In a country whose media often provides a megaphone for unchallenged anti-gay rhetoric, journalist Patience Akumu has highlighted the inquisitive nature of Uganda’s children – and how they are often miles apart from the homophobic views of their parents.
In an article for Uganda’s Observer newspaper, Akuma writes of how her six-year-old niece’s favourite cartoon is SpongeBob SquarePants.
“SpongeBob is also one of the numerous supposedly gay characters that seem to be part and parcel of movies of all genres,” said the journalist. “While series creator Stephen Hillenburg has himself said SpongeBob is asexual, critics say they have put two and two together and concluded that SpongeBob is gay. At the 2012 gay parade in New York, life-sized images of SpongeBob were displayed with pride.”
Akumu goes on to write: “To the gay people with whom he is popular, SpongeBob is a symbol of how far the media has come – from bashing and ridiculing homosexuals to loving and celebrating them. Glee, American Dad, Family Guy, Brothers and Sisters, Desperate Housewives, Modern Family…even without SpongeBob, the list of works of fiction with gay characters is endless. Chances are, your son or daughter has seen a gay couple kiss and has unresolved questions.”
Akumu writes of her niece asking her mother ‘Is that a man or a woman?’ after watching two male characters “caressing” on television. The journalist said: “That was the week before she came home and told me a boy at their school is gay.”
“Like many parents with no answers, her mum had grabbed the remote and changed channels. But is it possible to simply shut out the almighty Hollywood? Or should you face homosexuality square and put it on the discussion board with your children?”
Akumu suggests: “Most parents in Uganda prefer to keep silent – they simply pretend that gay people do not exist.”
She then mentions a ‘renowned’ unnamed Ugandan counsellor, who warns: “When it comes to homosexuality in Uganda, the entire nation gropes on in darkness and fear.”
The counsellor continues: “A lot of young [gay] people and parents come to me. Sometimes they are contemplating suicide. Many times they are very depressed. I do not know what to tell them because I do not know much about homosexuality.”
Striking an optimistic tone, Akumu concludes her piece by suggesting that activists in the country could one day set-up a support group for gay Ugandan children and their parents, based on the model of PFLAG in the US.
“We have never thought about it, but that would be a good idea. The only question is if the parents would be willing to come on board [because] there is still a lot of stigma even against them”, said Clare Byarugaba, advocacy officer at the Constitutional Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law.
Uganda is currently considering legislation aimed at increasing penalties for homosexual acts – which are already illegal in the country.
Although MPs broke up in 2012 without debating the measure, the bill, which threatens to impose the death penalty for those convicted of breaking the proposed law, could still be introduced in parliament when it reconvenes next month.