Reflecting on my day with Frank Mugisha
By Cathy Kristofferson, GetEQUAL MA ; Photos by Joe Oliverio
Now that the Ugandan Parliament has recessed with Speaker Kadaga unable to fulfill her ‘Christmas gift’ promise of passing the Kill-The-Gays bill for her people, the gay community of Uganda along with me and many activists worldwide have all sighed with relief welcoming the near 2 month reprieve before the bill can rear its ugly head again. It has given me the chance to reflect on the wonderful opportunity I had to spend most of a recent Friday at the Stop The Hate and Homophobia Coalition Springfield’s events in celebration of International Human Rights Day hosting Frank Mugisha of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and folks from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR). Together we all participated in a standout protest in front to the Federal Courthouse and followed that with a potluck and roundtable discussion of all things Frank Mugisha, Uganda, and their intersections with all human rights. Our street action protested the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHB), a.k.a. the Kill-The-Gays bill for its death penalty maximum sentence, which had been re-introduced before the Ugandan Parliament along with the American Evangelicals who participated in the 2009 ‘Global Gay Agenda’ workshop that led to the bill’s initial introduction mere months after they left. The major participant of that workshop was Scott Lively of Abiding Truth Ministries located about half a mile up State St. from the Federal Courthouse where we were standing.
Back in Uganda where homophobia is rampant, members of the gay community are in constant fear of physical harm, often beaten in the streets during broad daylight or burned out of their homes. I was concerned for Frank as he stood there shivering in his hat, gloves and full length coat along the side of State St. but that was mainly due to the Yankees emblem on his hat! After sharing a laugh and discreetly rolling the band of his hat up and over that NYY emblem I just stood back and wondered at the quiet graceful manner of this man often thrust into the center of the raging controversy that is homosexuality in homeland. He is one of the only four out-and-proud LGBTI people in Uganda as he would explain to us later that evening but you wouldn’t image that watching him then smiling holding a “Scott Lively Ministries of Hate and Homophobia Springfield ←→ Uganda” sign out there with the rest of us.
—Yes, that’s right – in all of Uganda there are only 4 people who are totally out and proud no matter the situation. If it’s concerning a human rights issue there might be 10 willing he told us, if at an LGBTQ event there may be 30, but if an event is held in private complete with password and whispered required color to wear then perhaps in the hundreds as were the 360 that showed up to celebrate Frank’s last birthday posted only on his Facebook page. Humorously though, the party was preceded by a call from the Ugandan government warning that if he proceeded with the same-sex wedding they’d heard he was hosting his party would of course be raided!
During the Q & A I asked the first question when the crowd paused, one that continues to be a matter of great disagreement online: Should the international community threatened aid and/or sanctions due to the AHB passed or simply even being debated? Frank reiterated the answer that had he and other Ugandan activists had posted many times and that was No as regardless of the status of the bill the gay community suffers targeting and scapegoating being blamed as the reason the country will lose funding while at the same it infuriates the members of Parliament as they don’t need Westerners telling them how to run their own country.
Others answers included an explanation that unlike the US where acceptance is often generational, in Uganda the youth have seen only a small shift where privately they might be accepting but publicly not. The youth in Uganda are very dependent on their parents so most often stay in the closet until after university since gay rumors often lead to suspension even if the reason for suspension is fabricated. Although Frank came out to his family at age 14 he said the he would not come out were he young now because homophobia has greatly increased. There might have been bullying back then but now the risk of street beatings and house burnings is very high for anyone brave enough to publicly come out or even be found out. Frank also commented that as advocacy and activism increase so do the mistaken claims of recruitment and promotion.
Amongst the ironies I heard that night was that it seemed to me that it was not homosexuality that is un-African as so often claimed, but Christianity which was brought in and it was the Christians, starting particularly with the Pentecostals, and culminating with those 3 American Evangelicals – Lively, Brundidge, and Schmierer who hosted the infamous ‘Gay Agenda’ workshop – who have brought the homophobia to Uganda all the while recruiting followers and promoting hate, sometimes paying stooges to pretend to be ex-gay along the way, all of which is exactly what they falsely accuse the gay community of doing!
When asked about support from surrounding African nations, Frank replied that most African nations are true to their colonial roots and are as equally non-supportive with leftover anti-sodomy laws still on the books. Nigeria currently introduced its own ‘Jail The Gays’ bill now making headlines. Recently fellow African Bishop Desmond Tutu spoke out against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill but Frank didn’t think that would have much effect as Ugandans typically don’t hold a lot of respect for Tutu. Sitting there for me, I wondered what that said about the world when people believe designated hate group leader Scott Lively and discount Nobel Peace Prize winner Bishop Tutu.
Frank also commented that before Scott Lively came to Uganda, churches had always come to talk to churches but Lively came to talk to the politicians setting a new standard for American Evangelical interference in the Ugandan political process. And now the Ugandan Parliament likes to complain about foreign interference when the international community speaks out about the bill.
When asked what gives him hope, he quickly replied “The challenges.” He noted he is encouraged by the changes and the progress he sees. And for him personally his landlord, despite knowing his status and notoriety, lets him stay! He also mentioned the fact that the AHB has yet to pass gives him hope it might still be defeated. But when asked what would happen if the bill did pass, Frank said he himself would immediately be arrested for being known to be gay and for being an LGBTQI advocate. The gay community would immediately go underground, their only hope would be finding a way to take the bill to court for its known unconstitutionality.
One thing that was sad to hear was that the United States is the hardest place to seek asylum for gay refuges fleeing the pain and suffering inflicted on them by American Evangelicals. How ironic. Other countries provide legal help and places to stay none of which the United States supplies nor helps with leaving the asylum seeker struggling to cope and inevitably looking elsewhere.
I had the distinct pleasure of driving Frank from the Springfield events on to his next stop in Boston. On the drive Frank continued his openness and let me propose a couple of hypotheses of mine to him like my thinking that David Bahati’s recent AP story about the death penalty being removed, which Bahati knows isn’t true since the bill cannot be modified until brought up for debate in the Parliament, was just Bahati’s way of getting his name re-attached to the bill having recently being supplanted in all the media releases by Speaker Kadaga. In that, we agreed. I am left to wonder who will be the champion now once the Ugandan Parliament returns from recess. Will Speaker Kadaga still control all the cards, or will Davad Bahati reassume the reigns?
When I got home from dropping Frank in Boston I saw this on his twitter feed:
@frankmugisha @obed247 @All4Uganda You leave society with no choice but to hate you with a passion.
Looking at the stream from his twitter account it appeared he had been trying to defend the invasion of privacy that occurred when the media splashed a gay outing exposé in the headlines no doubt just more media deflections from the real issues that plague Uganda. After such a wonderful day it made me sad to think that Frank must face this type of hate probably far too often.
For us in the Stop The Hate and Homophobia Coalition we will now plan for the next in step in the CCR lawsuit of Scott Lively for crimes against humanity of persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Opening oral arguments will be January 7th in that Federal Courthouse on State St where we stood in solidarity with our new friend Frank Mugisha. Just for him, we are hoping for his requested snow.
By Cathy Kristofferson/ Photots Joe Oliverio © 2012 All Rights Reserved
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