Last month I spoke out on the dreadful situation in Uganda, where MPs have passed a bill making homosexuality punishable by life imprisonment and not reporting gay people punishable by extremely strong jail sentences.
There were thousands of impassioned replies about the issue and it was good to raise awareness about such an important subject. It was saddening to read a handful of comments from people praising the new bill, but most heartening to see so much support for the Ugandan gay community.
Some people questioned why I called for companies to boycott Uganda, while Virgin does business in other countries that have civil rights issues. I commented on the Uganda situation specifically because I felt the life imprisonment bill was so appalling I couldn’t stand by and do nothing, and still have hope the Ugandan President won’t sign it into law.
Sometimes business leaders have more freedom to make controversial comments than politicians, and it is important to stimulate debate and challenge injustices – even if it hurts your business.
We are now working with Ugandan business people to put together a strong list of like-minded entrepreneurs and companies to appeal to the Ugandan President to not sign the bill into law. In other countries where civil rights of individuals are being abused we are also working with like-minded business people to tackle this sort of discriminatory behaviour. Ideally, businesses and organisations should work with governments to try to change their attitudes from within countries.
I have spoken out against discrimination on many occasions, from supporting equal marriage to challenging Malaysia’s leaders on Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s trial. Next week I am going to meet government leaders from countries including Nigeria to discuss issues such as gay rights and try to encourage progress. We want to work with governments around the world – in countries we do and don’t operate in - to change attitudes for the better. Everyone should speak out to ensure people are free to love whoever they want.
Those politicians passing draconian laws against gay people may discover their own children were born gay. Would they really want to see them locked up for life? Or tortured? We need love and understanding not punishment.