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Unitarian Ugandan minister to speak in Silver Spring; connects anti-gay U.S. groups to extremism in Africa

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Presentation on Uganda
Rev. Mark Kiyimba
Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
Unitarian Universalist Church
10309 New Hampshire Ave.
Silver Spring, MD
Free, open to the public
Uucss.org
Ugandaunitarian.org

 

These are challenging times for LGBT people and their allies in Uganda. Fanned by anti-gay rhetoric from American evangelicals working in the country, Ugandan politicians are trying to resume debate on the infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill first introduced in 2009, just as Republican presidential candidates are bringing anti-gay rhetoric to the primary campaign.

Ugandan Unitarian minister Rev. Mark Kiyimba gives a presentation Tuesday on the state of LGBT rights in his home country. (Photo by Nancy Pierce; courtesy Unitarian Universalist World)

Although homosexual acts by both men and women are already illegal in Uganda and punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment, this bill seeks to step up enforcement and increase penalties against gays and lesbians and their straight allies. “Repeat offenders” would be subject to the death penalty. Individuals and companies promoting LGBT rights would be penalized. Ugandan citizens would be required to report any homosexual activity within 24 hours or face a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment. Ugandan citizens living abroad would be subject to extradition for having same-sex relations outside of the country. Similar sanctions would apply to HIV-positive people.

One of the leaders in the fight against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is Rev. Mark Kiyimba, minister in exile of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. Kiyimba, a straight ally, has been forced to leave Uganda because of threats against his life. He has received numerous death threats and was brought in for police questioning for “recruiting homosexuals at his church.” The minister is currently touring the United States speaking out against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and the American evangelical pastors who support it. He has left his wife and child behind in Uganda, but plans to return to them soon.

As part of his tour, Kiyimba will be speaking at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Silver Spring Tuesday, Jan. 17 at 7:30 p.m. Senior minister Rev. Elizabeth Lerner Maclay is proud to host.

“Rev. Mark Kiyimba is one of the most courageous, compassionate and visionary religious leaders in the world today,” Maclay says. “The peril he and his congregation are facing remind us why equal rights and protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people are essential the world over — including here in Maryland. We’re sure a lot of people will want to hear about the remarkable work he and his congregation are doing in the face of incredible danger.”

Kiyimba and Maclay are quick to point out that the Ugandan bill has strong links to American politics and the effort to export the American culture wars to Africa, where it is finding fertile soil, especially in conservative sub-Saharan countries. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced in October 2009 on the heels of a two-day conference led by American pastors Scott Lively, Don Schmierer and Caleb Lee Brundidge who asserted that homosexuality is a direct threat to the cohesion of African families. Lively, a former state director for Focus on the Family, said the conference, which was attended by thousands, including prominent Ugandan politicians, was like “a nuclear bomb against the gay agenda in Uganda.”

In response to this, Kiyimba said there is a moral obligation for his church to oppose the anti-gay bill.

“Because the bill was started by evangelicals,” he says during a Blade interview this week, “we thought it necessary for our church to counter those negative attitudes. We must do everything we can to stop this bill.” He organized an LGBT conference in Kampala that was attended by about 200 activists and his church hosted an event called “Standing on the Side of Love: Reimaging Valentine’s Day” last February. Kiyimba also founded the New Life Children’s Home and the New Life Primary School, an orphanage and school for children who have lost parents to AIDS or who themselves are HIV positive.

Kiyimba, who has a strong record as an advocate for both women’s rights and gay rights, feels it is important for progressive evangelicals to stand against the hate-filled rhetoric of some American right-wing pastors.

“It was started by Focus on the Family,” he says. “They started spreading hate among the people here. They are the ones who started it by coming to Uganda and holding seminars and workshops and telling people that homosexuality cannot be healed and telling people that there is a homosexual agenda to destroy the family and that the government needs to do something — that governments all over the world need to take a strong stand against homosexuality.”

Kiyimba also noted that there are links between the debate on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda and the Republican primaries. “Politicians such as Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum are linked to the American evangelical pastors who went to Uganda. There is no difference. They use the same language to discuss homosexuality and the traditional family, but in Uganda they are calling to kill the gay people.”

