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Jeff Sharlet discusses Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill on Fresh Air [View All]

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rusty quoin Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Aug-26-10 09:18 AM
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Jeff Sharlet discusses Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill on Fresh Air
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Edited on Thu Aug-26-10 10:00 AM by rusty quoin
Terry Gross talks with Sharlet about his meeting with MP David Bahati, who introduced the bill

Sharlet also has an article in September's issue of Harper's titled "Straight Man's Burden."


Around the time Blessed became Blessed, he began attending Pentecostal churches, spirit-filled places where you sang and danced and maybe experienced the gift of tongues, babbling in languages granted you by God. The songs were American as often as African, the churches were sprinkled with handsome mzungus, and there was a lot of laying on of hands. It felt cosmopolitan, modern. Blesseds favorite pastor was Martin Ssempa, who appeared in music videos in Uganda and in pulpits in the United States. Every Saturday night Ssempa led a servicea party, reallycalled Primetime, held at Makerere Universitys outdoor pool. It was fun, even though, technically, it was antifun: an abstinence rally. But Blessed, and plenty of straight kids, were there to cruise. It was hard not togirls in their Saturday best, hot-pink dresses tight around the hips and clinging baby Ts, boys in American hip-hop style, pants low, shirts giant, young faces lean.

Ssempa was beautiful too, golden-skinned, the handsomest bald man you ever saw, beckoning from the stage across the pool, which glowed in the night. The band thumped and Ssempa called, as if the kids might actually walk on the water. The story he told was almost always the same: sex (its going to be awesome!), sex (itll be wonderful someday), sex (wait just a little bit longer now). And then everybody would jump. A thousand, sometimes two thousand young Ugandans hopping in time as high as they could, holding on to one another lest they fall in the pool, giggling. Holy laughter, some called it. It was a gift they believed came from the Holy Ghost, just like tongues; and some had heard about holy kissing, another giftnot carnal!the Spirit in the flesh. There were gay boys, and drag kings, and straight kids who might peer around the bend, all waiting, not having sex together, except when they were. It was so hot! said Blessed.

Then came the day Blessed had to choose a side. It was 2007, and he was in court, as spectator and supporter. The case being heard was called Yvonne Oyoo and Juliet Mukasa v. Attorney General. Victor Juliet Mukasa, a transmanborn female, living male, interested in girlstaught Blessedthe sweet, femme boyto be a man, a gay man, without ever meeting him.

Like Blessed, Juliet Mukasa knew as a child that she was attracted to children of the same sex. And like Blessed shed been raised Catholic but had joined an American-style Pentecostal church, hoping that in the music and the dancing and the Holy Ghostthe ecstasyshe would find the resolution of her desires. But Juliet Mukasa was not as skilled as Blessed at leading two lives. Dressed like a girl, she couldnt think. A pastor determined that she was possessed by a male spirit and asked his flock to help him heal her. As women in the pews swayed and sang for Mukasas liberation, the exorcism took place at the altar, boys and men from the church laying on hands and speaking in tongues. They took her arms, gently then firmly, and stripped her. Slowly, garment by garment, praying over each piece of demonically polluted cloth. Shed bound her breasts. They bared them. I cried, and every time I cried they would call it liberation.  They slapped her, but it was holy slapping, and when she stood before them naked, the mens hands roaming over her and then inside, they said that was holy too.

Then they locked her in a room and raped her. For a week. This is considered a corrective; a medical procedure, really; a cure. When it was all over, the pastor declared that the church had freed Mukasa. Maybe, in a sense, it had. Victor Mukasa no longer believed there was a demon inside him. The demons were in the church.

Mukasa became a man and an activist, determined to prevent what had happened to him from happening again. In 2003, he cofounded Freedom and Roam Uganda, an organization for lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex human rights. In 2005, Ugandan police, led by government officials, raided his house. They didnt find him. But a friend, Yvonne Oyoo, was there. They took her to the station. You look like a man, they said. Were going to prove youre a woman. They stripped her, fondled her breasts.

Mukasa fled. But in hiding and then in exile, he planned. The plan wasnt lesbian, it wasnt gay, it was . . . human, Blessed would say. It was a citizens plan: Mukasa sued, and never was a lawsuit more like a gift of the spirit, the romance of the rule of law.

Blessed, of course, was a romantic boy. He thought the trial was exciting! He wanted to be there, and so did his friends. They would swish for dignity, drag for democracy, be themselves for God and Victor Mukasa. Blessed could hardly wait. What he didnt know was that his beautiful pastor, Martin Ssempa, was gathering an opposing force. Blessed, with his head in the clouds! He hadnt paid attention. When he walked into the courtroomlate, as alwayshe could not have faced a starker choice. Blessed! called his church friends. Ssempa saw him and smiled. Blessed looked down at the T-shirt hed chosen for the occasion: a rainbow. He looked to the other side of the room. His gay friends looked back. Some of them sighed. They knew how it was. If, with his sly, earnest smile, he chose Ssempa today, they would forgive him tomorrow. If he didntthe truth was, he didnt know. All that would follow, all that he would lose, was beyond his imagination.

I dont know if I have a very strong heart, he told me. I do not know if I am a tough man.

How did you make your choice, Blessed?

He gave me the smile, a mask for all he had lost. I had a breakthrough. Breakthrough, for Ugandan Christians, is a spiritual term. A gift from the Holy Ghost. Grace, in whatever shape its needed. I got courage.

Blessed sat down with the homos.

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