Growing Opposition to Anti-Gay Genocide in Uganda

My heroes at Other Sheep, the outreach ministry to sexual minorities in the developing world, have posted their January online newsletter with links to the latest stories about Uganda’s pending Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Although the bill may still pass in some form, possibly without the death penalty provisions, even conservative Christian leaders are beginning to realize they need to distance themselves from this legislation. Here’s an excerpt of one story from the newsletter:

(New York, December 11) – A United Nations General Assembly panel that met this week broke new ground and helped build new momentum for ending human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, a coalition of sponsoring nongovernmental organizations said today.

The meeting included discussion of discriminatory and draconian “anti-homosexuality” legislation currently before the Ugandan parliament, and of the role of American religious groups in promoting repression across Africa. In a groundbreaking move, a representative of the Holy See in the audience read a statement strongly condemning the criminalization of homosexual conduct.

The panel, held yesterday on the 61st anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, featured speakers from Honduras, India, the Philippines, and Zambia, as well as Uganda, where the proposed “anti-homosexuality law” shows the steady threat of government repression.

Sweden organized the panel in coalition with Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, France, the Netherlands, and Norway. It was sponsored by a group of six nongovernmental organizations that defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. The audience of 200 people included delegates from over 50 nations.

Ugandan lawmakers are currently debating the “anti-homosexuality” bill. While there were reports that the death-penalty provisions might be stripped from the bill, other punishments would remain that would drive many Ugandans underground or out of the country, participants said.

Speaking on the panel, Victor Mukasa, co-founder of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and program associate for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLRHC), described how he was forced to leave Uganda following police brutality and raids on his home. He said that Uganda’s “anti-homosexuality” bill reflects a pattern of state-sponsored homophobia spreading across the African continent.

“Lack of security, arbitrary arrests and detentions, violence, and killings of LGBT people have become the order of the day in Africa,” said Mukasa. “Nothing can change as long as LGBT people live in fear for their safety when they claim their basic human rights.”

The statement from the Holy See said it “opposes all forms of violence and unjust discrimination against homosexual persons, including discriminatory penal legislation which undermines the inherent dignity of the human person….[T]he murder and abuse of homosexual persons are to be confronted on all levels, especially when such violence is perpetrated by the State.”

Also at the panel discussion, the Reverend Kapya Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia who is project director for Political Research Associates (PRA) in Massachusetts, presented the group’s new report, Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches, and Homophobia….

A Reading for Epiphany: “The True Christmas Spirit”

John and Karen Bulbuk are evangelical missionaries to Romania, whom I met through friends when they were visiting the US several years ago. You can subscribe to their monthly e-newsletter by emailing Karen at . I was touched by her Christmas message, which she’s given me permission to reprint below. Jan. 6 is the 12th day of Christmas, the feast of the Epiphany, so technically this is still timely!

The True Christmas Spirit
by Karen Bulbuk

For some, the Christmas season is a time when separation from loved ones or haunting memories cause loneliness and depression to settle on their spirits like thick morning fog on the seacoast. Others spend weeks in frenetic preparations – decorating homes to look like gingerbread cottages, throwing lavish parties, scouring stores for the “perfect” gifts for friends and family, and creating culinary masterpieces, – all to climax in a 24-hour marathon of gorging on seasonal delicacies and watching the kids rip open their long-anticipated presents. But when it’s all over, the food has been eaten, the presents have been used, broken, stuck in a closet or exchanged, and the decorations stowed away until next year, many of us are left feeling empty, exhausted and let down. We vow that next year it will be different – we’ll start earlier, and we’ll try harder to capture the real meaning of Christmas. However, what is that real meaning, anyway?

I will never forget the answer I received on my first venture into a third-world country on an outreach with YWAM (Youth With A Mission) many years ago. Warnings from well-meaning friends and relatives were still ringing in my ears – “Don’t eat the food! Don’t drink the water!” They didn’t need to worry. As we traversed dusty unpaved streets past dilapidated cardboard shacks amidst trash-strewn roadsides, I concluded that I didn’t even want to touch anything in this place, never mind put it in my mouth.

