On not shaking hands – Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Law

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This morning, I heard that the President of Uganda has signed into law the anti-gay law that there has been such a huge amount of discussion about.

The law itself has become iconic. It is almost the definitive answer to what draconian anti-gay legislation looks like. The Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Law brings in terrible punishments for those who are gay in Uganda. It also criminalizes those who don’t report those who are gay to the authorities. This then has an obviously detrimental effect on those who are trying to work against HIV infection – those who know of men having sex with men are supposed to report them. The bill has exacerbated hatred of gay people in that land.

Furthermore, the bill asserts that Uganda has jurisdiction on Ugandans abroad suggesting that they could seek extradition for punishment back in Uganda if they commit “homosexual offences” whilst abroad. Yes – that’s right – that could criminalize people who live in Scotland. It could criminalize people attending my congregation.

There are a number of people in the Scottish Episcopal Church who have links with Uganda – the Primus, the Most Rev David Chillingworth is one. Gill Young in my own congregation is another. They are the most obvious people who need to be given all our support and encouragement to speak out against this bill whenever they are talking about overseas relations between the churches, international aid and homosexuality generally. The Primus in particular made a visit to Uganda recently which some of us in the church believed to be unwise and attended a service which was addressed by President Museveni himself. However, it was supported by the rest of our bishops so they each share some responsibility for his actions.

The question for those who go to Uganda and meet with church leaders and politicians there which needs to be asked is whether they have met and greeted those who have blood on their hands. I know no-one involved in any aid agency, NGO, equality organisation nor in the wider gay communities who do not believe that this law will lead to further direct violence against gay people in the region.

The hand that signed the bill this morning belongs to President Musoveni. The bill has terrible consequences for gay people in Uganda and stretches its reach to people here in the city of Glasgow.

This summer, the eyes of the world will be on the city of Glasgow as we welcome sports people from around the world for the Commonwealth Games. It is very clear to me that politicians (and church people t00 – for the churches muscle in on these sports fixtures just like many organisations and businesses do) must not be seen to shake hands with any Ugandan official. In particular, it must be made clear in this city that President Musoveni and other officials of the Ugandan government are not welcome here. That must apply to local council leaders as well as Scottish and UK government ministers. It would be particularly sickening to see SNP leaders welcoming the official representatives of a foreign government which is attempting to criminalize Ugandans living in Scotland just weeks before the Independence Vote.

Ugandan athletes should be warmly welcomed in Glasgow this summer. They should be greeted with welcoming banners in all the colours of the rainbow.

Ugandan government officials should be met with a refusal on behalf of all people of goodwill to shake hands.

That’s a language that is well understood internationally and particularly well understood in Africa.

At Number 10

There was something a little bit surreal about the party I went to last night.

It was as though one was having a dream in which loads of great people were gathered in a beautiful garden. You started to recognise people from past struggles. Then all of a sudden someone stood on a small stage and gave a speech that would not have been at all out of place at a gay pride rally. But then you realise that the person rallying the troops for Equal Marriage is not one of the usual suspects, not a drag queen, not one of your regular gay activists but is actually the Prime Minister.

I can honestly say that I was absolutely thrilled to have been invited to the PM’s reception to celebrate the LGBT Community. It was the most beautiful hot evening and the reception was outside in the Rose Garden at the back of Number 10. That meant going up to the famous front door (which opens for you from within) and then through the house, past some nice paintings, down the famous staircase with the portraits that presumably leads up to the formal rooms and then out through the back. There was wine and posh nibbles and people milling around on the lawn.

The interesting thing was that at first one recognised just a few people. Then gradually you realised that you knew more people there than had first seemed apparent. For we were, without doubt the gay twitterati. Quite a lot of us had engaged with one another either personally or through campaigns that we had run online and it was a delight to meet people in person whom one had known or known about for years.

I don’t know who had drawn up the guest list but they had certainly done their homework with the church. There were lots of dog-collars in evidence and lots for those of us there in that capacity to talk about. However it wasn’t all church shop talk. I also met people behind the online Equal Marriage campaign that has been running in England, the folk behind the out4marriage videos (who really seem know what they are up to), someone who does Schools Out and LGBT History month campaigning and of course some politicians and civil servants.

I was very pleased to meet Lynne Featherstone who will be piloting the marriage legislation. She is clearly determined that this will happen within the life of the parliament. Her determination over this shone through but she also had time to be generous in praising people from other parties who are passionate too.

And yes, I did get to meet the Prime Minister. It was a great chance to hear what he had to say. I was hugely impressed with his determination to see legislation enacted that will allow gay couples to wed. He was speaking more positively than I expected about religious same-sex weddings being made possible in England. He was also speaking very positively about his own experience of church and spoke very warmly about his vicar, Fr Gillean Craig. With some pride I was able to say that Fr Gillean had been my vicar when I lived in the East End.

I took the chance to challenge David Cameron on the often repeated notion that we must allow churches to opt out denomination by denomination. My position is that this isn’t equality and it is equality we are after. It was good to get the chance to say to the PM that what was needed was legislation on the same basis as straight wedding law allowing all religious celebrants to marry anyone legally entitled to do so or not and leave the question of whether they marry certain categories of couples up to the discipline of the faith groups involved.

I felt listened to and was 100% convinced that the political climate and culture in this country in relation to sexuality has changed utterly from what it was not so very long ago.

Most interesting was hearing the Prime Minister say that he had something to say to the churches. He said that the Conservative Party had got it wrong on LGBT issues for many years and was now changing and getting it right. Furthermore there were now people who wanted to vote Tory who are LGBT folk and their friends. Previously they simply found themselves unable to vote Tory. Very gently, he said, very gently, he has something  to say to the churches – if you want people to engage with the message you have and come back to the church, you can make that happen by learning a lesson from the Tory party on changing attitudes to gay people.

Then it was more socialising, more networking and trying to comprehend how far we have come and how much has changed.

And the real social contact I was proudest of making? That would have to be the chance to make friends with Larry on the way out.