Not long ago, things were calm and somber in Uganda. But bigoted evangelical Christians from the U.S. seeking to promote a homophobic agenda led to the drafting of the so-called "kill the gays bill." The bill no longer includes the death penalty, nor is it still a bill -- it is law.
Now that President Museveni has signed it, what lies ahead for Uganda's LGBTQ community? What are the new challenges to the well-being of Ugandan LGBTQ people's survival in a grossly intolerant society? Given the historic pattern of inhumanity and impunity of Uganda's law-enforcement forces and its often biased judiciary, how will the LGBTQ community expect anything less than extrajudicial persecution from civilians whipped into a hateful fury by the gay-baiting and inquisitorial media -- abetted by the legal system that will deny those accused bail and cast them into the merciless detention centers and jails? Uganda, as signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, has proved to the world that the signature was just a scribble on paper, nothing more.
Kushaba Moses Mworeko
(Photo courtesy of Mworeko)
In place of rights, we have hope. It is our only asset, and the one we need most. We hope that the worst is quickly tempered in the short term. In the long run, we hope for the best. The onslaught of the last five years has made Uganda's gay community stronger than ever. We have placed the case of our need for human rights before the world, and people all over the world are supporting us. This is a huge victory that cannot be stolen.
For clarity's sake, I must make the point that no one on earth wishes to live in such a hostile environment. Homosexuality is not akin alcoholism or other addictions that might be modified by behavioral therapy. To the contrary, same-sex attractions are inborn traits. People -- threatened with social ostracism, facing discrimination in all walks of life, subject to lengthy prison sentences and heinous stereotyping, fearful of police harassment and "mob justice" -- will both live and die with this orientation. I truly wish that sexuality was a choice, like a faucet that is easily turned on and off. Then those victims of this odious law would be able to fight their same-sex attractions, as it is already wrongly alleged they are able to.
Regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender, religion, beliefs, or any other innate or innocuous trait, we all desire -- and deserve -- to be treated with respect and dignity.
To those good people of the world who want to defend the human rights of all LGBTQ Ugandans, I urge you to listen empathetically to these crying citizens. This alone is a tremendous help, for we don't have the power to get every single one of them out of Uganda.
Financially supporting the work of the gay organizations on the ground in Uganda strengthens the ability of those organizations to pressure the government from within and outside Uganda.
People in North America and Europe should counter the hate-instigating evangelical groups by organizing grassroots education campaigns and by lobbying politicians to revoke not-for-profit status of evangelical and right-wing religious sects and denominations that promote intolerance.
There are many human-rights and civil-rights organizations that may be natural allies of the struggle for human rights in Uganda. Many as yet untapped groups may be brought into broad coalitions able to compel action on behalf of LGBTQ Ugandans and beyond.
Finally, there can be boycotts multinational corporations and others that do business with Uganda.
The creation of a movement is essential in preventing more countries from following suit. Nothing is impossible. Together, we will win this fight.
Kushaba Moses Mworeko is a gay D.C. resident and a specialist in the Army National Guard. He fled Uganda in 2009 and received asylum in the U.S. in 2011....more
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) last week announced that the District of Columbia's Department of Insurance, Securities, and Banking (DISB) would be advising health insurance companies operating in the District about the application of nondiscrimination provisions and recognizing gender dysphoria as a medical condition.
The Feb. 27 announcement clarifies the District's position, as stated in a March 2013 bulletin issued by DISB, that health insurers must remove policy language that discriminates on the basis of gender identity and provide those with gender dysphoria access to medically necessary benefits. Those benefits range from hormone therapy to gender-reassignment surgeries. Previously, most people seeking such treatments for gender dysphoria had to pay out-of-pocket for care.
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray announces steps to protect GLBT community from discrimination in health care, Feb. 27, 2014
(Photo by via Mayor Gray Flickr)
''Last March, the District began the process of removing exclusions in health insurance on the basis of gender identity or expression,'' Gray said in a prepared statement. ''Through the hard work of my Office of GLBT Affairs and a multi-agency working group headed by my Chief of Staff, Chris Murphy, we have today taken the necessary steps to completely eliminate these exclusions.
