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Stolen document highlights homophobia in Uganda

‘If you don’t do something about your gay kid, he’ll end up in a grave with his guts hanging out’

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Frank Mugisha, Gay News, Washington Blade
Frank Mugisha, Gay News, Washington Blade

Ugandan LGBT rights advocate Frank Mugisha blames American evangelicals for spreading homophobia in east Africa. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

By THOM SENZEE

There is a surprising portrait in Uganda’s parliament building. It’s an oil-painted Idi Amin sporting a toothy smile and full military regalia. Amin poses while engaging in his trademark low-down, dual-fisted version of a fist pump.

Normally, it would be no surprise for a tourist to encounter a painting of a country’s former president inside the house of its legislature. But Amin was no ordinary president. He was a brutal dictator. He was allegedly a cannibal who literally ate his opponents and detractors for breakfast. The evidence for Amin’s cannibalism were the corpses of political foes found dangling by their Achilles tendons, after he was deposed, from meat hooks inside of a walk-in refrigerator at his compound.

Earlier this year a British journalist—let’s call him Ian Smith because, as you’ll see, disclosing his identity might preclude him from ever visiting Uganda again—went to the Chamber of Parliament in Kampala and took photos of some of the building’s more interesting features. The place was a ghost town at the time thanks to a special event where members of parliament were then gathered.

“That made it easy for me to steal the document,” recalls Smith.

The document he stole is titled: “Protect our young people from homosexuality: Debate and pass the anti-homosexuality bill now!”

Smith took the document from the Press Office at Parliament when the secretary wasn’t looking. It contains morbid images, such as one that may be posed or altered to depict a human figure lying on a bed with his or her intestines literally extruding onto a bed from his or her rectum.

The photo purports to be of a young man named Turyamureeba Wycliffe, who supposedly died from complications of “fisting” and tuberculosis (supposedly also brought on as a result of his homosexuality).

Mercifully and perhaps manipulatively, the document also includes a photo of Wycliffe in far happier and healthier days sitting in a decidedly effeminate posture. The juxtaposed imagery more subtly drives home the same point the brief hammers out in writing as, “Attention Ugandan MPs and parents: If you don’t do something about your gay (or gay-acting) kid, he’ll end up in a grave with his guts hanging out, just like this one did in Katungu Village.“

Uganda’s relatively newfound hatred for homosexuality is directly traceable to American missionaries who penetrated the country’s mindset by providing assistance in the fight against the east African AIDS epidemic.

Uganda Parliament, gay news, Washington Blade

A document obtained by the Blade was stolen from the Uganda Parliament’s pressroom and contains shocking claims about homosexuality. (Photo courtesy Thom Senzee)

Uganda, which not so long ago seemed equal to Kenya and South Africa as a symbol of hope that liberal democracies could flourish on the African continent, been indoctrinated into fervent homophobia by American evangelical diehards.

Their efforts have not only won followers in east Africa. Some argue the work of rightwing religious organizations with ties to people like former governors and Fox News celebrities, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin, has created a murderous environment for LGBT Ugandans.

David Kato, a Ugandan LGBT rights activist, was beaten to death after winning a lawsuit against a Ugandan magazine called “Rolling Stone” (no connection to the American publication of the same name) for publishing a list of names and photographs of 100 LGBT-rights leaders, calling for their execution. The article was a welcomed “calling out of perpetrators” for anti-homosexuality groups in Uganda, such as the Coalition for the Advancement of Moral Values (CAMOVA), which claims authorship of the aforementioned document, and the Family Life Network. While there is no proof that Kato’s death was connected to the magazine article, the New York Times reported that Kato “knew he was a marked man.”

However, Kato’s surviving friend, the officer of a group called Sexual Minorities-Uganda (SMUG), Frank Mugisha, makes no bones about American evangelicals’ role in creating a terrorized environment for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in Uganda.

“Most of the propaganda can be traced to U.S evangelists,” he told the Washington Blade. “They have been the most visible in Uganda.”

But it wasn’t always this way, according to Mugisha, who in 2011 received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Human Rights.

“The religious propaganda is traced back from the late ‘90s—especially in Uganda where missionaries came in to do HIV/AIDS work,” he said. “But they became more visible in 2000.”

