I must confess that it was not until January of this year that I invested any think time on the situation in Uganda.
Yes, I had heard of the crazy "Kill the Gays Bill," but I was focusing on personal stuff and I simply shrugged my shoulders and said, "I'm glad I don't live in Uganda."
To say that I did a 180 degree turn out of my own convictions and outstanding character is not what happened. The truth is I was surfing the web on Dec. 30th and went to a friend's blog post titled, "Genocide Brewing in Uganda," in which she summarized what was taking place and how imminent was the passing of this insane piece of legislation. She provided links to CNN, Amnesty International, BBC, Time and a few other news organizations. I spent the next two hours going from one link to another and I was horrified.
I emailed my friend and asked if she had any links to where I could send an email to; I needed to scream at someone. She replied that it may be a lost cause since the Ugandans seemed to be completely defiant in face of the international outcry. I concluded I had to act. I found the Ugandan Parliament's website, which profiled all 327 Members of Parliament and I spent the next three hours extracting all of their email addresses. I wrote a letter and sent it to all of them. I sent the list to my friend so that she could post it on her blog. But the reality was that I couldn't see too many people taking the time to compose a letter, copy all the email addresses, and not to mention, spend more than a couple of minutes doing so.
That is when the idea hit me to create a website that simplified the process, albeit, not too automated since anti-spam filters would quickly reject hundreds of emails if they were coming from the same server. That is how the now-inactive website ugandaurgentaction (dot) com was born. The domain was registered the following day and the site went live within 6 hours. I sent a New Year's greeting message to all 120 of my email contacts and begged them to send emails immediately. But it was New Year's weekend and not many people saw the email until the early part of the week. Soon, I started getting replies back as friends let me know they had sent letters and were sharing the link with their friends. It was a slow start, but it got the ball rolling. Three days after I sent my letter to Parliament and the site had gone live, I started getting responses from some of the MPs. Those who favored the bill were, for the most part, nasty and rude and suggested I mind my own business. Those who opposed the bill were, on the other hand, grateful for the letter and my advocacy. I was stunned. What had I gotten myself into? I also started receiving emails from LGBT Ugandans who had come across the website and they too were grateful for the effort.
How could I not get sucked into this vortex of human rights activism? The stories I have heard, their hardships and the struggle to exist is beyond anything I could imagine. The struggle will not be over until all laws that criminalize and stigmatize the LGBT minority are repealed and new laws enshrining basic human rights and equality for all are passed.
As I stated earlier, I came upon this struggle recently, but it is never too late to add your voice to this and to invest your time and money by supporting organizations such as St. Paul's Foundation for International Reconciliation (http://stpaulsfoundation.com/). Also, avail yourself of the excellent work done in 2007 by a group of international advocates called the Yogyakarta Principles, which offer hope for a long term solution. Here is a link to a PDF version of their document: http://www.yogyakartaprinciples.org/principles_en.pdf.
In closing, if you are person of faith, pray for Uganda.
Postscript — As soon as the 9th Parliaments email addresses are published, hopefully sometime in June, I will post them on the website. We must keep the pressure on new Parliament; they will need to be reminded that they are citizens of the world and that the world is watching.