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‘We need more faith leaders to step up’: Interview with Ugandan LGBTI Rights Activist Frank Mugisha

Frank Mugisha is the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), the plaintiff represented by CCR in their lawsuit against Scott Lively, a U.S.-based anti-gay extremist. Frank is here in New York, so we took the opportunity to sit down and talk with him.

What role has Scott Lively played in Uganda?

Scott Lively traveled to Uganda with two other American pastors in 2009, and has been working with Ugandan pastors and politicians to deprive LGBTI Ugandans of our rights and silence us. It has been clear from his own words that he was deeply involved in these efforts.

What is the climate in Uganda now for SMUG and its allies?

Right now, we are going into our presidential and parliamentary elections and the security situation is tense in the country. The concern has been that politicians will use the LGBTI community as a scapegoat for what they haven’t done. Some are making hateful statements and we are always concerned about violence.

Are you able to meet and organize?

Yes, but only because we are very assertive. The fact is that we are not allowed. Sometimes our meetings are broken up by authorities. Sometimes we’ve had to meet in secret.  

Right now we are not meeting because of the political situation in Uganda with the elections. We are trying to remain low-key. We don’t want any backlash. The fear is that violence could break out so everyone is storing up food and water.  Offices and schools are closed for 2 weeks. There are travel advisories during the elections. There’s tension and paranoia, and not just in the LGBTI community.

You’ve been to court in Uganda and won a few times. Where does the anti-gay law stand now?

The Anti-Homosexuality Act was nullified by our Supreme Court, but parliament just passed the Non-Governmental Organizations Act, which has language around morality and national security. It affects all NGOs but we are concerned it will be used to target LGBTI groups more harshly —basically that it would prohibit an organization like mine from existing, also organizations that work with us or fund LGBTI groups.

What do you hope to gain from the case against Lively?

We want to hold him accountable for his role in what has been going on in Uganda in the same way we seek to hold Ugandans accountable.  We want to further expose their work and show Ugandans how  homophobia has been inflamed by those from outside.  Perhaps then, we will see a much better Uganda where we have the space to advocate for rights and justice for everybody.

What’s it like for you to be in the U.S. now?

It’s good timing because of the political situation in the country. Right now there is a potential risk for anyone who is politically active. It also gives me the opportunity to draw attention to Uganda, to remind people that LGBTI communities are still at risk there. I don’t want people to forget about this.

Are you looking forward to your day in court?

We’ve been waiting a very long time. People are following the case in Uganda but also all over the world. Whatever the outcome, we know we have fought for justice and exposed the work of anti-gay American extremists.

What would you say to someone who wants to know what they can do to help or support your work?

If you want to support our work, go to our web site and learn about what is happening in Uganda. Share that information with others. We need lots of groups to support the case in solidarity, especially LGBTI groups. And we need a lot of voices from religious communities to counter all the negative preaching by extremist preachers. We need more faith leaders to step up, stand with us, and start speaking out. 

Last modified 

February 19, 2016