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The murder of a gay rights advocate in Uganda is intensifying international concern over treatment of homosexuals in Africa. Kojo explores how the intersection of gay rights and human rights affects the U.S. relationship with other countries.
- Mark Bromley Council Chair, Council for Global Equality
- Frank Mugisha Chairperson, Sexual Minorities Uganda
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," Connecting your neighborhood with the world. Later in the broadcast, the Internet has transformed the way Americans buy plane tickets, but turbulence in the online travel industry could make it harder to find low fares. First, the murder of a prominent gay rights advocate in Uganda.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIn more than half of the countries in Africa, homosexual acts are illegal and can land you in jail. Conservative social morals and a colonial past contribute to widespread antagonism towards gays and lesbians. But the murder of Ugandan gay rights advocate David Kato -- is how I think that is pronounced. That murder is renewing international concern about the persecution of homosexuals.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAfrica's anti-gay laws put the United States in a delicate position. On the one hand, we have asserted that gay rights are human rights. On the other hand, we're trying to tread carefully in a region that views homosexuality as an immoral Western import. Joining us to have this conversation in our Washington studio is Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality. Mark, thank you for joining us.
MR. MARK BROMLEYGreat to be here. Thanks, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd joining us by telephone from Chicago is Frank Mugisha, who is the chairperson of Sexual Minorities Uganda. Frank Mugisha, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. FRANK MUGISHAYou're most welcome.
NNAMDIFrank, your colleague, David Kato -- is that how his last name is pronounced, Kato?
NNAMDIDavid Kato was beaten in his home near Kampala, Uganda, last Wednesday and died on the way to the hospital. He has been called Uganda's leading gay rights crusader. Tell us about his role in promoting gay rights?
MUGISHAWell, David was working with me. David was working for Sexual Minorities Uganda on the advocacy and litigation of (unintelligible) His role in the Ugandan LGBT community was not only to advocate for gay rights, but was also to protect gay, lesbians, bi-sexual and transgender Ugandans who are being persecuted. His role was to help and take people out of prison who are being arrested and harassed, everything.
MUGISHAHis role was also to house people who not have any kind of housing because they're being persecuted by their own family members, because they're being persecuted by their community, because they're being harassed. And his role was also to speak out for -- against all this discrimination in Uganda.
NNAMDIDavid Kato's death comes after a tabloid newspaper in Uganda published his picture and called for the death of all homosexuals. What has your own experience been as a gay man in Uganda, Frank?
MUGISHAWell, I, like any other gay person who is out in Uganda, I have lived through the harassment. I've lived through the intimidation. I've lived through the fear like anyone else. I've lived through the intimidation. I've lived a life where I cannot easily go shopping in any kind of place where anyone can go shopping. I've lived a life where I cannot walk the streets normally like any other Ugandan. I've lived a life where I have to watch my back every time I'm leaving my house.
MUGISHAAnd I've lived a life where I'm insecure even in my own place where I live, that I have to double check if my door is well locked and I have to even double lock it with more than one lock.
NNAMDIThe police have said that the motive was likely robbery in the murder of David Kato. What do you think?
MUGISHAWell, I do not like when the police comes to that kind of conclusion in a short time 'cause we need to have a very good investigation and find out. But even if they say it was because of robbery, well, I still go back and blame the anti-gay groups, the religious groups, the conservative groups that have come to Uganda. And they have said, we have a lot of money from different countries and because they're saying, we have a lot of money and one is likely to get robbed. And if you can't give them the money, they'll kill you.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Frank Mugisha. He is chairperson of Sexual Minorities Uganda. He joins us by phone from Chicago. And in our Washington studio, Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality. If you have questions or comments about homosexuality in Africa and how it is dealt with in law and in reality, you can call us, 800-433-8850 or go to our website, kojoshow.org. Mark Bromley, can you explain what Uganda law says about homosexuality and what the bill introduced in the Ugandan Parliament by David Bahati would do?
BROMLEYSure. So homosexual activities are already criminalized in Uganda with 14 years in prison. A member of parliament, David Bahati, who has strong connections to Christian missionary organizations in the U.S., some radical Christian missionary organizations, David Bahati introduced a bill that would extend the penalty to life in prison for committing consensual homosexual acts or entering into consensual homosexual relationships.
BROMLEYThere's the possibility of a death penalty in the provision that would actually institute a death penalty for repeat offenders or for consensual conduct if you are HIV positive, even if it's safe consensual conduct. So there's a death penalty provision. There's a requirement that you would have to turn any neighbor or family member in who you believe to be homosexual within 24 hours or risk sanction on your own right.
BROMLEYAnd then, you know, really grounded by a life prison provision. So it's essentially going from 14 years in prison to a proposal to life in prison with the possibility of the death penalty.
NNAMDIPresident of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, has quietly urged lawmakers not to act on this bill, but apparently it has not gone away.
BROMLEYIt has not gone away and Frank can probably tell you where it stands, at this point. Uganda's in the middle of a presidential and parliamentary election. There is some concern, after the election in February, that the parliament will come back into session and could, in fact, pass this bill in a lame duck session later this spring. So there's still serious concern that the bill is out there and has not gone away.
