Uganda’s quest for the gay gene; Misuse of Scientific Findings to Promote Bigotry and Discrimination

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“In the meantime, I sought for scientific opinions on this matter.  I am grateful to Ms. Kerry Kennedy of the USA who sent me opinions by scientists from the USA saying that there could be some indications that homosexuality could be congenital.  In our conference, I put these opinions to our scientists from the Department of Genetics, the School of Medicine and the Ministry of Health.  

Their unanimous conclusion was that homosexuality, contrary to my earlier thinking, was behavioral and not genetic.  It was learnt and could be unlearnt.  I told them to put their signatures to that conclusion which they did.  That is why I declared my intention to sign the Bill, which I will do.  

I have now received their signed document, which says there is no single gene that has been traced to cause homosexuality.  What I want them to clarify is whether a combination of genes can cause anybody to be homosexual.  Then my task will be finished and I will sign the Bill.” —–President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni (Uganda).

President Museveni (Uganda)

In an attempt to take the leap from cultural and religious based bigotry towards using the foundation of ‘science’ as a tool to justify the prejudice that continues to engulf our society, Uganda’s President assembled a group of Ugandan Scientists to sweep through genetic data in  search of the ‘gay’ gene. The reality that religious and cultural dogma lacked teeth in the global arena to justify such radical policy led to the strategic move to throw “science” in the face of the opponents to the anti-gay bill.

Advancements in the genome project offer great promise and endless opportunities to improve the lives of humans. However, the practice of bad science and misuse of the project’s data has inevitably emerged. Implications include the push towards Genetification of race, sexuality, human behavior and character traits. This adds to the frenzy and raging debate regarding who determines a disability and when it warrants gene therapy. What is normal or abnormal? Who decides which genetic disorder should be replaced or prevented?

One doesn’t need to navigate far into history to dig out cases of genocide and discrimination that were a result of bad science. Nazi scientists through their interpretation of blood group genes manufactured the biochemical index which created a hierarchical race structure. The biological definition of superior and inferior racial groups was red meat for the politics of xenophobia inevitably leading to ethnic cleansing. Numerous studies including Richard Hernstein’s publication “The Bell Curve” pointed at genetic predisposition as an explanation to the assertion that blacks have lower IQs compared to whites. Likewise 19th century scientists resorted to analyzing differences in brain size and structure to prove that blacks were an inferior race and hence justifying slavery.

The continent of Africa continues to be plagued by wars of hatred or fear of the other manifested by radicalization of tribal and religious coalitions. While we struggle to come to terms with our societal differences, it is alarming that our leaders would further dwell into the realms of genetic variations using the powerful tool of science. African leaders have failed to nurture society to celebrate diversity. This mentality extends towards intolerance of opposing political views, conscience, expression and belief resulting in a perpetual state of mistrust and fear. The suggestion that policies such as the anti-gay bill reflect the views of the majority simply promotes tyranny by the majority. In a democracy, the rights of the minority must be protected at all times.

Irrespective of how we feel about the sexuality of individuals, it’s irresponsible for leaders to advocate for policy rooted in alleged scientific variability of individual traits that has historically resulted into bloodshed and suffering of innocent civilians. We have a moral obligation to speak out against acts of political expediency that feed into the frenzy of inferior and superior traits. As a society, we should always lean towards individual liberties as long as they don’t interfere with our daily lives. Neither religion nor science should provide a moral stamp of approval to justify discrimination.  We shall continue to ‘look forward to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin (or their genes), but by the content of their character.

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