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September 13, 2007

UGANDA'S ANTI-GAY WITCH HUNT CONTINUES

I wrote the following article for Gay City News -- New York's largest lesbian and gay weekly -- in whose new edition it appeared this morning:

A new chapter opened this week in a vicious, media-led witchhunt that is outing gays in Uganda, when a daily newspaper unveiledUganda_rp_headline  the latest installment of what it bills as its "Weird Sex Investigation," publishing the names and detailed descriptions of 40 men it claimed are gay.

Under the shock headline "HOMO TERROR! We Name and Shame Top Gays in the City," Red Pepper’s Sunday, September 9 issue (right) provided details so precise — physical descriptions, residences, places of employment, and the kind of cars they drive — that those targeted, almost all from the capital city of Kampala or its environs, were easily identifiable to their neighbors and co-workers.

The newspaper’s list includes doctors, businessmen, clerics, broadcasters, lawyers, bankers, actors, musicians, and non-profit group staffers.

"This article fingers those named for physical attack," Cary Alan Johnson, senior Africa specialist for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), told me.

Cary_alan_johnson Johnson (left) declared, "There is a comprehensive campaign being waged against LGBT rights in Uganda. It includes government and conservative religious leaders. Now the lower end of the media — rags like Red Pepper — are adding their hate-filled voices."

Johnson added, "Gay and lesbian-baiting, like that which Red Pepper has engaged in before and is engaging in again, incites violence and destroys lives."

One of those whose name appeared in this latest Red Pepper outing list — his real name cannot be given to protect his security — described the situation as "tense, with lots of phone calls and people coming to me face to face within the company [where I work] and family, seeking clarification as to why my name keeps coming up in the press."

This nervous outing victim said in an e-mail, "We are on the lookout for what may come next," and declared he was particularly concerned for his boyfriend, whose "relatives have called a meeting today in his house to discuss this issue after knowing what has been going on, and knowing me for some time as a person they trust to be with their son and had never suspected this. [My boyfriend] is scared, as this is his first encounter with homophobia."

[UPDATE: Today, the author of a gay blog in Uganda e-mailed the new Gays Without Borders list-serv and reported: "Most of the reaction to the Red Pepper outing was at first a despair. Despair and a cringing fear of what is going to happen, what our hostile world is going to dish out to us because now they know we are gay. That was Sunday, and Monday. People had switched off their phones. Others were planning to go into hiding. "Wednesday, and it seems the consensus has changed again. Come up swinging. Fight back. Resist. Anger has come up at last, a definite pride at being Kuchu and also being human and why should we be 'named and shamed'?. Explore the legal issues. And how else can we fight back? An email campaign. Letters to the Red Pepper, challenging the outing of presumed gay people. It worked before. It can work again. The Red Pepper is not immune to this kind of thing also."]

The first installment of Red Pepper’s hate-filled outing campaign  was launched last year on August 8, when the newspaper, under the banner headline "GAY SHOCK!" published the names of 45 allegedly gay and bisexual men. Those outed by the newspaper included lawyers, army officers, university lecturers, entertainers, bankers, students, and priests. Red Paper listed the profession, the city of origin, and in some cases information on the friends and partners of those accused of being gay, most of whom were from Kampala and its suburbs. It also gave a tip line phone number for readers to report on other alleged same-sexers.

Red_pepper_lesbians This was followed by another barrage when, on September 8, 2006, under the headline "KAMPALA’S NOTORIOUS LESBIANS UNEARTHED," Red Pepper (left) published the names of 13 alleged lesbians, including two boutique owners, a basketball player, and the daughters of a former member of Parliament and of a prominent sheikh.

"To rid our motherland of the deadly vice, we are committed to exposing all the lesbos in the city" of Kampala, the newspaper proclaimed, telling its readers to "send more names" with "the name and occupation of the lesbin [sic] in your neighborhood and we shall shame her." (For more on last year’s launch of the Red Pepper outing campaign, see this reporter’s September 14-20, 2006 article in Gay City News, "Uganda Witch Hunt Escalates.")

Red Pepper -- which promises another installment in its anti-gay exposé this coming Sunday -- is, however, not alone in media appeals to hate. State-sponsored media have been calling for stronger measures against homosexual conduct. For example, on July 6, a writer in the government-owned newspaper New Vision urged the state to crack down on homosexuality, saying, "The police should visit the holes mentioned in the press, spy on the perverts, arrest and prosecute them. Relevant government departments must outlaw or restrict Web sites, magazines, newspapers, and television channels promoting immorality — including homosexuality, lesbianism, pornography, etc."

