Tag Archives: Frank Mugisha

Ugandan gays hope the pope will speak out on their behalf

Gay activists are hoping Pope Francis will preach tolerance toward homosexuals, and even go so far as to condemn violent attacks against gays during his upcoming visit to Uganda. Church leaders, however, are praying he’ll avoid the issue altogether.

The divergent expectations underscore the acrimonious state of the gay rights debate on a continent where homosexuality remains taboo and homosexuals are greatly despised. In Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal and where attacks against gays have forced many to seek refuge abroad or lead secret lives at home, gay leaders nevertheless hope Francis when he comes on Friday will weigh in with a firm message of tolerance.

“I see this particular pope as more progressive but I wouldn’t call him an ally like (President) Obama,” said Frank Mugisha, a prominent gay leader. “I would like to see his position very clearly because what he said came as a by-the-way when he said he can’t judge.”

Francis, who will be visiting Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic from Nov. 25–30, famously said “Who am I to judge?” in referring to a purportedly gay priest. He has called for a church that is more tolerant and welcoming for those on the margins, including gays.

But he has also denounced what he calls the “ideological colonization” of the developing world, a reference to the way wealthy countries and non-governmental organizations condition development aid on Western ideas about contraception and human rights.

In Africa, that can boil down to the loss of international funding for school or health programs unless they promote condom use. Some European countries such as Sweden and Norway cut finding to Uganda’s government when it passed an anti-gay bill, which had widespread support in Uganda even as the international community condemned it as draconian.

The bill was signed into law last year before a court nullified it on a technicality; an earlier version had prescribed the death penalty for some homosexual acts. Homosexuality is still criminalized under a colonial-era law banning sex acts against the order of nature.

Local church leaders said it was necessary to protect poor African children from Western homosexuals who lure them with money. They support stronger anti-gay legislation.

At a recent Vatican meeting on family issues, African cardinals were at the forefront in blocking the church’s overtures to gays and in insisting that the Catholic Church as a whole denounce this “ideological colonization,” saying wealthy countries have no right to impose their ideas on poor countries with different cultural views.

“I doubt that Pope Francis will talk about homosexuals,” said Archbishop John Baptist Odama, who heads the local conference of Catholic bishops. “There is a clear teaching of the church on homosexuality. Because the aim of it is not to promote life but to act against it, those with that tendency are called to abstinence.”

The Vatican spokesman refused last week to say whether Francis would wade into the debate, but he would be unlikely to go against the wishes of his local bishops. That’s just fine with many Ugandans, who hope Francis will avoid the subject and instead preach more broadly about improving the lives of marginalized people.

Simon Lokodo, a Ugandan ethics minister who publicly condemns homosexuals, said any statement on tolerance for homosexuals would be unpalatable to most Ugandans.

“I am praying that he doesn’t talk about this. Because it will open a Pandora’s box,” he said. “Here in Uganda the tone is different. If he is to talk about homosexuals, then let him focus on acceptance but not tolerance. We have always condemned this style of life, especially in the line of exhibitionism. It is bad enough that homosexuals are there, but let them not go ahead and expose themselves.”

Mugisha, the gay activist, believes a message of compassion from Francis might challenge local church leaders to be less hostile toward those who are openly gay.

“We want a positon that is very clear from the Vatican that says, ‘Do not discriminate, do not harm homosexuals,’ a message of tolerance,” he said.

Although the controversial law was overturned, attacks persist against gays, who face eviction by landlords when they are reported by neighbors, as well as being extorted by the police, according to activists.

A lesbian woman who works for a local rights group was recently attacked while returning home by men who banged her head against the gate, leaving her with serious facial wounds, Mugisha said. Six attacks against LGBT Ugandans were reported in October, forcing Mugisha’s group to convene an emergency security meeting, he said.

“The spiritual leaders in Uganda have actually incited the Ugandan society against gay people,” said Anthony Musaala, a Catholic priest who was suspended in 2013 after a paper he wrote exposing alleged transgressions by Ugandan priests was leaked to the local press. “Someone like Pope Francis, when he says ‘Who am I to judge,’ is very much trying to underscore the proper teaching of the church.”

