Meeting Minutes from Uganda’s Ministry of Health Task Force Debate on Homosexuality

Although Yoweri Museveni has not yet signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, he has signaled his intent to do so based on information presented to him from a task force set up by Uganda’s Ministry of Health. Museveni passed the buck to that committee and claims to be taking steps in line with their recommendations. I posted the committee’s report here last week.

Apparently, the task force only met two times prior to presenting their findings. According to minutes of those two meetings which I present here, the entire process seemed to be thrown together at the last minute.

Minutes for the first meeting:

Minutes of the 1st task force on the homosexuality debate held at the Ministry of Health on 3rd February 2014

Members Present

Dr. Isaac Ezati                                     Chair, Director Planning, Ministry of Health

Dr. Sylvester Onzivua                     Senior Pathologist, Mulago Hospital

Dr. Misaki Wayengera                    Geneticist, Makerere University

Prof. Seggane Musisi                      Psychiatrist, Makerere University

Dr. Sheila Ndyanabangi                 Head, Mental Health Desk, Ministry of Health

Dr. Paul Bangirana                           Psychologist, Makerere University

Assoc. Prof. Eugene Kinyanda    Psychiatrist, Makerere University

Dr David Basangwa                          Director, Butabika Hospital

Min 1: The Chair briefed members that the President needs an opinion from experts whether homosexuality is abnormal.

Min 2: The team agreed to answer the following questions;

a)      Is there a scientific basis for homosexuality, if yes what is it?

b)      Is it a disease (disease process) or not?

c)       Is it an abnormality. What drives it? Include the social, psychological and religious causes.

Min 3: They also noted the need to mention the following in the report;

a)      The protection of families and that the act needs to be regulated i.e. no recruiting, public displays so as to protect children and families.

b)      The controversies of the literature. No literature in Uganda about homosexuality, most studies done in the West. There is need to balance between the evidence from the west and protecting our culture.

c)       Studies are needed to study homosexuality/sexuality in Uganda.

Min 4: To meet again on Wednesday at 6pm with answers to the question, is there a scientific basis for this?

Minutes for the second meeting:

Minutes of the 2nd task force on the homosexuality debate held at the Ministry of Health on 5th February 2014

Members Present

  1. Dr. Isaac Ezati                                     Chair, Director Planning, Ministry of Health
  2. Dr. Sylvester Onzivua                     Senior Pathologist, Mulago Hospital
  3. Dr. Misaki Wayengera                    Geneticist, Makerere University
  4. Prof. Seggane Musisi                      Psychiatrist, Makerere University
  5. Dr. Sheila Ndyanabangi                 Head, Mental Health Desk, Ministry of Health
  6. Dr. Paul Bangirana                           Psychologist, Makerere University
  7. Dr Jacinto Amandua                        Commissioner, Ministry of Health

Absent with apology

  1. Assoc. Prof. Eugene Kinyanda    Psychiatrist, Makerere University
  2. Dr David Basangwa                          Director, Butabika Hospital

Min 1: Dr Ezati nominated Prof Seggane to Chair the scientific arm of the task force. He reiterated the question the Minister wanted answered; what is the scientific or genetic basis of homosexuality and can it be learned or unlearned.

Min 2: Prof Seggane presented his report. He gave a background on sexuality and overview of the biological basis. He concluded that homosexuality is not an abnormality nor a habit but a normal biological variant of sexuality. It needs to be regulated as was in the traditional African society.

Min 3: Dr Bangirana presented evidence showing that that the hypothalamus in both homosexual men and heterosexual women was activated by androgen containing odours. All brains of the three groups processed other odours similarly. These findings imply that homosexual men have a different brain response to male odours compared to heterosexual men but they respond to other odours like heterosexuals. It is not clear whether this differing physiological response exists at birth or developed after homosexual experience later in life.

Min 4: Dr Onzivua made his presentation. He mentioned that there is no biological basis for homosexuality. There is no biological basis to promote homosexuality, different body parts are adapted for their functions, eg pinna to collect sound waves etc.  The anatomy of the human being is not designed homosexuality. There are no conclusive studies on the genetics of homosexuality. However the environmental influence can not be ignored.

Min 5: Dr Wayengera presented his report. There are statistical correlations between the behaviour and structural and genetic factors. The current based on the dearth of genetic studies imply that it is a learned behaviour (social influence). Chromosomal studies have not produced consistent results when replicated. Animal studies have shown a genetic basis of homosexuality (in Drosophila and mice) but have not replicated in humans. Evolutionary biology where the main role for sex is procreation implies there is no structural basis for homosexuality.

Min 6: A discussion followed these presentations. It was suggested that simple explanations are needed to explain homosexuality since the lay public will not understand the science presented above. Need to look at it from all angles i.e. biological, psychological and social.

Min 7: Conclusions:

a)      There is no definitive gene for homosexuality

b)      Homosexuality is not a disease

c)       Homosexuality is not an abnormality

d)      In every society, there is a small number of people with homosexual tendencies

e)      It can be influenced by environmental factors (e.g. culture, information, permissiveness)

f)       The practise needs regulation like any other behaviour

It is stunning to think that a decision as important as whether to endorse the Anti-Homosexuality Bill could be decided in this manner. Clearly this committee did not consider all of the evidence and ignored some that was presented. At least as reported here, the committee did not reflect on the inappropriate use of science requested by the president, and even discussed simplifying the complexity of the issues for public consumption. There is something very wrong about this process; the right to exist should not depend on research studies.

 

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