The timing of Kiyimba’s talk in Silver Spring is noteworthy because it comes right before the one-year anniversary of the murder of Ugandan activist David Kato. Since the bill was introduced, Ugandan media have issued calls for harsher punishments for “immoral” behavior. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have reported an increase in detention and torture of those suspected of having homosexual relations, and one newspaper published a list of Uganda’s 100 “top” gays and lesbians, along with their photos and addresses, and the command “hang them.” Many on the list have been threatened, beaten and ostracized. One of them, David Kato, Uganda’s most prominent gay activist, was found bludgeoned to death last January. Police investigating the crime have called it a robbery.

Asked why American gays and lesbians and their allies should be concerned about the fight in Uganda, Kiyimba says, “People should join us and understand that we are a global village now. We are all one. If I am hurt, at the end of the day, you are also hurt. We want our friends in the West to take some responsibility to speak to the government here and in Uganda so that they can have an open mind on homosexuality. It is not a vice that people choose. We need to have an international voice to speak for those voiceless people in Uganda,”

Maclay shares two more reasons why locals should attend Kiyimba’s talk. First, she notes, “We need to pay attention — stay informed, talk to our legislators, write letters to the editor, contribute funds. This is an opportunity for people in the area to learn first-hand about the situation in Uganda. We are dealing with the same issues here, issues of respect and safety, in very different, but still very significant ways.”

But more importantly, she adds, our attention to the issue could help save Kiyimba’s life. “He is going back to Uganda at the end of the month. He can be kept safe by our awareness and concern. American input has a big impact on Ugandan society. It can be an impact that spreads hatred and intolerance or we can turn it around and reach out with compassion and respect. It is my absolute belief we can turn it around. It is my great hope that our care for him and his congregation and the children they care for will keep him safe.”

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Celebrity News

Lizzo makes $50K donation to Marsha P. Johnson Institute

Singer is vocal LGBTQ ally

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Lizzo at the 65th Grammy Awards (Screenshot from the Grammy Awards)

When Lizzo sings “If I’m shinin,’ everybody gonna shine,” in her hit song, “Juice,” she means it. Proof of that came this week on Instagram when the LGBTQ ally announced the first winner of her annual Juneteenth Giveback Campaign is the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, a national nonprofit based in Richmond, Calif., dedicated to the protection and defense of Black transgender people. 

And she did so in song: “On the first day of Juneteenth, Lizzo gave to me,” she sang in her video, posted Tuesday, as she revealed her $50,000 gift to MPJI.

“That’s right, we know who Marsha P. Johnson is. We know what Marsha P. Johnson has done for the LGBTQ, emphasis on that ‘T,’ Q community,” said Lizzo to her 13.5 million followers. “Thank you so much to the people at the Marsha P. Johnson Institute. You deserve this, and I hope this helps you so much as you help protect our Black trans family.” 

“What the Marsha P. Johnson Institute does is protects and defends the rights of Black transgender people. They do this by organizing community, advocating for the people, and creating an intentional healing community, developing transformative leadership and promoting collective power,” she said. 

“We are overjoyed for the shoutout from Lizzo today, the generosity of her sharing her platform and the recognition of MPJI and its work,” said Elle Moxley, MPJI’s executive director. “The resources from this campaign will ensure the protection and defense of Black transgender people continue at a time where it is so vitally needed. We are so grateful for the support of Lizzo and her fans.”

As one of Time Magazine’s Persons of the Year for 2019 and a 2023 Grammy winner, Lizzo is more than a pop star but an inspiration to millions of fans for her body-positive attitude, her self-confidence on stage and in her videos, her empowering music and her activism. She’s also the founder of her own clothing line, Yitty. In 2021, she made headlines when she publicly corrected a paparazzo for using “she/her” pronouns and misgendering Demi Levato.

As part of her campaign, now in its 4th year, Lizzo recognizes Black-led grassroots organizations and businesses and encourages her fans to join her in supporting each of the five organizations she highlights this week. Fans who take action by donating are  entered into a drawing for an all-expenses paid trip to see her perform at Fuji Rock in Japan later this year. 

This week’s other nonprofits receiving gifts are: Black Girls Smile, Sphinx Music, the University of Houston and Save Our Sisters United.

Find out more about Lizzo’s 4th annual Juneteenth Giveback Campaign by clicking here.

