We live in what we believe to be an increasingly violent society here in this province, and this has caused many of our citizens to be very worried about their safety.
With a number of recent high-profile murders, violent incidents at the Penitentiary and the discharge of a gun on the campus of Memorial University, many people here are beginning to wonder about whether it is safe to walk our streets or to let our children play outside.
While these concerns are certainly warranted — and we need to do more to reduce such incidents — the fact remains that we live in one of the safest places on Earth. If we need any reminders of this, we need only look at recent developments for gays and lesbians in certain African countries.
This past Monday, Ugandan President Yoweri Musaveni signed into law a bill that will punish repeated gay sex with penalties up to life in prison. Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda under a previous law, but this new law increases sentences for what is termed “aggravated homosexuality.”
In addition to these penalties for engaging in same-sex relations, the law also provides for seven-year prison terms for “aiding and abetting homosexuality” or for “conspiracy to engage in homosexuality.”
In essence, this means that even planning to engage in sex with someone of the same gender is illegal, and if you are a family member of someone who is gay and keep them under your roof, you too could be convicted. This sets up a situation in which there is no safety for anyone who is gay and persecution against homosexuals is encouraged and condoned.
The day after Musaveni signed the law into effect, a Ugandan tabloid newspaper called Red Pepper published the identities of what it calls the country’s “200 top homos,” with page after page of personal information on these people who are referred to as “bum drillers” and “sodomites.”
The threat to those named is very real. Back in 2011, another Ugandan tabloid, Rolling Stone, had published the names of known homosexuals, including gay activist David Kato. He successfully sued for an injunction against Rolling Stone to prevent them from publishing the names of any other gay people. Within a few weeks, he was found brutally beaten to death in his home.
While it appears that Uganda is the most concerned with homosexuality, some neighbouring countries have also recently begun to mirror this persecution of gays.
Nigeria passed a law last month that effectively criminalized homosexuality, which has led to an upsurge of violence against the gay community. In Gambia, President Yahya Jammeh told his citizens in a televised speech, “We will fight these vermins called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitos.”
With such strong language that essentially calls for the eradication of homosexuals, one can only assume any level of violence is acceptable against gays and the inference made is that the state supports this use of violence.
There has been condemnation from many in the Western world, including Canadian Foreign Affairs. While this is a good thing, it is clearly not enough to make any difference or to sway these governments to repeal this legislation. In reaction to the passing of the Ugandan law, the Netherlands immediately suspended judicial and police training aid to the country, which cost the country around €7 million.
If other countries were also to begin withdrawing or reducing money spent in these countries on aid and investment, it would be much more likely to have an effect on the country’s leaders.
The next time you hear about another violent incident in our province, be worried, but also be cognizant that we live in a place where such behaviour is not condoned and where we can count on our police forces to do their best to ensure our safety.
When I read about what is occurring in places such as Uganda, I am thankful to be living in a place where I feel safe and where I can live my life in freedom.
This is a precious gift that we should never take for granted.
Brian Hodder is a past-chairman
of Newfoundland Gays and Lesbians for Equality.