An odd quote from Amnesty International in response to the increasing furor over Uganda’s effort to pass legislation mandating the death penalty for gays, for anyone who rents a room to them, for anyone who doesn’t report them to the police, and more.
(And don’t believe for a minute that they’ve dropped the “death penalty” from the law – they’ve claimed that reportedly over the past few years, and each time it’s been a lie. And in any case, life in prison for being gay, in a Ugandan prison, marked as someone ay, is probably worse than death.)
But my bone to pick is with Amnesty International, and the weird quote they gave CNN.
“Although Amnesty International has been informed that some provisions of the bill have been amended, the content of these amendments have not been made publicly available.
“This bill violates the principle of nondiscrimination as guaranteed under international and regional treaties to which Uganda is a party.”
“We are outraged,” said Noel Kututwa, the rights group’s director for southern Africa. “This goes beyond the principle of nondiscrimination. It goes against the principle of privacy of individuals. And sexual orientation is really a question of the right of an individual to choose how they want to live their lives.” [emphasis mine]
Uh, no, it’s really not.
You have a given sexual orientation at a given time, period. You didn’t pick it. And you don’t unpick it. I didn’t choose to be gay, and I haven’t chosen to live a “gay lifestyle” (which is where the rest of his quote appears to be heading).
No one chooses to be straight. And no one chooses only be attracted to the same gender (no man looks at another man and says “I’m not physically attracted to him or any other men, but today I will it so, so now I am” – you simply are wired that way or you’re not). And for that matter, no one chooses to be bisexual.
Maybe for some people their sexual orientation is fluid (they like boys and girls), and maybe for others it’s fluid over time (today they like boys, tomorrow – for whatever reason – they like girls). But no one’s sexual orientation involves “choosing” what gender they’re generically going to be attracted to on any given day (“today I choose to find men attractive, so I will!”). Sexual orientation simply is, through no choice of our own.
I’ve written about this error in speech before. It’s sloppy. It’s incorrect. And it’s a harmful message, especially in a region, Africa, where they think homosexuality is some bizarre, immoral white western import that society can choose or un-choose to commit. So having Amnesty International repeat the “choice” verbiage seems extremely unhelpful. And rather early 1990s, to boot.
Is race “really a question of the right of an individual to choose how they want to live their lives?” No. It’s a question of some people choosing to hate you simply because of who, and what, you are. Ditto with your sexual orientation.