The speaker of parliament Edward Sekandi has today received a petition from a group of people that comprise AIDS service providers, spiritual mentors and counselors calling for the rejection and withdrawal of the Anti Homosexuality Bill, 2009 from parliament.
The group, which includes prominent AIDS activists like Canon Gideon Byamugisha and Rtd Maj Rubaramira Ruranga, said â€œWeâ€™ll lose what weâ€™ve achieved in the AIDS fight.â€ Pressed to show how the bill would do that, Rubaramira said â€œGay infected patients will fear to go for treatment since the law requires the doctors to report the patient within 24 hours.â€
Byamugisha said, â€œif the law is passed it will interfere with the constitution which promises freedom from discrimination on grounds of sex, race, color, ethnic origin, and tribe.â€
'In our well considered opinions', the group said ,' this bill is not about protecting Ugandan culture and tradition as it purports. On the contrary it is violating our cultures, traditions and religious values that teach against intolerance, injustice, hatred and violence'.
Bishop Christopher Senyojo explained that he would consider it unconscionable to report someone who approached him in his capacity as counselor on the grounds of the person's sexuality. Yet his refusal to do so would make him vulnerable to prosecution and imprisonment.Â
At a press conference in Kampala this morning, a panel of four representatives explained that one of the major problems with the Anti Homosexuality Bill, and indeed, with the petition, is that few Ugandans are used to openly discussing matters of sex and sexuality, which inhibits their involvement with this highly contentious issue. Yet, the panel maintained, even with this sense of awkwardness or privacy holding back potential opposition to the Bill, 'no mother or father could give up their son or daughter to the authorities because they have a sexual orientation which is not the common one.'
Bishop Senyojo remembers when, years ago, people in his diocese became aware of AIDS, they were convinced the cause was bewitchment. As a result AIDS sufferers were stigmatised and treated with irrational caution and censure. Similarly, Byamugisha recalls being beaten as a child for being left-handed, a treatment which ended when family members and teachers alike realised that his left-handedness was a natural disposition, rather than evidence of belligerent stubborness.Â
Byamugisha ended the meeting with an important distinction: criminal, he said, is not the same as sinful. What might be regarded in scripture and religious teaching as sinful, might fail to justifiably qualify as a crime.Â
The panel said they were 'well received' by the speaker. Sekandi promised to forward their views to the relevant committee of parliament to be incorporated in their discussion. But he assured them that he cannot withdraw the bill from parliament - not even Bahati, who sponsored it, would be able to do this.
By Bob Roberts Katende & Maya Prabhu