LGBTI Rights in Uganda: A Call for Global Solidarity

It is no secret that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Ugandans are discriminated against, threatened with violence, and intimidated by their own government. Too often, though, it is ignored that this is a human rights issue.

Last week my country's Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Fr. Simon Lokodo, said he we would ban 38 organizations because they "promoted homosexuality" and "undermined Ugandan culture." To ban these NGOs would be to deny Ugandans the right to association, which sadly, we've been denied for years. For years, LGBTI and other civil society groups have faced challenges in registering as official organizations because we work on sexual rights.

Lokodo also ordered a raid on a gay rights workshop in Kampala last week -- the second this year. Police officers clad in riot gear surrounded the location and detained 15 participants for questioning. Ironically, our rights to free speech and association were being trampled on while we were training participants on how to document human rights violations. Lokodo justified his actions by invoking the country's sodomy laws. Not only is this ridiculous, but it does not establish a legal basis to deny our human rights. If organizing against laws that violate Uganda's international human rights obligations is illegal as Fr. Lokodo seems to think, I'd like to ask him to comment on the legality of Dr. King's actions to end segregation in America or Bishop Tutu's efforts to end apartheid in South Africa.

It was reported on Wednesday that notes from one of our meetings have been leaked to the government. The notes include strategies on how to promote our human rights and lobby against the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill. It is our right to assemble and our right to freely speak about nonviolent ways to protect ourselves against people in our government, like Lokodo, intent on erasing us from society.

But Lokodo spun our efforts to organize and protect our rights as a strategy to promote homosexuality and recruit children. "This is not going to stop. We will support the [Anti-Homosexuality] bill," he threatened. "There is now sufficient evidence to move against these evil people. We'll punish them with a deterrent punishment." It seems Lokodo will use anything to justify his actions, except Uganda law and international human rights standards.

Responding to Lokodo's actions, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and SMUG released a statement from four Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. The statement calls for the protection of the human rights and recognition of the inherent dignity of LGBTI people around the world. The Nobel Laureates' words are powerful, and the reaction to the statement was inspiring. Within a few days of posting the statement, it was translated into four different languages and reached three continents. If more human rights leaders came forward, perhaps the whole world could hear this message of tolerance and respect.

As these esteemed human rights defenders have supported human rights for LGBTI people in Uganda and worldwide, I hope the support of other leaders will have the same impact. If religious leaders defended our human dignity, how could anyone threaten us with violence? If civic leaders defended our constitutional rights, how could government-sponsored discrimination prevail? If enough citizens spoke up, how long could the government refuse to listen?

Frank Mugisha is the Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award Laureate.