Now, the fact that Iam African –Ugandan to be precise, and that Iam writing about LGBT issues, will itself put me at risk of achieving what other young people crave for. They call it ‘ATTENTION’ but I call it ‘WALKING TALL’. In a continent where the ‘Biblical teachings’ coupled by un questionable ‘cultural doctrines’, a continent where the young have to do the listening from the old, a continent where the young don’t question the old’s wisdom, a continent characterized by beauty..lets face it…incredible landscapes, enviable climates, un imaginable wildlife…the most hospitable people in the world….let me stop here…lurking in the shadows is one hell of a guy that Africans prefer not to talk about. To many, he is a myth…a stupid, obnoxious, illusion imported from the west, uncouth satanic and abnormal superstar…To us public health freaks (read specialists) we call him LGBT. This initial stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bi gender and Transexual Groups. The World Health Organisation, Centre for Disease Control and the UNAIDS categorize this among the HIV High Risk Groups.
Taking you aback…
Its not news any more, but, yes, having finished UNAIDS assignment of working on CrowdOutAIDS…..and noting the silence that emanated from the discussions, I summarized the data like any other independent researcher would do. I came back home (Uganda) and on 5’Oclock am Monday 2nd July, I was in a bus on my way to the Swiss Embassy to report back. I like listening to French music while on such journeys (possibly to boast my vocabulary)…and I really think my head sets volume was at their peak. We had hadly spent 20 minutes on the road when I noticed a young girl next to me. Her name Amilla (not real names) as I would later find out was a 20 year old S.5 student of a top school in Kampala, Uganda. She apparently was with her mummy reporting back to school because she had been sent home having fallen sick. Any ways, as you know…I have my inherent ability to strike some cool conversations with young people without discrimination. I remember we talked about school education, food, pets, careers (as it turned out, she wanted to be a lawyer)…and finally, we were talking about the love of my life..Yessssssss!!! Reproductive health! Guess what, yes we did! We talked about relationships (it turned out she had a boyfriend at 14 and seperated last year), sex (now, this is no joke, but we did)….all this time, it was her talking about herself. later on, it was my turn to speak! haha…so, what could I tell her…well, ah…you see…there are some things you don’t tell young people according to our African culture and up bringing…but guess what, the young girl was very much informed about these seemingly tabbooed topics. So, now that she knew technically all this stuff about ‘life as a teen’…I decided to take her to extreme…and that’s when the discussions about LGBT came in. I brought in this topic to:
See whether she had the confidence to talk about such a thing with her new ‘stranger’
Ascertain whether she is informed about whether such a thing exists in her life, community or her vocabulary
Keep her quite!
I were wrong pal…completely wrong, I like to say 110% wrong…in her words “…because I already said iam a student leader, like in my dormitory, we have 2 girls who are lesbians. The school administration however don’t want to know and there is no chance for me to say such things otherwise, these students will be punished heavily or sent home immediately. The gays are here and while it hurts me to tell you this because I don’t even know exactly who you are, Gayism is here to stay’. When this young girl told me about this whole story, back in my mind, I was imagining myself being a parent, and my lovely boy is gay and cant even tell me, because he definitely knows iam gonna cut off his balls (read punished!). It reminded me of the latest assignment I was with UNAIDS.
Then, with this whole conversation still reverbating in my ears, I had a chance to visit one superstar of mine (Bukenya-I call him my son). He works as a training coordinator for Naguru teenage centre in Bugolobi Kampala. Among other things I talked with him and the Director Peter was how the teenage health centre deals with LGBT issues. It occurred to me, with ofcourse no surprise that:-
LGBT issue is still a big taboo to talk about. Its like touring hell
Many health institutions including those that deal with young people directly have staff who aint trained adequately to work with young people from the LGBT group
The hostile environment towards the LGBT in Africa is more than the racism chants black soccer players experience in a known racist zone like Ukraine. (No apologies to my Ukranian friends but you know the facts far too well winkssss)
Currently, the teenage centre is handling a case where a 9 year old girl had been expelt from a certain top school in Kampala for having ‘touched’ a fellow student’s genitals. Now, for Christs sake, an educationist like me would never expel such a kid on such backgrounds not because I would be saving its parents economic burden but because we know the ‘trying out things age’! Don’t we? Instead of helping out such kids and LGBT grouped kids, the School administrators are successfully signing expulsion letters for them.
Let me go back to the current statistics, Uganda has scored highly of late on the HIV incidence rates. (For those who don’t understand the maths, don’t worry) Just this week the Ministry of Health reported new data showing that HIV/AIDS is on the increase: “The number of Ugandans infected with the HIV virus has increased by 100 per cent in the last seven years, it was announced yesterday. Results from the 2011 Uganda AIDS Indicator Survey show that the number doubled from 1.2 million in 2005 to 2.4 million today. This essentially means that one in every 13 Ugandans has HIV. Compounding matters is the fact that the prevalence rate has surged from 6.4% in 2005 to 7.3%.”
One superstar Joshua Businge from the AIDS control Program from the Ministry of Health attributed the incidence to multiple sexual partnerships (MSP) and failure to use condoms as one of the major reasons why the figures were going up. If you asked me, I would say, our public health superstars from the relevant ministries are refusing to unleash the reason why developing countries in Africa are looasing the battle of HIV/AIDS…the answer is not because of the funding mechanism primarily as health economists would point out. Neither is it only the change in the structures of the HIV itslef as epidemiologists would argue….It is the fear of addressing the LGBT fear factor that we are knitting without a pattern!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Hundreds of young people continue to live on the edge with HIV, the LGBT grouped people don’t access any form of help (the question of access and utilisation)…and well, you cant expect them to behave like a pope..Isnt there one pope anyway?
While, 110% of who ever reads this article will think of me being gay (which for the record is NOT TRUE)…Iam sure, some one out there will think the same way as myself. We (as Africans) will need to think again (shall we).
How committed are we to ensuring zero HIV new infections if we keep our beautful lips shut and our backs on the issue of LGBT?
Why cant governments in developing countries-if they doubt, conduct a carefully designed research in school communities (where we find the young people) to ascertain the existence of this issue?
It looks certain that, if we continue blaming satan (sometimes I feel pity for the guy) for all the bad things that happen in our continent (that includes the increased mortalities from AIDS related cases), one can conclusively say, we are the satan because we have the answers but we are not asking the right questions! We are like Ostriches who bury their heads in the sand and claim to be hiding! I agree with Malawi President..check her out http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/18/malawi-president-vows-legalise-homosexuality. For countries that don’t want to use the word ‘Legalising’, may be we can use ‘Recognising?” May be the lawyers will help me get the difference?. As I go to grab some evening tea, iam worried about what I will tell my future son when he asks me…’So, daddy, you were a public health professional at 25. So what was your contribution towards ensuring equal access to and utilisation of reproductive health services and rights?” Shall I tell the kid to ‘SHUT UP?”
© Brian Kanaahe Mwebaze Bilal PhD (c)