Uganda: So Much More Than Fear
An update on the crisis in Uganda by David R. Weiss – December 26, 2013
In my last blog post, A Crowded Manger, I wrote about the recent passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill by the Ugandan Parliament. Near the end I made a questionable choice, invoking the image of “a whole host of LGBT Ugandans … now huddling in fear while the world around them swirls with hatred.” There is a large amount of truth to this image, but lest it become the only image that lingers for you, I want to diversify it here. That image, in its partial truth, threatens to ordain us in the West as heroes-once-again, saving those hapless Ugandans from themselves. Which is bullshit. Of the worst sort.
So to be clear.
While my friends in Uganda speak openly of fear – the fear they feel, and the fear that wracks nearly everyone in the LGBT community there right now – they speak undeniably WITH courage. Not one of them spoke of going into hiding, but rather of the palpable peril that now accompanies them in doing the work they feel called to do.
Leaders of the LGBT community have already issued a press statement and a statement of defiance in response to the bill’s passage. Their words show not fear, but a great deal of insight, anger, and conviction.
It is true that in many of Uganda’s rural areas and urban ghettos, members of the LGBT community are illiterate – often precisely because they were abandoned by or driven away from families and schools upon being outed. These persons will need the educated words of others to understand what is happening with more accuracy than the rumors communicate.
Yet it is equally true that even these persons know the truth of their situation in ways that neither we, in America, nor the politicians in Uganda can begin to know. They know the truth of life lived at the edge – something liberation theologians refer to as the “epistemological privilege of the poor.” They deserve our compassion, but only if that compassion is coupled with solidarity and respect.
Moreover, among the leaders in the LGBT community in Uganda, are persons the likes of Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Cesar Chavez, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Nelson Mendela. They may or may not ever rise to a similar level of recognition, but in their commitment to justice, their daring solidarity with others, and their vision of a Uganda where each person is granted the space to flourish – in these qualities they are already peers of those we reckon as heroes.
LGBT Ugandans run the gamut in human praiseworthiness (just like the rest of our communities). They are … simply human. But Uganda right now is trying to de-humanize them, both under the law and already in the social realm. And wherever humanity is under such assault, if we respond with indifference, we surrender our own humanity in that moment.
In the days ahead the LGBT community is Uganda will offer up ample instances of fear – and, tragically, some of these will become moments of betrayal and even brutality. So would some of us act in arenas so shaped by terror. But there will be as well – sometimes seen, but more often unseen – countless instances of courageous action, compassionate daring, perceptive insight, and visionary hope. If we stand with LGBT Ugandans in this moment – AND I HOPE WE DO – we dare not pity them. We ought to stand with those who are weakest and most afraid, but we ought also to stand also with their brightest and best. And with these latter, we ought to stand with a measure of awe.
NOTE: I will, within the week, share a post about how we can best respond. I am waiting to take my lead from friends in Uganda. But one thing is clear: those taking the lead in Uganda need funds – NOW. My church works with four organizations serving the Ugandan LGBT community. If you make a special gift to Wingspan-Uganda, we’ll pass these funds on quickly to help these groups in serving their members in the days ahead. On the church’s donation page you can make a secure tax-deductible gift to the Wingspan Uganda project (second from the bottom in the list of designated gifts). If you prefer to send a check, make it out to St. Paul-Reformation, with “Wingspan-Uganda” on the memo line, and mail it to SP-R, 100 N. Oxford, St. Paul, MN 55104.
David R. Weiss is the author of To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, Langdon Street Press). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, David is committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. He lives in St. Paul and speaks on college campuses and at church and community events. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more at http://www.ToTheTune.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” He recently published a playfully profound and slyly subversive children’s picture book, When God Was a Little Girl. Learn more at http://www.WhenGodWasaLittleGirl.com.