When we camped that first night, the two toilets provided for our convoy, of approximately 200 people, soon plugged up and overflowed. In the sticky humidity, gritty dust and dirt clung to everything. The spicy aroma of unfamiliar foods blended with the pungent odors of garbage and open sewers to assault my senses, and I recoiled. My sheltered, antiseptic culture had not prepared me to deal with the surroundings into which I suddenly found myself thrust.

I listened as two veteran missionaries from the U.S. addressed our group. “If you really want to be effective in ministering to people of a different country,” they exhorted us, “you must be willing not only to learn the language, but also to adopt the culture of the people and become one of them.” The very thought of living with the poverty and filth I observed around me filled me with horror. “Lord,” I whispered, “I don’t want to adopt THIS culture!” Even as I spoke, a flash of revelation pierced my thoughts and silenced my protest. In that moment, I understood what Christmas had meant to Jesus. God had looked upon the destruction and chaos in a world inhabited by sinful, broken and hurting people, and instead of withdrawing in disgust, He entered into it, spoke our language, adopted our culture and became one of us. I couldn’t imagine the culture shock Jesus must have faced, leaving the unfathomable beauty and glory of heaven where He had all power, authority and honor, to arrive on earth as a helpless, dependent baby in a filthy, stinking stable. As I considered what He had done, my discomfort in the present situation paled in comparison. He had loved us enough to come personally, expressing His love in a tangible way. His sacrifice had begun even at Christmas, long before its culmination on the Cross.

Now He sends us, as His Body, to go share His love in person with others. Wherever we go – whether to another country, in our own city or neighborhood, or sometimes even at home, – we come in contact with others who live in a different “culture” or speak a different “language” from us (i.e. teenagers and parents!) The natural human response is to judge the other culture as inferior to ours, and either withdraw and insulate ourselves in our comfort zone, or else try to “convert” the other person to our “superior” way of life.

But in Christmas, Jesus gave us a different model to follow. Long before He ever confronted sin and evil in our world and lives, He humbled Himself and literally “got into our skin” in order to understand firsthand our human experience. When the time came for Him to speak truth, He approached us not as a self-righteous, condemning legalist, but as a “High Priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses” because He had experienced every temptation that we would ever face (Heb. 4:15). He calls us to imitate His example of humility and love by identifying with those to whom we minister. Since we are not perfect high priests as Jesus was, in the process we may discover truths we needed to learn! Then, if eventually we need to confront with truth, we will be able to do it in the posture of a servant, with the true spirit of Christmas.

Online Poetry Roundup: Wordgathering and Others

This past week at Reiter’s Block has been heavy on reprints, hasn’t it? Well, you all already know what I think about everything. And when you figure it out, could you please tell me?

From time to time I like to share links to my favorite online journals and poetry sites. One of the very best is Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry.  Published quarterly, Wordgathering features poetry, essays, book reviews and artwork by disabled authors and/or about the intersection of disability and literature. The blurb for their upcoming workshop at the AWP 2010 conference in Denver is a good summary of their mission:

This panel will discuss how the poetry of disability seeks to tackle and refigure traditional discourses of the disabled around an interrogation of “normalcy” and of the notions of beauty and function that have been so foundational to Western culture and aesthetics. The panel will focus on poetic strategies, including the subversion of historical discourses and the decentering of the subject through which a range of disabled poets have sought to address these issues.

Highlights of the December 2009 issue include Paul Kahn’s essay “The Deepening Fog (Part 2)”, about how his perspective as a disabled person helps him advocate for his parents in the nursing home; a review of Zimbabwean poet Tendai Mwanaka’s new collection; Rebecca Foust’s poems about her autistic son, which find beauty in what the world calls errors and mutations, without negating her maternal pain and anger; and other poems by Michael Basile and my friend Ellen LaFleche.

