Fallout from Ugandan MP Visit to Gay San Francisco

By Melanie Nathan, September 25, 2014.

Michele Meow of Swirl radio who moderated the event, with Nathan and Sempala.

Michele Meow of Swirl radio who moderated the event, with Melanie Nathan and Honorable Nabilah Naggiya Sempala.

Earlier this month, on her way back from attending the the Ugandan North American Association (UNAA) conference in San Diego, Hon. Nabilah Naggayi Sempala, the Ugandan Member of Parliament for Kampala, stopped over in San Francisco, to meet with Californian leaders, politicians and to participate in an interview / dialogue forum attended mostly by members of the LGBT community.

Hon. Sempala explained the pressure she had experienced when signing the MP driven petition, to bring back the now defunct Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA). She also explained at length, the milieu in Uganda for a woman in her position who is seen to be supporting LGBT rights or decriminalization of homosexuality. She is the “woman” representative for Kampala. Her position has been controversial for years and her seat is at great risk, with the experiences of a woman MP far different from that of her male counterparts.

After press reports about her visit, upon return to Uganda, she decided to write a statement on her Facebook page.

This led to a barrage of attack comments, which can be seen from the screenshots below. While the posts speak for themselves, they endorse what Hon. Semapala explained to Americans on her San Francisco visit.

It helps one understand the complexities in trying to represent all constituents, including minorities such as gays and sex workers, in an atmosphere of extreme homophobia.

It shows why Ugandan MPs are at such great risk if seen to be supporting LGBT minority rights. However Hon. Sempala took the criticism well, saying that she is pleased that finally everything is coming out in the open.

While the comments may seem shocking to Americans, they illustrate what an uphill battle it is in Uganda for LGBT issues to be considered human rights issues and how far things still need to go to change the anti-gay and homophobic climate.  What most of the Ugandans commenting do not realise is that most of this hate was imported through U.S. Evangelicals, feeding lies and myth from the pulpit.   See – http://oblogdeeoblogda.me/2014/09/15/the-ugandan-anti-homosexuality-act-is-an-anti-ugandan-american-import/ 

Hopefully more Ugandans who support human rights for all people including gays, will not be afraid to speak out. Perhaps LGBT people will come to her defense, or perhaps not, for fear of reprisal. However now is their chance to provide the fire extinguisher – let us see who has the stomach to pick up the lead.

One also wonders if the LGBT leadership, the known defenders or less known grassroots, will look at this as the chance to open a public dialogue at this time – by holding Hon Sempala to her word for support of all people in her constituency. While it is extremely dangerous LGBT Ugandans may have to find ways to get the public to meet gays so the unknown can be demystified.

One Ugandan activist noted that she thinks it is good for Honorable Sempala to see what LGBT people have to go through everyday when it comes to the extent of the hate directed at them.

Comments from Melanie Nathan:

For those in America, like Julie Dorf of Council for Global Equality, still trying to impose their American-bred neo-colonialist expectations on Hon. Sempala and other MPs- kindly consider the impetus of these comments before your next wave of irresponsible and reckless insults.

For those in Uganda who see Hon. Nabilah Naggayi Sempala so negatively, please respect that her visit to San Francisco was to inform and gather information in an open minded fashion – and for us to learn from her. Whatever the result, for that you should honor and commend her.  She shows true leadership by doing this. You cannot continue to think that you can operate in isolation. If you really did, you would not have Facebook Google, IPADS, HIV drugs and many wonderful friends in the USA, who actually care to coexist globally.  We must all open our hearts and minds, at least to hear each other. I opened mine to try and see beyond the legislation and the petitions and to try and understand the sentiment and cultural implications. That does not mean I agree – it means I am listening – I hope you do the same for me.

It is also my hope that so much expression of hate expressed towards members of Hon. Sempala’s LGBT constituency, will strengthen her resolve to work toward changing the milieu’s impact on the human rights for all of her constituents.

Hon Sempala has over 14,000 followers on her Facebook page, and here was her message  –

Nabilah Naggayi Sempala said:
Yesterday at 11:02am ·

As a representative of a growing, multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-generational, multi-ideological constituency, I have a task of harmonizing a diverse constituent group. As a global citizen, I feel at ease with Kampala residents, even those that hold divergent views and beliefs different from mine. As an avid human rights activist stemming from my work in the Women’s movement, I know that the basis of human rights is simplified in the 1948 United Nations Declarations on Human Rights.

Over the years as the member of parliament of Kampala, I’ve engaged and interacted with diverse people, being insightfully aware of their peculiarities and uniqueness. I am proud of my culture, religion but at the same time, I accept other cultures and religions and keep my orientation focused on the individuals who make up the Kampala polity.

Sex-workers are a reality in Kampala, single mothers are too, and the gay community in Kampala is real. I’ve severally interacted with all of them and done activism work with and for all! I identify with the different layers of society in Kampala and don’t look at them with moral lenses, I just look at them as citizens.

It is true I did make a statement after appending my signature to the petition of the recommittal of the AHA in parliament that; an amendment be made to insert a clause to protect women against anal sex in the precincts of their marital homes!

After signing the recommitment of the Anti-homosexuality Act last month, I traveled to the USA for the Uganda North American Association(UNAA) convention in San Diego, California and it was there that I was called for an interview about what is usually referred to as, the “Kill the Gays Bill” in the US, in nearby San Francisco.

I had the opportunity of meeting Ugandans in San Francisco, California who are publicly gay and most of their family members in Uganda are “ignorantly”aware of their status. Actually, one couple was rushing to get married at the City Hall in San Francisco, among other gay couples! I witnessed all this and more because Melanie Nathan, a prominent lawyer and LGBT activist, who represents them in legal cases invited me to have a first hand experience before the interview.

The interview I had henceforth was carried out by a journalist called Michelle Meow of the TALK STREAM NETWORK about the situation on the gays in Uganda. It centered on the human rights issues in Uganda and was not limited to the Anti-homosexuality Act(AHA). For instance I also talked about other infamous Acts such as the Public Order Management Act 2013.

Uganda is signatory to different protocols and conventions, both regional and international, on human rights, however, basic human rights are still ignored.

During the interview, I alluded to the selective demand for human rights by the US; “Human Rights are not selective! What’s good for the Goose is good for the Gander! What human rights are important in the west, like rights for the gays should be a subset of the general human rights situation in Uganda! There are several acts against basic human rights in Uganda, citing the Public Order Management Act that prohibits freedom of assembly. This is a violation of basic human rights and the USA and the west didn’t put a lot of effort in campaigning against it the way they are with the AHA! I told Michelle quote; ” Unfortunately, we don’t have enough rights going round in Uganda” “if the US government wants human rights in Uganda, it should not be selective, i.e to champion and put their focus on only the gay rights!” The US should know that under dictatorship, Laws that curtail general rights ought to be fought holistically!”




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Some LGBT Ugandan leadership weiging in and having Hon. Sempala’s back, and flrying in the face of the Julie Dorf comment in the Bar Area Reporter where she insulted Hon. Sempala by calling her a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and a “homophobe” to which Hon. took great exception.

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Tweet -@melanienathan1

Email – [email protected]

Hon. Sempala Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nabilah.sempala?fref=ts

Melanie Nathan Advocacy Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Melanie-Nathan-Advocacy/253495108038074

MORE Articles on the visit:

Huffington Post:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/melanie-nathan/a-ugandan-parliamentarian_b_5865656.htmlScreen Shot 2014-09-25 at 8.02.22 PM




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