Remembering David Cairns and looking to Uganda

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9th May 2021.

(by Dermot Kehoe).

On this day 10 years ago I lost David to acute Pancreatitis. I have been touched today by the number of people who’ve contacted me to say how much he meant to them, how much they miss him and how he is still in their thoughts.

I’d like to use today to draw attention to one of the issues he cared deeply about.

David, who was the first out gay MP from Scotland, was a patron of LGBT Labour and Chair of the All Parliamentary Group on HIV and AIDS. His last overseas trip as an MP was to Uganda (you can see him in the top left of the picture above if you look closely enough!) to support the work of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). David had been horrified by the murder there of a young Ugandan teacher and gay rights activist David Kato.

He spoke out against what was to become the Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 which enshrines a punishment of life in prison for “aggravated homosexuality”

This month Uganda passed further criminalisation laws against gay people – despite already being illegal and unconstitutional.

For that reason, I’d like to reproduce David’s speech in Parliament from 2010 on the murderous homophobia faced by lesbians and gays in Uganda:

“If I may borrow a phrase from Harold Macmillan and amend it, the wind of oppression is blowing through the African continent today, an oppression aimed largely at young gay men and women. It has become a much more pressing issue; and although it is not confined to Africa, it is in Africa that that dehumanising and brutal oppression is occurring on this very day.

“We are aware of the notorious private Member’s Bill tabled in Uganda by David Bahati that proposes the death penalty for people who are HIV-positive and engaged in homosexual activity, life in prison for everyone else who engages in homosexual activity, and seven years in prison for people who counsel those who engage in homosexual activity. It is, as I said, a private Member’s Bill, and the Ugandan Government have distanced themselves from it. None the less, even without the Bill, it will be illegal to be gay in Uganda, and punishable by 14 years in prison. The President of Uganda has said that homosexuality is “alien”. In the last year for which figures are available, the United Kingdom Government gave £71 million in aid to Uganda.

“It is not only on the ground of sexuality that countries oppress rights. As we heard from the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Mr Donaldson), some countries oppress people on the ground of religion, which may be rooted in differences of creed or race. If our international aid budget is rooted in our humanity, it does not come value-free, and it does not come free from a sense that the humanity of everyone must be respected.

“I have not even mentioned the utterly disastrous effect these policies in Africa are having on the rise in HIV and AIDS. If someone who thinks they might have HIV is told that to be homosexual is to be worse than a pig or a dog and is punishable by 14 years in prison, why would they come forward? What possible reason would they have to seek medical help and the method to prevent the spread of HIV? We are funding anti-HIV and AIDS programmes in countries with policies that do nothing to stop HIV and AIDS, and instead contribute to their spread.

“This is a big job for the Government. I do not pretend it is the most important thing on the plate of incoming Ministers, but it is important to millions across Africa whose fundamental human right to be gay or lesbian is being brutally oppressed by regimes. I look to the Government to give a lead by setting out what positive action we can take when our denunciations are brushed aside and doing something about this appalling miscarriage of human rights.”