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Celebrity News

Anne Heche dies after removal from life support

Actress dated Ellen DeGeneres in late 1990s

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(Screenshot/YouTube Inside Edition)

Actress Anne Heche died after she was removed from life support on Sunday, nearly two weeks after her Mini-Cooper crashed through a two-story house in Los Angeles’ Mar Vista neighborhood. Investigators with the Los Angeles Police Department believe she was intoxicated at the time.

She sustained a severe anoxic brain injury along with severe burns and was being treated at the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital, near Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley.

The 53-year-old actress who was a star of films like “Donnie Brasco,” the political satire “Wag the Dog” and the 1998 remake of “Psycho,” had been declared legally dead under California law on Friday, however, her family kept her alive long enough to be an organ donor.

In a statement Friday, the LAPD announced that: “As of today, there will be no further investigative efforts made in this case. Any information or records that have been requested prior to this turn of events will still be collected as they arrive as a matter of formalities and included in the overall case. When a person suspected of a crime expires, we do not present for filing consideration.” LAPD detectives had previously made public that investigators into the crash found narcotics in a blood sample taken from Heche.

The actress’s family released a statement on Friday:

“Today we lost a bright light, a kind and most joyful soul, a loving mother, and a loyal friend. Anne will be deeply missed but she lives on through her beautiful sons, her iconic body of work, and her passionate advocacy. Her bravery for always standing in her truth, spreading her message of love and acceptance, will continue to have a lasting impact,” the statement added.

Heche was married to camera operator Coleman Laffoon from 2001 to 2009. The two had a son, Homer, together. She had another son, named Atlas, during a relationship with actor James Tupper, her co-star on the TV series “Men In Trees.”

Laffoon left a moving tribute on an Instagram reel in which he also gave an update on how their 20-year-old son Homer Laffoon is coping with the loss of his mother.

“I loved her and I miss her, and I’m always going to,” he said adding: “Homer is okay. He’s grieving, of course, and it’s rough. It’s really rough, as probably anybody can imagine. But he’s surrounded by family and he’s strong, and he’s gonna be okay.”

“Rest In Peace, Mom, I love you, Homer,” the actor’s 20-year-old son, Homer, said in a statement after Heche was declared legally dead on Friday.“ My brother Atlas and I lost our Mom,” read the statement. “After six days of almost unbelievable emotional swings, I am left with a deep, wordless sadness. Hopefully, my mom is free from pain and beginning to explore what I like to imagine as her eternal freedom. Over those six days, thousands of friends, family, and fans made their hearts known to me. I am grateful for their love, as I am for the support of my Dad, Coley, and my stepmom Alexi who continue to be my rock during this time. Rest In Peace Mom, I love you, Homer.”

Tupper, a Canadian actor who starred alongside Heche in “Men in Trees,” had a 13-year-old son, Atlas, with her. “Love you forever,” Tupper, 57, wrote on his Instagram post’s caption with a broken heart emoji, which shared an image of the actress from Men in Trees.

Between 1997 and 2000, Heche was also in a relationship with talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.

“This is a sad day,” DeGeneres posted on Twitter. “I’m sending Anne’s children, family and friends all of my love.” The year after her break-up with the comedian, in September 2001, Heche recounted in her memoir “Call Me Crazy,” about her lifelong struggles with mental health and a childhood of abuse.

KTLA’s entertainment reporter Sam Rubin noted that over the past two decades, Heche’s career pivoted several times. In 2017, she hosted a weekly radio show on SiriusXM with Jason Ellis called “Love and Heche.”

In 2020, Heche made her way into the podcast world. She launched “Better Together” which she cohosted alongside Heather Duffy Boylston. The show was described as a way to celebrate friendship. 

She also worked in smaller films, on Broadway, and on TV shows. She recently had recurring roles on the network series “Chicago P.D.,” and “All Rise” and was a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars.”

People magazine reported that several of Heche’s acting projects are expected to be released posthumously.

These include “Girl in Room 13,” expected to be released on Lifetime in September, “What Remains,” scheduled to be released in 2023, and HBO Max TV series “The Idol,” created by Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd) and Euphoria creator Sam Levinson.

In her Instagram post from earlier this year Heche stands between her sons Atlas, 13 and Homer, 20.