Mugisha said the first time he saw the CAMOVA brief was when the Blade supplied it to him via email. He found it disgusting, but not surprising. In fact, he says, Uganda’s powerful, American-connected religious right has a firm grip on the ears of members of parliament.

“Our members of parliament go to church a lot. They interact with our church leaders. Politics in Uganda are centered around the church. So yes, the politicians unfortunately believe all these things.”

For journalist Ian Smith, the CAMOVA brief begged to be snatched for exposure in the media.

“I didn’t feel disgusted when I saw it sitting there in the press room,” Smith recalls. “I genuinely thought it was comical. Then, of course, you think more deeply into it and you realize, these people really believe this absurd rubbish.”

Multiple attempts to obtain comment about the document via the email address noted as contact information for the document’s author(s) yielded no response. Attempts to obtain reactions to the document from members of the Ugandan Parliament were also unsuccessful. According to Mugisha, there is little support for LGBT people among Uganda’s parliamentarians. But, he says, there is some.

“Yes there is,” he said. “But it’s very minimal; and most of the members of parliament are not comfortable giving us support in public. If they do support us they would rather it remains quiet.”

That means his and his colleagues’ work is lonely and dangerous. Most support comes from outside the country—from Americans and Europeans. What little support Sexual Minorities-Uganda gets from allies inside the country comes cloaked in secrecy.

“We do advocacy every day,” he says. “It happens at different levels. I spend half of my time in Uganda in meetings with different political leaders at all levels—from local leaders to national leaders. I lobby government, non-government organizations and civil society, trying to encourage them to work with SMUG.”

LGBT-rights advocates in Uganda and outside of the country blame the most recent, most radical and most violent anti-LGBT propaganda and homophobic activity in east Africa on a seminar organized by Ugandan Stephen Langa.

According to the New York Times, in 2009, Langa invited three prominent American evangelical Christian ministers to speak to Ugandan parents about the supposed threat of recruitment of their children by leaders of the so-called homosexual agenda for all kinds of terrible purposes.

At least one of the three was associated with discredited and recently shuttered “conversion-therapy” purveyor, Exodus International.

Another of the American evangelists blamed for setting in motion Uganda’s anti-gay hysteria with the 2009 seminar, entitled “Exposing the Homosexuals’ Agenda,” is Scott Lively.

Lively is author of a “gay-proofing” book for parents who fear having a gay child, which has been panned by mainstream psychology practitioners as “psychobabble” and “quackery.”

Mugisha says LGBT people in his country still live in constant fear and danger as a result of the seminar held more than four years ago.

“What I can say is that the Family Life Network and the anti-gay groups in Uganda have spread so much propaganda, which in turn has caused fear within the Uganda people,” he said. “This fear has brought hatred toward known and openly gay persons in Uganda, hence increasing the homophobia and hate crimes.”

The good news is that the anti-homosexuality bill, which the CAMOVA brief implored the Ugandan Parliament to pass last year, has not passed. If it had passed in its original form, homosexuality would have been punishable by death (the law was later rewritten to specify life in prison as the penalty for some convictions of homosexuality).

Further good news, according to Ian Smith, is the possibility that even the document presented to MPs by the homophobic Coalition for the Advancement of Moral Values in December 2012 may itself represent a silver lining of sorts.

“You would have thought all of their work of sewing hate was well done by now,” says Smith. “You wouldn’t think they would feel the need to go to such lengths as creating and passing about such a load of rubbish as this document.”

Perhaps, he says, the document in question is a sign of a cracking at the seams of the anti-homosexuality lobby in Uganda.

“Clearly there’s a feeling among them that they have not succeeded in convincing people that gay people are bad for Uganda.”

Was there ever a time in east Africa when LGBT people could live without fear of harassment, beatings and murder? According to Mugisha, there were indeed far better times.

“I would say all the way back before the British came and colonized us,” Mugisha said. “LGBT people were free. But more recently, before the coming of the evangelicals—especially the U.S. evangelicals.”

Recent events notwithstanding, Mugisha is hopeful about Uganda’s future.

“With the dialogue now and people talking about gay rights, we hope that things will change,” he said.

Even without passage of the anti-homosexuality law, homosexual acts are still against the law in Uganda, though Mugisha remains optimistic that change is coming.