The Dirty Napkin is a literary journal whose content is available online for subscribers only ($16 per year). However, in each issue they feature a cover poem that can be read on the site. Their latest offering, an untitled poem from Simon Perchik, is a free-associative meditation on impermanence and beauty. Read and listen to the audio version here.

The Pedestal Magazine, edited by poet and songwriter John Amen, celebrates its ninth anniversary this month with Issue #55. The theme for this issue was speculative flash fiction. Notable contributors include Jane Yolen and Liz Argall. I also can’t resist poems about dolls, the creepier the better. Check out “The Doll After Play” by Rebecca Cross.

Charlie Bondhus: “His Sunday Morning Blues”; Plus, Upcoming Reading Jan. 14

Charlie Bondhus and I will be giving a poetry reading at 7:30 PM on Thursday, Jan. 14, at the Green Street Cafe, located at 64 Green Street (no surprise there) in Northampton, MA. This cozy neighborhood bistro cooks with home-grown herbs and vegetables; I recommend the Sri Lankan vegetable stew.

I’ll be reading some of my newer poems and selections from Swallow and A Talent for Sadness. Copies of these books will be on sale, along with my freshman effort, Miller Reiter Robbins: Three New Poets (Hanging Loose, 1990), which features a lovely picture of fierce 17-year-old me.

Charlie’s first full-length collection, How the Boy Might See It, was released last month by Pecan Grove Press. He kindly shares this poem from the book below. It exemplifies the combination of sensuality and spiritual depth that I appreciate in Charlie’s work.

His Sunday Morning Blues

Then the Lord God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being [and] the man knew Eve his wife.
-Genesis 2:7, 4:1

Woke up this
morning cold
kicked the
blankets last night
saw her gone
must’ve stolen out
with the boys
another gathering
lesson, though this time
didn’t wake me up
with a kiss and
touch on the head
like usual.

Don’t feel like checking the fields,
guess I’ll spend the day
in our camel hair bed
and hash this whole thing out.

Funny how
everything I remember before the
sand and the crag looks the way a deer
does, vague behind the gloss
of fog.
I do remember monkeys and mountain goats who
spoke in a voice
similar to our own;
toucans and thrushes that
screeched and warbled in
what must’ve been friendship;
a sense
that everything existed

As for the woman, she
sometimes talks about tinctured
fruit, every color of a
blush, and uncured leaves–
of peppermint, thyme, rosemary–
something sharper, maybe wiser
that used to float
in the flavor of papayas and kiwis.

Also something more for her
in the sound of the river–
the entire streambed maybe
covered with flutes and shells,
rather than mud and papyrus.

These days though,
everything sounds and tastes
blurry as the dog looked
when we found him
at the bottom of the oasis,
as if we touch and eat
only the colored shadows
of grape, apple, grain–

as if life were lived
forever in twilight.

And still other things,
called to mind by
the branches of a tree–
something in the twist or
the pull, the sober tinge of

the slope of a leaf–
wondering whether the color is really
green or something that’s not quite
green and if
the edges are really as
pointed or smooth as they

The gravid clouds that shuffle,
dazed and vapid,
like the feet of an aging God,
across a monotonous sky,
wondering whether or not one could tear
their flimsy substance
between hands or teeth.

Always too, those objects that we
cannot see but still perceive more
readily than rocks and sand,
many of which
I haven’t gotten around
to naming.

Sometimes the woman
cries and throws
herself on the bed
refuses to talk and
I know she’s in pain because
of the blood but we’ve both
cut ourselves before, like once
I tore open my shin on a rock while
climbing after a
goat, and she ripped open
the palms of her hands when she
lost her grip, attempting to pull up
a stubborn vegetable in the garden,
but both of us were still able to speak then
so I know that when she bleeds unbidden,
she must be
stuffed full of
one of those crazy compound things
that we fear
for their power, persistence, and
lack of a name, and that’s
what really hurts.

