Two weeks ago I met Frank Mugisha for the first time, although we had connected on Facebook from time to time. Frank is the director of Sexual Minorities Uganda. We met in the House of Commons at an event organised by Kaleidoscope when Frank spoke alongside Maurice Tomlinson from Jamaica and Pang Khee Teik from Malaysia.
Frank returned to Uganda last week and was immediately confronted by the formal reintroduction of the Bahati anti-homosexuality bill in parliament on Tuesday. There are various reports in our news section. Frank has condemned the re-introduction of the bill and described its revival as absurd.
The bill would introduce the death sentence for anyone caught engaging in homosexual acts for the second time, as well as for gay sex where one partner is a minor or has HIV. It also proposes to criminalize public discussion of homosexuality – including by rights groups – with a sentence of up to seven years in prison.
Frank has said: “This bill is not only about homosexuality but it can actually target the heterosexual community, who, for instance, fail to disclose people they know are homosexuals. Fundamental extremism is witnessed in this legislation. It is asking for extreme measures such as killing someone who is perceived to be homosexual. This bill penalizes two consenting adults who have not harmed anyone.”
He finds the bill’s intents excessive. It calls for “serial offender[s]” to face the death penalty, and proposes jail sentences for family members and landlords who fail to report homosexuals to the authorities.
Frank said if passed, the bill is likely to bring disharmony and hate in society. “Imagine the bill asks people to report on each other. It will bring hate within families,” he said. “We will do everything possible to see that this bill doesn’t become law in Uganda.” He said in a country where people don’t quite understand the law, the threat might not be the state or law enforcement, but people who think this [legislation] is already law. “Some people who are perceived to be gay have already been attacked – and violence is likely to increase,” he said.
BBC radio’s Sunday programme has invited me to talk about the bill tomorrow morning, in the context of Anglican reaction. I would prefer them to be interviewing Frank or Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo but the BBC, having contacted them, has failed to find land or cell phone line with good-enough sound quality.
When we met in London, I asked Frank how he maintained his safety within Uganda, give that his identity is now well known. By making sure his whereabouts were constantly in the public domain, he said, which inhibits the temptation the police or government or zealous conservative Christians must have to move against him.
I can’t quite imagine the effect on Frank and other leading campaigners in Uganda of the effect of the vitriol and verbal abuse that is heaped upon them. I pray with all my heart and soul for his safety and I am full of admiration for his courage. I hope the Bahati bill never becomes law and I wish, probably in vain, for the Anglican Church in Kenya to oppose the bill in accordance with the commitment made in Lambeth 1.10 to assure homosexual people that we are loved by God and full members of the Body of Christ, condemning irrational fear of homosexuals.
The Church of Uganda signed up to Lambeth 1.10 and its voice should be raised against the bill, because the bill condemns gay people to a world of prejudice and persecution – by Christians.