“I think that there is a possibility that homosexuality will be decriminalized soon,” said Mugisha. “And the sodomy laws may be removed.”

Until then, Mugisha and myriad others in Uganda and across east Africa simply focus on surviving while working for change.

“SMUG can exist,” he said. “We are doing nothing illegal [and] we can exist in Uganda as an association. But we have to be careful. As an openly gay man, I can exist. But also, I have to be careful and take precautions some times.”

CAMOVA Anti-homosexuality Brief Uganda – Washington Blade exclusive

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Thom Senzee

    September 6, 2013 at 6:38 am

    Kudos to the Blade for allowing me to bring this story to light.

  2. Katende Andrew

    September 6, 2013 at 4:00 am

    I am a Ugandan, born and raised and it just kills me how much these so called politicians and religious leaders preach of “Love thy Neighbour” when at the same time they spread so much hatred….In a religious sermon i once heard, the preacher said ” We are to love our brothers and sisters but we need to be careful about the gays” inotherwords neigbour doesnt include gays as they preach it…..Am grateful this story has come to light and we have a clue of what those yuppies think of gays behind closed parliamentary doors. I will share it with everyone and when a time comes we will have to be strong together……Kudos

  3. Erik Muuna

    September 6, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Is Uganda a country or a joke! these politicians are like kids! where are the sources of the text written above? Poor Ugandan gays :( I hope people sometime soon realize their mistakes and ask for forgiveness.

  4. silamulsalsa

    September 7, 2013 at 6:42 pm

    Fear and ignorance about non-heterosexual orientation in Uganda are not new. Prior to the current distatsteful antipathy, Ugandans were NOT really more tolerant. I had to leave a certain school in Uganda 40 years ago because of a friendship I was involved in, which wasn’t even sexual, but was perceived to be.. I think the present crisis is making us a bit romantic or nostalgic for what never was. Pain makes us do stuff like that.

    First of all Ugandans don’t understand now, and didnt even before,( no matter what they say) what being gay means. How can you be tolerant of what you don’t understand.The whole subject was very much a taboo, which meant that it fell beneath the radar of any kind of discussions, whether for or against, in the media, parliament, on the streets or in the home. The wonderful thing about taboo is that it SILENCES EVERYONE on both sides of the discussion equally.Thats why there was less harrassment, at least of the verbal kind, before now.

    Ugandan silence however, was never pregnant with the milk of human kindness! We might have presumed that Ugandans were more tolerant before the evangelicals parachuted in with homophobic messages, actually they were neither tolerant nor intolerant. It is into this APPARENTLY suspended judgement about LGBTs that Scott Lively et all were able to cast their inimical seeds of lies and hate couched in religious terms. All this has now manifested to us what was already there-in potentia. Strong dislike of LGBTIs.

  5. Adrian Salsgiver

    September 8, 2013 at 10:02 pm

    Thank you for this. A few years ago I was reading the Blade at a bar in my neighborhood, and "The Colonel" walked up to me and said; "If some people knew the Ambassador was sitting next to a gay man at a bar you both may be killed". Not sure what country the Ambassador was from, but it was an African country, and he is a nice guy.

  6. Lorinc Del Motte

    September 10, 2013 at 2:13 am

    I just wish SMUG had chosen a better acronym—their current one is too easy to mock.

  7. Cameron Robert

    September 10, 2013 at 2:31 am

    Those morons in Uganda can't even feed themselves. Maybe they should spend their scarce resources on something more important than imprisoning consenting adults who engage in a relationship with someone of the same sex. It is patently unfair that gays and their loved ones should be devastated by discriminatory actions, while the bigots and their loved ones go about enjoying their lives as if nothing has happened. It's time to start making bigots pay for the discriminatory actions they take. When they have to pay a price, they might start to rethink their actions. If even one homosexual is imprisoned or harmed in Uganda, I say we start attacking heterosexual Ugandans in our countries. Start with embassy personnel. Then target Yoweri Museveni, Rebecca Kadaga, Pastor Martin Ssempa, Scott Lively, Caleb Brundidge, Don Schmierer, David Bahati, Rick Warren, Tony Perkins, and their loved ones.
    Sure would be a shame if the parliament building burned down with all those bigots in it.

