A few weeks ago President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda signed the Uganda Anti-Gay Bill into law. I suppose in an effort to be a kinder, gentler dictator the decision was made to drop the death penalty from the bill and change the punishment to life in prison. Now before you think I’m engaging in name-calling, I am on solid ground here. Forbes named Museveni to its list of the 10 Worst Dictators in 2011. The bad news is Museveni only finished at No. 6. The worse news is that he was ahead of Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro, Vladimir Putin and Ayatollah Ali Kha of Iran. Recognize any other names on there who may not be fans of the LBGTQ community?
This bill had been working its way through the legislative process in Uganda since 2009. It has been sidelined a few times because Britain and other European nations threatened to cut off aid to the country if the legislation was allowed to become law. That was when the death penalty was still on the table. It will be interesting to see where this newest legislation leads in terms of sanctions. President Obama has already stated that enacting the bill would affect relations between the two nations. He described the proposal as an "affront and a danger to the gay community" in Uganda. The U.S. is among the nation’s largest donors.
In Uganda, homosexual acts were punishable by 14 years to life in prison for acts of “aggravated homosexuality” even before the controversial bill was signed into law. Not to imply that Uganda is the only country in Africa with a draconian anti-gay law, homosexuality is officially illegal in 38 African countries. This is largely due to the fact that most sodomy laws were introduced during colonialism. That puts their reasoning somewhere around the 1890s.
When things like this happen, we can’t completely blame it on the dictator or the politicians he controls. As much as we would like to, we can’t even blame the fundamentalist preachers who have increasingly demonized gay people and incited acts of hate over the years. We have to accept responsibility as members of the larger LGBTQ community.
While we seem to be moving in the right direction in the United States, there is an unsettling backlash in other countries around the globe where our progress is seen as an assault on traditional values. Often, our progress tends to make life more difficult for other members of the LGBTQ community around the world. As citizens of a global community, it immediately becomes our problem when our people are oppressed or in some cases, victimized and tortured. As we continue to work for our rights and freedom here, we also need to need to ask ourselves what we are doing to work for the rights of others.
Freedom to Marry in the South
On the same date anti-gay legislation passed in Uganda, SC Equality and Freedom to Marry launched a $1 million multi-state campaign to build majority support for the right of all people to marry. The initiative is known as Southerners for the Freedom to Marry. With the dictum of “It’s time for Marriage in the South,” this multi-state movement is connecting like-minded people across the South and asking them to get involved.
There is widespread and impressive support for this issue on the national level. The bipartisan leadership co-chairs across the region include civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who kicked off the campaign in a Web ad, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and George W. Bush advisor Mark McKinnon from Texas. The campaign includes groups from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia.
In the kick-off campaign, Rep. Lewis stated: "I fought too hard and too long against discrimination based on race and color not to stand up - and speak up - against discrimination against our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. I see the right to marriage as a civil rights issue." As the only living member of the Big Six Leaders of the Civil Right Movement, Lewis have given what is perhaps the most significant endorsement for marriage equality to date. Get involved, donate and follow the campaign at www.freedomtomarry.org/southerners.
Two days after the Freedom to Marry announcement, SC Equality also launched the Know Your Rights campaign in response to the numerous inquiries the organization receives regarding municipal, state and federal laws that affect the LGBTQ community. The focus of the campaign is to help educate and empower LGBTQ community members and their families. Each month through June, the campaign will release a new section of resources to be followed by a series of free educational forums and events statewide.
Ryan Wilson, Executive Director of SC Equality, explained: “As both laws and attitudes continue to evolve around our state and country, it is important for LGBT people to know what resources are available to them in South Carolina.” Find an event and find a way to make a difference at www.scequality.org/knowyourrights.
I believe that 2014 is going to be a year that significantly changes the lives of the LGBTQ community in South Carolina and across the South. The resources and support are intensifying. Opportunity on this level has never been greater. The participation of every person in the LGBTQ community is now a prerequisite for membership.
OUT & ABOUT
Wednesday, March 19 & Wednesday, March 26 – CareTeam will offer free and private HIV testing at the Family Justice Center at 1530 Highmarket Street, Georgetown from 9 a.m. until noon. Additional details are available at www.facebook.com/careteam.
Wednesday, March 26 – Prime Timers of Myrtle Beach will have its Fourth Wednesday Social at Driftwoods Restaurant in Murrells Inlet. The meeting time is 5:30 p.m. Driftwoods is located at 10799 S.C. 707, Murrells Inlet. After dinner, the group will go to a member’s home to make Easter baskets for a local charity group. For more details go to http://primetimersww.com/primetimersmb/.
Have a thought, comment or Out & About event? Send Drew Levy-Neal an e-mail to Drew.Levy.Neal@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @Drew_Levy_Neal.