Last edited: November 07, 2003

‘My Life as a Gay Ugandan Christian’

BBC News, October 27, 2003

By Smyth Harper, BBC News Online, Manchester

Christopher Senteza is a committed Christian who has been with his partner for six years.

He teaches English and religious studies at a school in Uganda, close to where he lives in the capital, Kampala.

The 33-year-old is a pillar of the community, and would dearly love to be ordained into the Anglican church.

But Christopher is also gay, something the church in Uganda frowns upon and the state can throw you in prison for.

Christopher realised he was gay when he was a teenager, and confided in his uncle, who is also gay.

He says his family has been his rock, because of their loving care.

“My family has been very supportive—which has been very powerful for me,” he says.

But he adds some families are not so helpful.

As part of his work for Integrity Uganda, a Christian group which offers support for gays and lesbians, he recalls a visit with a friend to a gay teenager’s mother he was trying to help.

“We went and visited the son and his mother decided to chase us from the house. She accused us of trying to preach homosexuality to him—which, of course, we were not trying to do. We were trying to help him.”

Rural rejection, urban acceptance

He says Ugandan society is split on the issue of homosexuality between those in cities and towns and those in rural areas.

“The rural population is very against homosexuality, but urban people tend to be more accepting.”

There is a perception amongst many Africans that homosexuality is something that was brought with European colonialism.

There is no word in Christopher’s native tongue—Lugandan—for homosexuality.

“They say it is a Western word, but there were many cases of it documented in Uganda before the white man came to Africa.”

He hesitates about speaking of President Museveni—who has well publicised hatred of gays and lesbians—saying he has never spoken to the president so it would not be right for him to speak of what he thinks.

In 1999 the president launched a fierce attack on homosexuality and said gays should be sent to jail.

“I know of two men who were jailed for being gay,” Christopher says, starkly.

He added himself and his partner Francis are accepted in their community, but agrees more needs to be done to get full acceptance.

Uganda is a country which has introduced democratic reforms and has improved its human rights record since Yoweri Museveni became president in 1986.

Christopher believes a change in society and a change in gay action is needed.

“Gays are a little bit shy and afraid to come out. Both members of the gay community and society itself have their part to play to improve things for gays and lesbians.

“Society needs to have an appreciation of what we can offer to benefit everyone.”

The church, too, takes a dim view of homosexuality.

Christopher would dearly love to become an Anglican minister, but has been rejected, despite his impeccable credentials.

“I wasn’t given the reason why I was rejected, but I believe it was because I am a homosexual.”

But he also believes things are changing within society, and within the church.

“They must move towards acceptance.”

Visa problem

Christopher was in Manchester for the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement conference, where he delivered an address titled “Lesbian and Gay Identity in Uganda: a Christian Vision for my Country”.

He also attended a controversial gay Christian service which had been banned from Manchester cathedral.

But he almost didn’t make it because the UK immigration service questioned his motives for coming to the country and was refused a visitor’s visa.

He had to go to MP Ben Bradshaw who then had to take the issue to a ministerial level before he was granted a visa.

He arrived in London one day before the conference was due to begin.

The immigration service need not worry—he will be heading back at the end of this week, where he will continue his work.

“Given time, Uganda will have to move towards acceptance,” he said.

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