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The Love That Dares

The Ugandan legislature has passed a tough new anti-gay law. But it doesn't speak for everyone in Uganda.

Wamela Dennis Mawejje at the Icebreakers office in Kampala.Wamala Dennis Mawejje at the Icebreakers office in Kampala"African cultures aren't exactly accepting of gays," Dennis says. To exacerbate that problem, Uganda is "a very religious country," often referred to as Africa's most Christian. "God, God, God. Culture, culture, culture," Dennis says. Missionaries and churches and the Fellowship—the secretive US evangelical group run by Doug Coe whose stated goal is to influence politicians, be they Hillary Clinton, GOP congressmen, or Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni—have poured much money and effort into Uganda to support and bolster their Christian brethren. The Icebreakers office that Dennis and I are chatting in is a safe space, but that's an unpublicized, unmarked secret, guarded especially from the Pentecostals we can hear testifying through their church service next door; some of the country's loudest anti-gay voices belong to priests who've made themselves famous on the issue. Priests who got ink all the way across the Atlantic because they're not just hatemongers but also friends with people like Rick Warren and the Republican congressmen in the Fellowship, three of whom had just grabbed headlines in an adultery scandal dubbed "C Street," after the group's DC headquarters. Bahati became famous too, saying Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and other influential Americans were behind him in his initiative, getting name-checked on NPR, doing an interview on The Rachel Maddow Show. Members of the Fellowship eventually disavowed his gay-killing efforts, but not before they pumped millions into youth programs where he could influence the hearts and minds of the next generation of Ugandan Christians. No wonder Dennis is more worried about the "extremely hostile" public than the homophobic state. 

The publisher of Rolling Stone (no relation to the American one) says gays wouldn't be such a threat if they didn't recruit in schools and coerce children into having sex with them by giving them slick cellphones.

Still, there sits in the Icebreakers office the young subject of a failed anti-gay police Facebook sting. I like your smile, the cops will sometimes message a known or suspected queer, then suggest communicating by text, then suggest meeting up in person, then arrest him when he shows up. The queer calls Dennis, Dennis calls a lawyer, there's never any gay-sex proof—the cops, after all, don't go so far as to screw their suspects—and the charges never stick. Dennis bails someone out of jail, like this kid, about 10 times a year. It doesn't speak well for the efficacy or enforcement of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill were it to pass, which Dennis doesn't think it will. But "because of [pro-gay] support from the international community," and the Western media frenzy in response to the bill, "Africans feel gays are too powerful and want to take the law into their own hands." When Obama came out against the bill, Ugandans came out to protest, telling Obama and the rest of the gay-influenced West to mind their own business.

Since the controversy started, FARUG says, more gays have been getting evicted from their homes and bars. Bill or no bill, Dennis has a lot of advocating to do. "We've seen changes. More organizations have come on board. People change minds one-on-one."

Like Geoffrey's. He's been waiting patiently, watching attentively, while we go around to offices full of homos all day. I had to feel him out, of course, when I hired him for this assignment, and when I asked him how he felt about all this anti-gay hullabaloo, he said, after considering for a moment, that it seemed a bit wild and unnecessary. "What is your idea?" he asked. I hesitated too. Part of my answer involves the sentence "I am bisexual," and I sat with that in my mouth, trying to remember the last time this little brick of anxiety settled in my chest while I wondered if someone would refuse to work with me, would stop being nice, would start being weird, or even hostile. Oh, yeah. It was eight months ago. In Oklahoma. But Geoffrey was unfazed. He was pensive about the subject, certainly not militant or violent. By the time we leave Dennis' place, he's progressed to rampant curiosity, asking me a lot of questions about whether a gay couple has to choose which one is going to be the dude, and if so how the couple goes about deciding that.

An outdoor furniture market in Kampala.An outdoor furniture market in KampalaBetter that he's asking me than Giles Muhame, a 23-year-old in a slate-blue button-down and gray pants with doughy, outsize hands who seems to have been misinformed. "Fisting tears your ass and makes pus come out," he tells us in the courtyard of a nice hotel. This is the proprietor of Rolling Stone, the tabloid that in October 2010 published names and photos of alleged gay Ugandans with the cover line "Hang Them." The tabloid has no relation to the American Rolling Stone, whose publisher, Jann Wenner, must be "envious that we're stealing the show from him." (Actually he published an open cease-and-desist letter, but Wenner has said he can't actually do anything because the magazine never thought to trademark its name in Uganda.) Muhame had just started the little paper with his parents' money a couple of months before that story. As for fact-checking these allegations, they had proof. Proof like "a girl acts boyish, hangs out at X place that's haunted by gays." For the first few days the "Hang Them" edition was on newsstands, Muhame says, nobody bought it. But then the Western media got ahold of it, and they had to do a second printing, bringing the grand total up to a few thousand. He doesn't care that people call him a Nazi. He complains that Uganda's real papers, the Observer and the Independent, were coming out against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and glorifying homosexuality. It was downright un-African. He says homosexuals wouldn't be such a threat to society if they didn't recruit in schools and coerce children into having sex with them by giving them slick cellphones. He explains that Uganda's not supposed to be like America, where everybody loves homosexuals—that's not true, I interrupt him—where homosexual sex isn't against the law—only since 2003, I have to point out—where homosexuals can do whatever they want, like get married—also not true, I say. This is one of the only times in our long interview that the extremely well-spoken Muhame falters for a second. "If it is not legal in the US, why is there all this bashing of Ugandans?" he asks. And what is my country's deal with condemning the government for wanting to hang people? "There is no country that doesn't torture. Even the US. Remember the extradition policy to Egypt?"

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