Frank Mugisha: “People say I am their inspiration – but they are an inspiration to me – so I can never talk about leaving the country.”Posted: June 29, 2013
ZP_Frank Mugisha at the First Uganda Pride March on August 4th, 2012_The March took place on the shores of Victoria Lake, outside of Entebbe, away from Uganda’s bustling capital, Kampala. Mugisha, as Captain Pride in a rainbow-sashed sailor suit, told journalist Alexis Okeowo: “I just wish I had a switch to turn on that would make everyone who’s gay say they are gay. Then everyone who is homophobic can realize their brothers, their sisters, and their aunts are gay.” He told another reporter: “Next time we begin the march from the police station [in Kampala]…”
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The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network’s 5th Symposium on HIV, Law and Human Rights was held in Toronto on June 13th and 14th, 2013. One of the events was “A conversation with Frank Mugisha” which took place at the Toronto Reference Library, attended by about 300 people. The CBC’s Ron Charles interviewed Mr. Mugisha in front of the audience, members of whom asked questions at the end.
The diminutive 30-year old Mugisha was calm and reasonable throughout, coming across as a man who has had to do some hard thinking and to strategize with love. He spoke about new voices for LGBT rights in Uganda – mainly, but not only – in Kampala; about threats to the emerging community: American author and anti-Gay activist Scott Lively and his pivotal “The Homosexual Agenda” slide-show and lecture in 2009; Ugandan M.P. David Bahati and his stalled Anti-Homosexual parliamentary bill; and angry anti-Gay protests in the streets after Ugandan tabloid newspaper “Rolling Stone” published names and addresses of Kampala “Homos”, stating: “Hang them!”. Mugisha spoke also of David Kato, one of the founders of Ugandan human-rights organization S.M.U.G. (Sexual Minorities Uganda), murdered in 2011 because of his outspoken-ness, and who also campaigned for children’s and women’s rights; and of former Ugandan Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, an Anglican clergyman who is still a vocal defender of LGBT rights.
He said he is looking forward to the 2nd Uganda Pride March – to be held during the summer of 2013 – and he confirmed his own religious faith; he is still a Christian, still a Catholic. Asked by Ron Charles what keeps him in Uganda – where he requires a chaperone wherever he goes and must carefully plan his movements – when he could find asylum in other nations, Mugisha said: “People say I am their inspiration – but they are an inspiration to me – so I can never talk about leaving the country. Why do I keep smiling? I try to keep a positive attitude after all the bad stories I’ve heard and I want to put a human face on our work. ‘Those people’ – what some Ugandans call homosexuals – are they devils, selling their bodies, molesting children? – well, I try to reach these Ugandans who do not know us, I try to reach them one on one.”
Finally, Mugisha suggested to Charles that Progressive Christian voices need to speak up, and sensitive international diplomacy should be applied on such a “delicate” issue as homosexuality in Uganda; that media shock tactics will harm those most vulnerable plus inflame the majority. He said that if money comes to Uganda to do good – then “follow the money” and make sure that human-rights issues in Uganda are being addressed as a group, because it’s not just about homosexuality. Mugisha reminded the audience that the South African government has spoken out against the anti-Gay movement in Uganda, and that Cameroon, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zambia are more homophobic – voices are silenced – than Uganda which is by and large known for the warm-heartedness of its people. Charles finished by asking the obvious question: what does the future hold for LGBT rights in Uganda? Mugisha spoke methodically, thoughtfully, as he had for the entire hour and a half: “I don’t think there will be acceptance – in my lifetime. But tolerance, yes. Perhaps even anti-hate-crimes legislation.”
The following is an interview with Frank Mugisha by journalist Elizabeth Palmberg from March 2013. We thank Soujourners website (“Faith in Action for Social Justice”) for provision of this text:
1. What’s your response to the letter U.S. religious leaders signed last year, which condemned the “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” before Uganda’s Parliament because it “would forcefully push lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people further into the margins”?
Uganda is a very Christian country. About 85 percent of our population is Christian—Anglican, Catholic, and Pentecostal. So for religious leaders to speak out against the Ugandan legislation, that is very important for me and for my colleagues in Uganda, because it speaks not only to the politicians and legislators, but also to the minds of the ordinary citizens.
It is very important to have respected religious leaders involved, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, because these are leaders who have spoken out on other human rights issues such as apartheid, women’s rights, and slavery. And for us, for the voice of LGBT rights, to join with these other issues, clearly indicates that our movement is fighting for human rights.
2. Before Parliament adjourned without passing the “kill the gays” bill, an official had suggested it would pass as a “Christmas gift.” As a Catholic yourself, what’s your response to that image?
What I’ve always said is that instead of promoting hatred, we should promote love. And clearly, this law has so much discrimination, the language is full of hatred; this is not appropriate for Jesus’ birthday, because he said love your God and love your neighbour as you love yourself—those are the greatest commandments.
3. As an African, how do you see all this?
The bill itself violates our own culture as Africans, because Africans are people who are united to each other, but this bill clearly divides. For example, it includes a clause that says that every person should report any “known homosexual” to authorities, and failure to do that becomes criminal—it calls for a witch hunt that was never seen in African culture. The bill also criminalizes the “promotion of homosexuality,” which would criminalize any kind of dialogue or talk about homosexuality in my country.
4. Would it require clergy to turn in gay members of their flocks?
Yes, priests taking confession and any religious leader—whether giving health support, psychosocial counseling, or anything—are required to go and report to the authorities. So this totally violates Christian teaching, including the Catholic faith.
5. Does the bill threaten efforts to fight HIV?
Even if the death penalty is removed, the legislation itself will drive LGBT people underground—already now, without the bill passing, there’s fear. People are afraid to go to health workers and say that they’re in same-sex relations, so this will happen underground, with no information, and that will greatly increase the spread of HIV/AIDS.
6. What message do you have for Christians in the U.S.A.?
It is important for people to know that there has been a lot of influence from American fundamentalist Christians in promoting this hatred in Uganda; some of them have been very vocal. We think that Christians in the U.S.A. should hold these preachers accountable.
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