexuality is something they can't change or repress without deep personal costs, or even change at all. I am saying that the gay community should widen their discourse to one that takes into account social factors, and the conscious choice that is sometimes at play with regards to one's sexuality. It should be about reclaiming sexual autonomy, rather than settling for sexual rigidity, so that the next time someone challenges your sexuality, you can assert your right to choose rather than apologize for, or compromise on, that right.