June 14, 2010 | by Erwin de Leon
A global fight for equality

The Anglican Bishop of West Buganda, Christopher Senyonjo, was in the United States last week telling the stories of LGBT Ugandans. Senyonjo has been excommunicated by his church for the comfort and succor he’s provided persecuted women and men in his country.

During his visit, the religious leader was at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank based in D.C., to discuss what was billed as “the global fight for LGBT rights” with Episcopal Church Bishop Gene Robinson.

Although Senyonjo spoke mainly about the plight of Ugandan gay and transgender people, their experience is shared by queer folk across a continent where 38 out of 54 countries criminalize homosexuality.

The bishop also discussed the impetus behind Uganda’s anti-LGBT bill, the interference of American religious conservatives, the battle for African souls by Christianity and Islam, and Africa’s fraught history and relationship with western nations.

He suggested some actions to help alleviate the suffering of LGBT Africans. Aside from continued advocacy, he said that education is crucial to changing minds and hearts and addressing the rampant homophobia that plagues the region. The bishop spoke mainly about educating future religious leaders — young male seminarians — about queer realities and issues. This makes sense considering the immense sway religion has in the country.

In my opinion however, in order for education to be a viable and long-lasting solution, it should not be limited to future clergymen. More importantly, education should not be couched in religious terms. While religious beliefs can provide meaning and comfort for many people, the fact remains that these same belief systems lead to division and harmful acts against one’s neighbor. An educational system which improves literacy, encourages critical thought and promotes fairness and equality for all Africans should be the goal.

But Africa, like the rest of the developing world, faces many challenges: poverty, hunger, inequity, political instability and corruption, plus the combined legacy of colonialism and imperialism. Any solution, including an answer to LGBT marginalization and persecution, has to be systemic.

Unfortunately, the conversation with Senyonjo and Robinson did not address the larger issues. Moreover, they did not mention the complicity of their own leader, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and titular head of the global Anglican Communion, in the continued witch hunt of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Africans. Williams has long chosen to side with conservative bishops and elements of the church for the sake of organizational unity. He was late and tepid in condemning Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law.

Nonetheless, Senyonjo has done much, not only for Ugandan and Africa’s LGBT population, but for the global fight for human rights and equality. And for that, I am very grateful.

You can follow Erwin on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon

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