Thursday, March 21, 2013

Equality Takes The Cake

"Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law - for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well. " – President Barack Obama 
With the President in Israel, and Congress potentially about to actually get something done, before they go on vacation for another two weeks, we’re looking ahead today – both to this weekend, and to the upcoming Supreme Court arguments next week, on DOMA, Prop 8, and the overarching topic of same sex marriage in America.

One of the most joyous - and historical - moments in President Obama's second inaugural address may have been his call for equal rights for LGBT Americans. By mentioning Stonewall in the same breath as Selma and Seneca Falls, he stated clearly to the world that gay rights are civil rights, that gay rights are human rights. Unfortunately, there are many places in the world where LGBT people are fighting an even more difficult fight for their very right to exist.

In Uganda, sexuality and sexual identity can literally be matters of life and death.

In 2009, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill – better known to many as the “Kill The Gays” bill – was introduced before the Ugandan Parliament. Contrary to some reports, the proposed bill still mandates the death penalty for homosexual acts, and prison sentences for persons who fail to report known homosexuals to the authorities within 24 hours.

Into this dangerous nation, playwright Beau Hopkins introduced The River and the Mountain,  the first play ever produced in Uganda that featured an openly gay character. Its run in Kampala last August was successful, though not without hardship. The play’s run was cut short by Uganda's Minister of Ethics. David Cecil, the play's producer, was arrested and deported. Keith Prosser, an actor who performed in the show, has been arrested multiple times because of the show, and is also currently facing deportation.

These attacks on civil rights and the play itself caught the attention of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in 2012, and in turn, caught the attention of Sarah Imes Borden, an adjunct professor of theatre at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln and a personal friend of our staff. Sarah felt that the play and its message was too important to be allowed to die, so she decided to bring the play to the United States.

After obtaining funding through a Kickstarter campaign, and a practice run in Lincoln, Sarah is producing the show for a series of staged readings in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore area this weekend, hopefully just the first stop on a national tour. Sarah even obtained a visa for Ugandan actor Okuyo Joel Atiku Prynce to come to the D.C. area and reprise his history-making leading role.

Unfortunately, just as Mr. Prynce was to have left for the United States, he was denied permission to leave the country of Uganda. Thankfully, a last-minute replacement will allow Borden to work around the absence of her lead actor, and the show WILL go on. However, our thoughts are with everyone involved in the Kampala production, as are our hopes for their continued safety.

The main plot of the play concerns the problems that the main character, Samson, must confront after he comes out as gay to his best friend and mother. Corrupt characters in the play do not hesitate to capitalize on religion and anti-gay bias in order to further their own ends and hide their corruption.

This is an interesting parallel to the actual situation in Uganda. Jocelyn Edwards of The Daily Beast suggests that it is no accident that the “Kill The Gays” bill has remained in legislative limbo for so long. Edwards claims that the decision to keep the bill perpetually pending but never passed is a deliberate smokescreen to distract from the very real corruption that continues to plague Yoweri Museveni's government - corruption that has direct links to American right wing politics and media. Meanwhile, gay people continue to be scapegoated, high-level government officials continue to profit at the expense of their own people, and the Ugandan people pay the price.

If you are in the Washington, D.C. or Baltimore area this weekend, we invite you to come see this play in all its poignancy, power, and - yes - humor.

Wherever you are this weekend, if you're fortunate enough to be able to kiss the one you love, or hold hands, or simply share a hug in public without fear of reprisal, we think you should take a moment to consider whether that should really be a privilege rather than a right.

That’s the type of choice our own Supreme Court will be deciding for all of us in America, very soon.