  8. Cory M. Warren

    September 10, 2013 at 5:34 am

    Uganda has an aid epidemic because it has a rape epidemic. When women are not even allowed to say no to a sexual advance, of course dieases is going to spread fast.

  9. Renee P. Mckeever

    September 10, 2013 at 7:31 am

    you make $27h that's great going girl good for you! My story is that I quit working at shoprite to work online, seriously I couldn't be happier I work when I want and where I want. And with a little effort I easily bring in $35h and sometimes even as much as $85h…heres a good example of what I'm doing,….. http://www.Jam10.ℂ­O­M

  10. Robert Harvey-Kinsey

    September 10, 2013 at 5:52 pm

    What surprises me is that they take sexual acts that are not limited to gay people or even men and then use that to show homosexuality is bad. As if all gay people engage in these acts and no one else does. That alone is laughable, but the fact that simple common sense truth escapes them.

    I think the best approach for saving Uganda is not focusing on homosexuality at all. That is a fools game, because it leaves the underlying disease in place. Gays are the victims of these memes only because the evangelical movement desires power in this countries.

    The best approach is to focus on their religious leaders and their dark truths. White foreigners coming to take the money, land, and self rule away from the African people. A mission to indoctrinate their young into foreign cult practices that often leave their leaders soaking in tubs of gilded ivory while poor black youth attend to them. Once again back take their young to serve them in distant lands. Images of the corrupt black officials who look the other way while hard working African families are pushed off their land, their children stolen or corrupted, and their right to protest to their now distance overlords stripped away. Exposing the revelations of the evangelical manifestos that states their mission to achieve these wicked goals. These sort of memes are the ones that will vaporize that movement not focusing on gays. Gays are simply a means to an end for these beasts.

    Now see how reframing an argument in terms of fear and terror works? I bet you got mad and annoyed reading that last passage. I will tell you this. This is how these so called men of god work in those places and it will take fire to stop fire.

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World

Chilean House approves marriage equality bill

Vote took place two days after presidential election’s first round

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Chile, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

VALPARAÍSO, Chile — The Chilean House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The measure passed by a 101-30 margin roughly three months after the Chilean Senate approved by a 28-14 vote margin.

Two lawmakers abstained. The bill now goes back to the Senate for a final vote.

“After three decades of struggle, there is only one Senate vote left to achieve the so far elusive legal equality that all couples and families deserve,” said Javiera Zúñiga, a spokesperson for the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, a Chilean LGBTQ rights group, in a press release. “We celebrate this new step, now with the total conviction that we are at the final leg.”

Tuesday’s vote took place two days after the first round of Chile’s presidential election.

José Antonio Kast, a far-right former congressman, will face off against Congressman Gabriel Boric, who previously led a student protest movement, in a Dec. 19 runoff. Outgoing President Sebastián Piñera in June announced he supports the marriage equality bill.

Esteban Guzmán contributed to this story.

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Israeli deputy foreign minister denies country engages in ‘pinkwashing’

Idan Roll, 37, lives in Tel Aviv with husband, two children

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Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Idan Roll in D.C. on Nov. 17, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Israel’s openly gay deputy foreign minister this week dismissed the idea that his country’s government promotes LGBTQ rights in order to divert attention away from its policies towards the Palestinians.

“I would never, ever, put myself in a position that I would be the face of ‘pinkwashing’ as part of my role because I’m confident that there’s no such thing in Israel,” Idan Roll told the Washington Blade on Wednesday during an interview at the Riggs Hotel in downtown D.C.

Roll, 37, spoke with the Blade at the end of a 4-day trip to D.C., which took place less than six months after eight political parties formed a coalition government that ousted long-time Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Knesset earlier this month passed Israel’s first national budget in three years. Roll, who is the youngest person in the Israeli government, noted to the Blade it earmarks $30 million (NIS 90 million) to LGBTQ organizations across the country.  

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz in August announced Israel had lifted restrictions on blood donations from men who have sex with men. The Israeli Supreme Court in July ruled same-sex couples and single men must be allowed to have a child via surrogate.

