HIV/AIDS Legal Network hosts a conversation with Frank Mugisha

2013 Alyssa Clutterbuck 100x150Greetings from Toronto.

I am at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.  The Legal Network’s 5th Annual Symposium took place last week.  The highlight of the Symposium was A Conversation with Frank Mugisha, a leading Ugandan activist and advocate for LGBT rights in sub-Saharan Africa.

A Conversation with Frank Mugisha

The Canadian  HIV/AIDS Legal Network was honoured to host Frank Mugisha, one of Uganda’s leading activists in the struggle for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights at the Toronto Refernece Library last Thursday, June 13.  Executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and founder of Icebreakers Uganda, Mugisha received the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and the Thorolf Rafto Memorial Prize for his activism in combating homophobia throughout sub-Saharan Africa.

Former Toronto mayor, Barbara Hall, introduced Mugisha, and reflected on the city’s early failure to mobilize a public response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980’s.

Mugisha spoke about the 2009 introduction of Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill (An Act to prohibit any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex; prohibit the promotion or recognition of such relations and to provide for other related matters), introduced by Member of Parliament, David Bahati.  The legislation proposes to impose the death penalty for serial acts of homosexuality, broaden the criminalization of same-sex relations and even includes provisions for Ugandans who engage in same-sex relations outside of Uganda, potentially extraditing individuals back to Uganda for sanctions.  The bill also imposes penalties on individuals, companies, media outlets, and non-governemental organizations that know of LGBT people or support LGBT rights. Under present law, same-sex relationships are illegal in Uganda, and punishable by incarceration up to 14 years.

This blog post was prepared for Legal Aid Ontario and can be read via their website:  http://blog.legalaid.on.ca/2013/06/17/keynote-event-roundup-a-conversation-with-frank-mugisha/

Mugisha noted that the roots of the proposed law can be traced back to a conference at which three prominent American evangelical Christian leaders asserted that homosexuality threatened the cohesion of African families.  Since being introduced, the bill has been denounced by the international community and numerous governments have threatened to rescind aid from Uganda.  Strong resistance from the international community and from local Ugandan activists has helped delay the bill in committee, though Bahati re-introduced the bill in February 2012.

Mugisha advocated a delicate approach in combating current myths that impede progress for LGBT rights in Uganda, including the view by many Ugandans that homosexuality is a Western import and not indigenous to African culture.  As one way to reduce stigma, Mugisha calls for more community discussions to help give a face to LGBT people.

Despite threats to his life and the 2011 murder of his mentor and colleague David Kato, Mugisha remains resolute when responding to concerns about his safety.  He feels that his recognition as an activist has helped protect him from arrest.  “My visibility and my speaking is my protection,” he said.  He did admit, however, that he must take caution when moving through Kampala and the rest of the country.

Mugisha has received offers of asylum in many countries, but insists on staying in Uganda. “I can never think about leaving Uganda. I have lived there all my life.”

Video of the event is available via the website of the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

This blog posted is also available on Legal Aid Ontario‘s blog.

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