Last Sunday’s Red Pepper "Homo Terror" article was explicitly proclaimed by the tabloid as its response to the first-ever press conference held on August 17 by Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), the umbrella organization for Ugandan lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and intersex organizations.

At that press conference, SMUG launched its "Let us Live in Peace" campaign, condemning violence and discrimination against homosexuals as well as the "life-threatening" silence about homosexuality in HIV/AIDS prevention programs. Many of those present at the press conference wore masks because they were afraid to show their faces.

Mukasa_v_good

The press conference was organized by SMUG’s courageous leader, Victor Juliet Mukasa (left), a transgendered lesbian who is Uganda’s most open and visible LGBT leader. She had been forced to flee the country to South Africa in fear of her life after police raided her home in 2005, seized SMUG documents, and arrested her guest, a woman who was forced to strip naked.

Mukasa recently returned to Uganda to launch a lawsuit against the government for the raid, which she said was illegal under the Ugandan Constitution, and to organize the "Let Us Live in Peace" campaign.

"We were treated in a degrading and inhumane way," Mukasa said at the press conference of the raid on her home." And, she added, "Many of us have suffered similar injustice. We are here today to proclaim that these human rights violations are completely unacceptable. We have had enough of the abuse, neglect, and violence."

In a clear reference to the SMUG press conference, the Red Pepper wrote last Sunday that, "Since the gay community in Uganda has shown us that they really want to be recognized, we are saying enough is enough. Today we are helping them get the recognition they seem to so badly want by naming all of them one by one."

And, the tabloid said, "If you are faint of heart, please stop here because we leave no stone unturned. Our article narrates how the gays network and hook members into their group, what their parties look like, favourite hang out joints plus how they shaft. You will be shocked." It promised photographs in future editions.

Descriptions of the 40 people targeted by Red Pepper included:

"SAMUEL — this gentleman works with MTN [Uganda’s large telecommunications company] as a top officer and is based in a city suburb. He stays along Gayaza Road and he’s in his early 40s. He drives an MTN car. He once got married and had kids before divorcing his wife to settle for young boys. He is the leader of the gay ring in Uganda. He organizes everything that they do and is well known to foreign gay societies."

"CEDRICK — He is a very brown guy with feminine looks and walks like a woman. He is a son of a former top politician. He is married and works in his father’s business."

"MATHIAS — short and small, he looks like a woman. He formerly presented EATV’s ‘Kampala Wire,’ where he was fired."

"WASSWA — A lecturer at Makerere University, he is short and slender. He stays in a historical place in Buganda and drives a blue imposing car."

The SMUG press conference sparked an anti-gay rally by a coalition of Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, and Baha’i denominations, and a series of public threats made by top Ugandan government officials, including calls for arrests.

On August 21 , Deputy Attorney General Fred Ruhindi called for the criminal law to be used against gays and lesbians in the country. After this threat, many gay activists went into hiding. Days earlier, Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo publicly called homosexuality "unnatural" — and, while belittling charges that police harassed LGBT people, warned, "We know them; we have details of who they are." (For more details, see this reporter’s August 23-29  Gay City News article, "Crises Across Africa.")

While some countries, including Canada, the Netherlands, and several Scandinavian countries, have protested to the Ugandan government about these threats and the violations of the human rights of LGBT people, the US has been noticeably silent.

"I met with the State Department’s desk officer for Uganda last week," IGLHRC’s Johnson told me. "We need to have our embassy in Kampala doing something. They even have a human rights office in the embassy, but so far they’ve been silent about all this."

Posted by Direland at 06:12 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

September 06, 2007

"FREE THE BUGGERS"--Britain & the Wolfenden Report

The following article was written for Gay City News -- New York City's largest lesbian and gay weekly -- in whose new edition it appeared today:

Britons this week are observing the 50th anniversary of the earth-shaking Wolfenden Report, the recommendation by a government committee that set the UK on the road to decriminalization of homosexuality.

Bbc_logo All the major respectable dailies have published a series of retrospective pieces, and the BBC is marking the 1957 Wolfenden Report's birthday by programming an entire week-long cycle of broadcasts under the rubric "Hidden Lives," portraying what it was like to be gay in Britain in the 1950s. (UPDATE: My friend Andy, the editor of U.K. Gay News, wrote me today that "there have been hundreds of complaints received by the BBC over this gay programming.  Most have come from USA and Canada 'Christian taliban' websites which have been urging their  'failthul' to complain about the programmes, helpfully providing the link to the BBC's compalints website.")

