The Anglican Bishop of West Buganda, Christopher Senyonjo, is currently in the United States telling the stories of LGBT Ugandans. Bishop Senyonjo has been excommunicated by his church for the comfort and succor he provides persecuted countrywomen and men.
Earlier this week, the religious leader was at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank in the District, to discuss what was billed as “the Global Fight for LGBT Rights” with Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson.
Although Bishop Senyonjo spoke mainly about the plight of Ugandan gay and trans people, their experience is shared by queer folk all over the continent where 38 out of 54 countries criminalize homosexuality.
The bishop also discussed the impetus behind Uganda’s anti-LGBT legislation which prompted a global outcry – the interference of American religious conservatives, the battle for African souls by Christianity and Islam, and Africa’s fraught history and relationship with the West.
Bishop Senyonjo suggested some actions which can help alleviate the suffering of LGBT Africans. Aside from continued advocacy, he believes that education is crucial to changing minds and hearts and addressing rampant homophobia and transphobia which plague the region. The bishop spoke mainly about educating future religious leaders – young male seminarians – about queer realities and issues. This makes sense considering the immense sway religion and superstition have on the masses.
In my opinion however, in order for education to be a viable and long-lasting solution, it should not be limited to future clergy men. More importantly, education should not be couched in religious terms. While religious beliefs can provide meaning and comfort for many people, the fact remains that these same belief systems lead to division and way to often lethal acts against one’s neighbor. An educational system which improves literacy, encourages critical thought, and promotes humanistic and universal values for all Africans should be the goal.
But Africa, like the rest of the developing world, is beset with so many challenges: poverty, hunger, inequity, political instability and corruption - the combined legacy of colonialism and imperialism. Any solution, including an answer to LGBT marginalization and persecution, has to be systemic.
Bishops Senyonjo and Robinson’s conversation, while inspiring, did not address larger issues. Moreover, they did not mention the complicity of their own leader, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and titular head of the global Anglican Communion, in the continued witch hunt of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Africans. Williams has long chosen to side with conservative bishops and elements of the church for the sake of organizational unity. He was late and tepid in condemning Uganda’s anti-homosexuality law.
Nonetheless, Bishop Senyonjo has done much, not only for Ugandan and African LGBTs, but for the global fight for human rights and equality. And for that, we are very grateful.
You can follow me on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon
Image from Walking with Integrity