Bio: Executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, which works for full legal and social equality in the country, and recipient of the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.
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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 neighbor 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.?
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. should hold these preachers accountable.
—Interview by Elizabeth Palmberg