Among the BBC's offerings this week are a new, full-length docudrama portraying the 14 membersAlan_turing  of the Wolfenden Committee struggling with their consciences toward what the producer of the film calls its "radical conclusions," and the moving film "Breaking the Code," starring Derek Jacobi as Alan Turing (right), the mathematical genius who played a major role in World War II by breaking Nazi Germany's Enigma code, but was later persecuted for being homosexual, arrested, and forced to undergo male hormone treatments. Turing eventually committed suicide by eating an apple laced with cyanide.

What did the Wolfenden Report say that was considered so radical at the time?

It recommended that "homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence." It found that "homosexuality cannot legitimately be regarded as a disease, because in many cases it is the only symptom and is compatible with full mental health in other respects, adding: "The law's function is to preserve public order and decency, to protect the citizen from what is offensive or injurious, and to provide sufficient safeguards against exploitation and corruption of others. Not, in our view, the function of the law to intervene in the private life of citizens, or to seek to enforce any particular pattern of behaviour."

In the autumn of 1953, British gays were the victims of what they called "The Great Purge"Oscar_cigarette_v_good  - a massive police crackdown on homosexuals in which nearly 5,000 same-sexers were arrested in the ensuing months - on charges either of "gross indecency" (the same law under which Oscar Wilde (right) was imprisoned), solicitation, or sodomy. This represented an increase of 850 per cent over the arrest rate for homosexuality in 1938, just before World War II.

Guy_burgess_2  The Great Purge, which took place at the height of the Cold War, was provoked by the defection of the diplomats Guy Burgess (left), a notorious homosexual, and Donald Maclean to Moscow, and in the climate of the day homosexuality was virtually equated with treason in the minds of the police. (The outrageous Burgess, when posted to the US a couple of years earlier, had been warned by his Foreign Office boss, "Guy, you must remember that in America there are three taboos - Communism, blacks, and homosexuality." To which the insouciant Burgess replied, "Oh, you mean I shouldn't make a pass at Paul Robeson!" A famous African-American singer and actor,Paul_robeson_nude  Robeson (right), of course, had already been blacklisted for his closeness to the Communist Party.)

In the Great Purge, one could be arrested for sitting on a park bench in a known cruising area, or because one's name had been found in the address book of some other gay arrested. There were a number of such "address book" trials, on charges of "conspiracy" to commit "gross indecency," roping together people who had never met each other.

The Fleet Street press had a field day with all these arrests, and even if gays managed to get off with only a fine, their names, addresses, and employers were printed in the newspapers, and their lives ruined.

There was a backlash against the Great Purge when the establishment became disconcerted as many of its members, including the aristocracy, became victims.

Shortly after receiving a knighthood in Queen Elizabeth's coronation honors list, Sir John Gielgud, considered Britain's greatest Shakespearean actor (right, Gielgud as Hamlet in the 1930s)John_gielgud_as_hamlet , was arrested on a charge of "importuning" another man. On the charge sheet he described himself as "Arthur Gielgud, 49, a clerk, of Cowley Street Westminster," pleaded guilty, and apologized. He was fined £10. He had followed the usual gay practice at the time of giving a false job description in the hope that the press would not pick up on the incident.

Had Gielgud been bolder, he might also have given a completely false Alec_guinness_as_herbert_pocket_opp name, following the example of another famous actor, Alec Guinness , who, when arrested on a similar charge, escaped the sort of humiliating press coverage Gielgud received by giving his name as "Herbert Pocket," the Dickensian character Guinness had played in David Lean's film version of "Great Expectations." (Left, Guinness--on the left-- as Herbert Pocket, opposite John Mills)

Rupert Croft-Cooke (right), 50, a novelist, playwright, Rupert_croftcooke biographer, travel writer, and book critic of The Sketch, was arrested in his home with his Indian secretary and two Royal Navy cooks he'd picked up, prosecuted for "gross indecency," and sent to prison for nine months.

Edward_montagu Edward John Barrington Douglas-Scott-Montagu, known as Lord Montagu, 27, third Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, an old Etonian and ex-Grenadier Guards officer best known for his vintage car museum at his historic Hampshire home, Palace House at Beaulieu, was arrested for "gross indecency" with two teenage Boy Scouts. (Left, Lord Montagu in later life.)

In a sensational week-long court case, Montagu was tried together with his cousin, Michael Pitt-Rivers, and Peter Wildeblood, the 31-year-old diplomatic correspondent of the Daily Mail. All three defendants were convicted. Pitt-Rivers and Wildeblood were sentenced to 18 months in prison, and Lord Montagu was given a year.

