I’m a gay Ugandan. Now what?

February 28, 2014

The talk was this afternoon when I was getting my hair cut. It was on the same topic as it was at this morning’s coffee at my kids’ school. And the same as last night while with a friend outside our Ugandan house.

It was about Uganda’s new anti-gay law.

Last night, near the house, my 10-year-old daughter came up to me and said “What are you talking about Daddy?”

“Politics. And sexuality,” I said.

I realized this didn’t really tell her much.

In Uganda, for the longest of time, we did and didn’t know this was coming. Uganda’s president just said not that long ago that he, in fact, would not sign off on the long-standing anti-gay bill.

The word on the ground was that the bill could remain on the table indefinitely so Uganda’s government could use it as ongoing leverage against, for one, riled up western governments.

Of course, I will write more about all this in the near future.

Until then, here are a couple of thoughts from the archives.

The first follows a question I once asked myself – so what if I were a gay Ugandan? Find it below, or here.

The second one, which is below that, or here, follows a conversation that my boy Jonathan and I had one day after hearing a radio report of a gay man who was shot.


There is no us versus them

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(Christian Week – December 10, 2010)

KAMPALA, UGANDA ✦ Two friends. One’s confessing a secret. He’s crying. Blubbering. Hyperventilating. “You’ll be surprised,” he says.

“Don’t worry,” says his friend. “I know about things. Whatever you’ve done, you can tell me.”

“You’ll be surprised,” says the first.

“No, I won’t. Don’t worry. Who is she? What’s happened?”

“You’re making assumptions.”

“It’s okay. Whatever you’ve done to her. Come on. Just tell me.”

“I’m gay.”

Silence. Disbelief. Embarrassment. “I knew I shouldn’t have told you, shouldn’t have told a Christian. You’re the last person…”

“I have loved you and I will continue to love you. You haven’t changed in who you are. You’ve shared with me a struggle you have. I struggle with things too. Let’s work together.” And the man, a Canadian pastor, hugged his gay friend.

It’s a poignant scene. But aren’t you uncomfortable? I mean, would you hug a gay man? Or a lesbian? Do you even know one?

I do. After all, I am gay. A gay Ugandan named Pius. I grew up in the church and know enough about too much. I’d trade it all for a small piece of honest love.

Honest love. Unlike what’s on those placards. Maybe they’re where you are too.

‘No tears for queers,’ or ‘God hates fags’ or ‘AIDS is God’s cure for homosexuality.’

Or is this just a caricature of the ugly Christian?

You must have your own caricatures. Of gays. Of Africans. Of gay Africans. You’ve likely heard about Uganda’s infamous bill, the one that originally called for gays here to be executed. Now it’s just jail for life.

It will never become law, I tell myself. This world is not so crazy, so hateful, so afraid. But fear is a strange thing. And Uganda’s gays—about 500,000 of 31 million people—are feared to have an agenda to destroy Uganda’s families.

Uganda’s families. They’re pretty much like yours. Some, sadly, destroy themselves.

“Hang them!” is a recent headline in one Ugandan tabloid exposing “Uganda’s Top 100 Homosexuals.” Names and addresses included. Then, naturally, CNN coverage.

Yes, it’s an international sensation. The bill. The American Christians who, just before its creation, visited to lead a forum on homosexuality. Some spark, they lit.

The world now knows Uganda. For better or worse, it knows something, anyway.

I just keep my head down. Keep my secret. Need my job. Don’t want a beating.

Don’t want my house burned down. Don’t want the treatment, what some call “rehabilitative rape.”

No, there are no parades for gays over here. In fact, dozens of nations, many in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, already give gays at least some jail time. Thousands are killed annually according to human rights reports. Did you realize it?

So don’t pull out your Bible and tell me about Sodom. Please. Don’t. Just read it all—all of your Bible—thoughtfully. I was nursed on Scripture. I know sin. I know that you sleep with your own brokenness as much as I do.

And I know God allows any of us to be born with dysfunctions of all kinds. That’s why research on gay twins shows homosexuality can have a genetic component.

Then the family influences. And culture. It’s complex, this pull on our loins.

So what happened to me? Someone loved me is what happened. Same gender boarding schools are common in Uganda. And frightening. A friend comforted me. More than my mother ever did. Certainly more than my father. This is how it was for many of us.

