For queer Christians, the phrase “Ugandan Martyrs” carries a tragic double meaning. In Catholic hagiography, it refers to the execution / martyrdom in 1886 of a band of young men, pages in the Royal court of the Bugandan King Mwanga II, who had converted to Christianity and thereafter resisted his sexual advances. June 6th, is the anniversary of their joint beatification by Pope Benedict XV in 1920. Their feast day, known as the Feast of Charles Lwanga and companions, is celebrated annually on June 3rd.
From a modern LGBT point of view, there is a quite different significance, almost it’s polar opposite. This perspective recalls that in the cultural context of the time, King Mwanga’s expectation of sexual service from his pages did not make him a perverted monster, as seen by the missionaries. Before the arrival of European colonials, different forms of homosexual practice and non-conformist gender expression were commonplace across Africa. Seen in this light, the execution of the pages was a legal penalty for resisting customary law – and the introduction by foreign missionaries of what has since become deeply entrenched cultural homophobia.
In recent years, the flames of homophobia have been further fanned by missionaries, this time especially by American evangelicals, who have promoted draconian legislation to criminalize homosexuality, carrying harsh penalties for those convicted of transgressions. Along with the legal penalties, the popular mood in Uganda has become so hostile, that life for ordinary gay and lesbian people in the country has become exceedingly difficult. Even to be suspected of being gay, frequently frequently leads not only to simple social ostracism, but also to outright exclusion from homes and families, to discrimination in employment and social services, to police harassment, to violence, and even to murder, such as that of David Kato. For many LGBT people, the only viable response is to leave the country entirely as refugees seeking asylum abroad.
So, the double meaning of the phrase “Ugandan Martyrs”: from the traditional Catholic perspective, the martyrs are those who were executed in 1886 for sticking by their Christian faith, in the face of Royal commands to renounce it. For modern gays and lesbians, the words refer to all those who are persecuted or even murdered, often in the name of the Christian religion, for their sexuality.
For a more extended analysis and reflection on the martyrs, and what this commemoration means for queer people of faith, see Kittredge Cherry at Jesus in Love Blog, who introduced her post on the feast day, by observing (accurately) that
Tough questions about homosexuality, religion and LGBT rights are raised by the Uganda Martyrs whose feast day is today (June 3).
- Epprecht, Marc: Sexuality and Social Justice in Africa: Rethinking Homophobia and Forging Resistance (African Arguments)
- Yemisi Ilesanmi: Freedom To Love For ALL: Homosexuality is not Un-African
- Roscoe, Will: Boy-Wives and Female Husbands: Studies of African Homosexualities
- David Kato: A New Ugandan Martyr
- Why Are Ugandan Bishops Flouting Church Teaching?
- Lest We Forget:Remember the Ashes of Our Martyrs
- Queer Saints for June
- Uganda Martyrs raise questions on homosexuality, religion and LGBT rights (jesusinlove.blogspot.com)
- David Kato: Ugandan LGBT rights activist (jesusinlove.blogspot.com)
For some years now, Uganda has been held up (and with good reason), as a prime example of African homophobia, based on a proposed law that would have permitted the death penalty for gay sex. Slowly though, that extreme threat has shrunk. First, the original bill was withdrawn, and replaced with another which removed the death penalty, but applied instead lengthy terms of imprisonment. That law was passed by parliament – but in stunning news, the President has refused to sign it.
Catholics should note that in this instance, for once, the Catholic Church has intervened against discrimination, as New Ways recently reported in a blog post at Bondings 2.0.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni has refused to approve a controversial bill to toughen punishments for homosexuals.
He has written to the parliamentary speaker criticising her for passing it in December without a quorum.
It’s not all good news: in explaining his action, the president spouted the nonsense, widely discredited by both the medical establishment and the Catholic Church, that homosexuals are “sick” – but this is Uganda, and this is still a long way from the death penalty, which was previously demanded.
Homosexuals were “abnormal” or were so for “mercenary reasons” and could be “rescued”, a local paper quotes his letter as saying.
The bill provides for life imprisonment for homosexual acts and also makes it a crime not to report gay people.
The promotion of homosexuality – even talking about it without condemning the lifestyle – would also be punishable by a prison term.
The BBC’s Catherine Byaruhanga in the capital, Kampala, says the president is aware that if he signs the bill there will be an international outcry, which could see some countries suspend aid to the country.
Continue reading the main story at BBC News
- Papal Nuncio Responds to American’s Concern About Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill (Bondings 2.0/New Ways)
- Pope Francis’ Peace Message Demands Our Action for LGBT Human Rights (Bondings 2.0/New Ways)
- An Appeal from New Ways Ministry: Write Pope Francis and Ask Him to Stand with LGBTI People in Uganda (bilgrimage.blogspot.com)
- Giles Fraser speaks about homophobia and religion (thinkinganglicans.org.uk)
- In India, and Indiana: Bishops’ More Supportive Tone on Gay Issues. (queeringthechurch.com)
Let us never forget, that in Catholic (and other) theology, it is not the priest or minister that administers the sacrament of matrimony, but the two spouses, who administer it to each other, in the sight of God and the community. It is also not the state that makes a marriage, but the mutual commitment of the spouses: all that the state does, is recognize and register the marriage. Informal, unregistered marriages are common in many parts of Africa,
This lesbian wedding in Uganda is thus as valid as any other unregistered marriage – even if it will garner direct opposition and possible prosecution from the law, instead of the approval it deserves.
Lesbian wedding held in Uganda day after anti-gay bill passed
Kenyan activist reports a lesbian wedding the day after Ugandan parliament passes bill threatening life imprisonment for gay people
22 DECEMBER 2013 | BY ANNA LEACH
A brave lesbian couple in Uganda has held a wedding a day after parliament passed a bill that threatens gay people with life in prison if caught expressing their sexuality.
Kenya gay rights activist Denis Nzioka tweeted a photograph of a celebrant and two women in wedding garb and said that Ugandan activist Kasha Jacqueline had attended the marriage. ‘This is what I call guts,’ he said.
- African LGBT activists praise, mourn Nelson Mandela (76crimes.com)
- Living in Fear: Gay and Persecuted in Uganda (creativetimereports.org)
- Uganda: LGBT activists bravely stage pride parade in Kampala (sendson04.wordpress.com)
- Dispute over LGBTI clinics in Uganda (76crimes.com)
- Statement from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force: Uganda’s New Draconian Anti-LGBT Legislation (dailyqueernews.wordpress.com)