Lesbian and Gay Identity in Uganda: A Christian Vision for my Country

Christopher Senteza
Vice president, Integrity Uganda


Sir Winston Churchill will be forgiven for visiting our country in the 60s and calling Uganda ‘the  Pearl of Africa’. True, when he made his maiden trip to Uganda, he was astonished to find that although this East African state was located at the Equator, it enjoyed moderate temperatures of 20 degrees centigrade -thanks to it favourable altitude of 185 meters above sea level. Uganda also had a small diurnal temperature range of 1 degree centigrade due to it confident cloud cover-with rainfall of 1200 mm per annum.

A variety of tribes with dialects ranging from Nilotics in the North and the Hamites in the West and Bantu in the South-all giving this smallest of all Eastern African countries a family likeness to a curious first time visitor.

Little did he know he know that Uganda, unlike most of her counterparts, she has unusual culture of sexual sensitivity that was to haunt her well into the 21st century. All matters of human sexuality and identity are therefore held in strict secrecy and denial-therefore explaining why the subject of human sexuality is still in denial all over Uganda .

Homosexuality in Uganda:
Although Homosexuality is very much in the backyard of most African life and work in Uganda, this is very much present since the earliest of times.

Earliest and undisputed records of homosexuality are in the courtyards of Buganda’s monarchy. The young regents who were staying in the palace serving the king were his lovers until the coming of the conservative wing of Christianity in 1877. The young boys were converted to Christianity and were encouraged to stop all homosexual acts with king Mwanga, sparking off mass martyrdom in 1886 at Namugongo.

Another classical case of of homosexuality was in 1924 with the start of copper mining at Kasese. The Copper mines attracted young men who left their families behind to start mining work at Kasese. Before long, most man paired up for meaningful homosexual relationships.

Gay and lesbian identity:
Despite several denials that homosexuality is something of the western world, Uganda manifest gay and lesbian life in various ways.

Homosexual relationships between one superior partner and an inferior partner. This is clearly evident in factories, industries and mines of Uganda.

Homosexual relationships between two equals. This is clearly evident in urban centres of Kampala, Jinja and Mbarara.

Finally, Homosexual relationships where one partner takes on a soft and feminine stance. This is very common in schools such as Jinja College, Gayaza High School and Namilyango College. Here students are still perplexed by their unique sexuality and therefore try out a number of options.

Integrity Uganda:
Following a significant presence of lesbian and gays in Uganda, it became imperative that some pastoral support be extended to homosexuals.

In 1999, a young priest, Rev. Erich Kasirye, working as the Provincial Students and Youth Secretary of the Church of Uganda gathered a small group of 12 homosexuals in his house-these included among others myself, Franscis (my partner), Abbey Kamoga. In just 4 months, this group rose to 57 members triggering off a need to arrange for a more structured organisation.

A larger group also required that a more skilled counsellor be involved with members to resolve some of the sexual matters that might come up. International linkages with other over seas gay and lesbian groups was also necessary if the group was to outgrow local persecution and develop international perspective.

In June 1999, Father Erich met with Father Michael in Washington DC with a view to forge links of prayers and cooperation with Integrity USA-and to discuss possibilities of sharing the Integrity name with a view of consolidating shared goals and objectives. Father Michael Hopkins after intense consultations agreed to this. Bishop Christopher also agreed to work with Integrity Uganda as their Chairman and Counsellor.

Problems:

  1. Overseas groups of gay and lesbian groups saw us as another branch of Integrity USA due to our shared name. We still encourage all of them to see us as a local initiative struggling amidst hostile environment to express our sexuality. A shared name with Integrity Uganda is just a humble way to show shared objectives and goals with all our International brothers and sisters.
  2. LGBT folks in Uganda still view Integrity Uganda with a lot of suspicion. This is mainly because it was started by straight peoples-Bishop Christopher and Father Erich. This now being resolved by letting leadership go into the hands of Ugandan lesbian and gay peoples.This explains why Father Erich holds no office with Integrity Uganda. Also the President of Integrity Uganda and myself are gay persons with more powers in the organisation.
    WE still want to maintain Bishop Christopher nonetheless, so as to strengthen our relationship with our faithful straight allies and to consolidate our joint struggle for sexual emancipation in Uganda
  3. We still lack ecclesiastical protection for all gay and lesbians in Uganda. Therefore many of them are not baptised and confirmed yet we want to have them included fully into the life of the Church. We pray that as Bishop Elect gene Robinson gets consecrated, we will get affiliated with his brave Diocese.
  4. LGBT folks are still shy over their sexuality and have not come out openly over their sexuality. They have also not come out to have the Ugandan public see them-perhaps for obvious reasons of fear for persecution. But again, as they stay in hiding, our Church will continue to argue a case of no-homosexuals in Uganda-and keep up their homophobic stance.
    Therefore, I am using this opportunity to call upon all gays and lesbians in Uganda to come out for my County to see. Bishop Christopher and Father Erich have had much trouble already on our behalf and it is now our turn to stand up for who we are!
  5. LGBT folks in Uganda still lack a gay priest of their own. Bishop Richard Shimpky of El Camino Real (California) was just getting ready to ordain me when he backed down at the last minute.Unless, one Bishop in this great meeting comes up courageously to ordain me ( I completed all my theological training in 2002 but could not be ordained for my sexual orientation), LGBT folks in Uganda will continue to have a straight Bishop and a Priest do the daily offices for them but also to intensify suspicions towards this good leadership. The last time we had a gay priest celebrate communion in Uganda was when Father Michael Hopkins was in Uganda!

Vision:

It is the vision of Integrity Uganda to empower Gay and Lesbians with:

  1. Capacity building Skills like wood work, Tailoring, brick-laying, so they can be self reliant in all incomes. A self reliant person can easily stand up for who they are.
  2. Education, so they can be informed of their rights and also lead meaningful lives. Most of the gays and lesbian peoples lack proper education as most of them drop out of school due to intense persecution.
  3. Integrity Uganda has an elaborate Community Centre at Kitemu, West of Kampala. This was officially commissioned by Father Michael Hopkins of Integrity USA. We now want to equip this one with computers, tables and desks so we use it for most of training opportunities. Right now we are using it only for our worship and prayer.

Finally, I want to use this opportunity to thank Father Richard Kirker of LGCM for inviting us to England and meeting all expenses for our participation in this grand meeting. Such opportunities and exchanges remind us clearly of our strong and shared brotherhood in Christ.

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