A group of teenagers on Nov. 12 attacked a group of LGBTQ young people near Jerusalem’s main bus station as they were traveling to a transgender rights conference in Tel Aviv. Neil Patrick Harris is among the actors who expressed their support for the Tel Aviv International LGBT Film Festival amid calls from BDS (boycott, economic divestment and sanctions) Movement supporters to boycott it over Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.

Roll acknowledged Israel does not extend civil marriage to same-sex couples, but he also pointed out to the Blade the country does not “have civil marriage for straight people either” because marriage in the Jewish state is a religious institution. Roll noted he is among the openly LGBTQ people in the Israeli government and they “live a full, fulfilling life.”

“Are we perfect?” he asked rhetorically. “No. Are we one of the best places for gay people to live in the world? Definitely so, and I feel safe. And I feel welcomed. And I feel empowered and I feel like the best of it is ahead.”

Roll told the Blade the idea of “pinkwashing” comes from the fact “that not everyone is as informed as others about life in Israel.”

“That’s something that’s a task this new government and our ministry has, to better convey the Israeli story, and it’s a wonderful and complex and diverse story,” he said.

Roll also stressed he “would love for people to stop pinning one thing against the other.”

“Us doing tremendous work for LGBTQ equality does not get eliminated or erased or cancelled just because we have to also manage a very intricate conflict, which is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said. “Promoting progressive values is still something that is worth mentioning, and we are working towards bettering the lives of the Palestinians on a humanitarian and economic level. Things are not as black and white as they are portrayed.”

The separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank as seen from a gas station in Bethlehem, West Bank, on Nov. 12, 2016. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Roll lives in Tel Aviv with his husband, Harel Skaat, an Israeli pop star who he married in Utah in March, and their two children who they had via surrogates in the U.S.

The lawyer and former model who is a member of the centrist Yesh Atid party founded Pride Front, a group that encourages LGBTQ Israelis to become involved with the country’s political process. Roll told the Blade he decided to run for office after he and his husband started their family.

“It was quite a struggle,” he said, noting their second child was born via surrogate in Oklahoma. “And then it struck me that I have to practice what I preach. I have to not only just encourage others to take political action and move forward, but also I had to take the lead.”

Roll in 2019 won a seat in the Israeli Knesset. Lapid appointed Roll as deputy foreign minister after the new government took office.

“I’m a very young member of this government … and I am an openly gay member of this government,” said Roll. “I am very grateful of the life that I have been able to create for myself in Israel.”

“That’s a story that I feel like I can portray very authentically and I think that’s a story that needs to be told outside of Israel,” he added. “I’m also very proud to be part of the new face of a new government that is doing things differently and in a way I think now allows people of all different ethnicities and colors and agendas to find someone they can relate to in this government.”

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.), U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.) and other members of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus are among those who met with Roll when he was in D.C. Roll also sat down with Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, American Israel Public Affairs Committee members and Jewish students at George Washington University.

“We have a new government, and the new government is really different in many great ways,” Roll told the Blade. “It’s the most diverse government in our history and in a way it is the most diverse reflection of a very diverse society.”

He said one of the reasons he traveled to D.C. was “to reach out and to open a dialogue.” Roll also stressed Israel “has always been a bipartisan issue.

“It’s crucial to keep it that way and we intend to do that,” he said. “The U.S. is the most cherished and important ally we have and you need to cultivate relationships.”

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Thailand Constitutional Court rules against marriage equality

Advocacy group challenged Section 1448 of country’s Civil and Commercial Code

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(Photo public domain)

Thailand’s Constitutional Court on Wednesday ruled a law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman in the country is constitutional.

The Foundation for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Rights and Justice, a Thai advocacy group, filed a lawsuit that challenged Section 1448 of the country’s Civil and Commercial Code, which does not extend marriage rights to same-sex couples. Bloomberg said the Constitutional Court in its ruling said Thai lawmakers “should draft laws that guarantee the rights for gender diverse people.”

Sunai Phasuk, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch who focuses on Thailand, in a tweet said the decision makes the “government’s pledges to promote gender equality meaningless.”

Taiwan in 2019 became the first country in Asia to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The Thai Cabinet in 2018 approved a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions. The government last year backed a second version of the measure.

Tunyawaj Kamolwongwat, a Thai MP who is a member of the Move Forward Party, has introduced a marriage equality bill.

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