"We are our own social workers!" - Social Work and the Discourses of LGBT Rights in Kampala, Uganda
Abstract: Social work has a strong tradition of supporting vulnerable groups and protecting exposed individuals in society and is by definition a human rights profession. In relation to the critical situation of LGBT populations in Uganda our aim is to study the position of social workers and their potential to make a positive change for sexual minorities and sexual rights in the country. Homophobia is institutionalized in many countries through ‘anti-sodomy laws’; in Uganda this has further been manifested in an ‘anti-homosexuality bill’, which was first tabled in the Parliament in 2009. This bill has been criticized worldwide for targeting the LGBT community and violating their human rights.In spring 2012 we traveled to Uganda to perform a ‘minor field study’ in Kampala; our aim is to study dominant and alternative discourses in regard to LGBT issues by conducting qualitative interviews and observations with social work actors. In light of the international standards of social work and human rights these are analyzed in terms of power, resistance, and culture. The sample mainly includes teachers and students, within the discipline of social work, but also human rights activists working deliberately with these issues. The results are framed with first-hand experiences of the current situation of sexual minorities. We have collected the most significant findings both in terms of ‘typical’ cases and in terms of ‘alternative’ cases in order to commit to a ‘symmetrical approach’.On the one hand, our results show that the powerful dominant discourses are heteronormative and homophobic, and they are closely connected to religious and cultural relativist claims. In a sense, homophobia is institutionalized in the educational system at large, as well as within the academics of social work. On the other hand, people representing alternative discourses argue that sexual rights are part of the human rights discourse and that human rights are universal. Nevertheless social work as a profession is considered weak and un-significant in the struggle for human rights of LGBT persons. In the social work department the human rights discourse more or less excludes the rights of LGBT persons from the agenda. Consequently individual initiatives and different forms of resistance (organized as well as unorganized) are currently crucial for the process of social change for the LGBT community in Uganda.
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