Logo (AfterEllen.com’s parent company) kicks off its “beCAUSE” documentary series this Saturday with BBC Worldwide’s The World’s Worst Place to Be Gay?, one of the most depressing and frustrating hours of television that I will ever wholeheartedly recommend that you watch in its entirety.
Narrator Scott Mills is an openly gay BBC radio presenter – one who is young and urban enough that he’s never really experienced any hassles for being gay, and, indeed, he admits that hasn’t really thought much about the gay rights movement because he hasn’t had to. Mills travels to Uganda, a country in the middle of a massive and terrifying wave of homophobia. Gays and lesbians in Uganda face public shaming and harassment, beatings, arrests, and much worse: It’s common for lesbians to be subject to “corrective rape,” and Ugandan LGBT activist David Kato was beaten to death with a hammer in January of this year.
The attitudes Mills finds when ordinary men and women on the street discuss gays are shocking – over and over, he talks to friendly people with huge, winning smiles who chat amiably about how gays and lesbians should be killed. Ugandans are taught from a young age by their politicians, churches, and media that gays are evil and trying to destroy Uganda and Africa as a whole. Almost everyone is cheerfully matter-of-fact about how insidious gays and lesbians are and how they should be put in jail, if not wiped out.
As Mills talks to more and more of the locals, it becomes clear that straight Ugandans have been taught to think of gays and lesbians as less than human. One pastor claims that it’s OK to condemn homosexual relationships because the people involved don’t – can’t – experience real love. “It is beyond human imagination that people of the same kind can love each other,” he explains.
Oh. OK, then.
The show does a great job of showing the practical effects of that kind of abstract prejudice. Mills visits a slum where many gay men live because they can’t afford to live anywhere else; no one will hire them. A newspaper editor says he has no problem with outing gays who are sure to be physically assaulted as a result because he is serving the community by ridding it of an evil.
In one of the most moving segments of the film, Mills talks to a young lesbian named Stosh who was outed by a newspaper and driven from her home. She talks about how a man raped her when she was a young teenager, claiming that he was trying to “cure” her and “teach [her] how to sleep with men.” She was impregnated and contracted HIV as a result. Stosh is inspiring in her determination to never be scared away from her home again.
Stosh’s story illustrates how dangerous the current anti-LGBT movement in the United States really is. The premise that it’s possible to cure one’s orientation is what leads to rapes like Stosh endured or painful, worthless “therapies,” such as the one espoused by Marcus Bachmann, the husband of a serious current contender for the 2012 GOP election. It’s fringe thinking that can spread into ugly mainstream abuse all too easily.
Mills spends most of the documentary contrasting how different conditions are in Uganda and the U.K. – and the abuse, danger and prejudice there should not be minimized – but I was struck by how many connections there are to the current anti-LGBT forces in the U.S.
For example, gays are forced out of their jobs in Uganda or employers won’t hire them in the first place; there are still 29 states in which it is legal to fire someone just for being gay, bi, or lesbian and 35 states where it’s legal to fire someone for being transgender.
And even though Mills is halfway around the world from the U.S., you won’t hear a single new argument as to why being LGBT is so awful – one radio talk show participant even brings up the old “Adam and Steve” trope. I started watching The World’s Worst Place to Be Gay? expecting to hear points of view from a really different culture. Instead I heard people rattling off the exact same talking points as Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann.
(That similarity shouldn’t have been surprising – Mills briefly touches on the fact that the relatively new hostile attitude toward the LGBT community is a cultural import from American Evangelicals. Check out author Jeff Sharlet’s work on The Family and C Street House or The Rachel Maddow Show’s excellent series on The Family and their connection to a Ugandan bill to make “aggravated homosexuality” subject to execution.)
Towards the end of the documentary, Mills talks to David Bahati, the Ugandan MP who introduced the “kill the gays” bill. It’s a maddening conversation. Like so many bigots before him, Bahati spouts made-up talking points about what The Gays are like in general, assumes that outlawing them will somehow make them disappear, and almost can’t handle it when he’s told that he’s talking to a real live gay man.
The World’s Worst Place to Be Gay? is compelling and sad with pinpoints of inspiration throughout. It’s amazing what the LGBT activists in Uganda are willing to risk; on his way home, Mills says he’ll never take the luxury of openly being who he is without fear for granted again.
It isn’t an easy thing to watch. But you really should.
The World’s Worst Place to Be Gay? premieres on Logo this Saturday, October 22 at 8 p.m./7 p.m. central.