Uganda newspaper stokes anti-gay sentiment
Stosh, a 33-year-old lesbian, lived a secret life because of a Ugandan law against homosexuality until a newspaper recently identified her as gay.
That afternoon, people in a cafe started pointing at her. She left in a hurry.
“I went to a shop where I usually buy things,” Stosh said. “The woman there wouldn’t sell me anything. She was speaking rudely, calling me a faggot.”
She hurried away again, growing more frightened as she made her way home.
Stosh, who agreed to use only a nickname during an interview out of fear of harassment, said her experience resulted from the publication last month of her sexual orientation in the Rolling Stone newspaper, which is not affiliated with the U.S. magazine.
The newspaper, which has published photographs of dozens of gay people and listed their names and addresses on two occasions — Monday and last month — was ordered Tuesday by the High Court in Kampala, the capital, to stop such publications at least until a hearing this month. Justice Vincent Kibuuka Musoke issued the temporary injunction, saying the publication of the names and photos amounted to an infringement of the individuals’ right to privacy.
Rolling Stone Editor Giles Muhame said he did not know of any homosexuals who had been attacked as a result of his publication, though he said that if one was killed, it wasn’t his responsibility.
“If you know you are doing something that makes you vulnerable to attack, you leave it,” Muhame said in a phone interview. “If you feel you are going to be lynched, you stop it. Even if it happened, it would not be the responsibility of the newspaper. It would be their own mischief that caused the attacks on them.”
In Africa, where evangelical churches are powerful, conservative social values are common. Homophobia is widespread and homosexuality is illegal in many countries other than Uganda. African politicians and church leaders have called homosexuality un-African and unbiblical.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has described homosexuals as lower than pigs and dogs. Gays have been jailed in Malawi, Morocco and Cameroon. In South Africa, where gay marriage is legal, lesbians in black townships have been beaten to death.
Gay people in Uganda routinely endure family ostracism, taunts in the street, hate messages, ejection from bars, and firings.
“You don’t know what to expect the next day, you don’t know what to expect the next hour, you don’t know what to expect the next minute,” said Frank Mugisha, spokesman for gay rights group Sexuality Minorities Uganda. “You wake up in the morning and you can be walking in the street and you can get beaten. Your family could throw you out. You can lose your job.”
He said that things had gotten much worse since several American evangelical anti-homosexual activists addressed meetings in Uganda 18 months ago.
Months after the anti-gay crusaders — Scott Lively, Don Schmierer and Caleb Lee Brundidge — pressed for action in Uganda to curb homosexuality, a bill was put to parliament calling for the death penalty for homosexuals. After international condemnation, it was withdrawn. Lively distanced himself from the bill.
But Muhame, 22, who claims homosexuality leads to drug use and terrorism, is determined to wage what he calls “a war against homosexuality” in his newspaper. He believes homosexuals should be hanged.
The paper was launched in August and began with a print run of 2,000. He said it now prints 5,000.
Muhame said his newspaper had collected affidavits and other documents to prove homosexuals had “recruited” children, and that it would press police to arrest suspects.
Mugisha said Muhame used extreme language about homosexuals —linking them with drugs, terrorism and seducing minors — in order to incite hatred.
“These are just some of his strategies for his hate campaign. He’s trying to use words that are really extreme to make people hate homosexuals,” Mugisha said. “But we’re very strong. We will not let anyone stop us from fighting for our rights.”
Stosh said that when she arrived home the evening her photograph was published last month, some neighborhood men — friends — were waiting.
“They started saying, ‘Oh my God, we didn’t know you are gay.’ It started like a joke. But then people started gathering. People were throwing stones.”
She ducked into her gate, terrified a lynch mob would gather.
“It’s dangerous. If you don’t run for your life, you’ll be burned,” she said.
After a night worrying a mob would break in, she fled her home.
“With God’s grace, I’m trying to be brave,” Stosh said. “It’s not easy at all.”