17 September 2008

Uganda: Same Sex Attraction is Not a Disease

Photo: Peter Atchell
Protesters against Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill (file photo).


Kampala — A few years ago, a patient told me he was homosexual. He was also HIV-positive, and it was a challenge to counsel him.

I realised I did not know about HIV prevention among gay men.

I researched and was surprised to learn that homosexuals are one of the most vulnerable groups in Uganda that have not been targeted for HIV-prevention.

There are many reasons to explain this, among them culture and religion. The most accurate reason is that Ugandans know little about sexuality and homosexuality in particular. I have been answering questions for The New Vision 'Ask the Doctor' column for several years. Recently, I received a question from a reader asking for a quick answer. I read: "Dear Dr., I am 24 years old, but the problem is that I have been gay since my childhood.

I have been having those feelings which is stressing me a lot. Sometimes I think of killing myself because of what I am. I have tried my level best to overcome it in vain; fasting, praying day and night. I really hate myself. Dr. is there any medicine which can really help me from that big problem?" I told my editor that it was useless to answer the question because it would not be published.

That was from experience. The editor agreed, although reluctantly. I was thus surprised to find a whole teen section devoted to homosexuality in The New Vision of September 6. However, this ground-breaking publication was unfortunate. The articles were written by teenagers who gave their opinions, which coincide with those of society. Yet they are erroneous opinions. Nonetheless, the opinions were still published, with a few quotes from counsellors.

The counsellors were presumably experts. But their opinions about homosexuality are not only unscientific and un-researched but they have been disproved by scientific research. To them, homosexuality is a result of environment, due to sexual abuse as children, peer pressure, and erosion of family values, it is introduced and becomes a habit, one can be helped by counselling, it is an addiction, and homosexuals will not be able to become fathers and mothers.

I do not need to search far to disprove these myths. What would these counsellors tell the 24 year-old reader from Ntinda who asked me the above question?

Freud and Jung were important historical psychoanalysts who lived in the 18th Century. Surely, their theories of sexuality cannot be relevant in the 21st Century. From the scientific point of view, same sex attraction is a natural phenomenon. It exists in the animal kingdom.

Early in medical history, homosexuality was considered a disease. But as far back as 1973, psychiatric associations started removing it from classifications of disease. In 1994, the World Health Organisation removed it from the International Classification of Disease (ICD-10). Accordingly, 'conversion therapy' (homosexual treatment) is condemned by most reputed psychiatric organisations. It is harmful.

The reader from Ntinda would not be helped to understand why the Ugandan society thinks homosexuality is bad. He is a homosexual and contemplates suicide because he believes he is bad. He has sought help and is almost giving up. Should I condemn him? My culture, religion and society condemn him.

Same sex orientation is a risk factor for suicide. It is sad that in condemning homosexuality, we use ignorance. Our cultural, social and religious sensibilities are understandable. But why condemn young people to suicide through ignorance? They cannot help themselves. They are what they are. We can do better than condemn fellow Ugandans.

The writer is a medical doctor

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