Wild Rainbow Safaris Includes Uganda Regardless of Kill the Gays Bill

While calling for general boycotts may not serve the poor in such countries, I am not torn when it comes to making suggestions about travel.  I cannot stomach nature when I am told not to be natural! If I cannot be who I am, and my sister in that village across the way cannot be who she is, then why am I in this place of mock beauty?

By Melanie Nathan, Dec 03, 2012.

Screen Shot 2012-12-03 at 12.15.13 PMI once wrote an article about tourism to countries where  LGBT  people are persecuted.  I pondered the idea of us western gay and lesbian tourists vacationing, love making in place where it is illegal and the hypocrisy of our pink dollar safety, while mere feet across the way where locals  if caught or suspected of loving their lovers could spend up to life in prison. Now that things are heating up in Africa and especially Uganda, Nigeria and Tanzania, one wonders what responsibility should be placed on LGBT tour operators.

Last month was a particularly traumatic one for LGBT Ugandans who have bombarded with news surrounding the fact that the Speaker of the Ugandan parliament, Rebecca Kadaga,  has promised to deliver The Kill the Gays Bill (The Anti-Homosexuality Bill) to Ugandans as their Xmas gift, 2012.

This legislation is now number one on the Ugandan Parliament’s Order Papers, just having passed through the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee. Today Ugandan MP David Bahati, the author of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, informed me that he expects the Bill to read for the second time and that it will be debated with possible passage this week. After that  it goes to President Museveni who may either “assent” to the bill or return it to Parliament. The President has no veto power over  this Bill because it is a Private Member Bill and so upon the second return to Parliament it can pass without the President’s assent, as long as there is a 2/3rd majority vote, which, given its 89% popularity rating amongst Ugandans, will likely happen.

This week Betty Sullivan, co-editor of SF Bay Times,  who runs ‘Betty’s List’ and a meet up group called “Smart Women” invited Jody Cole owner of a Safari travel company,  Wild Rainbow African Safaris, to a marketing event in Oakland California, where Ms. Cole will present  her business and speak about the tours she takes to Africa:-

“* Smart Women / East Bay – Jody Cole – “Africa’s Formidable Predators” –
12/5 * Link to facebook page:
http://www.facebook.com/events/555230697825619/?ref=ts&fref=ts Note from Betty & Jen: Bring your Holiday spirit, meet community leader Jody Cole and find out about her work as a certified guide who leads African adventures for LGBT groups including friends and family. What a magnificent gift it would make to give that special someone an unforgettable trip with Jody to Africa!

Betty notes: “* About Jody Cole, Certified Guide – Jody has well over 1000 hours of on-the-ground guiding as a certified Field & Trails Guide in South Africa with Advanced Rifle Handling qualifications. She has recently joined the instruction staff of Eco Training, the leader in South Africa’s guide training.”

The website Wild Rainbow Safaris however includes a lot more safari destinations than only the very acceptable South Africa, to which Betty refers.   I was most surprised to find that the Wild Rainbow Safaris Website includes a trip to Uganda which it proudly touts as being sold out:

“Our Great Apes Safari to Uganda for 2013 is Sold Out! We want to thank everyone for the intense interest in this safari. If you are interested in joining the waiting list for this or our next Great Apes safari, please notify our office right away.”

I have much to say about this; and  to put it bluntly am surprised that any LGBT tour operator would even consider going to Uganda at a time like this. And we have known about this  high rate of persecution and the proposed Bill that fueled it, since 2009.  I also find the idea of promoting an LGBT connection to Ugandan tourism “in holiday spirit” insensitive at this time given the much publicized Kadaga Xmas offering.

However even more annoying to me is Ms. Cole’s admission, her knowledge of the flurry over the Bill at this time and her indignant response to it. While many of us LGBT activists are fighting furiously to deliver messages to the Ugandan Government, Ms. Cole has written this apologist caveat to ensure her clients are kept abreast and reassured:-

She posted this her website on Nov 14.

“Following the news re Uganda…

Posted on November 14, 2012 I know some of you are following the legislation which the new President of Uganda has promised to pass known as the “Kill The Gays” legislation. Some of you have strongly reacted to the negative press out of Uganda and Nigeria in recent weeks and wondered how it might affect your safari experience, if at all. The reality is that as a tourist in Uganda, unless you directly fraternize in an illegal way with the local citizenry, there is virtually no affect on your enjoyment of your safari. Your money does not support the anti-gay regime in any way. The fact is you are directly supporting those who protect the wildlife in Africa, not the governments who come and go. It is unfortunate that due to the influence of religious radicals, including those who have gone to Africa from the United States, some politicians have taken up the anti-gay rhetoric they feel will get them elected. Unless this law becomes a reality, this is considered ‘saber-rattling’. Our priority is your safety and enjoyment of Africa and you can rest assured we will be keeping close eye on all updates.

What I find particularly offensive is the minimizing of what is currently taking place. The politically incorrect emphasis; as if the only important aspect of all this is how it effects the tourist clients of Ms. Cole, without any regard for the real politics surrounding the tour. Just as long as the tourists do not fraternize with (gays?) locals they should be fine and they will remain unaffected by the law?  While that is a misstatement in itself, it is elitist and disingenuous.   While this may purport to calm the nerves of those willing to go to a country where gay is illegal, imagine what this says to our Ugandan brothers and sister who are going through hell while pleading for international solidarity.

