A CIGA working paper, The Lighthouse and the Landing Pad: Transnational Commodification of a Global Gay Identity and a Ugandan LGBTI Rights NGO, is now available.
The author of this paper, Greyson Conant Brooks, holds a B.A. in Anthropology from Colby College and an M.A. in Anthropology with a concentration in International Development from the George Washington University. He wishes to acknowledge and thank the following for financial, logistical, analytical, and personal support: the activists and advocates at SMUG, The Lewis N. Cotlow Fund at GW, Stephen Lubkemann, Barbara Miller, Attiya Ahmad, Ujala Dhaka-Kintgen, Erica Wortham, Melissa Minor Peters, Tina Levine, Steven Barry, Leslee Brooks, Stanley Brooks, and Michael Barry.
This paper reports on field research in 2012 about the perceptions of identity and development that frame the performative practice of members of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), an indigenous LGBTI rights advocacy NGO and the major voice of resistance to current anti-homosexual legislation in Uganda’s parliament. Within the context of NGO institutionality, I examine how SMUG appropriates and defines ‘gay identity’ in relation to anti-gay sociopolitical sentiment to effect development as a tool for achieving sociopolitical change. I conclude that SMUG’s modern, savvy employees publicly ally themselves and their organization with an identity of ‘gayness’ perceived to be universal and inalienable, which allows SMUG to organize its practice through the language of development and human rights on an international scale and accrue social capital to exchange with transnational partners for political and economic aegis. The performance of a global gay identity provides SMUG the standing to (inter)act politically on international and local scales. However, in demarcating themselves as ‘gay,’ SMUG’s membership assumes sociopolitical minority status within Uganda, limiting their ability to affect sociopolitical change on national and local scales. While more field research is necessary, this introductory analysis concludes SMUG may achieve greater success in Uganda by highlighting, rather than eschewing, local constructs of minority sexualities.