Uganda passes anti-gay law called “worst in the world”

Ugandan lawmakers on Dec. 20 passed an anti-gay bill that calls for life imprisonment for certain homosexual acts, drawing criticism from rights campaigners who called it “the worst in the world.”

The legislations sets life imprisonment as the penalty for gay sex involving an HIV-infected person, acts with minors and the disabled, as well as repeated sex offenses among consenting adults, according to the office of a spokeswoman for Uganda’s parliament. The bill also prescribes a seven-year jail term for a person who “conducts a marriage ceremony” for same-sex couples.

When the bill was first introduced in 2009 — urged on by anti-gay, fundamentalist American Christians — it was widely condemned for including the death penalty. But that was removed from the revised version passed by parliament.

President Yoweri Museveni must sign the bill within 30 days for it to become law. Although in the past he spoke disparagingly of gays, in recent times Museveni has softened his position, saying he is only opposed to gays who appear to “promote” themselves.

“In our society there were a few homosexuals,” Museveni said in March. “There was no persecution, no killings and no marginalization of these people but they were regarded as deviants. Sex among Africans, including heterosexuals, is confidential. If I am to kiss my wife in public, I would lose an election in Uganda.”

The passage of the bill makes it “a truly terrifying day for human rights in Uganda,” said Frank Mugisha, a prominent Ugandan gay activist, who called the legislation “the worst in the world.” He urged the country’s president not to sign it into law.

“It will open a new era of fear and persecution,” he said. “If this law is signed by President Museveni, I’d be thrown in jail for life and in all likelihood killed.”

The bill was denounced by rights groups in the United States.

The bill targets gays “with brutal persecution and is one of the worst human rights violations of our time,” said Ross Murray, director of news for the American activist group, GLAAD. Murray said U.S. evangelical preachers and groups “created this travesty of justice, and it is now up to fair-minded Americans to speak out for the very lives of LGBT people in Uganda.”

Human Rights First called on U.S. President Barack Obama to press Museveni not to sign the bill into law.

Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda under a colonial-era law that criminalized sexual acts “against the order of nature,” but the Ugandan lawmaker who wrote the new legislation argued that tougher legislation was needed because homosexuals from the West threatened to destroy Ugandan families and were allegedly “recruiting” Ugandan children into gay lifestyles.

Ugandan gays disputed this account, saying that Ugandan political and religious leaders had come under the influence of American evangelicals who wanted to spread their anti-gay campaign in Africa. Ugandan gays singled out Scott Lively, a Massachusetts evangelical, and sued him in March 2012 under the Alien Tort Statute that allows non-citizens to file suit in the United States if there is an alleged violation of international law. Rejecting Lively’s request to dismiss the lawsuit, a federal judge ruled in August the case could proceed, saying systematic persecution on the basis of sexual orientation violates international norms.

Lively denied he wanted severe punishment for gays, and has previously told The Associated Press he never advocated violence against gays but advised therapy for them.

Ugandan gays had believed progress was being made to strengthen their rights in a country where prejudice against homosexuals is rampant. In 2012 they held their first gay pride parade and have sometimes joined street marches in support of all human rights.

Despite criticism of the anti-gay legislation abroad, it is highly popular among Ugandans who say the country has the right to pass laws that protect its children.

Amid international criticism, the bill was repeatedly shelved despite the protests of Ugandan lawmakers. Days before Christmas last year, the speaker of Uganda’s parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, said the anti-gay legislation would be passed as a “Christmas gift” to Ugandans. She presided over the session Friday that passed the bill despite opposition from Ugandan Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, who wanted the vote delayed.

David Bahati, the lawmaker who wrote the bill, said in a Facebook update Friday that the legislation was necessary “to defend our culture and to defend the future of our children.”

When the bill was first proposed, Obama called it “odious.”

Maria Burnett, a senior Africa researcher with Human Rights Watch, said the bill passed Friday is “still appalling” despite some amendments.

Homosexuality remains a taboo subject across many parts of Africa. Some 38 African countries — about 70 percent of the continent — criminalize homosexual activity, Amnesty International said in a report released earlier this year.

The rights group said of the new Ugandan law that it “would significantly hamper the work of human rights defenders and others who find themselves in conflict with the law merely by carrying out their legitimate activities.”