Of course their tourist dollars supports an anti-gay regime.  Who else does it support?  Wildlife conservation is important, and people can always send donations , but dont go on vacation to make love in the bush where maybe only  western tourists can get away with it!

The remark that the money supports only wildlife conservation is pure ignorance and misleading; it is logistical impossibility. There are hotels, transfer, airplane landing fees, food, shopping, etc.  And then to follow with the ignorant “saber rattling” comment just gets my blood boiling. It puts down the reality of what activists and community are going through right now, in this huge struggle to get the bill averted. People around the world have erupted into protest and Jody Cole considers this saber rattling?   It is indeed attributable to right wing religious zealots, but it does not make the law less likely, nor its implications less real to local gay Ugandans. Cole’s commentary is taking a very complex dynamic and over simplifying it.   Screen Shot 2012-12-03 at 7.54.45 PMThere is no way to mitigate this state of affairs.

In addition Ms. Cole is incorrect. Anyone, whether they mix with locals or not, who is in fact gay or knows someone who is gay and fails to report them while on Ugandan soil, will be guilty under this new law.  And even without the law being promulgated Minister of Ethics, Simon Lokodo has already entered private resorts and arrested gays from surrounding countries who were attending a conference, accusing them of “promoting” homosexuality.

If the Ugandans believe someone is breaking their law, and that includes the already existing anti-gay laws, they can arrest such persons even if they are foreigners. Yes, all gays and lesbians going to Uganda are in great danger. To say anything to the contrary is pure irresponsibility.

At this time Wild Rainbow Safaris should take the helm and withdraw their tour and tell the Ugandans why they are doing so. It is important for Ugandans to know that they have created an environment that criminalizes gay people and that therefore gay people cannot be there.  Even if the Bill does not pass, the persecution level is high as a result and gays and lesbians are beaten, refused jobs and lodging. This is no place for Gay tourists.

Please note that I do not believe in withdrawing AID from Uganda and I still believe in giving money to the right Ugandan causes such as wildlife conservation, HIV/AIDS, LGBTI and women / children NGO’s and civil societies. But I think to go on tour to vacation in Uganda as a member of the LGBT community on an LGBT promoted tour is a bad case of  insensitivity and hypocrisy, especially at a time like this.

Think retrospectively to when Germany was in the process of making laws scapegoating Jews. Could you imagine being on THAT tour bus for your enjoyment, circa 1938? While laws against the scapegoated minority were being mulled around? AND imagine if those tourists were Jews themselves being told “hey you will be okay, just dont fraternize with the local Jews?”

But what saddens me about having to write this is the giving nature and cause of Jody Cole, – as the website notes: “Giving back deepens our appreciation and understanding of the delicate balance between historic Africa and modern Africa. We participate in local sustainable projects as an expression of gratitude to our host country, to balance the impact of tourism on the local economy, as well as create a feeling of good will between our guests and the individuals we interact with during our stay in Africa.”—Jody Cole, Owner/Guide.”   While this is noble and to be applauded, it is time to weigh this all up and face the reality of what taking LGBT people to certain parts of Africa truly means.  It means responsibility and focusing attention on countries which tolerate and/or affirm homosexuality as a basic human right and the better countries to this end include South Africa, Botswana and Namibia.

So I am asking Betty Sullivan to ensure that in the interests of solidarity toward our LGBT family of Ugandans that the event promoting tours to Uganda and other countries which currently criminalize LGBTI love,  such as Zimbabwe, be cancelled or postponed to a time when African Governments stop persecuting LGBTI people.  These tours should be cancelled for 2013 and  those who are undertaking these tours once refunded should consider sending their pink dollars to either the conservation of the Apes, even in Uganda, or to the LGBTI civil societies that help those being persecuted.

I reached out to Betty Sullivan and Jody Cole before writing this article but have not heard back from either of them. I will be willing to post any comment they send me.

UPDATED DEC 04, 2012:
JODY COLE  contacted me:
“‘I’ ll confess, Melanie, your article is an excellent article, even though I was the unfortunate subject of the article. If I was half as articulate as you I might have done the same in similar circumstances.  I would WAY prefer a phone call as that is my preferred mode of communication.  I have avoided Uganda for a number of years. I have vocalized my reasons and concerns to ground operators I know in Uganda. So while the law is not my area of expertise I have spoken up.”

Since then we spoke on the phone and had a very productive discussion.  Ms. Cole was really friendly and we commended each other on the work we each do. From the discussion I realized that Ms. Cole is less informed on Uganda and the issues than I had originally thought. She is willing to hear and learn more about the current situation in Uganda.  She plans to think about the article, speak to her clients and we will resume our discussion soon. I really appreciated her being so candid with me and her willingness to take this discussion further.  I am sure we will find a solution.

_____________________________________________________   By Melanie Nathan, nathan@privatecourts.com – @melanienathan1

When we as Western tourists go to Africa, we go to view nature – to visit tribal villages, to see the dance and hear song; we sit eagerly at waterholes waiting for the lioness to pounce the unsuspecting deer, while the landscape and the vast bush yields to the pristine African sky.  All the while, we witness the beauty, but fail to note the torturous claim on the souls of all which is natural – with our own orientation intact and our safety masked by the clutch of our wallet brimmed with American dollars, do we care?  Read more… http://oblogdeeoblogda.me/2012/01/05/gays-as-accidental-anti-gaytourists-in-africa-the-lioness-and-the-wallet/

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