Hundreds of people held an anti-gay protest in Uganda’s capital Tuesday, denouncing what they called an “immoral” lifestyle and demanding the deportation of an American journalist writing about gay rights in the deeply conservative country.
Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda, like in most African states, and carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. Tuesday’s demonstration was the latest in a series of showdowns between religious conservatives and a small, but growing gay rights movement across the continent.
The protesters gathered at a Kampala sports ground holding banners with anti-gay messages and posters demanding the deportation of 22-year-old Katherine Roubos.
Roubos, from Minnetonka, Minn., was assigned to cover gay issues in Uganda as part of a three-month internship with the Daily Monitor newspaper, which is owned by the Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of 20 million Ismaili Muslims. The Ismailis are a part of the Shiite community.
Last week, Roubos covered a news conference in Kampala where Uganda’s gay community spoke out publicly for the first time. The participants wore masks to hide their identities for fear of recrimination, but asked for Ugandans to respect their rights and allow them to live in dignity.
Protestors: Kids need to be protected
Demonstrators at Tuesday’s event, organized by a coalition of Christian, Muslim and Bahai groups, accused Roubos of advocating for gay rights in the country. The coalition said it was writing a protest letter to the Aga Khan.
The Ugandan Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Nsaba Buturo, also attended the protest and said the government supported the enforcement of existing anti-gay laws.
“We people of Uganda have values. If this lady cannot respect them then she had better be deported,” said Eddie Semakula, a member of the coalition. “She is advocating for the rights of homosexuals in a paper that is read by children even. We must protect our children.”
The Monitor defended Roubos’ “reliable and enterprising” reporting. Her editor, Moses Sserwanga, said the issue of gay rights was tied in with larger debates over traditional culture, individual freedoms and human rights in Uganda.
“On the one hand the constitution forbids homosexual behavior and yet on the other it promotes individual freedoms,” he said. “Our society is very conservative so we knew this reaction would come out. I wanted the story to address the contradictions in our constitution.”
Writer defends herself
Roubos said she has been impartial in her reporting, although she has worked with numerous advocacy groups in the U.S., including on gay rights issues. She declined to give details.
“I was given this assignment by my editor, I didn’t ask for it,” the Stanford university student told the Associated Press. “I just present facts. None of my personal opinions are in the stories.”
Gay rights activists are becoming slightly more visible in some parts of Africa. In Nigeria, activists are quietly trying to mobilize against a law that would jail two gay people for five years for even talking to each other. In South Africa last year, gays won the right to have civil unions recognized as marriages, although priests may also opt out of performing such ceremonies.