Chicagoans protest Uganda’s "Anti-Homosexuality Bill"

by Joseph Erbentraut

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday December 16, 2009

Despite single digit temperatures and an even colder wind chill, approximately 20 Chicagoans gathered outside the Center on Halsted on Thursday, Dec. 11, to protest Uganda's proposed "Anti-Homosexuality Bill" that would impose the death penalty against anyone found to be gay or lesbian.

Protesters expressed dismay over the draconian bill's penalties not only for being gay or lesbian, but for also knowing a gay or lesbian person and not reporting the information to authorities. Such people - who could even include parents or health-care providers - would face prison sentences. Those convicted of some "homosexual acts" would be executed. Ugandan lawmakers are scheduled to debate the bill soon. And it could become law within a matter of months.

Bob Schwartz, a member of the Gay Liberation Network, the group which called for the demonstration, said he was happy with the turnout given the frigid weather and that it was organized under short notice. He felt it was important for Chicagoans to show their solidarity with Ugandan gays and lesbians as part of a broader perspective on issues of LGBT civil rights.

"One of the reasons we were out there is because we consider that too many LGBT people in Chicago and all over the United States are too parochial and insular in their approach to gay rights," Schwartz explained. "What's going on in Uganda is very much tied to what some of these right-wing, anti-gay bigots based here in the U.S. have said and done there. We wanted to call attention to that so that the gay community of Chicago realizes there is a world out there, not just what affects them here in Chicago or even in the U.S."

Indeed, American ties to a group called "The Family" and the Rev. Rick Warren, who traveled to the East African country in March to speak at a seminar that denounced homosexuality, are among the many aspects of the current controversy that particularly incensed the protesters. Warren and some other Evangelicals have distanced themselves from the bill in response to growing outrage around the world, they continue to oppose equality for LGBT people.

"The Ugandans have set up a pariah group, and it is the homosexuals," Schwartz told EDGE. "But we've seen the same sort of thing happen here [in the U.S.]. It's important to note that this anti-gay sentiment is a Western import to Africa in the first place."

President Barack Obama spoke out against the bill late last week. Sweden and other countries have threatened to cut financial aid to Uganda if the country's lawmakers approve the bill.

And while it was initially claimed last week international pressure had forced the removal of the death penalty provision, the bill's sponsor, David Bahati, argued otherwise. He suggested to the Observer these harsh penalties are necessary to protect Ugandan children from being "recruited" and to "protect the cherished culture of the people of Uganda against the attempts of sexual rights activists seeking to impose their values of sex promiscuity on the people of Uganda."

"We need to keep up the pressure," Schwartz added. "International pressure is apparently the only thing that is going to cause the Uganda regime to alter course here."

Other protests of the proposed Ugandan law have taken place in Pretoria, South Africa, and Beirut, Lebanon. Further demonstrations have happened in London, San Francisco, New York and the nation's capital.

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to to read more of his work.