BROMLEYThe president has, in fact, assured international organizations and the State Department that he will do all he can to ensure that the bill does not become law. And the State Department certainly is saying that they intend to hold him to that guarantee, but there's a lot of uncertainty right now and certainly the possibility that the bill could come back.
NNAMDIFrank Mugisha, there has been quite a bit -- a deal of -- quite some pressure, I don't know exactly how much, place on President Museveni by European governments and the United States that the provide the bulk of Uganda's foreign aid. But where is that bill right now and what do you think will happen?
MUGISHAWell, the pressure has not only been from the international community. There also has been pressure from the local human rights organizations. We have a coalition in Uganda that has human rights organizations that believe LGBT people are also human beings.
MUGISHA(unintelligible) pressure is the government of Uganda not pass the law. But, yes, there has been a lot of international pressure on the president of Uganda and the legislatures of Uganda to stop this law and the law only got -- I received only one discussion and that was it. And it was stopped for a while. It hasn’t come back to parliament for any discussion. But if this law comes back into parliament, it could even be passed in less than 30 days.
MUGISHAAnd what has been happening now, what we are hearing from politicians in Uganda, what we are hearing from the anti-gay groups and the sponsor of the bill is that they plan to bring back this law in March of 2011 because that is when the Ugandan elections will be finished. And that is before parliament closes, they want to deal with all the unfinished business and they are saying that they anti-homosexuality bill is one of the unfinished business that this parliament has to deal with before they close.
MUGISHAAnd like I say, if this bill is brought back into parliament, it could be passed within 30 days and the only person we have now is to ask the president of Uganda not to sign this law, not sign this bill into law.
NNAMDIIf that law were passed and signed by the president into law, what would your life be after that? What would be the option that you would be facing, Frank?
MUGISHAWell, if that bill is passed into law, I would be executed because the bill is very clear about killing of gay people. Even if you're not living with HIV-Aids, but as long as you're a serial offender or as long as you have the intent to commit a second crime. So that means all the (unintelligible) would be leading to my intent to commit certain crimes under that law and that means I would be executed because I don't plan on leaving the country.
MUGISHAI don't plan on saying I'm not gay anymore. I don't plan on saying I don't advocate for LGBT rights anymore. I plan to remain the same person and asking the government of the Uganda to let me live in peace and not criminalize me. And so if it is passed, I would get executed.
NNAMDIHere is Muhammad, in Washington D.C. Muhammad, you're on the air, go ahead please.
MUHAMMADYeah, how are you?
MUHAMMADOkay. I mean, I just want to know if a country has a law, why do we interfere in their affairs? Nobody comes to the United States and tell us what to do, but we wander around everywhere and we're trying to change the world. If the country has so much aid invested and they don't have the medical care to take care of all of this and the gays are careless of whom they mix with and how and when, then there should be a law from the government to prohibit that. And I guess if the majority of the people of that country is agreeing on that law, why a few people will have to make too much noise all over the world to allow gay to be in the open?
NNAMDIMuhammad, before I have Mark and Frank respond to that question, are you aware that independent African countries were very critical of the United States for its laws about segregation in the United Nations once those countries achieved their independence? Are you aware of that and would you have told them at that time, leave the United States alone?
MUHAMMADYes, I would have.
NNAMDIOkay. In that case, allow me to have Mark Bromley respond to you about why it's important for people here to speak out on behalf of gays in Uganda.
BROMLEYI think the most basic point is that this is a human rights issue and laws are sometimes unjust. In fact, President Obama last year described this proposal as odious. This is an odious law and laws can be used to perpetuate human rights abuses. Simply because a law exists doesn't make it a just law and doesn't mean that it's not a serious human rights concern.
BROMLEYAnd, in fact, with the sodomy laws, the anti-homosexuality laws that are in Africa, the Caribbean, much of the rest of the world, those were actually imposed, in general, by the British Empire through colonialism and they were imposed with very racist, sexist ideas of human sexuality in mind. So, you know, the foreign import is the law that exists now. It’s not the attempt to speak out and support LBGT individuals in Uganda.
NNAMDIFrank Mugisha, what do you say to people like Muhammad who say that by interfering here people from this country are, in fact, violating what is an important African tradition and important aspects of African culture?
MUGISHAFirst of all, what I would like to say is that Muhammad should also know that all the homophobia that is existing within Africa and within Uganda has actually been imported, has actually been influenced by people from here and people from other countries who go to African countries and impose their culture, their views in Africa...
NNAMDIAnd Frank, some people say that conservative American evangelical churches have had a big impact on Uganda's views on homosexuality?
MUGISHAExactly. Conservative American evangelicals came to Uganda and told Ugandans how this homosexual agenda that is out here, how this homosexual agenda that is very evil and Ugandans should get rid of it and that's when the whole homophobia came up and that's how the bill came up. But in simple terms, I want to point out to Mohamed that if the international community does not rise up to defend a minority group, what is going to happen next? If they don't rise up to defend a minority group in Uganda and the minority group gets discriminated again and another government somewhere, not only in Africa, but in another part of the world, is going to rise up against a minority group and the trend will continue and continue. This is a human rights issue, like Mark said, that all countries should rise up and speak out when a minority group is being discriminated.
