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COVER STORY: Inside the world of gays and lesbians

The world of sexual minorities is one many are not willing to explore. Someone with orientations that differ from what society considers normal solicits various reactions from shock, anger, disgust, sympathy, confusion… name it. Others, in denial, believe such acts don’t exist, while some don’t even understand the words used to describe the different sexual orientations. A legislator, at a conference on the rights of sexual minorities, once asked: “What is a bisexual? I do not even know those terms.” And unfortunately for his constituents, the gentleman in question is in charge of making laws governing them, be they bisexual or otherwise. It is an agreed fact that knowledge and understanding is an important part of policy making and rational dialogue. Like it or not, people with unique sexual orientations live amongst us and we have to get to know them before we cast the first stone or give the first embrace.

What is Homosexuality?

The Web dictionary defines homosexuality as a sexual attraction to (or sexual relations with) persons of the same sex, as opposed to heterosexuality, the sexual attraction or relations with the opposite sex.
Dr. Thomas Muyunga, the Senior Programme Officer at Most At Risk Populations Initiative, a project at Mulago hospital dealing with members of society most affected by HIV and other STDs, explains that homosexuality could be learnt behaviour, or one would be circumstantially placed to copy it from other persons; and that there are people who are genetically set to be same sex oriented. Muyunga categorizes people with unique sexual orientations under the code LGBTIQQ.
L is for Lesbian, a woman who is sexually and emotionally attracted to women. Gay refers to men attracted to men. A Bisexual is someone sexually attracted to both men and women. Transsexual people are those who dress and/or act like people of the opposite sex. For example, a man who dresses and/or acts like a woman, or woman who acts/or dresses like a man. The commonest example of a transsexual in Uganda is Brenda, that light skinned individual who walks around with a radio dressed in tight fitting clothes. You can find him/her entertaining people in town with an old fashioned music box. According to Muyunga, who has worked with sexual minorities since 2006, transgender people are not always gay or lesbian. Intersex refers to people born with both female and male sexual organs. According to Muyunga, these do not carry the traditional XX (girl) and YY (boy) chromosomes. Usually one sex will dominate. In most cases, parents decide when the child is still young to operate and get rid of one gender.
Dr. Wilson Mulumba of Kamwokya Medical Centre advises that inter sex parents organise for the operation as soon as possible to avoid the social stigma that could arise from growing up with both organs. Some liberal legal scholars, however, argue that this would be an infringement on the right of the child to choose. This is fortified by the fact that some times, what seems like the dominant sex could change as the child grows. Many times the operation is accompanied by rigorous hormonal treatment for the child’s body to conform to the sex their parents have chosen for them.
In Latin America, there exists the muxes who are neither male nor female, and are viewed by society as a third sex in their own right.
The first Q is for Queer. Queer literally means strange, or deviating from the usual. It also refers to openly homosexual men. The last Q is for Questioning. Muyunga says most homosexuals fall in this category, people who often wonder if what they are doing is wrong, and if they can do something to change how they feel. He describes dealing with deeply questioning homosexuals as “a counseling quagmire”. The questioning is usually fuelled by society’s high levels of homophobia.
Homophobia is prejudice, fear and/or hatred of homosexual people and homosexuality. A quick random interview on what individuals’ attitudes are towards homosexuality yields answers like: They are mad; they need prayer, fasting and deliverance; the anal opening is not meant for sex; I would rather stand a thief or murderer… and many other angry tirades. Most people, like the legislator, admit they do not know and would not be bothered to find out more about homosexuality. It is an abomination. Period.

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