Gay Rights in Uganda


PASTOR JOSEPH TOLTON (preaching at memorial service): “David’s murder was meant to cause all of us who support human rights to live in fear…”

FRED DE SAM LAZARO, correspondent: David Kato was memorialized recently on the anniversary of his death, a small service led by a minister visiting from New York. Kato’s advocacy of gay rights in a land where homosexuality is deeply taboo made him a target for a tabloid called Rolling Stone. It published the names of what it called the country’s “top homos.”  Under a banner headline and the words “Hang Them” was Kato’s photograph. A few days later, he was beaten to death. Advocates say it was only the most publicized incident in an atmosphere of growing hostility—socially and legally—toward gays.

TOLTON (preaching at memorial service): “You Ugandans are people of courage. You are people of honor and people of determination, and you are defying the odds because you are taking a stand that we will not be crushed by the Bahati bill.”

DE SAM LAZARO: The Bahati bill, named after its author, David Bahati, in Uganda’s parliament, was introduced in 2009 and reintroduced earlier this month. It would add severe penalties for homosexuality, which is already illegal under so called sodomy laws passed during British colonial times.

Frank Mugisha, gay rights advocate in UgandaFRANK MUGISHA: I could be put in jail for life for not doing anything but for saying I am a homosexual and for being out.

DE SAM LAZARO: Frank Mugisha is Uganda’s best known gay rights advocate.  He took over the group led by David Kato. Mugisha blames American evangelical pastors, like Massachusetts-based Scott Lively, for helping stoke intolerance here.

PASTOR SCOTT LIVELY (speaking on video): “What has caused these people to end up in this condition that God condemns, that is hurting them and that we want to help them to overcome?”

DE SAM LAZARO: Videos posted on the Internet show Lively conducting seminars here decrying a global homosexual agenda, insisting that homosexuality is a learned behavior that can be unlearned, and that he’d helped many people do so. Lively denies he ever called for violence, but in a deeply religious country, Mugisha says such messages affirm local clergy and policymakers.

MUGISHA: You have political leaders saying we should never accept homosexuality, a political leader saying if the law is passed, I’ll go and take a job in the prisons to hang the homosexuals myself. So if it is a political leader, a member of parliament saying that, then how are the people who believe, who have voted for them, who listen to them, how are they going to react?

DE SAM LAZARO: Reaction on the streets was strongly in favor of the anti-homosexuality bill. Polls have shown that 95 percent of Ugandans favor criminalizing homosexuality.

Man on street: I have a verse in the Bible, in Leviticus 20, verse 13. It says homosexuals should be put to death.

DE SAM LAZARO: When first introduced, Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill did call for the death penalty in certain cases. It provoked an international outcry among donor nations. A large part of Uganda’s budget comes from foreign aid. The measure was shelved until what some people here call a new provocation late last year.

US Secretary of State HILLARY CLINTON (in speech): Like being a woman, like being a racial, religious, tribal, or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human, and that is why gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.

DE SAM LAZARO: Clinton told this gathering of diplomats in Geneva that the US was placing the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered people at the heart of its human rights agenda and tying it to aid decisions.

CLINTON (in speech): The president has directed all US government agencies engaged overseas to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct, to enhance efforts to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, to ensure that our foreign assistance promotes the protection of LGBT rights.

PASTOR JOSEPH SERWADDA: When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared that gay rights were human rights, our response was this is going to be very tough on Africa, because most African nations consider gayism…

Pastor Joseph SerwaddaDE SAM LAZARO: Gayism?

SERWADDA:  …gayism as a behavior, not as a culture, not as a faith, and definitely not as a way of life.

DE SAM LAZARO: Pastor Joseph Serwadda, who heads an association of Pentecostal and evangelical churches, says Western countries are imposing their values and agenda on sub-Saharan Africa. As proof he noted that the head of mission at the US embassy here attended the funeral of gay activist David Kato.

