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Uganda's Gays Fight Back Against Crackdown

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By Gregory Branch

KAMPALA, Uganda -- Even as Uganda's parliament considers the Anti-Homosexuality Bill -- which calls for the death penalty for some gay acts -- a group of about 100 Ugandan gays and lesbians held a secret meeting to determine how to stand up for their rights.

The clandestine conference was held a hotel function room in downtown Kampala last week and was titled "Standing on the side of Love, Re-imagining Valentine's Day."

Organized by the Rev. Mark Kiyimba of the Ugandan Unitarian Universalist Church, and financially supported by the Austria Foundation, the meeting was a strategy session to discuss how to respond to the bill. The participants resolved to petition the Ugandan Speaker of Parliament to scrap the bill and to instead move to decriminalize homosexuality.

"Our conference showed that religion does not need to be an enemy to the cause of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] concerns," said Kiyimba, who declares himself a married bi-sexual. "What is at stake here is religious freedom, human rights and minority protections."

Kiyimba said the conference is "a kick-off or starting point for us, against this bill." He said in March he will take his petition to various countries, including the U.S., to galvanize international support for Uganda's gays.

Most of the participants wore bright red T-shirts with a heart showing the "gay pride" rainbow colors in the center.

"This was different from other conferences," said one gay man attending the meeting, who declined to be named, fearing reprisal. "Gay banners and flags, no pretense, it was very straightforward."

Two Americans attended the meeting. Gay-rights activist and Episcopal minister Rev. Patricia Ackerman of New York City as well as the Rev. Marlin Lavanhar of the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, Tulsa, Okla.

No sooner had the meeting taken place than a newspaper report highlighted how dangerous it was. Kampala's inspector of police, Major General Kale Kayihura, said he was unaware of the gay conference but vowed to arrest participants if he found them, according to a report in the Kampala Daily Monitor.

However, Kayihura also showed that he is not completely on the side of the anti-gay campaigners. Kayihura denied a permit to anti-gay activist the Rev. Martin Ssempa who had planned to hold a "Million Man March" against homosexuality.

Ssempa, chairman of the National Pastors Task Force against Homosexuality, and David Bahati, member of parliament and author of the "Anti-Homosexuality Bill," are at the forefront of Uganda's current anti-gay movement.

Ssempa responded by moving his march from Kampala to Jinja -- about an hour's drive from Kampala and famous for containing the source of the Nile River. About 2,000 Ugandans marched against homosexuality there.

In Kampala, instead of a mass march, Ssempa held a "Million Prayers Vigil" at a local church. He said, "this will kick-off 40 days of prayer against homosexuality, to correspond with Lent."
At the vigil, attended by about 300 Ugandans, including children, Ssempa performed homosexual exorcisms and showed slides of graphic gay porn to drive home his stance against homosexuality.

Bahati also gave a brief address where he admitted that there might be some changes to his bill, but that there would be a vote. After his speech, he was invited to kneel on the floor where several pastors placed their hands upon his head and prayed that Bahati be used to "deliver us from sodomy!"

The anti-gay bill, currently being debated in the legal and parliamentary affairs committee, must pass the speaker of the parliament before going to the Ugandan parliament floor for a vote. Many speculate that a full vote might take place in early March.

Since Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni distanced himself from the bill in January it is not certain whether the bill will pass, be rejected or amended to remove the harsher punishments including the death penalty, according to some political analysts in Kampala.

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