Hi, it's _________ from Kampala, Uganda.
What advice do you have for me, you know we are discriminated here and our country is about to pass a law in parliament to sentence anyone who is a gay and lesbian?
As a prominent writer/editor in the United States, I receive letters like the one above more often than I would prefer to recall. The words have haunted me since Uganda's "Kill the Gays" bill began to pick up speed and activist David Kato was killed.
About one year ago, I posted a story on The Seattle Lesbian regarding a Ugandan woman and her partner. I took a special interest in the angle because it was delivered with a very candid note that read, "Please share this story so that others may know what is happening here, but you cannot mention my name or I will be killed."
I pushed the story through the wire and, as instructed, did not mention her name. As I clicked "publish" and her plight went viral, I wondered if it would somehow trace its way back to Uganda and put her in harm's way. Surely there was no legitimate way that could happen. The government there must have had othermore pressingitems to mull over with their pre-perforated time. Then again, one might argue that they would not have the time to hunt down and kill all the gay people in their country, but that would have been an inaccurate assumption … and you know what they say about assumptions.
The reader did not make contact to incite internal bargaining on my part. She reached out to me for help and for visibility about the very real and dangerous issues affecting her life and, by doing so, was risking the very thing she was trying to protect the most.
Over the next several months I began to receive more letters like the one above. Friend requests poured into my mailbox on Facebook from various other parts of the world and there was a proverbial ear bending occurring that couldn't be ignored. I listened ... and I wrote. To some, those two things would have been trivial, but to my readers, it was a lifeline.
Social responsibility is an art form at its best and a meandering pain in the ass at its worst. There is no instruction booklet. Everyone has an opinion and not all are qualified to offer it. In fact, very few are! At the end of the day it's the essence of the public awareness trickling down that causes inflection and, in effect, institutes necessary societal change.
Calling it a "Christmas gift" to the Ugandan people, the speaker of the Ugandan parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, has promised she will pass the so-called "Kill the Gays" bill in the next two weeks. In effect, this would place a bounty on any head deemed LGBTQ.
According to AllOut.org, "The only version of the bill that is public today still includes the death penalty provision for 'aggravated homosexuality'" said Kasha Jacqueline, executive director of Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG). "We know that the bill still refers to death, contrary to what the media is saying."
My dear friend and comrade, Shaun Knittel, asked me to comment on the controversial bill. He serves as founder and director of Social Outreach Seattle (SOSea) and I am his right-hand woman in the tangible community project. I said, simply, "With limited quantities of resources and understanding, homosexuality was declared a mental illness until it was removed from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 1973 and ratified in 1974."
And then the real magic happenedI got fired up: "We are not wild animals in need of correction. We are human beings and we deserve to be treated as equally as any other flesh and blood being in this world. Location matters not. Whether you reside down the street or around the world, if you are a human being and you identify as LGBTQ, this bill affects each and every one of you. It affects us all."
Indeed, Uganda's stance on homosexuality affects us all. When one of us suffers, we all suffer. Call it socialism … call it naive … and then, when you're ready, call it the truth. Time is up. This is the time. The time is now. There is no more time left.
Sarah Toce is principal, owner and editor-in-chief of the Seattle Lesbian.