Scottish council in furore over Commonwealth Games Uganda support

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

A Scottish local council has found itself amid a gay rights debate after having been paired with Uganda in a scheme to offer foreign teams extra support during the Commonwealth Games.

Earlier this month, Ugandan President signed into law the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which increased jail sentences for those convicted of homosexuality.

In early March, it was announced that West Dunbartonshire will be supporting the adopted teams of Uganda and the Isle of Man during the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.

West Dunbartonshire Council last week put out an official statement saying it intended to keep a “non-political” approach to the games.

The statement said: “As a Games partner, West Dunbartonshire Council will play its part by delivering on its comprehensive Legacy Plan. This includes a commitment to support the athletes of the two ‘second’ teams allocated us by Glasgow 2014, Uganda and the Isle of Man. We do this in a non-political manner in keeping with the spirit of the Games.”

Council leader Martin Rooney appeared to endorse that stance, however also wrote a letter to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni over the country’s newly implemented Anti-Homosexuality Act.

In a statement last week, Rooney said: “Countries throughout the Commonwealth have their own distinct cultures and views. One of the great opportunities of hosting the Games is the chance for Scotland to share its own great story, including its progress towards equality, and hopefully foster greater tolerance across the world. The way to achieve this at Glasgow 2014 is through dialogue and engagement.”

In his letter to Museveni, he wrote: “I am writing to say how disturbed I am by your decision to sign the anti-homosexuality act, outlawing the promotion of homosexuality and threatening convicted homosexuals with life prison sentences.

“I feel it is important that you know how vehemently opposed to this bill I and many residents of West Dunbartonshire, Scotland, are.

“Freely expressed prejudice, state-sanctioned hate and use of the law of the land to strip citizens of their legal rights and their humanity have no place in any country.”

Some were unsatisfied with the mixed response, however, and fellow councillor, Jim Bollan, who accused him of “turning a blind eye.” Other LGBT rights organisations have said they hope the games will be an opportunity to address the new Ugandan legislation.

Scott Cuthbertson, community development coordinator for the Equality Network, said: “I strongly believe that the Games should be used as a good opportunity to support the Ugandan athletes but also to use it as an opportunity to talk about human rights issues and raise debate.

“If the plan includes going into schools, as I believe it does, then teachers should be talking about these issues.

“We have worked with West Dunbartonshire Council in the past. We will be happy to support the council in furthering its support of LGBT people in West Dunbartonshire.”

Each council in Scotland has been allocated a second team to support during an initiative which aims to develop links and partnerships between Commonwealth regions.

Earlier this month, retired cycling champion Graeme Obree called for Ugandan politicians who support the country’s anti-homosexuality law to be banned from attending the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Protests have also taken place against Uganda and Nigeria’s anti-gay laws.