The Independent (Kampala)

Uganda: Chris Mubiru's Inadvertent Gay Allies

The more the Red Pepper publishes his pornographic pictures, the more it brings gay sex out of the closet:

Since Chris Mubiru became a mega celebrity in Uganda, the pro-gay rights lobby has withdrawn into resigned silence - sensing a reversal of "the cause". Two current members of parliament and a former one who had written articles opposing the hang-the-gays bill for The Independent withdrew them before we went to press. They claimed the atmosphere was too charged and they "did not want to be misunderstood". It is funny how fear of being "misunderstood" i.e. moral cowardice, governs our lives. At a point when people need to stand up in defense of their beliefs and values, they bulk.

As Red Pepper continued its publication of Mubiru's pornographic pictures, the anti gay lobby was ridding unprecedented momentum. With a tidal wave of public anger on their side, the bill may now sail through parliament easily. Pastor Martin Ssempa took the initiative to launch his foray against gays - again making no distinction between sex acts between two consenting adults and those of adults with minors. To many inside and outside Uganda, the cause for gay rights seemed lost as the pictures incite the worst homophobia in years. Yet I think the best thing to have happened to the cause of gay rights in Uganda was Red Pepper publication of Mubiru pictures.

The best way to fight bigotry and prejudice is to generate public debate about the issue under contention. Constant conversation and debate about a contentious issue promotes the spread of knowledge which in turn fosters tolerance leading to acceptance. When any new idea is suggested, it is initially rejected, then debated, later accommodated and, sometimes, finally accepted. This is what we learn from Galileo, when he first suggested that the world is round; or from Charles Darwin, when he published his theory of evolution. In both cases, their findings produced condemnation with the church leading the attack. After heated debate, people began to listen more, learn and understand. Today, most enlightened people believe the world is round.

It is for this reason that although the subjective motivation for MP David Bahati to introduce his anti-gays bill was bad for the gays, the objective outcome of his action will be good for gay rights in Uganda. The Bahati bill has generated the most debate on gay rights. With time, it will lead to tolerance and acceptance. Many people miss this critical part of the democratic process i.e. that society's beliefs do not change overnight. There is a time lag between when debate begins and when society begins to change its prejudices.

Yet the Western world disregards this process and insists by using blackmail (threats to cut aid) and intimidation (through diplomatic pressure), to arm twist our governments to change their stance. This is one way the West undermines democracy even though it is often driven by a desire to promote it. You cannot promote tolerance by forceful means. You do that through persuasion, which takes time. Even a tyranny cannot change people's beliefs over night - however stupid they may sound - except at extremely high human cost as in China's Cultural Revolution.

For now, we can speculate that the Mubiru pictures will achieve the opposite effect. Rather than promote homophobia, they are most likely going to reduce it. The Red Pepper with pictures of Mubiru in gay sex acts sold heavily. And they have been printing them daily for two weeks now. And this is the paradox: If people in Uganda hate homosexuality, why are they so excited to watch gay porn? A gay friend told me that many Ugandans, including those who speak loudest against gays, are closet homosexuals. He claims that their homophobia is one way of hiding their true feelings.

I suspect most homosexuals tend to claim their community is larger than it is perhaps to overcome a sense of isolation they feel. And this self-deception, albeit subconscious, perhaps helps them feel they are not minority after all. In Robert Trivers most recent book, The Folly of Fools; The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception, this Harvard-based evolutionary biologist and socialbiologist says that our minds are wired to engage in "confirmation bias," which makes us seize on facts that bolster our preconceptions and overlook contradictory data. We wittingly and unwittingly interpret or even manipulate facts to promote our biases and agendas.

In here lies the complexity of human sexual (or social) psychology. Once a society prohibits something it makes it novel and therefore intriguing. This drives people's curiosity - an intense desire to find out. It is less likely that if the images were of heterosexuals, they would have attracted as much public interest as they have done. The urge to find out, to discover the unknown, the hidden is actually a central fact in the human desire to learn. I even suspect that the more Ugandan public opinion speaks loudest against homosexuality, the more young people will be tempted to experiment with it. The most drunkards tend to come from families where alcohol drinking is rigorously prohibited. This tends to create curiosity and thereby experimentation.

Secondly, when many people first saw the Mubiru pictures, they were appalled and felt he should be banished from earth. If Red Pepper continues, as it is doing now, to publish them, people will get used to seeing men having sex with men. Initially, they may not accept it as normal. But many will begin to tolerate it as part of the menu of the many happenings in our country. If more gay porn of the Mubiru type keeps hitting the newsstands in Uganda over the next two years, by 2015, many people in this country will have grown to accept homosexuality as normal. The best immunization against homophobia is to have gay porn as part of the daily news menu.

What is intriguing is the failure of the pro gay lobby in Uganda to see the coup that Red Pepper has handed them. Instead, most of them have focused on the subjective motivations by Red Pepper to print the pictures i.e. its self acclaimed mission to "expose the vice". But Red Pepper is not just exposing "the vice". The law of unintended consequences will apply i.e. that they are making gays sex acts normal and thereby making homosexuality tolerated - the step on the journey to acceptance.

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