''Today, the District takes a major step towards leveling the playing field for individuals diagnosed with gender dysphoria. These residents should not have to pay exorbitant out-of-pocket expenses for medically necessary treatment when those without gender dysphoria do not. Today's actions take us closer to being One City that values and protects the health of all our residents.''
The rule states that in determining the medical necessity of services and benefits provided to consumers, insurance providers must refer to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health Standards of Care (WPATH), the recognized standard of medical care for transgender people suffering from gender dysphoria. The benefits are not newly mandated, but only clarify that insurance companies offering coverage in the District of Columbia must take into account the District's Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and expression. That means that any service that would be provided to a cisgender – meaning someone who identifies with the sex assigned them at birth – woman having a mastectomy, for example, must also be provided to a transgender woman.
''This action places the District at the forefront of advancing the rights of transgender individuals,'' Gray said. ''It also fully implements the District's Human Rights Act by incorporating gender identity and expression as protected classes in the District's health insurance laws.''
One of the people hoping to benefit from the DISB clarification is Bobbi Strang, the first openly transgender person to work at the District's Department of Employment Services (DOES). By her own language, Strang says she underwent gender-confirmation surgery last April, about a month after DISB issued its initial bulletin, which encouraged District insurance plans to comply with the city's Human Rights Act. Strang said she tried to get surgery and hospitalization costs covered by her government-sponsored health plan, to no avail. Instead, she ended up fighting with her insurance company to prove that her treatments were medically necessary.
''I was fortunate and blessed that I had the funds to pay,'' Strang said. ''I used up all my savings to cover the cost, and then cashed out my 401K plan to cover any emergency expenses.''
Strang said the most frustrating part is that her government-employee health plan should have covered her medical needs since 2006, after the District's Human Rights Act was amended to include protections for gender identity.
''The mayor's announcement is a significant step for addressing that disparity,'' says Strang.
With the DISB ruling retroactive to March 2013, Strang is hopeful she will be eligible to recoup some of her costs and restore her savings.
''Insurance companies typically like to argue that these surgeries are experimental or elective,'' she says. ''But that's not true. The first gender-change surgery occurred in 1919 and, clearly, it's gotten better since then. But insurance policies typically cover childbearing expenses or joint replacements, even though they aren't considered life-saving treatments.''
Another District government employee who hopes to benefit is Julius Agers, a transgender man who has suffered health problems due to denial of benefits.
''When I came out as transgender several years ago, I never thought that I would have to wait so long to get medical treatment for my needs,'' Agers says.
''At that time, I started binding myself with the hope that I could save the money for surgery within a few years,'' he says, referring to the practice of compressing breast tissue. ''Unfortunately, my health took a turn for the worse due to long-term chest binding. I have had increased difficulty with breathing, like I am slowly suffocating. I suffer from persistent insomnia from the breathing difficulty and discomfort, as well as frequent headaches. The situation has become almost unbearable.''
Agers says he's been unable save enough money for a bilateral mastectomy, often referred to as ''top surgery,'' as he had to use those funds to treat more urgent health problems. He adds that his surgery could cost almost twice as much as other trans men because of his size, as the surgical procedure he would have to undergo would require a double incision. Agers estimates a surgical expense of $15,000 without insurance.
Agers, who supports Gray in his re-election bid, though not in any official capacity, spoke highly of the mayor's efforts to clarify and enforce the District's nondiscrimination law and make it apply to health care.
''Thanks to Mayor Gray's recent actions, I can finally see light at the end of the tunnel,'' he says. ''I will be able to get access to medically necessary care that will literally save my life. The mayor's leadership on transgender issues has simply been outstanding. For too long, our community has been marginalized by leaders that refuse to take the necessary steps to help us live healthy and productive lives. But not any longer in our nation's capital.''
Andy Bowen, a local transgender activist who has worked on health care issues with the District government, and who is a policy associate at the National Center for Transgender Equality, called the District's new policy one of the ''most comprehensive'' health care plans in the entire county.
''What we've seen from other places that have instituted these reforms is that it is of minimal cost to insurers,'' says Bowen. ''There's no need for a premium increase.''
Bowen cites a study by the California Department of Insurance released last year to support that point. That study concluded in its analysis of economic impact that ''the adoption of the proposed regulation would have an insignificant and immaterial economic impact on the creation or elimination of jobs, the creation or elimination of new businesses, and the expansion of businesses in the State of California.''
