By Jon Barrett
Originally published on Advocate.com August 11 2010 4:00 AM ET
When news of Uganda’s “kill the gays” bill broke last year, there was a sense of—in my head at least—There go those crazy African despots again. I was horrified, of course, but I don’t think I fully grasped the human implications of the hatred brewing in Uganda until I heard about Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza in nearby Malawi.
These two were jailed after conducting what officials deemed an illegal same-sex commitment ceremony. Sentenced to 14 years in prison, they were pardoned five months later after international pressure forced President Mutharika’s hand. The whole ordeal, sparked by a desire we all share—to express our love openly—ruined life as they knew it.
Which brings us back to Uganda. Jeff Sharlet, who expertly wrote about America’s ties to homophobia in that country in his 2008 book, The Family, explains in our cover story that the hatred in Uganda is only strengthening—and spreading across the continent.
His piece—and the Malawi story—serve as wake-up calls: I can no longer dismiss this kind of homophobia as the work of isolated despotism, and more important, The Advocate needs to make international human rights—people’s right to live—as big a priority as we do the rights to marry, work free of discrimination, and serve openly in the military. We can’t do it all in one issue, but this is our first step.