Could You 'Play Gay' if Your Life Depended on it? Asylum Seekers Who Don't 'Act Gay' Enough Being Sent Home to Face Death
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In a recent episode of The Simpsons, grouchy tavern owner Moe is entertaining a run for City Council, but as the dark horse candidate he’s in need of a good gimmick. So he enters the race as the first "openly gay" candidate in Springfield, despite the fact that he is, as far as we know, not gay. Despite Moe’s many attempts to camp it up, in the end he is eventually unmasked (or “outed,” if you will), and subsequently abandoned by his base (mostly sassy clients at his recently opened gay bar). This alternate, cartoon version of life, where feigning gay is seen as a good marketing ploy, makes for a good chuckle.
This is probably because it contrasts so sharply with life in the real world for so many LGBT people, as a number of recent events have helped bring into focus. Take the case of Brenda Namigadde, a gay Ugandan asylum seeker in the UK fighting a deportation order. Eight years ago Brenda fled Uganda after she and her partner were beaten, forced in to hiding, and had their house burned to the ground. Last week she was facing deportation, because an immigration judge in the UK didn’t believe that Brenda had offered “sufficient proof” that she is gay. I spoke with Brenda over the phone last week at Yarl’s Wood Detention Center in rural England, where she was being held pending a deportation order for Friday, January 28. She shared with me some of her fears of being deported back to Uganda.
“They’ve put people like me to death there,” Brenda told me. "I'll be tortured, or killed.”
Brenda’s concerns were hardly overstated. Uganda’s own minister of ethics and integrity, a self described devout Christian, recently told the New York Times, “Homosexuals can forget about human rights.” Even less abstract was a phone call to San Francisco-based journalist Melanie Nathan from David Bahati, Uganda’s most notoriously anti-gay politician and author of the infamous proposed “Kill the Gays” bill, which he defended in a recent interview with Rachel Maddow. Bahati’s call to Nathan was ominous. He said he had a “message” for Brenda that he wanted Nathan to pass along. He urged Brenda to “ repent and be reformed” and to stop embarrassing Uganda. He also said she’d be jailed upon her return if she refused to “abandon her homosexuality.”
Bahati has gained international notoriety in recent years as a top anti-gay jihadist with strong links to an American conservative and political network known rather ominously as “The Family.” Last year President Obama spoke out against Bahati and the bill he was advancing at the Family’s annual show of force— the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. In an embarrassing blow to the Prayer Breakfast organizers, who prize above all their ability as stealth power brokers around the world, Bahati was dis-invited after a barrage of publicity, and a counter-prayer breakfast organized by the Human Rights Campaign and other gay rights groups. This year’s Prayer Breakfast, coming on the heels of the widely publicized murder of beloved Ugandan gay rights activist David Kato, is also drawing fire, as activists in Uganda and the U.S. assail the financial and political support given to reactionary political and religious leaders in Uganda by “The Family” and other Evangelical groups in the U.S.—a nexus that many blame for the homophobic hysteria that led up to the murder of David Kato. This Thursday GetEqual and other LGBT groups are organizing a parallel “ Breakfast without Bigotry” outside of the Washington Hilton, the venue for this year’s Prayer Breakfast. They also are asking members of Congress not to attend, in solidarity with the beleaguered LGBT community in Uganda.