For an Anti-Gay Preacher, This Guy Sure Does Like to Talk About Gay Sex

By Rachel Adams

At a quiet country church ten miles outside of Uganda's capital city, Kampala, Pastor Solomon Male is pointing at a diagram of the anus. Around 60 people, ranging in age from toddlers to the elderly, are listening intently. Many are dilligently taking notes, as if the news that "the anus is not supposed to recieve objects, it's designed to excrete waste" is a biological revelation and one which needs to be shared with a lot of people, a lot of the time.

It's the second day of Male's two day seminar series, which he conducts at his own expense in churches and schools around Uganda. His focus is "Understanding the Challenge of Homosexuality" which he does with the help of a rather explicit handout. The introduction reads thus: "Homosexuality is the practice whereby people of the same sex get inclined to each other for sexual satisfaction and climaxes…In a male to male (gay) relationship, the one playing the role of the husband penetrates the other's anus. In a female to female (lesbian) relationship, caressing, touching and licking each other's private parts is done, with natural and artificial devices used for penetration."

As I look around the audience I wonder what the seven and eight-year old children are making of it all. I'm surprised that there is no giggling from the teenagers. As the session drifts on, more people of all ages sign up and sit down. 

Male's approach is practical, unlike Martin Ssempa of "eat da poo poo" fame. His delivery is calm and controlled. When I arrive at the church he greets me with a big hug and tells me we are there to raise awareness; "Sexuality is not taught in schools here like it is in the US and Europe. We see gays having a good time but people don't know the dangers of sodomy. We see wives getting caught up in anal sex and the problems that causes."

Pastor Male has enlisted the help of a 32-year old man called Emma Matovu to illustrate how someone can overcome homosexuality. Emma tells the audience how after a six year stint as a sex worker in Dubai, he saw Pastor Male speaking, and he was deeply moved. He decided to "give up" homosexuality immediately because of "what it does to children – if I knew someone was doing it to my son how would I feel? So I decided to come out of it." I asked him if he missed anal sex, he said no and that he was only ever doing it for the money. He also claims that he can't sit down for longer than half an hour, and has suffered from all the injuries Male talks about. Weirdly he managed to sit for a lot longer than half an hour during the seminar, but that's probably because he was just so moved. Right Emma?

Over a solid lunch of plantain, chicken and groundnut stew, Male (what a perfect name) tells me he visits as many schools as he can, spreading his "cause". Apparently in 2006, victims of homosexuality began coming to him asking for help and advice, "people with urinary problems, rectal problems, psychological problems, trauma. I've counselled many of them and I've done a lot of reading. Not many people come to me with heterosexual problems, except those who have been raped or abused. [Homosexuality] is not a spiritual problem, it's an addiction, a habit. You have to rebuke them, show them the way out, in the same way as drug and alcohol addiction." In December he told me: "I am not against homosexuals, I am against homosexuality. I'm concerned about the welfare of people." I believe him – he's undoubtedly a kind man, just tragically misinformed.  

But why do people approach him for medical advice if he has no medical education? It's like going to the dentist for a stomach-ache. "They cannot go to the medical clinics" he explains. "They are too ashamed, and often they will not be treated." It's true – a gay male couple I met in August had travelled 150km to Kampala for counselling and HIV tests after one of them was raped by another man. They couldn't go to their local clinic for treatment or help because the victim is a primary school teacher, and if anyone had found out about his gay relationship, he would have lost his job. 

After that day's seminar is over, I head up the road. Five minutes away from where Male has been teaching about the dangers of sodomy is a safe house where four young people are on the run from the police. After their Bwaise home was raided in November, Black, Morgan and Joseph had to leave the slum and go into hiding. Some weeks of police harassment later, Joseph was arrested for promoting homosexuality. The charges were changed to unnatural behaviour, and currently stand at defilement. When another friend Najib went to visit Joseph with Black at the police station, Najib was arrested as well. Black pretended to go and buy credit for his phone and ran away. 

Morgan and Frank, their friends and colleagues at Youth on Rock Foundation, an NGO which aims to support the poorest  of the LGBTI community, were also provided safe housing by the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law. They were told to switch off their phones for two weeks and not to contact anyone.

Now they have their phones back and are free to roam a little – they can finally see their family and get anti retro-viral medication, while reporting weekly to the police.

But being in hiding is not the same as normal life by any means. Though the house is luxurious compared to the one bedroom house I first found Black, Morgan and Joseph sharing in August, Najib has had to abandon his secondhand clothes boutique. He has bills to pay – rent, electricity, water – but now no means of paying them. 

Black tells me "It feels better being in a nice place but we're not used to it. We can't lead our normal lives. It makes you strong – we're in hiding because of the work we do and as activists we risk a lot, but being here we feel like we have no rights at all."

There appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel, though. Najib tells me attitudes are changing around them "The Uganda of yesterday was more homophobic than it is today, and the Uganda of tomorrow will be even better." Black agrees, "We are exposed all over the media and insulted and abused every day. But more people are ok with homosexuality because they know gay people exist now."

The anti-homosexuality bill, first presented to the Ugandan Parliament in 2009, has resurfaced. When MPs reconvene next week, there's a chance it could be tabled again. There are conflicting reports on whether the death penalty has been taken out or not, but the bill has been amended to include fines and imprisonment for failure to report known homosexuals to the police. I worry for the reality of the less homophobic Uganda of tomorrow which Najib described.

In a December interview for VICE, author of the bill MP David Bahati told me his position on homosexuality is even stronger than ever. He says his feeling is religious and patriotic and that he sees LGBTI activists as "agents of imperialism." 

The stronghold that many US funded anti-gay evangelical missions and churches have on the Ugandan population is immense, and coupled with deep-seated African spirituality, feels frighteningly powerful. That's not to say that all Ugandan religious institutions are preaching homophobia, but biblical doctrine is a primary tool for preachers like Ssempa and Male.

I asked the vicar whose church Male has been using, whether he agreed with the anti-homosexuality bill. He told me that "If it passes it is good, because homosexuality is satanic. From the very beginning God created man and woman. Death is not a solution but I think life imprisonment could give a chance for repentance."

At the end of Pastor Male's seminar, an 18-year old girl called Faith tells me what she has learnt. "I know now that you can't be homosexual without problems. If you indulge then you can be sure there is trouble coming next."

Tragically, for the gay Ugandan men and women, Faith's realisation is far more profound than either she, or Pastor Male, can comprehend.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @photographer77 and see more of her work here.

More from Uganda:

I Spoke to the Author of Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Uganda Are Trying to Pass a Law That Sentences Homosexuals to Death

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