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My Tikkun article about Uganda and the U.S.-based LGBT activism, plus my Uganda flier

Date: May 10, 2011

Uganda’s pending passage of the anti-homosexuality law is in the news these days, so I thought I’d post a link to the article I wrote for Tikkun magazine about how U.S. LGBT activists and allies are engaging in the whole controversy and what they could be doing instead.

The Uganda Controversy: Solidarity vs. Imperialism in LGBT Organizing
by Emi Koyama
Tikkun magazine, July/August 2010

Also, below is the text of the flier I handed out at the Beaverton, Oregon rally against the anti-homosexuality bill which I talk about in the article above.

North-South Disparities Kill More Gay Ugandans Than Anti-Gay Legislation Ever Could.

Many of us rightfully feel angry and scared about the proposed legislation in Uganda that would prescribe punishments up to death for the “crime” of homosexuality. But when activists and politicians begin calling for economic sanction against the country of Uganda, we must consider its consequence on Ugandan people, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender Ugandans.

Uganda’s economy (like our own) is dependant on foreign trade, and an economic sanction could result in more gay Ugandan casualties than the proposed legislation could ever match: is it truly worth the cost? Who decides? Who put the U.S. in the position to impose its values on others by military or economic force?

And if there were such an outpouring of support for gay Ugandans, where were they when much of the country was (and still is) struggling in poverty, partly caused by the enormous international debt? Where were they when gay Ugandans needed medical treatment and educational opportunities? Or the right to migrate to the (relative) safety in the United States?

In short: are we truly concerned about the rights and lives of our brothers and sisters in Uganda, or are we simply playing our part of the imperialist U.S. foreign policy? If we are, consider the following:

  • Support elimination or deep reduction of unpayable international debt.
  • Support continuation of international aid and economic exchange.
  • Support the expansion of fair trade.
  • Confront American conservative groups that spread hate here and abroad.
  • Strengthen international human rights standards by holding the U.S. government accountable to them (death penalty, overreliance on prisons, etc.)
  • Promote respectful engagement and dialogues with countries whose policies we find objectionable.
  • Expand cultural exchanges (including Southridge High School’s sister school program).

This message is not endorsed by the organisers of today’s rally. We are a small group of activists, students and scholars and we speak only for ourselves. We welcome your responses and opinions at emi AT eminism DOT org

Support Engagement, Not Sanction.


  1. You say in Tikkun: “But LGBT Ugandans are not simply voiceless, faceless victims: there actually is an LGBT rights group in Uganda, whose members have held press conferences in its capital city of Kampala, fiercely and proudly announcing their sexual and gender identities. They do not need Western LGBT activists to speak for them; we need to listen to their voices and help amplify them so that others will hear them.”

    But this is exactly what western activists are doing, taking the lead from Ugandans. Have you actually asked LGBT Africans if they support linking aid to human rights? I have and, guess what, they do.

    Comment by paul canning — May 10, 2011 @ 11:11 am

  2. Paul – The ones I spoke with told me that we (Americans) should focus on confronting American evangelicals who travel to Africa and spread hate. Are there any statements or articles that express their support for economic sanctions against Uganda?

    When there was a boycott against South Africa over apartheid, the boycott was called for by ANC and others fighting for their rights. BSD (boycott, sanction and divestment) movement against Israel is similarly being requested by Palestinian activists. It LGBT Ugandans are calling for economic sanction against their country, that would totally change the picture–but I haven’t seen or heard anything to that effect.

    Comment by emigrl — May 10, 2011 @ 11:28 am


    Were these people you spoke to actually in Uganda or in the diaspora?

    LGBT Ugandans aren’t going to publicly call for economic sanctions – because it would make them even more unsafe. They have to be careful on what funding they get and how for the same reason. What they do call for is any and every international pressure and that obviously includes aid tied to human rights.

    Comment by paul canning — May 10, 2011 @ 7:08 pm

  4. Hi Paul – They were students. I also spoke with Rev. Mark Kiyimba of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Uganda, an advocate for human rights and a public opponent of the proposed law, when he was touring the U.S., and asked him specifically what Americans should do to support human rights including LGBT rights in Uganda. Their main request was that Americans should do something about our own homophobic political and religious leaders first because they are influencing policies in Africa as well as in the U.S.

    I don’t disagree with the notion that international aid should be linked to human rights. But we need to be extremely careful how we do that given the history of colonialism and racism, or else it would only make things worse. And many American politicians and gay activists are not careful when they invoke languages like “barbaric” and “uncivilized” as they call for economic sanctions.

    Comment by emigrl — May 11, 2011 @ 12:31 am

  5. I don’t disagree that we need to be careful – nor that comment is more than tinged with racism. In fact the African activists I know are extremely careful. The Ugandans, for example, at the moment have been asking for reaction to the Kill Gays bill to be tied to the general human rights situation there.

    I do think we need to widely discuss the setting of new international norms, which is what anything about tying human rights to aid is really about. But we shouldn’t fall for those African and Islamic governments who would say there is no such thing as LGBT human rights!

    Comment by paul canning — May 11, 2011 @ 7:59 am

  6. Paul:

    It does seem that you are missing Emi’s point. As people in the US, we have to be conscious that doing anything in the world is not only informed by, but coming from, our US privelege and imperialist history.Therefore, one thing that people across the world need (including US citizens) is for US citizens to challenge its own government, because of the role we play in so many conflicts and internation forums.
    No one is saying that this bill in Uganda doesnt need to be challenged and abolished, but Emi (and I wholeheartedly agree) is simply sharing that the way a lot of US activists are attempting to confront it is by challenging the Ugandan government without the acknowledgement that a lot of the autonomy of the government is still dictated by its colonial history, which includes, but is not limited to, evangelicals (the same people in the US who protest gay marriage, DADT, abortion, etc). I agree-we shouldnt fall for ANY govenment that denies human rights to the people who live within its manmade jurisdictional limits, incuding the US- because we violate so many everyday.

    Comment by s mandisa — June 14, 2011 @ 8:14 am

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