Straight man’s burden – Jeff Sharlet in Harpers

In the current issue of Harpers, Jeff Sharlet provides glimpses of his trip to Uganda, reporting there in April and May. It has been out to subscribers for a week or so but here is a very brief part of the introduction provided by Harpers in conjunction with The Investigative Fund. I have seen the entire piece and it is a vivid description of time spent with several of the main movers of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. If you have access to Harpers, read it. It begins:

A young man who called himself Blessed had agreed to meet me in front of the Speke Hotel, the oldest in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, but he wsa late, very late, adn I had no way to contact him. Emailing me from a café, he’s said he didn’t have a phone; calling from a pay phone, he’d said he didn’t have a watch. The friends who’d put me in touch with him said he didn’t have an address. I’d see a picture of him: he had a long neck, a narrow face, and a broad smile that made him look both kind and a little sly. I wanted to talk to him precisely because he was hard to find, because he was gay, and because he was on the run.

On October 14, 2009, a Ugandan member of parliament named David Bahati introduced legislation called the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Among its provisions: up to three years in prison for failure to report a homosexual; seven years for “promotion”; life imprisonment for a single homosexual act; and for “aggravated homosexuality” (which includes gay sex while HIV-positive, gay sex with a disabled person, or, if you’re a recidivist, gay sex with anyone — marking the criminal as a “serial offender”), death. As of this writing the bill has yet to pass, despite near unanimous support in Parliament. But the violence has been building, a crackling fury not yet quite a fire: beatings, disappearances, “corrective” rapes of lesbians, blacklists in a national tabloid, vigilante squads and church crusades, preachers calling out “homos” in their own pews.

It was Blessed’s pastor, a celebrity with an American following who had outed him. “Am being hunted by my family at the moment,” he’d written in an email apologizing for his inability to commit to dinner plans. “Am moving place to place now.” Then, in case I didn’t understand: “They want to kill me.”

To read the complete article, pick up the September 2010 issue of Harper’s.