I can’t even imagine going on Uganda television as any kind of activist, let alone a trans activist.
I know what it’s like being a gay activist on TV in America, and what it was like years ago. I remember talking to my mom about it, probably in the late 1990s. I was working on something that was getting national media attention, and I’d either already done some national TV on it, or had been asked to. I was trying to gingerly warn my mom that if she hadn’t told some of the relatives I was gay, they might very likely find out through the media. I’ll never forget mom’s response: “It’s not like you’re going to be gay on TV or something.” Well, actually…
I believe it was gay psychotherapist Betty Berzon who once wrote about the difficulty in coming out and being out, because, as Berzon noted, even though you think you’re already “out” to everyone, there’s always someone new that’s going to come along, and all that old discomfort at coming out is going to come rushing back to you. She gave a story about her partner having to call the plumber because of something wrong with their kitchen sink. The plumber came to the house, and while working on the sink, started asking the partner questions about whether she lived alone, why her husband couldn’t fix the sink etc. I’ll never forget Berzon’s comment about the situation: “Sometimes you just don’t feel like coming out to the plumber.”
And while it’s one thing to come out to the plumber, it’s an entirely other thing when the plumber is in Uganda, and when you’re coming out on national television in a country in which the legislature is debating whether you should be put to death. And then, to add to the fun, you’re not just gay, but you’re trans. And while I’m not sure how it is being trans is in Uganda, in the US it usually carries more baggage, in terms of misinformation and lack of familiarity, than “simply” being gay (because much of the public is more familiar with, and has met, gay people).
To give you a sense of what Pepe Onziema is dealing with, the chyron at the bottom of the TV screen reads “[Ugandan president] Museveni says gay people should not be killed or persecuted in Uganda.” Yes, it’s a controversial point in Uganda whether gay people should be put to death.
Then to add to the fun, the trans activist, Pepe Onziema, is debating the biggest homophobic bigot in Uganda, pastor Martin Ssempa. Ssempa is a pig, and if not schooled by America’s religious right, he clearly has read up on them – Ssempa parrots anti-gay hate that clearly originated with America’s own religious extremists. In a very real way, Ssempa is doing the work of white master in the US, which is ironic, and relevant, because people like Ssempa in Africa like to claim that homosexuality is a white western import – it doesn’t exist natively in Africa, they like to claim. Sorry, but the white western import is anti-gay hate, and the person with that particular disease is none other than Martin Ssempa.
Just to give you a sense of how bad Ssempa is – how bad the problem is in Uganda, but also other African coutries like Nigeria, Ghana, and Liberia. Though South Africa has been a bright spot, where they even have same-sex marriage (more on that here) – Ssempa is the guy who includes among his arguments about gay rights, the notion that gay people “eat da poo poo.” Watch a bit of Ssempa here, and see if you don’t get a whiff of Idi Amin, let alone the anti-gay bigots among America’s own religious right hate groups:
And here’s the video of Ugandan trans activist Pepe Onziema debating Ssempa on Ugandan TV. The moderator is pretty useless, and Onziema would benefit from some media training (GLAAD, hint hint – if they haven’t already, perhaps GLAAD could try to do some special media trainings for gay and trans activists fighting these battles in Africa). Still you have to admire Onziema’s balls for being willing to go on TV at all, let alone in Uganda, as a trans man.