I’m now left with desires to act on. Or not. Like you. The difference is that you can fulfill yours in marriage. I’ll carry mine, likely, for the rest of my life.

I guess I’m just asking you not to believe the lies of the hypocrites and the fear-mongers. In truth, I want just what you want. To be loved. To be held. To be forgiven.

Because there is no us versus them. There is only us: beings made a little lower than the angels, fallen and stumbling some days like drunkards trying to find home, but walking, walking on.

Pius is a fictitious voice based on Uganda’s current climate on homosexuality. Thomas Froese is a Canadian author and journalist in Uganda. Uganda’s government continues to study its bill.

About Thomas Froese

On anniversaries and a medley of “summer love”

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(The Hamilton Spectator – Friday, July 26, 2013)

HAMILTON, CANADA ✦ Love has always been one of those loaded words, one that means everything and nothing at the same time because we can love the latest Bond movie or country music or summer rain, but this has nothing to do with summer love at, say, a July wedding, or the love that shows on the faces of a couple who have sailed through thick and thin.

This is what it was the other day, an anniversary of 55 years. The man smiled and looked me in the eye and told me that he knew from the first time he saw her. “She stepped off the train and I heard a voice: ‘This is the woman you’ll marry.’”

It’s really something when this sort of thing happens, but it’s quaint too, and we know it, that we’re further away from such voices of clarity, closer now to all sorts of ambiguities that keep us guessing.

I’m in a local mall looking for a hat and looking rather closely while talking to the clerk, unable to tell if this youth is male or female. Neither body nor voice really gives it away, and then this person calls over a colleague who also appears to be in some sort of gender flux.

Now it’s before, and I’m driving our van with my son, Jonathan, and the radio reports a man has been targeted and shot because he’s gay. Jonathan asks and we talk about it, first about paradise lost and then about being gay and men marrying men, as if I know what to say to a seven-year-old, except that it’s wrong to go around shooting people for any reason and that nobody is unworthy of — here’s that word again — love.

The hard truth of other places, like Africa, where we live most of the year, is that sexual minorities stand much less of a chance, and, if a gay man is shot, it may or may not make the news. On the other hand, in those difficult places, one doesn’t ever consider exploring sexual territory just to make a fashion statement, just because styles and colours have changed and we can now wear whatever hat we please.

It comes to mind because it’s summer, and not just summer but the season to wed — Hamilton region sees plenty of weddings June through August — and my own anniversary is here, and, maybe more so, because the very name Jonathan is associated with one of history’s better known relationships.

Jonathan was a close friend of David, that ancient Israeli shepherd boy turned king whom we know somewhat through movies and Richard Gere prancing around in a skimpy loincloth, when he, David, feels especially full of freedom and worship and joy. This drove one of David’s wives to hot jealousy, but, presumably, earlier, these traits also made David sympathetic to his dear friend, Jonathan, when David ran for his life from Jonathan’s murderous father.

This isn’t to suggest that Jonathan and David were gay lovers, though some liberal scholars speculate this very thing because the old texts say that the two young men wept and kissed each other (this is the Middle East) during one of their last goodbyes, and these texts say David loved Jonathan “as his own soul” with “a love passing the love of women.”

It is to say, though, that it’s sad when two men can’t weep together, or show affection, or have emotional and spiritual intimacy, can’t even rent an apartment or maybe barely walk down Main Street together without the assumption that they’re also in bed. Neither can two women. Not much. Not anymore.

Getting back to Africa, you can. Because people yearn for same sex, non-sexual intimacy. There it’s not uncommon to see two men hand-in-hand for no other reason than they have a friendship of value. The same is true in many other places around the world. Just not here.

In all this we’re losing something, something of, ironically, our freedom, that ability to simply be ourselves. And in this, there’s something to learn from the other side of the ocean.

It’s what I wish for my son, my dear Jonathan.

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February 28, 2014 • Posted in
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2 thoughts on “I’m a gay Ugandan. Now what?”

  1. Thank you for this understanding and loving caring perspective. It is truly traumatizing for a Christian to admit to being gay. Without love from family and with rejection by other family members, life is deeply painful. Statistically more suicides in the gay community are committed by those with Christian upbringing. Why are we as Christians so willing to ” cast the first stone” when none of us is perfect –

  2. You are right, Rita. The deepest pains come from family — blood family and spiritual family — because we expect and need more from these places.

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