“Diverse mix of voices leads to better discussions, decisions and outcomes for everyone” Sundar Pichai. I feel like today we have a perfect diverse group to discuss with and I cannot not open my ears wide ready to listen to what everyone’s thoughts are.

My name is Tom Twongyeirwe, I am the National coordinator at the Universal Coalition of Affirming Africans Uganda. Founded in 2017, UCAA was the first organisation established to progress religious inclusion for LGBTQ+ communities through awareness, advocacy, and thought-provoking dialogues.  

The topic for today’s dialogue is made up of three important words that you see on the screen. Religion, Diversity, and Inclusion. We are all gathered here today, to talk through the relationship between the three, how they influence each other and the impact the combination of the three has on our society.

Religion: I am pretty sure that both me and you have either heard, learnt, or believe that religion is and should be a place that welcomes the downtrodden and a refugee to those who cannot find refuge in any other place in the world. The question of whether religion is practically fulfilling this theory is to be answered by you through this discussion today.  

Diversity: Our Ugandan society is diverse in nature, it’s made up of different tribes, the Baganda, the bakonjo, the bafumbila, the balulwala, the bakiga, the bagisu name it! The tribes are also made up of different kinds of people; the transgender, the gay, the bisexual, politicians, religious leaders name it!. Some people believe in religion, others don’t, some people believe in traditional gods, others don’t.  Some people are dark, brown, short, tall, chocolate skin name it!

Inclusion: Have you ever realised that these differences above are what makes us unique and special as human beings? But on the other way round, the same differences are what some people use against each other, to torture them, discriminate against them, mock them take away their human rights. People can be judges, juries and execution all wrapped in the same envelope against others.

There are many vulnerable groups in this country, but there is that one group of people that have suffered the most consequences. That group of people is the reason as to why we are here today, and that is: the LGBTQ+ community. We have just heard of Mathew, who was stabbed to death a week ago, she had a life, she had friends, she had dreams and she deserved to live. And that’s just the most recent case, it’s been happening, some are known, others are not.  There is glass ceiling in our society for LGBT+ people, for instance a mere suspect in school is equal to students’ expulsion. Even those who have made it, have made their train by the skin of their teeth. The only thing that separates LGBT+ people from everyone else especially in this country is opportunity, the opportunity to live, the opportunity to live true self, the opportunity to showcase what we can do. To be fair, even the smiles you see on our faces is because we decide not to give up, but we choose to tighten our seatbelts and enjoy the ride even if the road is so bumpy, because you cannot wait until life is not hard anymore, before you decide to be happy.

 While the injustices are happening, we need collaborative efforts to make change happen and Religion which is both theoretically and practically driven by the principles of equality and love for all should be at the forefront of this fight. Religion seems to be comfortable raising their voices against injustices on other vulnerable groups but seems to be hesitant when it comes to LGBTQ+ people. Not sure if “the love for all” principle is discriminative. If change is to happen, when does it have to happen, do we have to wait until people can’t stop killing each other? because truth be told, the next person on the line, could be your friends, your relative, you child or anyone you know. Change begins with us.

Now, our question today should be does Religion in our beautiful Christian country embrace the diverse nature of our society, and if it does, what is its role in ensuring that all our differences are accepted and respected? We may not like talking about it, but it does happen which means that the discussion needs to happen, and it needs to happen now!

Homophobia is built into the DNA of some people and as long as we turn a Blind eye to the pain of those who are suffering its oppression, we will never escape these origins.

 I would like you to ponder about two questions as we discuss:

  1.  Is this the Uganda you really want to live in, where money is more important than humanity, where criminality is confused with mental health and where people are killed because they just want to live their true authentic?
  •  In your respective department and offices, be in law enforcement, healthy sector, politics, religion, journalism, and civil society, to what extent are you leading with love?

I do not have answers to these questions, but we all have a role to play and it’s you to decide whether you stand with the oppressed or the oppressor.

I wish you a splendid discussion. Thank you very much.

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