NNAMDIMohamed, if -- Mohamed, Mohamed, if Frank Mugisha happens to be executed in Uganda for being a homosexual, you would feel that that is none of your business?
MOHAMEDWell, yes, I would feel it is my business. But I don't think he should go there or he shouldn't live there, if he chose to do that. You know, I don't have...
NNAMDIIt's not a matter of choice. He is Ugandan by birth.
MOHAMEDWell, I'm sorry, but that's the law of the country. I mean, I don't have problem with gay. I live in America. I see gays. But I have to be honest with you, I don't want them anywhere near my children. I want my kid to have a choice because if you go around gays and you mix with gays, you might -- there's a big possibility that you become gay.
NNAMDIAnd wait a minute, wait a minute, Frank. If your children mix with gays and discover that one of your children happens to be gay, what would you do about that?
MOHAMEDNo. What I'm saying is this, if my child is exposed to the gay life and...
NNAMDIYou think homosexuality is contagious?
MOHAMEDNo, no. Yeah, I mean...
NNAMDIOkay. Well, if you think it's contagious, then I do have to move on to Belay (ph) in Washington, D.C. Belay, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BELAYThank you, Kojo. I believe that it's the nature, animals, any animals, any nature of animals, mammals, female and male. (unintelligible) people it's not human right. Yes, it is their individual right, I can agree with. But when you say human rights, it's totally wrong. What happened, they neglected their natural right from, I mean, being born a male and being born female. They choose to mix it and fulfill themselves. And now, it seems...
NNAMDISo you think it is a choice?
BELAYYes, there are...
NNAMDIYou think it is a choice. That's not the argument we're having right now, unfortunately, whether or not being gay is a choice or not. But you can understand, Mark Bromley, how people who happen to think it is a choice and a choice that they don't like, seem to feel that their opinion should somehow be encapsulated in law.
BROMLEYCertainly, and this is a difficult discussion. It's a difficult discussion in the U.S. It's a difficult discussion around the world. But I think the important point is really to come back to where we started. You know, Hillary Clinton, our Secretary of State, has said very forcefully that human rights are gay rights, gay rights are human rights. We're not talking about special rights. We're not talking about the right to make a special choice. We're talking about the right to live in privacy and dignity, to have a quiet life with the person that you choose to love. We're talking about very basic human rights to life and freedom of association and freedom of speech. These are fundamental rights. These are American rights. These are human rights for all people everywhere, something that we care a lot about here in the United States as part of our constitutional legacy and something that all individuals worldwide have a right to claim.
NNAMDIAnd, Frank Mugisha, how, living in Uganda, do you deal with people who have essentially the same attitude as our callers Mohamed and Belay?
MUGISHAWell, first of all, I'd like to point out that if it was a matter of choice, I don't think any person in Uganda would choose to live a life where you're hated by your own family, to choose a life where you're going to be beaten on the streets. Choose a life where you're going to be disowned and you can't find a place to live, choose a life where you're going to be hurt on the streets. I mean, which kind of person would want to choose that kind of life in Uganda right now? So people -- I keep telling people the same question and then people who don't want to open up and have this discussion.
MUGISHAThey're actually hurting their own family member. They're hurting their own children. They're hurting their own relatives. They're hurting their own brothers and sisters because then people who feel that they called them close, they cannot come out to them and tell them how they feel. And that you've seen -- we've seen what has led -- in some cases, have led to committing suicide. People not wanting to be close to their own family members because they cannot come out and be open to them, because their own family members are expressing homophobic views, because their own family members are thinking that this is something they have learned.
NNAMDIBelay, thank you very much for your call. Finally, Mark, how does Uganda's anti-gay sentiment fit into the broader persecution of gays around the world?
BROMLEYI think this bill in Uganda and now, unfortunately, the tragic death -- murder of David Kato, shows that LGBT as being gay, bisexual, transgender individuals are in fact persecuted the world over. They are, in fact, some of the most vulnerable minority communities in many parts of the world. And President Obama actually put out a statement also condemning the murder of David Kato and calling for a full investigation. And in the president's statement, he noted that just recently in the past weeks, five LGBT human rights defenders in Honduras have also been murdered.
BROMLEYSo this is not specific to Africa. We are seeing alarming patterns of violence and persecution in various parts of the world. And it's a serious human rights concern that has received too little attention in the past and is now coming to the fore. And the State Department, the secretary of state, our president, many other governments are standing up and recognizing that this is a modern human rights concern. This is the next frontier of human rights that we really need to focus on.
NNAMDIMark Bromley is chair of the Council for Global Equality. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIFrank Mugisha is chairman of Sexual Minorities Uganda. Frank Mugisha, thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, the airline wars or the wars between -- the fights between airlines and travel websites and exactly what effect it might be having on you. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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