Queer Eye | Issue 20
I sometimes wonder what motivates me to try. I know that one explanation for why I try and help poor people is white guilt. I have studied history and politics, therefore I know a bit about how historic events have led to massive fiscal imbalances in the world. I know about colonialism and wars for resources. I know about the slave trade and illegal resource extraction. I know that as someone living in a “First World” nation, I directly benefit from all this historical injustice.
I also have guilt as a “liberated queer.” I feel guilty when I see the likes of Uganda passing laws that could lead to the death sentence for “homosexual offenders.” I was recently in Tonga where homosexual acts between two men is punishable by up to 10 years in prison or perhaps even a whipping! Seeing this kind of oppression makes me feel guilty because I cannot fully enjoy my own freedom while others are subject to this injustice.
Furthermore I feel guilt as it is through colonialism that many anti-homosexual laws were propagated throughout the world and have remained on country’s statute books. Some 80 countries still criminalise consensual homosexual sex. Over half of these rely on “sodomy” laws left over from British colonialism leading to criminalisation in 40 of the 53 Commonwealth states. Some are now trying to make their laws even more repressive. Last year, Burundi's president, Pierre Nkurunziza, signed a law criminalising consensual gay sex.
Finally I feel guilty as a Christian when Christianity is one of the major driving forces that maintains anti-homosexual laws and even supports those pushing for laws to go further. According to gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, conservative religious groups are importing politicised homophobia into Africa. The Ugandan MP who proposed the “Kill the Gays” Bill is a member of The Fellowship, a conservative American Christian organisation. “Africa must seem an exciting place for evangelical Christians from places like America,” says Marc Epprecht, a Canadian academic who studies homosexuality in Africa, as quoted by the Economist. “They can make much bigger gains in their culture wars there than they can in their own countries.”
Clearly my guilt is not useful for me or for those oppressed by draconian laws. So what can I do? Firstly I need to avoid the many pitfalls that would lead to me repeating the mistakes of my ancestors. I need to avoid imposing Western concepts of what it means to be sexuality, sex and gender diverse. I need to avoid the white saviour complex of trying to “save” those from less developed societies.
What I need to do is give money and support to grassroots campaigns in these countries working for social and political change in their societies. I need to tell my friends and family about the work of these groups and get their support as well. I need to encourage my government to accept people seeking asylum because of their sexuality or gender identity. I need to advocate for better education of the challenges faced by queer people everywhere. These things will make the world a better place.