Twelve years ago, I saw a death wish in Sanyu's stricken eyes. Yet I laughed and judged her for being different. I was a Christian but short of glory and blind to reality. She had been made to believe she was cursed and sick. I believed what the Bible told me to.
It horrifies me that I could not hold a terrified girl's hand and say it will be okay. I did not know any better.
Why has nothing changed since that horrible day more than a decade ago? Why are sexual minorities still bullied?
Homophobia hidden behind the mask of religious and cultural beliefs has led us to become hateful and hinder social development. Children deserve the right to become free thinkers and make informed choices.
It’s hard enough being a teenager but growing up is even tougher for LGBT teens bullied for their identity and genetic wiring. To solve this, we need to include LGBT youth in comparative sex education programs. These students who are already bullied frequently should not be shunned because they exist.
Globally, one out of four students faces bullying due to sexual orientation. Lesbian teens are two to three times more likely to commit suicide than any other youth group. About 30 per cent of suicides are related to a sexual identity crisis.
Bullied students are also more likely to miss school. And unfortunately, teachers tend to target them too. They gang up against gay students and abuse them physically and verbally. Punishments include caning, expulsion or public belittling.
Uganda's culture does not support promotion of LGBT rights. It’s illegal and unsafe to talk about sexuality. Sex education remains a major challenge in schools.
Teachers know speaking about homosexuality in schools is unlawful. But what about the moral right, and emotional and psychological support all students deserve regardless of their sexual orientation? If schools are not prepared to talk about this, it’s not surprising that kids grow up with misconceptions. Being teased and bullied is something that could greatly affect a person’s self-esteem for the rest of his or her life.
LGBTI persons are not considered when making policies that involve everyone else. Lack of acknowledgment of homosexuals in our society does not mean these people do not exist and that they are not real. Real people with feelings, they are human beings segregated from society and unfamiliar from love from the outer world.
I have spent more time convincing homosexuals I am on their side than actually advocating for their rights. It is heart-breaking. "You do not hate us?" cannot be an acceptable norm of greeting.
I have argued with some of my well-educated friends about homosexuality. They unfortunately still equate homosexuality to incest.
What we have become and the precedent we have set scare me. The need for sexual education in schools can no longer be ignored and children should understand this diversity and embrace it. There is nothing non-traditional about sex!
This is why an inclusive culture should begin in schools. There is a need for a sex education curriculum. Students should not be left uninformed about their anatomy. Schools should ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity are not mentioned in a negative light. Expulsions related to sexual orientation must stop in schools. LGBTI students should be treated just as heterosexual students are.
If I could go back 12 years ago, I would have befriended Sanyu. I would not be a bigot like they made me then. I won't hide behind religion and make an innocent girl contemplate death with hateful talk and judgmental eyes.
If I met Sanyu today, I would say how sorry I am for the horrible experiences she had to suffer due to me and the whole school. I would tell her I was this young, naive scared girl in an all-girls Catholic school who was taught to hate lesbians and not associate with them. I would tell her what a brave person she was and that she is an inspiration to other young girls. I will ask her to help me in destroying the tradition of hate against LGBT students and cultivating a universal feeling of sisterhood.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital empowerment and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.Voices of Our Future 2013 Assignments: Op-Eds