From KTLA:

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‘Star Trek’ actress Nichelle Nichols dies at 89

George Takei tweets ‘we lived long and prospered together’

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(Screenshot/YouTube The Smithsonian Channel)

She was a groundbreaking cultural icon who broke barriers in a time of societal upheaval and battling for the civil rights of Black Americans. An actress, a mother and thoroughly devoted to the legions of fans of “Star Trek,” Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek’s Lt. Nyota Uhura, has died at 89.

The announcement on her Facebook page by her son read:

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Friends, Fans, Colleagues, World

I regret to inform you that a great light in the firmament no longer shines for us as it has for so many years.

Last night, my mother, Nichelle Nichols, succumbed to natural causes and passed away. Her light however, like the ancient galaxies now being seen for the first time, will remain for us and future generations to enjoy, learn from, and draw inspiration.

Hers was a life well lived and as such a model for us all.

I, and the rest of our family, would appreciate your patience and forbearance as we grieve her loss until we can recover sufficiently to speak further. Her services will be for family members and the closest of her friends and we request that her and our privacy be respected.

Live Long and Prosper,

Kyle Johnson

Nichols was born in Robbins, Ill., in 1932, according to her IMDb page. Legendary composer Duke Ellington “discovered” Nichols and helped her become a singer and dancer. She later turned to acting, and joined Gene Roddenberry’s “Star Trek,” where she played Uhura from 1966 to 1969.

Out actor George Takei who played ‘Sulu’ on Star Trek the original series with Nichelle Nichols who played Lt. Nyota Uhura, at a Star Trek convention in this undated photo. (George Takei/Twitter)

It was in that role of Uhura that Nichols not only broke barriers between races, most famously her onscreen kiss, the first between a Black person and a white person, with castmate William Shatner, who played Capt. James T. Kirk, but she also became a role model for young Black women and men inspiring them to seek out their own places in science, technology, and other human endeavors.

In numerous interviews over the years Nichols often recalled how the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a fan of the show and praised her role and personally encouraged her to stay with the series.

When the first series ended Nichols went on to become a spokesperson for NASA, where she “helped recruit and inspire a new generation of fearless astronauts.” She later reprised her role in several successful “Star Trek” films and continued to advocate for the advancement of Black Americans especially in the areas of science and technology.

Formerly a NASA deputy administrator, Frederick Gregory, now 81, told the Associated Press he once saw an advertisement in which Nichols said “I want you to apply for the NASA program.”

“She was talking to me,” he recounted. The U.S. Air Force pilot would apply and later become the first African American shuttle pilot.

President Joe Biden weighed in Sunday afternoon on her passing in a statement issued by the White House:

In Nichelle Nichols, our nation has lost a trailblazer of stage and screen who redefined what is possible for Black Americans and women.
 
A daughter of a working-class family from Illinois, she first honed her craft as an actor and singer in Chicago before touring the country and the world performing with the likes of Duke Ellington and giving life to the words of James Baldwin.
 
During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, she shattered stereotypes to become the first Black woman to act in a major role on a primetime television show with her groundbreaking portrayal of Lt. Uhura in the original Star Trek. With a defining dignity and authority, she helped tell a central story that reimagined scientific pursuits and discoveries. And she continued this legacy by going on to work with NASA to empower generations of Americans from every background to reach for the stars and beyond.
 
Our nation is forever indebted to inspiring artists like Nichelle Nichols, who show us a future where unity, dignity, and respect are cornerstones of every society.

Nichols son said that services will be private for family members and her closest friends.

In 2008 the actress at a news conference, coordinated by the filmmakers of the motion picture “TRU LOVED,” in honor of the more than 900 students at Los Angeles’ Miguel Contreras Learning Complex’s School of Social Justice who participated in the GLSEN Day of Silence.

Nichelle Nichols speaks on LGBTQ rights:

Her fellow castmate and life long friend, openly Out actor George Takei shared his sadness on hearing of Nichols’ passing on Twitter:

From the September 2016 edition of the Smithsonian Channel: “Star Trek’s decision to cast Nichelle Nichols, an African American woman, as major character on the show was an almost unheard-of move in 1966. But for black women all over the country, it redefined the notions of what was possible.”

Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols on Uhura’s Radical Impact:

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