By PATRICK JARAMOGI
KAMPALA-SHIFTMEDIA- Major aid donors have said they will investigate and take action against anti-LGBT ‘conversion therapy’ practices at clinics run by groups they fund.
This follows investigations unearthed by the opendemocracy.
openDemocracy is a global news outlet based in London, UK, with reporters and editors internationally including in East Africa
A new undercover investigation by the global news outlet opendemocracy reveals how health facilities in Uganda have provided, or provided referrals for, controversial anti-gay ‘conversion therapy’ to “quit” same-sex attraction.
According to Wikipedia , ‘Conversion therapy’ is the pseudoscientific practice of trying to change an individual’s sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual using psychological, physical, or spiritual interventions.
There is no reliable evidence that sexual orientation can be changed, and medical institutions warn that conversion therapy practices are ineffective and potentially harmful.
The findings in leading health facilities in Kampala that supposedly got hefty funding from USAID is harrowing.
Undercover reporters were told by some staff at these facilities that being gay is “evil”, “for whites”, caused by peer pressure, and a mental health problem.
In one incident according to opendemocracy, one gay teenager was advised to take a sleeping pill to prevent him from masturbating
The ‘Most At Risk’ Population, an HIV Clinic based at Mulago hospital received USD$ 420,000 (UGX1.54bn) from USAID to support LGBTQI+ inclusive development.
But despite this, one undercover reporter was told by a receptionist at the HIV clinic for marginalised and ‘most at risk’ populations, including LGBT people, that his 17-year-old gay brother could “quit” his same-sex attraction.
“Whoever wants to quit homosexuality, we connect them,” she said – to external counsellors, who have included Pastor Solomon Male, a locally known anti-gay campaigner. She also gave our undercover reporter the phone number of a man who “was once a patient here” and “was once a homosexual but isn’t anymore”.
The report has now prompted USAID aid agency to investigate if the funds it gave MARPI was used for its intended purpose.
The investigations also identified similar support for ‘anti-gay’ counselling activities at the Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau (UCMB) network that received more than $1m from USAID between 2019 and April 2021.
(It is unclear whether the specific hospitals identified in this investigation received any of this money.)
At Nsambya hospital, one of Uganda’s biggest private health facility, staff referred the openDemocracy reporters to the private office of Cabrine Mukiibi, on the outskirts of Kampala, who mixed Freudian theories, biblical quotes, and anti-gay insults in his diagnosis.
Mukiibi, who is also a staff counsellor at Nsambya, stated that sex without procreation “becomes evil” – before recommending what he called “exposure therapy”, telling our undercover reporter to “get a housemaid” that her supposedly gay teenage brother can “get attracted [to]’’, one who is “between 18 and 20 years of age”.
A spokesperson from the US embassy in Kampala, Anthony Kujawa, said that ‘conversion therapy’ goes against “the policy of the United States to pursue an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics”.
Kujawa explained that US funding for UCMB was supposed to support the capacity of Catholic health facilities involved in HIV and AIDS care. He said: “USAID does not fund or promote anti-LGBTQI+ conversion therapy and will investigate any report that a USAID funded partner is doing so.”
Globally, more than 65 associations of doctors, psychologists, or counsellors have condemned ‘conversion therapy’ practices, according to a 2020 report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) rights group.
Three countries (Brazil, Ecuador, and Malta) have banned these practices – which range from ‘talk therapy’ to physical ‘treatments’ including so-called aversion therapy, while Germany has banned them when applied to minors. Several US states have also passed bans, while the UK recently pledged to do the same nationwide.
Anal sex is illegal in Uganda, and homosexuality is heavily stigmatised. It is unclear how common ‘conversion therapy’ is, but openDemocracy teamed up with local researchers to document the experiences of 20 LGBT Ugandan survivors of such ‘treatments’.
Interviewees said such ‘therapy’ “felt like murder” and that they “suffered depression and anxiety”, drug dependence and suicidal thoughts. Mulago and a hospital in UCMB’s network were among the facilities they named as having provided the treatments.
Godiva Akullo, a feminist lawyer in Kampala, said of those providing ‘conversion’ therapies: “I think it’s extremely unethical behaviour.”
In Kampala, openDemocracy undercover reporters visited three hospitals in the aid-funded UCMB network, looking for ‘treatment’ for same-sex attraction, and were referred to providers of such therapy either within the health facilities or externally.
At Kisubi Hospital’s “youth-friendly” clinic, a counsellor offered a session for 50,000 Ugandan shillings ($14), saying a “17 [year-old] is still a small child we can modify”.
At Lubaga Hospital, Matthias Ssetuba introduced himself as the facility’s “mental health focal person”. He claimed that homosexuality is caused by factors ranging from peer pressure to the internet, and also said that it can be “changed”.
“It is a mental health issue,” he added, “because once you start having sex with the same sex, much as those whites are saying ‘it’s normal’, in our society it’s abnormal. And anything to do with abnormality has something to do with mental health.”
He stressed that a person “has to accept” that they need help “in converting”.
Nsambya Hospital’s director Peter Sekweyama told openDemocracy that Mukiibi is “just offering counselling”, and that he is “trained in something like humanities”.
Kasujja, head of the psychologists’ association, said hospitals have a responsibility to ensure their staff are qualified – but warned that without national regulation of counsellors and psychologists, “there is going to be lots of abuse.”