A Ugandan newspaper has published a list of what it called the country’s 200 top homosexuals, outing some who previously had not identified themselves as gay, just one day after the president enacted a harsh anti-gay law calling for life imprisonment for gays and lesbians. The Red Pepper tabloid published the names and some pictures in a front-page story under the headline: “EXPOSED!”
In 2011, a Ugandan gay activist was killed after his name appeared in a similar list published by the now-defunct Ugandan Rolling Stone magazine, which called for the execution of gay people.
I read this news with the sinking feeling that I had been transported back to the world of witch hunts, where people were persecuted and killed for not conforming to patriarchal gender norms and the moral dictates of particular religious interpretations.
It seems so surreal. We live in a world where long-standing glbt witness that being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual is not a choice any more than being straight is a choice is increasingly being corroborated by studies that prove there are dna and brain structure differences between straight and gay individuals. We live in a world where being gay isn’t just about who you sleep with, but encompasses all the life choices associated with deep relationships — sharing a life, marriage, raising children and creating family, care and support at the end of life; where we understand it isn’t just about sex, it can be about love and bonding, just the same way straight relationships can be about sex or can be something far more meaningful. It is clear, our hopes and aspirations as individuals, our drives and needs, are not in any way different just because the object of our attention is different.
And yet, we also live in a time where, in the face of all the evidence, despite the testimony creates by the lives of thousands upon thousands of glbt individuals and couples, there are countries where it is illegal to be gay, where gays may be incarcerated or executed simply for being who they are. Many of those countries are Muslim, and they base their law on a particularly restrictive brand of jurisprudence.
My Islam is not narrow. It is not scared of differences but embraces the wondrous diversity of God’s creation. My Islam says God is loving and merciful, not capricious and mean, willfully creating human beings who must make the choice between giving up love and life with a partner or giving up the love of God. My God teaches us that we have freedom of conscience to live as we see fit, and that we should use our minds and our hearts to understand the world, and to make moral judgements about what is right and wrong. My God teaches us to live in compassion and to want for our brothers and sisters what we want for ourselves. My God also teaches us to stand up as witness to justice, even against our kith and kin.
So I stand up for compassion, for reason, and against tyranny, cruelty, and constrictive interpretations of religious law. I choose to read the Qur’an informed by modern science, and by the witness of my friends who are glbt Muslims, and to understand the story of Lot as being about highway robbery, rape and the desecration of rights of hospitality, not about consensual loving relationships. Most of all, I stand as a witness against my fellow Muslims: these laws are not just, they are not merciful, they are not Islamic. They are wrong and must be opposed. And I pray for the safety of glbt folks in Uganda, as well as those in Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and wherever else they face discrimination based upon religious interpretation.