Anti-gay ‘therapy’ offered in Ugandan health centers run by aid-funded groups
In Mulago, Uganda’s largest public hospital, a receptionist at an HIV clinic for marginalized and “most-at-risk” populations, including LGBT people, said the 17-year-old gay brother of a journalist an infiltrator could “give up” his attraction to the same sex.
“Anyone who wants to stop homosexuality, we hook them up,” she told outside advisers, including Pastor Solomon Male, a locally known anti-gay activist. She also gave our undercover reporter the phone number of a man who “once was a patient here” and “was once a homosexual but is no longer.”
The USAID aid agency – which says it supports LGBTQI + inclusive development – awarded the Most-at-Risk Populations Initiative (MARPI), which runs the clinic, a grant of $ 420,000 in 2019, ending in September. (It is not known if any of this money went to this specific clinic.)
This is just one example of health centers in Uganda where our undercover reporters overheard staff providing or providing referrals for controversial anti-gay “therapy”.
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After a six-month openDemocracy survey, major aid donors and NGOs said they would investigate anti-LGBT “conversion therapy” in health facilities run by the groups they fund.
But unlike other aid donors, the US aid agency PEPFAR has not responded at all.
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Our investigation identified similar support for ‘anti-gay’ counseling activities in three hospitals in the Ugandan Catholic Medical Bureau (UCMB) network. This network received more than $ 1 million from USAID between 2019 and April, although it is not clear whether the specific hospitals identified in this survey received some of that money.
In one of these hospitals – Nsambya, Uganda’s largest private health facility – staff referred our reporters to Cabrine Mukiibi’s private office on the outskirts of Kampala, which mixed Freudian theories with Biblical quotes. and anti-gay slurs in his diagnosis.
Mukiibi, who is also a staff advisor at Nsambya, said nonprecreative sex “was getting evil” – before recommending what he called “exposure therapy”, telling our undercover reporter to “take a woman from housecleaning “so his supposedly gay teen brother could” get lured [to]”, the one who is “between 18 and 20 years old”.
A spokesman for the United States Embassy in Kampala, Anthony Kujawa, said that “conversion therapy” goes against “the policy of the United States to end violence and violence. discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. ”.
In response to questions from openDemocracy, 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 does so.
Rosco Kasujja, director of mental health at Makerere University’s School of Psychology and director of the Uganda Association of Clinical Psychologists, called openDemocracy’s findings “disturbing.” He blamed the lack of a national regulator for psychologists, which could ensure all patients receive quality care.
“It’s really frustrating that we don’t have any power,” he said, referring to his association’s voluntary and non-binding standards. “People play by their own rules and [we] can’t do anything about it.
Globally, more than 65 associations of physicians, psychologists or counselors have condemned the practices of “conversion therapy,” according to a 2020 report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Human Rights Association. intersex (ILGA).
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 they are applied to minors. Several US states have also passed bans, while the UK recently pledged to do the same nationally.
Anal sex is illegal in Uganda and homosexuality is strongly stigmatized. It is not clear how common ‘conversion therapy’ is, but openDemocracy has partnered with local researchers to document the experiences of 20 Ugandan LGBT survivors of these ‘treatments’.
Respondents said that such “therapy” “looked like murder” and that they “suffered from depression and anxiety”, drug addiction and suicidal thoughts. Mulago and a hospital in the UCMB network were among the facilities they cited as providing treatment.
Godiva Akullo, a feminist lawyer in Kampala, said of those offering “conversion” therapy: “I think this is extremely unethical behavior. “
In Kampala, undercover openDemocracy journalists visited three aid-funded UCMB network hospitals seeking “treatment” for same-sex attraction, and were referred to providers of this therapy, either in within healthcare establishments, or externally.
At Kisubi Hospital’s “youth-friendly” clinic, a counselor offered a session for 50,000 Ugandan shillings (US $ 14), saying that a “17 [year-old] is still a little child that we can modify ”.
At the Lubaga hospital, Matthias Ssetuba introduced himself as the “focal person in mental health” of the establishment. He claimed that homosexuality is caused by factors ranging from peer pressure to the Internet, and also said it could be “changed”.
“It’s a mental health issue,” he added, “because once you start having same-sex sex, just like those white people say ‘it’s normal’, in our society is abnormal. And anything that has to do with an anomaly has something to do with mental health. “
He stressed that a person “has to accept” that he needs help “to convert”.
In an email to openDemocracy afterwards, Ssettuba said it was the first time he had “such a case in the hospital” which “has never helped anti-LGBT conversion therapy. “.
“We only want to support those who might want to do it on their own,” he said. He did not respond to further questions about his statements to our undercover journalists.
Homosexuality, said Cabrine Mukiibi (the counselor referred by Nsambya hospital) is often caused by “unresolved competition” between a child and a same-sex parent for the attention of a parent of the opposite sex. during the “phallic stage” of their development.
He was wearing a tag on his coat saying “clinical psychologist” when he met our reporters. He was also cited in local media as a “clinical psychologist”.
He said he had just completed (but had not yet obtained) a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Uganda Martyrs University, which is affiliated with the Catholic Church. But this degree is not listed on the university’s website, and the Ugandan higher education regulator told openDemocracy that the university is not accredited to offer this program.
Nsambya hospital director Peter Sekweyama told openDemocracy that Mukiibi “just offered advice” and was “trained in something like the humanities”.
Kasujja, head of the association of psychologists, said hospitals have a responsibility to ensure their staff are qualified – but warned that without national regulation of counselors and psychologists, “there is going to be a lot of abuse. , […] much trouble.
No one from Kisubi Hospital responded to openDemocracy’s requests for comment. The UCMB and the HIV clinic at Mulago Hospital also did not respond.
The US Embassy in Kampala did not say whether USAID funding to UCMB has been renewed.
Noah Mirembe, human rights lawyer and trans man in Kampala, said Ugandans who have been harmed by the practices of “conversion therapy” and who wish to seek redress in court should contact the Taala Foundation (an organization he co -directs) for help.
* Additional reports by Nnanda Kizito Sseruwagi