I went to a Catholic high school which like all church-founded schools taught heterosexuality as the norm and marriage as the ultimate sacrament for any man or womxn. But mine had a twist to it, on the first day, a sunny Saturday in 2005, a bunch of other young girls with a uniform one-inch haircut as per school rules assembled under a large tree, famous for many school gatherings. The senior womxn, a short, stout lady with intimidating eyes that darted behind her eye glass reams, sat on a chair before us. We sat on the grass.
She didn’t waste any time. Lowering her stance after introductions, she whispered. “I have called you here to warn you about some very bad, older girls who want to spoil you.” The lecture was long. With many words but barely any clarity. It was phrases like, “bad manners,” and “touching-touching.” Abstract warnings similar to those African parents use in a futile attempt to introduce their daughters to sex education – “avoid boys.” Except this time it was girls we were to avoid.
Now, for any a 12 year old whose parents just dropped them off to this big jungle that is boarding school, this is the last thing you want to hear. It is especially anxiety-inducing when this school is an all girls school. I remember walking back to the dormitory terrified. Why do we even have to study? How will I identify these evil girls? Will I survive? These questions and more ran through my head. While I was confused, I wasn’t also totally ignorant. Around the early 2000s, if you’d been an ardent reader of the dailies, you know that the conversation on sexual minorities was already something of a mainstreamed one. A few times, there were undercover type double-spread stories on these people which aimed to expose rather than educate.
Still, as a child coming of age, interacting with this knowledge first hand, you see how this interaction with a senior womxn for me, and many of my classmates I presume, would inform perhaps for many and for long, how we regarded the subject. Some of us have with information and the graciousness of people in the community, unlearned this narrative. Many of us equally haven’t. This is largely how homophobia is bred. The seeds of hate are sowed early, the delivery confusing and the content barely informed. It is at school, and at church and in the media where the average child in this society spends perhaps too much of the time of their formative years.
Last weekend was the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT). Even as these efforts to humanize and respect sexual minorities, it still remains for them, a constant fight for their lives. In Uganda, it has almost become acceptable for our government and other institutions to breed hate by arresting, criminalizing and excluding members of the LGBTIQ community. Often times, we have perpetuated this violence against fellow human beings in many ways. By lauding the actions of the government and religious institutions, by shunning members of the community in workplaces, places of residence and worship. Even by assuming the spectator role. We ourselves often seek the same compassion, freedom and basic humanity that we rob of sexual minorities. Citizens demand better from the government – we stand against police brutality and corruption. Womxn fight harassment and exclusion. Yet somehow to others, we turn around and become those very oppressor.
And maybe it is not entirely on us. Or at least wasn’t in the beginning. Maybe like me and my Form 1 class of ’05, you were taught to hate. The irrational fear of other people without fault, ingrained in your underdeveloped subconscious. But we are grown now. We have interacted with information and been educated. We have shared spaces with the same people we hate for absolutely no reason. We benefit from their large contribution to society. There is not one logical explanation left as to why we must continue to participate in this hate. So am here reminding you that homophobia is illogical, vile and unnecessary. And that the time to end it is now.