Should Uganda be boycotted by tourists over anti-gay bill?

About two weeks ago, Lonely Planet, one of the world’s leading guidebooks for travelers, nominated Uganda one of 2010’s top travel destinations in the world. Naturally, some gay rights activists across the globe perceived this nomination as inappropriate, insensitive, and misinformed. Their argument is: Uganda is currently one of the world’s dangerous places to be gay after a bill was introduced in 2009 to further criminalize homosexuality and, in some instances, condemn LGBT citizens to death.

My argument is: Whereas travel boycotts and threats to cut aid may be good procedures to remind governments that they’re not going to get a free pass for their horrific record of human rights, the trend for human rights enforcement has and is changing. In Uganda, this trend tends to lean toward allowing voices of civil society to be heard while also working on creating an environment for debate and dialogue. As the Civil Society Coalition for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, we are witnessing a slow but promising process of change. It is important that we allow that process to continue. We need to expend our energies toward supporting and strengthening this work and allowing local activists to be the voice of their own movement. We need to understand that we cannot determine the future of our country basing on a one-dimensional approach of being alarmed only when LGBT rights are threatened.

In the comments section of the Lonely Planet article, someone comments: “Do gay Americans “stand a pretty good chance of being killed” while here [in Uganda]?”

In the interview following, I speak to Daily Monitor’s Raymond Mpubani who contacted me from Kampala on the controversy surrounding Lonely Planet’s recommendation and what my opinion, as a Ugandan gay rights activist, is.

RM:  If you look at the comments on the Lonely Planet article, our reputation is now tied to Bahati’s bill; people are wondering how Lonely Planet could recommend such a bigoted country. As a Ugandan gay activist, what do you think about this? Is it an over-reaction, or do they have a point? Should Uganda be boycotted by tourists? Is that what Uganda is?

Kalendenator: I don’t think any of the people making [those remarks] understand the beauty of our country regardless [of ongoing persecution of LGBT persons.] What such people want to do is put gay rights ahead of other human rights. In my opinion, they are the reason African countries are still overly homophobic. If people want Uganda to be boycotted because of homophobia then they should make the same noise when opposition leaders and journalists have their rights abused by the state.

RM: What do you think is the future for Gay Activism and Gay Rights in Uganda?

Kalendenator: When we began our movement about ten years ago, our goal was not to demand for special treatment. We are demanding for the same rights that every Ugandan citizen enjoys. In future when my children enroll in school I don’t want them to be bullied simply because their mother is a gay rights activist. I want to apply for a job and know that I will be evaluated not on the basis of my sexual orientation but on [whether I have the required job qualifications]. This was our vision and it is the environment that we want to create in Uganda.

The future for gay rights in Uganda is definitely decriminalization of homosexuality. To rid ourselves of the laws that our colonial masters imposed on us.  Of course the biggest threat to change is fear and ignorance. We cannot claim to be a forward-moving nation in an environment where people are still as ignorant as to believe that homosexuality is a sexually transmitted disease and that gays should be hanged.  As [a student of social justice movements], I believe  things will have to get worse before they can get better.


One Comment on “Should Uganda be boycotted by tourists over anti-gay bill?”

  1. jo jones says:

    in that sense i agree with you Val ,for what matters most in this line is learning that we are all “one people” no matter the differences in sexual orientation therefore “equal rights” is the key to a developing nation like Uganda.the gay community of Uganda has got educated and talented people who can change many peoples lives but because most of Ugandans are judgmental most of these peoples talents and abilities are just wasted. ITS NOT ABOUT PUTTING THE GAYS RIGHTS A HEAD OF OTHER HUMAN RIGHTS BUT RATHER THE GAY COMMUNITY HAVING AN EQUAL TREAT LIKE THE REST OF THE PEOPLE IN UGANDA.

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