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Xtra reports from Uganda: Gay leader urges queers to stay in the closet

Xtra reports from Uganda: Gay leader urges queers to stay in the closet

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'Under current situation, don't tell anyone you're gay,' says Sam Ganafa
This is the seventh in a series of articles from Uganda by Xtra freelance reporter Kaj Hasselriis.

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The leader of one of Uganda's main gay rights organizations is urging queers in his country to stay in the closet.

"I know I'm suffocating them but there's no better option than that," says Sam Ganafa, president of Spectrum Uganda. "I know what I've been through and I don't want others to go through it, too."

Ganafa has been outed many times by newspapers in Uganda that delight in identifying people's homosexuality against their will. His most recent outing happened less than two months ago, in Kampala's Red Pepper tabloid.

The paper gleefully announced: "Red Pepper has landed on a list of city tycoons and professionals who dig deep into their wallets to have the stinking vice (of homosexuality) maintained in Ugandan society."

Ganafa was first outed in 2005, when a different paper — The Mirror — printed his first name and place of employment. At the time, there were 14 men named Sam at the large telecommunications company where Ganafa works. They all came under suspicion for being gay. But it didn't take long for Ganafa's co-workers to identify him.

"Life became very difficult," says Ganafa, a 48-year-old who speaks in soft tones. "I got an abrupt change of duties." Ganafa was demoted, docked pay and forced to turn in the keys to his company car.

Ganafa's family shunned him, too. "My relatives still harbour bitterness against me," he says. Many of Ganafa's gay friends also stopped hanging out with him. They didn't want to be suspected of being gay, too.



YOUNG ACTIVIST TELLS TALE OF BEATING, PRISON & DEFIANCE

Blessed Busingye was kicked out of his local supermarket in Kampala, Uganda for being gay.

But that's nothing compared to some of the other anti-gay experiences Busingye has endured — and he's only 21.

The negative reaction to Busingye's homosexuality didn't cause him to retreat into the closet — it politicized him. "I was empowered," he says.
Perhaps worst of all, Ganafa stopped feeling safe in his own home. After one of his outings, someone attached a note to the front door of his house. It said, "You're bringing bad omens to the village." A few days later, a noisy band of motorcyclists cut the power to Ganafa's house and circled it over and over again, shouting homophobic threats. Ganafa moved out for a week and remains fearful of coming home in the dark.

"Outing is primitive," says Ganafa. "It sows the seeds of hatred and homophobia. Nothing good comes to the people who are outed."

Yet, now that he's been outed so often in the Ugandan press, Ganafa is used to people knowing he's gay. "For me, there's no more need to hide. I think the population knows." He has even kept his job. "Some people thought I would give up," he says. "To their surprise, I did not."

Ganafa's most recent public outing prompted two other gay men to come out to him — a co-worker and a young man in Ganafa's village, who wrote him a letter. But Ganafa says he counselled both of them to stay quiet about their sexuality.

"I feel I'm not doing the best service by telling people to stay in the closet," he says. But with the looming threat of harsh legislation against queers, Ganafa feels it's the safest advice. "It's painful, but we're still at a crossroads."


WHAT DO UGANDA'S TABLOIDS SAY ABOUT GAYS?

Reading a Ugandan tabloid that outs queers is like taking a time machine back to 1960s North America and experiencing the crazy, laughable anti-gay attitudes of that era.

In 2007, one of Red Pepper's outing articles was headlined "Homo Terror! We Name and Shame Top Gays in the City."

It ran alongside this disclaimer: "Warning! If you are faint of heart, please stop here because the dossier we are unleashing today leaves no stone unturned. It narrates how the gays network and hook members to their group, what their parties look like, favourite hang out joints plus how they shaft. You will be shocked!"

About Sam Ganafa, Red Pepper said: "He once got married and had kids before divorcing his wife to settle for young boys. He is the leader of the gay ring in Uganda. He is their chairman and ambassador. He organizes everything that they do and is well known to foreign gay societies."

The 2007 article appeared in a special section of the paper called Weird Sex Investigation. It named several dozen other gay Ugandans and described them in similarly hysterical, homophobic ways.

***

COMING UP: Did you sign an online petition against Uganda's anti-gay bill? If so, your virtual signature is being presented to Uganda's Parliament on Mon, Mar 1 — along with the names of 400,000 other people from around the world. Read all about the presentation next week on Xtra.ca.

Get the latest update as soon it's posted:

Comments

Be very, very careful about Uganda
The first rule of serious organizing is to "follow the money," and, although most Ugandans are very poor, the country is not. There are forces behind Ugandan homophobia. Some are obvious - the Christian fundamental ideologues, largely supported by the American right wing. But the more serious ones are not obvious at all, and, in fact, deeper in even less attractive closets than those to which they consign gay neighbors. Uganda's politics are fragile, with very, very serious financial and social consequences from often trivial decisions. In fact, most gay politics are fairly trivial, in a nation still unstable from genocide, colonialism, and continuing financial exploitation by oil and other extractive industries. Follow the money and investigate why homophobia is a useful strategy for whom. Missionaries have their mission, but oil companies and exploitive mining interests have their own. You will doubtless find much more dangerous forces at work than the Christian missionaries. Ironically, there are many Ugandans far more sophisticated than the homophobes, trapped into inaction by this diatribe. When gay "leaders" advise the closet, be very careful about reporting that advice: no one is ever served by "don't ask, don't tell."
re: From Uganda
I'm glad to see gay and lesbian Ugandans are able to get xtra.ca I'm very impressed with the bravery of those who are out of the closet there, even before this latest legislation it must have been extremely difficult but soon, well hopefully not, you never know the bill hasn't become law yet, it will be even more difficult and dangerous. I can't imagine the bravery required of LGBT Ugandans to live their lives honestly. I totally understand why they're being encouraged to stay in the closet for the time being since the danger to them is about to increase greatly, unfortunately though it is through coming out that opinions about lesbians and gays are changed, I'm sure just like in Canada hetero Ugandans would be more supportive of equality for gays and lesbians if they knew their friends or family members were gay or lesbian. However this bill seems precisely designed to prevent that from happening, that aspect of it is, I suspect, likely from the US evangelicals who went to Uganda to whip up some anti-LGBT fervor since they would have known that is how so many heteros in the west have come to be supportive of equality for gays and lesbians because they know friends and family members who are gay/lesbian and in knowing them it becomes much harder to deny them their rights. This bill purposely is trying to stop that from happening by threatening jail for those who don't report someone they know is gay or lesbian and by banning advocacy on their behalf. If this bill does get passed it will be up to the international community to try and get it over turned.
From Uganda
Kaj this is great and professional reporting we feel your doing great for us to be heard out there and to raise more concerns about us here thanks.
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