LGBTQI+, Religion, Diversity, and Inclusion Dialogue with Universal Coalition of Affirming Africans Uganda
Remarks by U.S. Ambassador Natalie E. Brown | July 21, 2022
Kampala, Uganda(As prepared for delivery)
Good morning. I am so pleased to see all of you here and it is an honor for me to be with you today as we address the benefits of diversity, and emphasize the importance of inclusion of LGBTQI+ people in all that we do. As you may be aware, the United States and the American people observed Pride Month in June and people in countries all around the world joined in too in a variety of ways – holding seminars on equal rights, volunteering, holding film festivals, leading awareness-raising marches through city streets, and offering vaccination clinics against COVID-19. Here in Kampala, consistent with guidance from the Biden Administration, I flew the Rainbow Flag just under the U.S. flag at my residence and at all of the Embassy’s facilities. I did this to underline our support for a community that has long been marginalized both in public and private life, deprived of its human rights, and subjected to abuse – emotional, physical, sexual, economic, and psychological.
Despite our best efforts to advocate for equal treatment of sexual minorities, and some notable progress in this effort, there is still much room for improvement. As we all know, LGBTQI+ persons still struggle to find acceptance, and face hatred and violence in school, at church, at work, in their neighborhoods, and even at home. Just last week, a young member of the LGBTQI+ community lost their life; the case is being investigated as a potential hate crime. In recent years, more than a hundred members of the LGBTQI+ community in Uganda have been unjustly arrested and, in many instances, subjected to invasive and dehumanizing exams, and, as a result, many live in fear in Ugandan communities. This reality underscores the need for today’s Religion, Inclusion, and Diversity Dialogue, which aims to build acceptance, tolerance, and peace in Uganda for all people, including LGBTQI+ persons.
Calls for inclusion, diversity, and respect for the rights of sexual minorities are extensions of broader calls to respect every individual’s human rights, regardless of their tribe, ethnicity, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, or other identity. At the core, it means that each of us, irrespective of who we love, has the right to determine our destiny and to live healthy and fulfilling lives. This includes the freedom for all to choose to practice or not to practice a religion of our choice. Unfortunately, when it comes to LGBTQI+ persons and their rights, our institutions can be intolerant, or even fearful, which can lead to the perpetuation and condoning of violence and hateful acts.
According to the 2014 Uganda National Population and Housing Census, more than 98% of Ugandans identify as Catholic, Protestant, born-again Christian, Muslim, or as a member of another major religious institution. Faith is clearly deeply ingrained in the lives of most Ugandans, including LGBTQI+ Ugandans.
A common thread that runs through all religious teachings, regardless of cultural, societal, or even historical setting, is the call to love one another, to care for one another, and to forgive one another. These religious teachings further call upon each one of us to strive to be the very best version of ourselves in community with our fellow human beings. This includes resisting the urge to spread hate, intolerance, bigotry, and violence and standing up against these practices when we see them. Hate is not a religious value, yet it is unfortunately to often spread by religious leaders and other members of society who do not view all human beings as having dignity and being worthy of love. As societies, we have progressed and now reject (at least in theory; we still have work to do in practice) the hatred of or the discrimination against women and racial or ethnic minorities. We have to do the same for the LGBTQI+ people in our lives – for our brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, parents, neighbors, and work colleagues.
LGBTQI+ people are, have been, and will continue to be a part of the human community and of communities of faith. They join us in the queue for lunch at the canteen; they experience the same frustration while sitting to answer tough examinations at school; they are next to us at work; and they bow alongside us in prayer when we congregate for religious activities. It is critical that religious leaders and all people of good conscience reflect upon our individual roles in making society and our communities more inclusive and ensuring that we are not instruments of hate because a society that rejects its diversity instead of embracing it, is a society in conflict with itself.
The U.S. government remains steadfast in its efforts to advocate for a world free of discrimination, where all people including LGBTQI+ persons live lives with dignity, health, and equality. American history shows us the damage that can happen when we reject these ideals, yet the American experience is also full of examples of what we can achieve when we embrace, protect, and advance these values. The U.S. government will continue to make use of its diplomatic outreach to encourage authorities and communities all over the world to be tolerant and inclusive of minorities. I am encouraged by dialogues like the one we will participate in today. I thank the Universal Coalition of Affirming Africans Uganda for this initiative, for their invitation, and for their work advocating for LGBTQI+ persons. I also commend those who are gathered here and who will take messages of love and acceptance back to their communities. They say the first step is the hardest, I am hopeful that this is one step towards building a more inclusive and peaceful Uganda.