Frank Mugisha: I will be sentenced to death if anti-LGBT bill passes in Uganda

Internet blog Towleroad has recently published an interview with Ugandan gay activist Frank Mugisha about the on-going debate on the “kill the gays” bill.

Despite rumours that the death penalty for gay people has been removed from the bill, Mugisha insists that it is logistically impossible: “The committee said they have completed their report, and the committee cannot change the legislation. What they can do is, they can only make recommendations in their report. So right now we are talking about legislation that has the death penalty”.

Advocates for LBGT community are in danger

If the bill passes, Mugisha says he is as good as dead: “The fact that I’ve already said in Uganda that I’m gay, and that I’m an advocate for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersexual) activist rights, that means I’m promoting homosexuality in Uganda, according to this bill. This legislation, if passed into law, it would automatically make me a serial offender and I would be sentenced to death”.

According to Chris Johnson at the Washington Blade, however, a dispute over another, unrelated bill has stopped Parliamentary progress, meaning that the session may end for the season before the “kill the gays” bill can be passed. That would buy some time to fight it, but without a huge cultural shift, particularly one encouraged by Western donors, the bill will probably return down the road.

Gay rights are human rights
Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) represented by Frank Mugisha received the 2011 Rafto Prize for their work to make fundamental human rights apply to everyone. The same year, 2011, SMUG and Frank Mugisha received Robert F. Kennedy award for human rights.

Mugisha says the awards have had the desired effect. Being a LGBTI activist in Uganda is not an easy task, and it comes with a grave risk. After a year that brought the LGBTI movement in Uganda international attention and publicity, Frank Mugisha proclaims: “I see a huge change here, mostly with the young people, there have been huge improvements”. Mugisha explains that his personal profile has been heightened, giving him more protection which enables him to deal with the aggressive law enforcers in Uganda: “When I go to police stations they will know who I am and won’t harass me, because I have a high profile”.

Annika Rodriguez, coordinator of the Norwegian LGBT organisation Landsforeningen for Lesbiske og Homofile’s (LLH) work, has travelled to Uganda several times, and knows both Mugisha and the situation well. She agrees with Mugisha’s assessments and adds that the awards have given the LGBTI activists more faith in themselves and their cause: “The overall human rights situation in Uganda is serious, but in regard to the LGBTI community there have been some improvements made over the last year”.

Both Mugisha and Rodriguez agree that it is important to highlight that the LGBTI movement’s fight is not for a special set of rights, but for human rights. Mugisha says: “Most of all, the awards have been instrumental in showing that gay rights are human rights. They are rights like any other rights. The awards have given my movement more legitimacy”.

 The role of the international community
The international community has a role to play in helping LGBTI people in Uganda, but what their role should entail is a subject for discussion. While some believe a solution is to withhold funds, others believe this will only make the situation worse for LGBTI people.

Mugisha is among the latter: “I never believe in stopping aid to Uganda, because Uganda benefits a lot from international support. I also want international partners to get engaged in all issues concerning human rights in Uganda, not only the discrimination of LGBTI people”.

Rodriguez supports him in this: “establishing a conditionality clause in regards to LGBTI people on aid is not the solution”. Rodriguez adds that it is important to recognize that this fight is a Ugandan fight: “We are supporters in this cause, not initiators. Change will not occur unless it comes organically from inside Uganda. Our role is to listen and support, not initiate”.

Rodriguez emphasises the importance of awards such as the Rafto Prize: “This is why these types of awards are so important. If you have prejudices against a group, hearing about a human rights organisation’s point of view might help you change your mind”.

Mugisha adds that in addition to bringing attention to the movement, the awards have personally given him inspiration: “The awards have further given me more inspiration to do my work and also inspired many more LGBTI people in Uganda, Africa and elsewhere in the world”.

Both Rodriguez and Mugisha explain the importance of dialogue and communicating about important issues, Mugisha says: “I can mention that the international pressure has created dialogue”.

The fight for human rights is far from over in Uganda. Mugisha encourages the international community to take more action: “Get more engaged in supporting grass root civil society here in Uganda”. “The international community should ask progressive religious leaders to partner with us, so that we can begin the conversation”, he adds.

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