Saturday, December 12, 2009

Coffee, Uganda, Death to Gay People and Crop to Cup

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I've been following this story about Uganda since it broke and have been really furious about it and also wondering how I can make a difference? It's hard, as a gay man, not to take this kind of event personally. Particularly as Rachael Maddow points out it seems like American Christians who really got the ball rolling.

Christians seem to be more and more right wing, high profile and extreme in this country then I ever remember. When did they become so hateful, intolerant and vocally homophobic?

In nature on this planet that there is balance you find two things, always, you find diversity and balance. The fungus that kills the ants when they over populate the lion that eats the antelope a gay man I see my role in this complex system as being one of balance. The problem with our food systems and our planet are to a large extent because we have taxed the planet to it's hilt because we have over populated it. Gay people for the most part don't breed. We make great aunts and uncles. We provide balance and support to our friends and family who do choose to breed. That's why I think we are here, have always been here and wish people would just comes to term with this very simple reality.

I think it's evil, yes I used the word evil, to spread hate, to fund hate in poor African countries when they are already trying to deal with famine, desertification, poverty and AIDS. So the conclusion these American Christians come to is: oh this is a vulnerable place where we can get our claws in and push our hate filled ideological agenda. Encouraging the current right wing Christian government of Uganda to introduce a bill that would make being gay a crime punishable by death? Currently there are 5 countries in the world where laws like this are on the books, it's hardly an elite I can imagine you'd want to be a part of, but maybe the lunatic fringe Christians in this country feel like the only way they can compete with the lunatic fringe Muslims is to go head to head with them to see who can be more intolerant and hateful?

Let me breath and give you some back ground, Uganda had recently been getting more prosperous and more stable enjoying better times along with it's troubled neighbor Rwanda. They have collectively the largest group of gorillas living in the wild in the world. It's created a tourist boom and I have fantasized about going for years, although mostly to Rwanda. A friend of mine who lives in Rwanda told me the same Christian haters have been working in that country to also introduce such a similar kill the gays bill.

Now you may ask why am I even writing about this on a blog that is ostensibly about food. Well for over 6 months now I have been getting my coffee from Ugandan farmers from Crop to Cup. A company who I have profiled here and whose coffee I really like. Crop to Cup supports family farmers, pays a better price for their beans then even fare trade brands and they do other good works with the people of Uganda. Yet over the last week I have been furious and the one thing I can do, that I have control over is to say to those poor Ugandan farmers - fuck you! I'll buy my coffee elsewhere thanks. Gay people in American and all over the world help you feed your children and this is how you treat us?

Then I take a yoga class and realize that one of the reasons this is able to happen in Uganda is because it is such a broken, poor country. If someone offers them money and hope, even if they are an ideologically insane right wing American Christian who wants access to your country to proselytize and spread hate well, what are you going to do? You need to feed your family.

Still how am I, as an American consumer going to respond to this?

Does it even make a difference if I stop buying my coffee from Crop to Cup?

I want to make an impact, to express my outrage and to let the people of Uganda know a few things, like: my money is helping, in a small way, to get their economy going again.

My money is helping them grown their business and feed their families.

That gay people drink coffee, have jobs and spend money. That the death penalty is really medieval and cruel and mean spirited and a very odd way to punish love.

It's a struggle. I write about it today because it's on my mind and I don't really know what to do and because I feel powerless, that no matter what I do it only hurts people who have had no say in what is going on.

Thoughts or comments would be much appreciated.


W. Taylor said...

Having made so much progress for its population in recent years, Uganda is usually in the news for its successes. Unfortunately its government is now showing itself to be BACKWARD. I do not use that word lightly; rarely is it applicable in the developing world, where challenges such as education, health and basic poverty are often acceptable as excuses for policies or statements with which I may disagree. But this is truly backward, and the Ugandan government deserves the backlash and condemnations that it is receiving from blogs like yours and the western media.

So who is to blame for this? The many Christian missionaries working or living in Uganda? Is it a cultural issue that was present even before the missionaries began? It is difficult to say without a much more complex analysis. But you and Rachel Maddow are correct in pointing to the Christian right as at least partly to blame. Even if folks like Rick Warren don't support this specific bill (and I applaud him for his vocal stance in the Maddow video you posted), they have definitely led Ugandans in this general direction. Much of the money going into poverty reduction in Uganda today is from Christian churches. They have an almost endless supply of money so people listen to them, look up to them and more often than not begin to think like them. First a far right contingent (both political and religious) somehow convinced Uganda to promote abstinence instead of condoms (then AIDS rates shot up - great job!), and now they're there reassuring Ugandans that homosexuality is wrong, against Bible teachings or spewing some other argument that is, whether they meant to or not, leading Uganda to enact laws that violate basic human rights.

Don't get me wrong - there are many Christian organizations doing great work in Uganda, enacting positive change without the proviso of religious conversion. I know many of them personally through my work and travels there. I can say without a doubt that Christian organizations in Uganda have played a critical role in helping Uganda reduce poverty. They deserve that credit 100%.

But there are also a lot of bible thumpers there, just wasting people's time. When we were in Uganda last month we came across a little wall sign in a craft shop. It said "PUSH - Pray Until Something Happens." C'mon...really?! Rely on prayer instead of real action and effort? You have got to be kidding me. And now they're not just promoting complacency, but leading them a step backwards.
As a co-owner of Crop to Cup Coffee Co, I'd like to state that we are appalled by the homophobic hate we have been seeing in Ugandan newspapers and government statements for years now. Unfortunately, this proposed new law is not a surprise. This is one of the reasons why we generally steer clear of political and religious causes and organizations in our efforts to reduce poverty for coffee farming communities in Uganda.

Although the decision about whether to buy Ugandan coffee is your own, I hope you weigh heavily your point about Uganda being a broken and poor country. Punishing a poor Ugandan farmer for an idiotic law of its religious-right government is perhaps not the best way to make a difference. Using the same logic, you would probably have to stop buying goods made in China, Pakistan, Vietnam or any other country with a few human rights violations under its belt.

And powerless you are not - the best way to make a difference, I think, is to continue doing what you are doing: writing about this and letting people know what it is happening in Uganda. An uproar in the blogosphere and community action in Uganda was what brought down plans to clear one of the country's last remaining forests (Mabira) for a private sugarcane plantation. Hopefully we can achieve similar results with the disturbing issue at hand today.

We'll post a petition on our Crop to Cup blog soon, and will send it to the Ugandan embassy in DC when it is full. Thank you for prompting us into action.

-Taylor Mork
President, Crop to Cup Coffee Co

W. Taylor said...

just posted about this on our crop to cup twitter and blog and also put up a petition here:

PaulR said...

I've been following your blog on RSS and was surprised by your Uganda post, but was deeply touched. What a thoughtful way to deal with the issue. May those who have stoked fear, nationalism and hatred learn from such examples. Thank you!

Urban Food Guy said...

Hey just wanted to say thanks for the thoughtful comments, they are very helpful and very heartening. Thanks W.Taylor for not only your words, but your good work.

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