Wanja Muguongo on Exporting Homophobia

On November 1, Wanja Muguongo, a Yale World Fellow and the Executive Director of UHAI – The East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative, spoke at Yale’s African Studies program’s weekly speakers’ series. She spoke about homophobia in Africa and the role of the West. I have been meaning to write a recap of what was said, and am finally doing so now for two reasons. Firstly and unfortunately, Uganda’s parliament is again revisiting the infamous anti-gay bill; in addition, an African Studies reading group which I have organized will be discussing Stanley Kenani’s “Love on Trial” [pdf] soon, which is relevant to all of this as well. Below is my attempt to cover everything that Muguongo said at the event, which was cut short (hence the abrupt ending).

It’s important that you understand where I’m coming from and who I am, so a bit about myself and my beliefs: I manage a fund that supports NGOs, and we are a resource but also part of a movement. The conversation of LGBTI rights doesn’t take place in a vacuum; it takes place in a world of power and patriarchy. On top of this, I believe that band-aids don’t help, and that you need to tackle problems to fix them. Ending anti-gay laws doesn’t end hate fundamentally, but it’s a step in the right direction. We must also tackle sex workers’ rights by allowing them to fight oppression and patriarchy and change how society looks at sex. I believe there is way too much power in the world that is being used badly, and that normativity has always been a cause for bullying. I have chosen to endeavor to dis-empower bullies as much as possible. One of the things supporting power is religion being used as a mechanism of that power. Here, when I say religion I do not mean faith or belief, but the institution of organized religion. I have a problem with institutionalized religion as it is being used today.

Faith and belief are supposed to be kind and supportive, but when they are institutionalized they fail to do those things. Religion is about control and can be used to target outliers. We must contemplate what it means to be non-normative in a strongly religious community that supports hate and is intolerant. We tend to think of GLBTI/sex workers are people that are not of faith, which isn’t always true. Things are more complex than they seem. Continue reading