Ugandan, Gay and Brave
Activist Frank Mugisha weighs in on homophobia in his country and how African Americans can help.
FM: There are different categories. If you are an activist, then you have to calculate and decide, "Should I take that street, should I go to that shopping mall, should I do this today, even?" Because you don't know where the harassment will come from.
Then you have an openly gay man who's not an activist -- the fear is as he's doing his everyday work. He has to ask, is he going to be harassed, is he going to be beaten, is he going to be a target?
Then you have people who are not out, but they are gay. Their fear is the media. Their family finding out about them, the media finding out about them. Their workplaces finding out about them. They fear that they could be fired, that they could be thrown out of their homes.
TR: You have discussed the way the media fuel homophobia by outing people. What else is driving homophobia in Uganda?
FM: Culture. People think homosexuality is not African, that [it] is from somewhere else, from the West. People believe the Bible has been very clear that homosexuality is a sin, and a big percentage of Uganda -- 80 percent -- is Christian, so that has also greatly increased homophobia.
But I've had a problem both with people racializing homophobia and also with saying homosexuality is imported. I think [it] is very important to recognize that there is homophobia in the United States, in Europe and in Africa. The question should be, what has made it increase?
When I was growing up, I knew people who lived together, man and man, as if they were married, and no one harassed them, no one arrested them. But today we are seeing this kind of new wave of religion that has come in and said the homosexuals you know are bad people.
TR: What role have U.S. evangelicals played in that new wave of religion?
FM: They talk about abortion; they talk about family values and all that. But in Uganda they've identified homosexuality as the issue they can pick on. They pick on so many issues, but they came to Uganda because Uganda is so Christian, and Ugandans are going to listen when they say homosexuality is a sin.
TR: You've talked about how pleased you were to hear from TransAfrica and learn that you were not alone in the fight to protect sexual minorities in Uganda. What can individual African-Americans do to communicate that message and show their support?
FM: Work with us. I've done amazing work with TransAfrica. Other organizations can work directly with us. People can support progressive [nongovernmental organizations] and NGOs that work on human rights. Let people give them support and moral support. It will give us courage.
Jenée Desmond-Harris is a contributing editor to The Root.