Bowen adds that the policy could be a boon to insurers, as it can be considered a form of preventative care. If transgender people are able to access medically necessary services, they tend to have better health outcomes. The California Department of Insurance study states: ''[T]he Department's evidence suggests that benefits will accrue to insurance carriers and employers as costs decline for the treatment of complications arising from denial of coverage for treatments. The evidence suggests that there may be potential cost savings resulting from the adoption of the proposed regulation in the medium to long term, such as lower costs associated with the high cost of suicide and attempts at suicide, overall improvements in mental health and lower rates of substance abuse.''
Bowen also points out that she has personally spent ''several thousands of dollars'' on laser surgery related to her own treatment for gender dysphoria.
''This is a win for the public. It's, frankly, a win for insurers,'' says Bowen. ''It's a smart government decision, and it's good for human beings.''
The District's Department of Health Care Finance and Department of Human Resources has also further clarified its policies to be in compliance with the DISB bulletin. Under the bulletin, all private plans offered in the District, as well as government employee health care plans and D.C. Medicaid, must cover any medically necessary health services for transgender people. Any plans currently requiring insurance riders or supplements for an additional charge must be eliminated by the next renewal period.
[Editor's Note: As originally posted, this story made mention of the D.C. Human Rights Act being amended in 2007. That gender-identity/expression addition actually took effect in 2006.]...more
"My show is really high-energy, a lot of dancing -- Baltimore club dancing," Rye Rye says. Anyone who's seen the Charm City rapper perform knows she speaks the truth. It was Rye Rye, after all, who stormed the stage and fired up the crowd at the 9:30 Club in 2012 as opening act for the Scissor Sisters. She was a similarly irrepressible dancing/rapping dynamo at last year's SMYAL benefit at U Street Music Hall and at Capital Pride's party at the Wonder Bread Factory.
(Photo by Rony Alwin)
This Friday, March 7, Rye Rye makes her debut at the Mansion at Strathmore. The 23-year-old artist will perform from her frenetic 2012 debut Go! Pop! Bang!, which merged hip-hop with club and dance/EDM sounds, and featured guest contributions from Akon, Tyga and Robyn. Also featured on a couple tracks: M.I.A. One of Rye Rye's biggest influences, the international electro-rapper even released the set on her own major-label offshoot.
A dancer since childhood, Rye Rye, born Ryeisha Berrain, opted to make music her focus after a teenage chance meeting in 2006 with Blaqstarr, a fellow Baltimore rapper/producer who was friends with Rye Rye's sister. "He asked me did I know how to rap?" recalls Rye Rye, who until then had only ever written poetry. "Once he asked me that, I just decided to write a song. And then I rapped it to him, on his answering machine." Rye Rye laughs when asked if she ever performs what was essentially her first recorded rap: "I can't! I forgot the words!"
These days Rye Rye, who is working on a new mixtape, has her hands full beyond music and performing. In addition to raising Kenden, her 4-month-old son, the artist continues to dabble as a film actor, with a couple projects in the works. She just wrapped scenes for a role in 22 Jump Street -- the sequel, expected this summer, to 2012's 21 Jump Street (based on the '80s TV series). Rye Rye had a small role in that 2012 movie and also recorded its theme song with Esthero.
I'm going to continue with music and movies," she says, adding, "I just want to do all that I can do to be successful." -- Doug Rule
Rye Rye performs Friday, March 7, at 9 p.m., at the Mansion at Strathmore, 10701 Rockville Pike, North Bethesda. Tickets are $15. Call 301-581-5100 or visit strathmore.org...more
The civil rights movement of the 20th Century has been a good template for LGBT rights except on employment. Why? Weâre still missing a key executive order of the kind that helped level the playing field for racial minorities.
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Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have allowed business owners to deny service to gay and lesbian residents due to their religious beliefs this week. “I have not heard of one example in Arizona where a business ownerâs religious liberty has been violated,” she said after she struck down the bill passed […]
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A recent study shows that people who are gay, lesbian and bi-sexual have a shorter lifespan in areas where citizens are less accepting of same sex relationships. “The size of the relationship between anti-gay prejudice and mortality was large,” says Mark Hatzenbuehler who was the lead author of the study. Hatzenbuehler told Reuters: “This research […]
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