July 30, 2012 at 12:11 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Ugandan gay activist stresses LGBT equality key to fighting HIV/AIDS

Frank Mugisha (Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

  • AIDS-2012, WASHINGTON DC. USA, 22nd July- 27th JULY 2012

    This summer in Washington DC, citizens from other parts of the world were well received by Washingtonians during the AIDS-2012 Conference. AIDS has inspired many activists, the affected and the infected to work together. It has inspired grass-root groups to work towards networking and together be the voice for against human rights abuses. It has brought together the Global North and Global South. It is now possible to chart AIDS, join dots and do something about the infected and dying. Today key affected populations are provided with platforms to increase participation in decision-making. However, resources have decreased. A frugal approach is making it hard to target formerly un-attended population groups. Funds and resources still pour into the coffers of the desirable populations. Religious and cultural fervour are still skewed towards these desirable population groups. Risk reduction tools for the key affected populations face low promotion due to structural war paths including outright denunciation of some population groups being despicable and therefore not deserving a glance at all. The ambitious vision: zero new infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths is still a relevant clarion call. It makes universal access achievable and therefore calls upon all to not stand in the way of service provision, calls upon them to make contribution towards eradication of HIV-AIDS.

    Evidence-based protocol has revealed that HIV-1 has different forms and that all these persist in patients on HAART. Establishing centers of excellence and laboratories to investigate HIV, through to ensuring access to the scientific products by all beneficiaries, providing Intellectual property laws that are friendly, to providing opportunity to affected persons to present their psychosocial status and lastly allowing communities to meet and invigorate each other as the fight to eradicate HIV continues, requires all of us to bring down the discrimination barriers.

    Over 30,000 persons flocked to the Venue of the convention. This moment’s theme: Turning the Tide of the HIV epidemic together will remain the enduring call for everyone to be involved in the fight against HIV. This calls for consistency, planning, endurance, accountability, re-designing, re-dedication, capacity building and passing on skills to others as well. You too can do something as we move towards AIDS 2014, Melbourne.

    What, unfortunately, transpires during conferences for some activist-cum-leaders (who have personalised funders and continue to make sure it is their names that appear everywhere) is very de-motivating and the list is long: from stifling potential activists, lack of grooming tendencies, through to being the permanent figure/s at all conferences and engaging more in parties and dinners than actual conference sessions. As a leader at your own micro-level what are you doing to either continue doing something about eradicating HIV or giving room, and acknowledging those who are genuinely doing HIV work ? Is it about enjoying trips when it comes to HIV conferences in your case? Is it about not allowing your data collectors or staff below you, access to processes that would have enabled them benefit from support in form of scholarships by denying them recommendations? We know of so called leaders who claim to have interventions and groups but in reality they are just hood winking funders and they get all the support which they use for personal gains. This goes to them: Stop being the burden.

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