Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cultural imperialism, gay rights, Peace Journalism and Uganda

Also--posted at the end of this piece--comments about the Uganda gay rights issue posted at the online site of a Ugandan newspaper

From the Parkville Luminary

You’re in the grocery store, and see a mom violently smack her kid. Do you say something?

Along the same lines, as an American, when you see injustice overseas, do you have an obligation to speak up? Or, in the act of speaking up, are you practicing cultural imperialism?

These weighty and difficult questions have been on the minds of my students lately in my Peace Journalism class at Park University.

In Peace Journalism class, we talk about what we as journalists can do to create an atmosphere conducive to peace. We’ve discussed situations worldwide, but particularly in places where I’ve taught Peace Journalism like Azerbaijan, the Republic of Georgia, and Uganda, where I will be teaching for six months beginning in July. Part of our discussion has centered on matters of societal development and social justice, since both are prerequisites to peace. Social justice has been on the front burner lately in class because of the anti-homosexuality bill that has been proposed in Uganda.

In Uganda, a bill is being considered by parliament that would impose life sentences on anyone who engages in homosexual sex. In addition, the bill would create a new crime, aggravated homosexuality, which would dish out death sentences to anyone infected with HIV who has sex with someone of the same gender. (, 12-12-09). There are currently anti-homosexual bills on the books in Uganda. However, the proposed law broadens and clarifies the definition of the offense. The proposal also punishes those who knowingly shield or hide homosexuals from the law.

Among Ugandans I’ve talked to, there is little doubt that some version of the bill will pass, though it’s questionable whether the death penalty provision will survive a barrage of international criticism.

From a human rights standpoint, and a human decency standpoint, it’s clear that this proposed legislation is abhorrent and immoral, a perfect example of religious extremism run amuck. Outside of Uganda, there doesn’t seem to be much disagreement on this point.

The question for my students is this: should we as peace journalists intervene in an attempt to stop this hateful legislation? Should we stand up for those who don’t have a voice, for the powerless among us in society?

Among some Ugandan journalists, the answer has been an unequivocal yes. Rodney Muhumuza, a writer for Uganda’s leading daily newspaper and former Alfred Friendly Fellow at the Kansas City Star, recently wrote a provocative profile titled, “The story of a young Ugandan gay couple.” In the story, he sympathetically profiled a lesbian couple, and their struggles, fears, and anger over the law. The story was clearly meant to showcase their humanity, and to build sympathy for the cause of equal rights.

The students agreed that Muhumuza’s article was necessary, and indeed, an important component of his ethical responsibility. But is the situation different if that sort of rabble-rousing comes from outside? I asked the class, should I, as an American and a Peace Journalism instructor, speak out against the anti-gay legislation? Or, should I train Ugandan journalists to stand up for human rights of homosexuals or any other oppressed minority?

The answer to the second question is clear. As a trainer, I won’t hesitate to teach my Ugandan journalist students that human rights and justice are important components to peace. However, regarding whether I should speak out against homophobia when I return to Uganda, I’m not sure. While I strongly believe that this anti-homosexual legislation is evil, I also try to respect indigenous cultures wherever I travel. Even if I didn’t respect other cultures, lecturing others about their values isn’t an effective way of getting ones’ message across. So, does that mean that I must avert my eyes to obvious injustice just because that injustice is imbedded in another culture? That’s a question my students are helping me work my way through.

I have until July to decide if, and how, I broach the subject of homophobia when I return to Uganda.

Comments--from Daily Monitor (Kampala, Uganda) website:


Bill Jones said at 12/12/2009, 13:01
I pray for the safety of these women, the safety of the gay citizens of Uganda, and in fact, the entire world population. That the Ugandan Government is proposing to commit genocide in the name of God has serious, life-long, immeasurable ramifications for the entire world and each and every inhabitant of it.

I pray that we may someday rise above our desire to condemn and hate each other and instead learn the singular lesson that God placed us here to discover.

And that is to learn to love on another as He loves us. Is that not why he created us in such variant forms? To learn to cast off our prejudices and judgments in exchange for the enlightenment that includes the knowledge that we are all one and the same?

God would never condone this immoral treatment of His Gay & Lesbian creations and every living human being on Earth knows this.

Otim said at 12/13/2009, 06:24
I am working in Iraq and am very happy with the Government of what they are going to do about gay and lesbian.People of Uganda should first of all remember our MOTTO FOR GOD AND MY COUNTRY,if all Ugandan are christian,the Bible forbid Same sex.let the Donor nation stayed with their help not to impost our Nation with there evil acts.The GOD we serve and we as Ugandan we working hard so that we remain clean in God.Uganda go ahead never allow gay and lesbian in our country keep our culture not western culture and we remain African! foreve!!!.

James atukunda said at 12/13/2009, 09:13
I think the death penalty is too harsh. I suggest they demarcate an island in L. Victoria where all the gays should be confined and provided with all the basic needs and rehabilitation. Let them live there enjoy and multiply, if they can.

Hamza said at 12/13/2009, 15:20
Whats with the hatred of gays? What have they ever done to you on a personal level? There are child molesters that are both gay and not gay, there are also several perverts that are both gay and not. Leave them alone so long as its consentual sex between people above 18.

VA said at 12/13/2009, 17:30
Homosexuality is a social problem not a human right because it is not a natural phenomenon. Naturally sex is between two opposite sex partners. These two lesbians (Kalende and her friend) have social problems. Already Kalende has agreed that people question her gender. She has resorted to homosexuality because she failed to get a man because of her appearance. She needs counseling. The same thing in US with MSNBC presenter Rachel Medow. She has a manly figure thus became a lesbian.

Brian said at 12/14/2009, 01:25
When will the ignorant realize that homosexuals are born gay? Do you honestly believe that a person, with the threat of being an outcast and potentially killed, would choose to be gay in your society? Straight men, could you imagine denying your attraction to women and beginning a relationship with another man, just to rebel against society? You can't. Because gays are gay because that is how they were born.

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