As the Great Purge continued, the Conservative Party government appointed aJohn_wolfenden_2_good_2   Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution. Named to head it was Sir John Wolfenden (right), a private school headmaster and veteran of government committees on education and youth.

Other members of the Committee included a consultant psychiatrist, the chairman of Uxbridge magistrates court, the vice president of the City of Glasgow Girl Guides, a Scottish Presbyterian minister, a professor of moral theology, a High Court judge, a Foreign Office minister, and the Conservative MP for Putney.

The government did not know, at the time of Wolfenden's appointment, that his own son, Jeremy - later a journalist and British intelligence officer in Moscow - was gay. After being named to head the committee, Wolfenden wrote to his flamboyant son insisting "1) that we stay out of each other's way for the time being; 2) that you wear rather less make-up."

The Wolfenden Committee deliberated for three years, meeting in private on 62 days, onHuntley_and_palmers  32 of which they interviewed witnesses. Concerned about the sensibilities of the secretarial staff dealing with the material, in internal memoranda they referred to homosexuals as "huntleys" and prostitutes as "palmers." Huntley and Palmers were well-known biscuit-makers.

When the Wolfenden Report recommending decriminalization of homosexuality for consenting adults over the age of 21 was finally released in 1957, the press was, for the most part, outraged. Lord Rothermere's Daily Mail called it "legalized degradation," and thundered, "Great nations have fallen and empires decayed because corruption became socially acceptable." And Lord Beaverbrook's Evening Standard snarled, "Freeing adult males from any penalties could only succeed in intensifying and multiplying this form of depravity."

It would take another 10 years, an heroic effort by the gay campaigners of the Homosexual Law Reform Society, and a Labour Party government under Prime Minister Harold Wilson, before adult same-sex relations were partially decriminalized.

Christopher_hitchens_no_beard When I asked ex-pat British journalist Christopher Hitchens (left), who was writing about politics for the left-wing weekly New Statesman at that time, about the 1967 decriminalization vote, he told me that "the man who doesn't get as much credit as he deserves for it was Wilson's Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, a very right-wing social democrat. Jenkins, who was heterosexual, didn't care about nationalization or economic matters, but he was deeply committed to three things - end the death penalty, free the buggers, and liberalize the laws on divorce and abortion."

Hitchens added, "There was tremendous opposition from the Labour members of Parliament representing the miners. In fact, Matthew Coady, the New Statesman's parliamentary correspondent, wrote a famous article for the weekly in which he denounced the miners' MPs and detailed the widespread homosexual conduct in the coal mines. And, in fact, any miners' MP who claimed he didn't know that many of the lads down in the pits were having it off with each other was telling the most gigantic fib."

In the end, the Sexual Offenses Act of 1967 went only so far.

As the British daily The Guardian pointed out this week, under it "the maximum penalty for any man over 21 committing acts of 'gross indecency' (which included masturbation and oral sex) with a 16- to 21-year-old was increased from two years to five years. Same-sex relations were also legal only in private, which was interpreted, as gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell says, as being 'behind locked doors and windows and with no other person present on the premises.'"

Crucially, as The Guardian went on to point out, "While sex may have been legal, most of the things that might lead to it were still classified as 'procuring' and 'soliciting.' 'It remained unlawful for two consenting adult men to chat up each other in any non-private location,' Tatchell says. 'It was illegal for two men even to exchange phone numbers in a public place or to attempt to contact each other with a view to having sex.' Thus the 1967 law established the risible anomaly that to arrange to do something legal was itself illegal."

The situation remained tenuous for more than two decades. Tatchell's research shows that in England and Wales in 1989, consensual homosexual relations between men over the age of 16 resulted in 3,500 prosecutions, 2,700 convictions, and 380 cautions. Between 40 and 50 men served time in prison.

"Most alarmingly," Tatchell (right) wrote, "1,503 men were convicted of the gayPeter_tatchell_excellent  consensual offence of 'gross indecency' in 1989, compared with 887 in 1955. In other words, there were over one and a half times more guilty verdicts in 1989 than in the mid-1950s when male homosexuality was still totally illegal and Britain was gripped by a McCarthyite-style anti-gay witch-hunt."

Another decade and a half would pass before the reforms of Tony Blair's government would allow British gays to feel reasonably free from persecution.

For a full portrait of British gay life in the '50s and the Great Purge, see the autobiography of Purge victim Peter Wildeblood, "Against the Law," republished this year in London by Weidenfeld.

Posted by Direland at 08:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)