My greatest fears
stand taller than wheat
when the ground isn’t fertile,
the animals go into hiding, and we
take Cain and Abel,
move to a different place,
and the woman and I find
in each empty, unbreathing land,
no matter how distant,
that the unspoken
is a little more real.

I tremble at these times
when the truth looks the way
that apple grape and grain taste–
should we fall the way some
animals have, stricken by neither
stone nor spear, and the sand were to cover
the crops and the caves crumble to
soil, as they have in the lands we have left,
with no creature capable of maintaining things
as we have, would we be judged unworthy
to return to the place of
sharp taste, musical river, and speaking beast?

St. Teresa of Avila: “God Desired Me”

This poem by St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) was handed out to us at Timothy Palmer’s “Sexuality and Spirituality” workshop at the Soulforce Anti-Heterosexism Conference. To me, it expresses what original sin really means: not some flaw in ourselves that actually estranges God from us, but a mental block that deludes us into believing in that estrangement. God’s love is unlimited, but clouded by our limited perceptions.

God Desired Me, So I Came Close

God desired me, so I came close.

No one can near God unless
He has prepared a bed for you.

A thousand souls hear His call every second,
but most everyone then looks into their
   life’s mirror and says,
“I am not worthy to leave this sadness.”

When I first heard His courting song, I too
looked at all I had done in my life and said,
“How can I gaze into His omnipresent eyes?”

I spoke those words with all my heart,
but then He sang again, a song even sweeter,
and when I tried to shame myself once more
   from His presence
God showed me His compassion and spoke
   a divine truth,

“I made you, Beloved, and all I make is perfect.
Please come close, for I desire you.”

Jelaluddin Rumi: “Where Everything Is Music”

This poem arrived in my inbox from Washington Poets Association president Victory Lee Schouten, who often forwards such gems to the folks on her email list.

Where Everything Is Music
by Jelaluddin Rumi

Don’t worry about saving these songs!
And if one of our instruments breaks,
it doesn’t matter.

We have fallen into the place
where everything is music.

The strumming and the flute notes
rise into the atmosphere,
and even if the whole world’s harp
should burn up, there will still be
hidden instruments playing.

So the candle flickers and goes out.
We have a piece of flint, and a spark.

This singing art is sea foam.
The graceful movements come from a pearl
somewhere on the ocean floor.

Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge
of driftwood along the beach, wanting!

They derive
from a slow and powerful root
that we can’t see.

Stop the words now.
Open the window in the center of your chest,
and let the spirit fly in and out.

from Rumi – Selected Poems (Penguin Classics)
Translated by Coleman Barks and John Moyne

Jee Leong Koh: “Bethlehem”

Starting 2010 off right, this well-crafted lyric by Jee Leong Koh addresses one of my favorite themes, the relationship between eros and the sacred. Koh is the author of the poetry collections Payday Loans and Equal to the Earth. He’s kindly permitted me to share this poem, first posted on his blog, with the understanding that “it’s a draft”. We should all have such good first drafts!


You come home to be counted but no room
is to be had at a cost you can afford,
having silenced the lathe and stilled the loom,
paying the hours with your heart toward
a vast accumulating sense of doom
that counts the certain end its own reward.
The journey stops, not in Jerusalem,
but backward, dirty, crowded Bethlehem.

Go into this unwholesome stable where,
before the beastly eye picks out its blank,
a stench of piss has stenciled in the air
muscular curve, bold stroke, animal flank;
hands, filling in detail of flesh, declare
the body a deposit and a bank,
care less what cock has shafted home what ass,
mad with desire and mad with disease.

The kings, they come with their gold offering,
to bless the body’s lust with frankincense,
and bitter myrrh the body’s lingering.
The shepherds are astonished by its presence.
And you, unkept, soon to be undone, sing
of the swift massacre of innocence,
sing of the body’s torture on the thorn,
keep singing of the place where love is born.