Does the fight for LGBT rights directly impact efforts to combat HIV/AIDS, especially in places like sub-Saharan Africa?
Ugandan gay activist Frank Mugisha stressed during an interview with the Blade before he attended the International AIDS Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center last week that he feels the two movements are interconnected. He said that a majority of LGBT Ugandans remain in heterosexual relationships, but a lack of information and pervasive homophobia contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS. “They’re married, they’re partnered, they’re in heterosexual relationships but as well they’re keeping their same-sex relations,” stressed Mugisha. “So that means there’s no information on any protective measures. There’s no information on anything so that means they’re engaging in unsafe sex and it is increasing HIV/AIDS.”
Mugisha, who is the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, was among who those discussed the virus’ impact on men and boys and ways they can prevent its spread during a July 22 panel at AIDS
He said he also spoke with a Ugandan government official whom he declined to identify about anti-LGBT discrimination in the East African country during the conference. Mugisha told the Blade before AIDS 2012 that he planned to ask other Ugandan politicians who had traveled to D.C. to attend the five-day gathering about the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill that once contained a provision that would have imposed the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts and its impact on efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
“I think they may be a bit defensive,” he said. “They may say that no, we don’t discriminate against anyone. Anyone can go seek help, treatment. We don’t ask people’s sexual orientation. I’ll tell them let’s be logical here. There’s no programming, there’s no information so how do you expect someone to go and seek genuine services.”
Mugisha, who is the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights’ 2011 laureate, also met with HIV/AIDS service providers and activists from Uganda and across Africa during AIDS 2012 that drew more than 30,000 delegates, journalists and activists to the nation’s capital.
“For me at the conference, the most important part is the network,” he said.
The Jan. 2011 murder of activist David Kato, who was SMUG’s then-advocacy and litigation officer, inside his Kampala home after a tabloid published his name and home address brought the plight of LGBT Ugandans onto the international stage.
While it remains unclear when Ugandan Parliamentarians will once again debate the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, the government last month faced criticism after it shut down a gay rights workshop that the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project presented. SMUG in a lawsuit it filed in a Massachusetts federal court in March accused American evangelical Scott Lively of violating international law when he allegedly conspired with Ugandan political and religious leaders to further exploit homophobic attitudes in the East African country before Parliamentarian David Bahati introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in 2009.
Mugisha, who debated Lively on Al Jazeera English last week, stressed during a Georgetown University panel in May that the case is about highlighting the “ex-gay” leader’s homophobia. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both urged the Ugandan government to protect the rights of its LGBT citizens. The White House and British Prime Minister David Cameron have also suggested that the allocation of international aid should hinge upon a country’s record on LGBT rights.
Mugisha said that while this pressure has had some impact among Ugandan officials, he stressed that Americans should speak out against those from this country whom he contends continue to exploit anti-LGBT attitudes to advance their own agenda.
“We’ve seen most of the homophobia come from here — from the U.S. to Uganda, the American evangelicals,” he said.