SERWADDA: Many people, thousands of them, die of HIV/AIDS, of other illnesses and ailments. Many people die in road accidents, and we’ve never seen an ambassador show up at a graveside.

DE SAM LAZARO: Could it be that his picture was on the front page of a magazine that said, “Hang Them”?

SERWADDA: Could also be because America has an agenda for homosexuals in Uganda.

DE SAM LAZARO: Like police and prosecutors in the Kato murder case, he says robbery or a soured business deal could well have been the motivation, not homophobia. Pastor Serwadda isn’t sure he’s ever met a gay person in Uganda and that, he says, is proof that homosexuality was never an issue here until gays in the West began stoking it—encouraging Ugandans to push for special rights and protections he says they don’t need.

SERWADDA: Nobody has gone to jail; nobody has been harassed; nobody has been ostracized because of their sexual orientation.

DE SAM LAZARO: Wow. That’s contrary to what we hear.

SERWADDA: You’ve just come in the country a couple of weeks ago. We live here. I’ve lived here for more than 50 years, so I know.

DE SAM LAZARO: But you’ve never met a gay person.

SERWADDA: Only one, and I wasn’t sure he was.

DE SAM LAZARO: But you know that they’re not harassed.

SERWADDA: They’re not.

DE SAM LAZARO: He says the Obama administration is pushing gay rights now to court the gay vote in the US election. We tried to talk to US officials for this report, but our request to interview the ambassador or any other spokesperson for the US embassy in Uganda was turned down. It’s an indication of how delicate the issue of gay rights is in this country. Meanwhile, the anti-homosexuality legislation—with the death penalty clause removed—is working its way through a weeks-long hearing process. It will be closely watched around the world. In Washington, that will include the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. Last year, it awarded its annual prize to Frank Mugisha.

US Senator John Kerry at RFK Center event: “Robert Kennedy would have been amazed by your work, Frank.”

Frank Mugisha receives an award from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights DE SAM LAZARO: It’s the first time the award has ever been given to a gay rights campaigner. Mugisha says the prize and the notoriety are a mixed blessing. It bestows international legitimacy and may allow him access to policymakers. Still, with emotions running high, Mugisha says he lives in almost constant fear for his physical safety.

MUGISHA: I’m not scared of the government. I keep saying that. Because if the government really wanted to harm me they would do that. But I’m scared of the ordinary people. Just recently when someone wrote in the newspaper about me, and if you went and read, there were Facebook comments on that, and if you read the comments there were people who were saying they could kill me if they saw me.

DE SAM LAZARO: On Facebook?

MUGISHA: Yeah, on Facebook, comments on the monitor, and there were who people were saying all kinds of horrible things, so you just imagine. And I interact with people, you know, and people tell you horrible things right to your face.

DE SAM LAZARO: Mugisha says he is bracing himself for the renewed public debate as hearings are scheduled for the anti-homosexuality legislation.

For Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, this is Fred de Sam Lazaro in Kampala, Uganda.

  • Jim Burroway

    There is a very important correction that needs to be made in this report. The death penalty clause has NOT been removed. I have been following this story very closely for three years now and the death penalty, despite numerous false reports, has never been removed, and remains in the bill that was reintroduced into Parliament earlier this month.

    Details are at Box Turtle Bulletin. Follow the tag, “Uganda” or “Anti-Homosexuality-Bill”

  • Don Van Duyse

    Please see
    PBS Gets It WRONG: Uganda’s Death Penalty Clause Has Not Been Removed

  • Channah

    Again, see what radical Christianity does to the world. Plain and simple————-it teaches hate for those who are different.

  • Bob Mueller

    It’s so much better when the discriminatory laws are called “Defense of Marriage Acts”, right? That’s why Obama and Clinton can have a “do as I say, not as I do” foreign policy. It’s called hypocrisy.

  • Humanist

    Some religious people do not like homosexuality, because their holy books tell them that homosexuality is a sin.
    Well, there is no evidence whatsoever that God exists. There is ample evidence that people create gods and religions and write holy books, mostly men. So, homosexuals are people too and should be treated with respect like everybody else. Being born a homosexual is not a crime.

