Yesterday (24th June 2010) saw me getting on a two wheel motorcycle commonly known as a “Boda” for easy movement in our lovely Kampala City. I had an ebullient sense of purpose after reading about what transpired in Loy Henderson Auditorium Washington, DC, on 22nd June 2010 (See the Remarks at An Event Celebrating Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Month by Hillary Rodham Clinton Secretary of State USA). The destination was a safe space venue where a public dialogue on the Equal Opportunities Commission Act, 2007 was taking place. Time is 2.00pm East African Time, 30 minutes to commencement of the dialogue session. I am the kind who wants to arrive 30 minutes earlier. It gives me time to adjust. The dialogue session was organised by Human Rights Defenders who ably guided the audience mostly made of; Human rights defenders, law students, research assistants who are attached to the Parliament, NGOs/CSOs/CBOs in the Human Rights field, general public and HIV activists. We were around 50-60 participants. The panel was comprised of a lecturer from Makerere University’s Law School, Chairperson of the Human rights network an Umbrella Human Rights NGO, a Human Rights Scholar and the 2 organisers.
The offending sections in the Equal Opportunity Commission Act is Section 15 (6) (d): The Commission shall not investigate (d) any matter involving behaviour which is considered to be (i) immoral and socially harmful, or (ii) unacceptable by the majority of the cultural and social communities in Uganda.
The approach to this session unlike many I have attended was premised on sending an invitation one week earlier including a concept note, before the session. Participants were asked to avoid pitching one side against the other. The unique feature was allowing all speakers 5 minutes to analyse the pros and cons and presenting their case. It was clearly stated that all presenters were to avoid pointing fingers and most importantly the space was declared a safe space. Participants exercised tolerance for each other’s views.
It was shown how the provision is dangerous, alienates and denies minorities’ access to the Equal Opportunities Commission. Minorities according to this Act are some of the categories identified not to qualify to have their issues heard by the Equal Opportunities Commission. The two other offending Bills that were brought into perspective are: Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHB), 2009 and The HIV/AIDS
Prevention and Control Bill, 2009 (aka The HIV Bill). Views were expressed and again it was shown that all these ones are promoting criminalisation and discrimination for minorities. There were some who saw the Bills as good for the community. They showed the relevance springing from rule of law and ability to seek solace in law. They argued that such Bills will stop immoral activities and intentional recruitment into homosexuality (for the case of the AHB) or malicious infection for the case of the HIV Bill.
There were three participants who asked for soberness, when some 4 other participants seemed to get emotional and made un-called for denouncements against homosexuals, prostitutes and drug-users. They cited that society has laid down the fact that a man should behave as a male and a woman should behave as a female. They condemned those who don’t conform and argued that they should be either put in prison, or given death sentences. One participant showed how due diligence and presumption of innocence is denied minorities. The other participant cautioned balancing biological facts and ideology when it came to LGBTI. This participant gave biological evidence of sexuality and how the two tools of sex and gender, whereas they have been relied upon to define conformity they, are not defining the whole spectrum of humanity. Biology shows how some kinds of people exist but that society and culture keeps them invisible. The participant asked the various participants to also allow provisions for tolerance, rehabilitation, counselling and harm reduction. They were asked to attend dialogue sessions that promote understanding, clarity of issues and tolerance.
Clearly, these kinds of dialogues are a new approach to generating understanding on emerging issues. What remains is having the very persons in question (sex-workers, LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities, racial minorities, persons living with HIV/AIDS and many other minority categories) to be allowed to attend such dialogues or they should be given opportunity to present their side of the picture. It is clear, Ugandans need to be shown and taken through events which promote education, conscientisation and developing of concerted efforts towards promoting tolerance. The session ended on two notes: to generate a report out of what was presented and share it with all participants through e-mails and; seeking redress through the Constitutional courts because, Equal Opportunities Commission Act was already passed and it requires another Act of parliament to reverse it or it requires a court.
We exchanged contact cards and telephone contacts, those who could no longer wait left and those of us who stayed behind shook hands with new faces and critiqued each others’ presentations. New friendships were made. I also had to leave, walked out and got a ‘Boda’ back to another informal meeting with 2 mobilisers among LGBTI Community at a suburb 2 miles next to the city. I discussed with them the need to make themselves ready to argue cases from so many angles. Even as I was talking with them it was clear they needed to engage in lessons on public speaking, networking and establishing working committees. This would polish their skills, generate consensus and also direct conversation on mechanisms fueling discrimination. This would improve on numbers who understand engaging communities and numbers involved in creating conversation around LGBTI issues in Uganda.