February 10, 2011 at 10:56 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
NAACP denounces anti-gay persecution in Uganda

Trans Africa Forum, the African-American group that led U.S. efforts to oppose South Africa’s apartheid government in the late 1970s, joined the NAACP Wednesday in calling on Congress to oppose legislation pending in Uganda that could result in the arrest and possible execution of gays.

In a news conference on Capitol Hill, officials with Trans Africa Forum, the NAACP, the National Black Justice Coalition and black church leaders said a growing number of mainline U.S. civil rights groups were beginning to speak out against anti-LGBT persecution in Uganda.

The civil rights group leaders and Frank Mugisha, an official with Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), who also spoke at the news conference, said they were especially troubled that an atmosphere of hostility toward LGBT people in Uganda appears to have been “imported” by U.S. fundamentalist Christian organizations.

“Trans Africa is very concerned about the situation in Uganda and all over the continent of Africa, where we see homophobia on the rise,” said Nicole Lee, president of Trans Africa Forum. “And one of the ironic concerns, frankly, is that this homophobia is not home grown,” she said.

“We have found that this homophobia is imported from the United States and Europe. And we really want to make clear that black civil society organizations here in the United States will not stand for this.”

Lee and the other U.S. civil rights leaders participating in the news conference said they were prompted to take a more vocal stand on LGBT-related developments in Uganda following the Jan. 26 murder of Ugandan LGBT rights leader David Kato, who was found bludgeoned to death in his home near the capital city of Kampala.

Police investigating the case said the murder was part of a robbery and not related to Kato’s role as a gay activist. But LGBT activists in Uganda dispute that claim, saying they believe Kato was targeted because of his sexual orientation.

Mugisha said the murder came at a time when Uganda’s news media and government were waging an aggressive campaign to portray LGBT people as child molesters seeking to “recruit children into homosexuality.” He noted that one of the country’s newspapers published a photo of Kato and other “known homosexuals,” along with their home addresses, under a headline that said, “Hang them.”

“We know the religious right has been pitting blacks against gays,” said Pastor Joseph Tolton of the Global Justice Institute. “They are now exporting this and using Uganda as their laboratory.”

Jasper Hendricks, an official with the D.C.-based National Black Justice Coalition, said his group was working closely with other U.S. civil rights organizations to urge Congress and the U.S. State Department to put pressure on the Ugandan government to drop efforts to pass the pending anti-homosexuality legislation, which has become known in human rights group circles as the “kill the gays bill.”

Hilary Shelton, the NAACP’s executive vice president, said leaders of the veteran black civil rights group consider the anti-LGBT developments in Uganda to be comparable to the lynchings and “Jim Crow” policies of segregation and discrimination faced by blacks in the U.S. Rev. Graylin Hagler of D.C.’s Plymouth Congregational Church said that religious leaders in Uganda appear to be using various biblical passages to justify the anti-gay campaign there just as some Christian leaders and clergy used the Bible to justify slavery and segregation in the U.S.

A video of the news conference can be viewed through this link: http://vimeo.com/19761450

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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