President Museveni of Uganda has agreed to sign the now notorious ‘Anti-Homosexuality Bill’ which could impose a lifetime jail sentence on anyone who commits homosexual acts.
What is curious about this latest crackdown though is the justification that the President has adopted to justify the signing of the bill.
A State House statement released last Sunday quoted Museveni as saying that ‘there is no scientific proof yet that people are homosexuals by genetics’
It goes onto to quote Museveni further saying that ‘It is on the strength of that I am going to sign the bill. I know we are going to have a big battle with the outside groups about this, but I will tell them what our scientists have to say.’
For a lack of a better word, curious…
The scientific committee, which included respected health professionals and scientists, set up to advise the President on this, concluded with 6 points:
The following are summaries of their observations;
- There is no definitive gene responsible for homosexuality.
- Homosexuality is not a disease but merely an abnormal behavior which may be learned through experiences in life.
- In every society, there is a small number of people with homosexuality tendencies.
- Homosexuality can be influenced by environmental factors e.g. culture, religion and peer pressure among others.
- The practice needs regulation like any other human behavior especially to protect the vulnerable.
- There is need for further studies to address sexuality in the African context.
The Executive Director of the Uganda Media Centre and Spokesperson for the Government of Uganda, Ofwono Opondo, summarised the report findings saying:
These conclusions represent some spurious claims intermixed with a sprinkling of loose language and half-truths that allow for differing interpretations to emerge from this ‘science’.
Take point one for example, ‘There is no definitive gene responsible for homosexuality’. A negative statement that may well be true. But in this context it has been used by the government to justify the positive opposite ‘that homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle choice’ – a statement which flies in the face of the majority of available scientific studies on the matter.
The BBC for example yesterday published an article looking at how a genetic tendency to homosexuality sits with Darwinian concepts of evolution. In this article it starts by asserting that the idea homosexuality has biological origins has become the ‘scientific orthodoxy’. The article goes onto say that whilst there is no ‘definitive gene’ that determines sexuality, it is thought that there are alleles – or groups of genes – that sometimes codes for homosexual orientation.
The same BBC article quotes Qazi Rahman who offers a reasonable summary saying, ‘it’s the media that oversimplifies genetic theories of sexuality, with their reports of the discovery of “the gay gene”. Genetically speaking, Rahman believes that sexuality involves tens or perhaps hundreds of alleles that will probably take decades to uncover.’
Although the exact nature of the biological determinants of sexuality remain unknown, it is widely accepted that sexual orientation is determined, at least in part, by your pre-existing biology. Something that the report fails to mention.
The same pattern can be drawn from the other five conclusions. Loose language and scientific half-truths being interpreted for ideological and political purposes. Point 2 for example – if you take the word abnormal without moral judgement (scientifically) to literally mean, differing from the norm, then of course homosexuality can be considered abnormal (in the same way fishing could be considered an ‘abnormal activity’). But, in the context of this debate it is understood, and intentionally conflated with, other ‘abnormal’ practices that hold near universal condemnation such as rape and paedophilia ensuring that it is interpreted with a pre-existing moral framework (very unscientific).
Indeed, it should be noted that whilst Museveni’s interest in the science behind homosexuality is quite new, his eagerness to condemn and discriminate against homosexuals though is far from it. To give just one example, it was clear he needed no science to back up his popular, if insulting and simply wrong, statement that ‘women become lesbians because of “sexual starvation” when they failed to marry’.
In short, though the science behind sexuality in Uganda is simply being used as a smokescreen here to further a populist political and ideological agenda.
Indeed, it seems hard to disagree with Edwin Sesange’s summary: ‘The strange thing about the scientists’ report from Uganda’s Ministry of Health about the origin of homosexuality, is that much of it was right. But what was left out, the way the words were twisted, the flaws in the scientists’ conclusions, make it false…In fact, the report…is little more than science providing political cover for Museveni. It allows him to sign the bill, gain political popularity at home, dismiss criticism from the international community and blame it all on the scientists if his decision is wrong’.
Of course, there is one way for this scientific report to hold credibility. Publish it!
If it were to be published in a scientific journal and face a peer-review process then it might hold some weight. Until that happens we can assume that the science remains a smokescreen for a wider political and ideological move against the LGBT community in Uganda.