  • Rev. Nnakabaale Kaasa

    There has never been any human born homosexual on this earth we live on may be on another planet. The gays and lesbians are the products of demons and evil spirits. For those fellas who do not believe in the existance of God the Creator, prove to the world how you came yourself into existance and does not exist.

  • kigomoka

    To me l think every one has got a right to sex orientation if one is not causing arm to another why not people exercise their rights equally and with respect to one another despite of sexual orientations.

  • Humanist

    @Rev. Nnakabaale Kaasa
    Can you give me ONE piece of evidence that God exists?

  • Kelvin (Christian Human Rights Defender)

    Extremism, superstition and ignorance are what stokes intolerance. Faith without reasoning is a danger to humanity. Not long ago, inter-racial marriages where considered evil and missionaries preached the message of racial separation with ‘biblical’ support. They interpreted scripture to suit their own beliefs. There are still some people who believe that there should not be inter-racial marriages. They can tolerate fornication and adultery between people of different races but not marriage. The church thrives on fear and intimidation. Faith is emotional and not rational. Preaching hatred for the so called sinner is a much bigger sin than the alleged sinner. Christianity is supposed to be based on love not hate. Only God truly knows who the candidates for heaven are. Every person deserves respect and protection regardless of their perceived weakness or shortcomings. If I am a sinner help me. Don’t kill me. Otherwise Jesus would have killed all of us. May God bring you judgement for thinking your holy than others!

  • Linda

    As an African American woman, and descendent of slaves, when I look at the picture of Kerry, Kennedy, et al., what comes to mind is, “Here they come, trying to endorse and institute another form of bondage in Africa…” Of course, THEY know what’s best for Africans!

    All social, cultural and governmental order and progress, for 1000s of years, has been based on the health and stability of the human family: a father, mother and children. Which, by the way, BEGAN in Africa…So no, this is not a harmless alternative to traditional marriage. It is the very undermining of GOD’s order and will bring about the downfall of any nation that sanctions, embraces and indoctrinates it’s children in this disorder.

    And moreover, to coerce the people into cooperating by considering tying financial aid to submission to bondage, is just EVIL!! What about the countries who are a REAL threat to our national security who still receive millions of dollars of aid from us?….

    My cry to Dear Africa: PLEASE, DON’T BE FOOLED AGAIN!

  • JDE

    @Linda: “It is the very undermining of GOD’s order and will bring about the downfall of any nation that sanctions, embraces and indoctrinates it’s children in this disorder. ”

    Western Europe is far more secular than we are, and God hasn’t struck them down yet.

    Try getting your information from sources other than your pastor.

  • Burora seth

    Being homosexual in most African cultures is considered an abormination,but from my point of view no body is born gay or lesibian.This is just what we can term as a deviation from the right sexual path,fellows who are perpetuators need some form of rehabilitation,imparting religious doctrines that stretch and call for people to live a holly life,parental guidance and moral upbringing of chidren cz of their vulnerability.

  • bekele

    THIS UN people do not want honored generation Obama & Hilary are agents of Hell we Ethiopian never accept this bad issue. they can enjoy with lust. homosexuality is abomination it is not honor. they cheat generation to their political position but God will get them reward about this sexual immorality .

  • WINI

    homosexuality is playing by your own precious body, b/c our body is image of God. Animal even respect this natural Law & God’s Law. we never tolerate this sexual immorality to respect homosexuality we will act as God’s Law we stand by the side of our creator, we do not want change the truth by lies. sexual immorality/ homosexuality is abomination in the eyes of God.


  • Cliff

    Very interesting report! For more on globalization of the culture wars, see my new book, “The Global Right Wing and the Clash of World Politics,”


    I believe every one of us has a right to do whatever we want with our bodies as long as qe are not harming our neighbours the God who created angels, is the same God that created demons. No one has a right to kill, destroy ones properties because they are gay or lesbian.