PERSPECTIVE OF A UGANDAN IN CANADA - Opiyo Oloya
DEAR Dr. Nsaba Buturo, Minister of Ethics and Integrity, I understand where you are coming from in making homosexuals appear to be dangerous deviants that should be relegated to the dustbin of society.
In fact, your utterances about gays remind me of someone I once knewâ€”me. You see, when I arrived in Canada in 1981 as a refugee, I came face to face with an alien culture that turned my life upside down.
At Queenâ€™s University in Kingston, about two and half hour drive from Toronto, I became aware of an organisation called the Queenâ€™s Homophile Association (QHA). When I asked fellow students what the organisation was about, I was told that it supported homosexuals, bisexual and transidentified individuals to live openly and positively with their sexual orientation.
I did not know what all those terms meant. Imagine my horrors when it was explained to me that members of QHA were young men and women who were attracted to their own gender rather than the opposite sex. I was thoroughly confused, disgusted, and very scared.
Nothing in my upbringing in Pamin-Yai village, west of Gulu town had prepared me for what I saw as an abomination to society. I was afraid that, alone in this twisted new world, I might become a victim of these strange people who could hurt, worse, make me a member of their group.
I had no experience to fall back on since I had never met a gay person, let alone spoken to one. I was complete in my ignorance, prejudice and deep fear of homosexuals. As the 1980s turned into the 1990s, more homosexuals began â€œcoming outâ€ in the open in Canada.
Coming out was the most radical statement a gay person could make at the time, namely, telling family, friends and the larger society that he or she was homosexual. In the meantime, reports of incidences of violence against homosexuals became routine in Canadian media. Interestingly, I cannot recall any headline about homosexual violence against heterosexuals.
Gays, it seemed, adopted a Gandhi-like approach to unprovoked violenceâ€”fight hatred with love. They refused to be pushed into violence. Instead, they used the legal system to claim their charter rights to be treated equally with dignity as human beings.
Savvy activism also allowed gays to come across as open-minded and tolerant individuals, which translated into wider acceptance in society. Today in Canada, gays are our neighbours, our co-workers, our Members of Parliament, our police officers, and so forth. Not surprisingly, on Saturday, June 24, here in Toronto, the 27th Annual Pride Parade mounted by gays and lesbians attracted thousands of people worldwide including some of Canadaâ€™s leading politicians. The event pumped an estimated $80m to the local Metro Toronto economy.
Meanwhile, it took me considerable time to come around to understanding and accepting gays and lesbians as people who deserve to be treated with respect. Vehement denunciation of homosexuality slowly gave way to reading about gays and lesbians, and learning about why they are the way they are.
I came to the conclusion that some gays and lesbians choose their sexual orientations, but the majority of them are wired before birth to be homosexuals. There is nothing they or anybody else can do about itâ€”thatâ€™s who they are. They may deny it, hide it, run away from it, but they are just thatâ€”homosexuals.
The turning point for me came early in the 1990s when a girlfriend invited me to dinner with some of her friends. Around the dinner table were highly educated, very respectable men and women in the community, about seven or eight in all including my friend. It was only during the course of dinner that it became apparent that I was in the company of gays and lesbians including my girlfriend.
I was the only straight (not gay) person at the table, but at no time was I made to feel unwelcome or out of place. They respected me for who I was and I respected them just as much. Today, I harbour no lingering fear or anger toward homosexuals.
In fact, I believe that the gay and lesbian struggle is very much a human rights issue that ought to be taken up by people who believe that no human being should live under oppression. It is no different from the struggles that minority groups continue to wage around the worldâ€”the Untouchables of India, the Roma (also known as gypsies) of Europe, the Falun Gong in China, and many others.
My suspicion is that those threatening hateful e-mails you claimed to have received from homosexuals are not from homosexuals at allâ€”that is not their approach to creating understanding about who they areâ€”but rather I suspect that you are the victim of hoaxers masquerading as homosexuals.
I get literally dozens of
e-mails each week claiming to be this or that, but I know enough not to believe any of them. The point is that in the wicked wild world of the internet, you cannot and should not believe everything you read.
On the other hand, I do encourage you to take time to understand your own fear and angst about homosexualsâ€”you might learn something about yourself and about them.