A Ugandan gay activist who wrote a New York Times op-ed piece in December, speaking out against homophobia in his country enforced by the government and the police, has received threats and says he fears for his life, afraid to even go shopping alone or eat in a restaurant for fear of being poisoned.
"Just two days ago there was a very big piece of news about me," said Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, in an interview by phone from Kampala on my radio program on SiriusXM OutQ yesterday, referring to an article he says was written in a local newspaper, attacking him for writing the New York Times op-ed.
"It said that everything we are saying is not true. That we are just trying to get sympathy in the Western world. They put my picture in the newspaper with all these hate words and of course I got a lot of bad emails, bad phones, a lot of harassment against me."
Mugisha, who in November received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award at a ceremony in Washington, had written in the Times back on December 22 about the conditions for LGBT people in in his country, which came under international criticism beginning in 2009 for its consideration of what had come to be known as the "kill the gays" bill, a law that if enacted would make homosexuality punishable by death or life imprisonment.
The bill was shelved in May of 2011, but Mugisha wrote that it could be introduced again at any time.
"Here, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people suffer brutal attacks, yet cannot report them to the police for fear of additional violence, humiliation, rape or imprisonment at the hands of the authorities," Mugisha wrote in the Times. "We are expelled from school and denied health care because of our perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. If your boss finds out (or suspects) you are gay, you can be fired immediately. People are outed in the media -- or if they have gay friends, they are assumed to be 'gay by association.'"
Mugisha also discussed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's historic speech in Geneva last month which put pressure on countries around the world, calling for gay rights to be included as human rights and tying foreign aid to a country's record on LGBT rights. Uganda, like other African countries is a recipient of U.S. foreign aid.
"Every day of my life here in Uganda I have to be careful of what I do," Mugisha said in the radio interview yesterday. "It has reached the point that where I even have to be careful when I'm going to get food in a restaurant, to be sure that the food I'm getting, that I trust the restaurant, because I'm scared I could get poisoned. Even when I want to go shopping I have to call a friend and say can you come with me because my face has been in the newspapers, my face has been in the media. Just two days ago when my face was put in the newspapers I received harassment already. Now it is my fear of stepping out my house. If I want to go and buy food, because I have to eat, what is going to happen to me today?"
Mugisha fears what happened to the best-known gay activist in Uganda, David Kato, could happen to him. Kato was found dead in his home last year, bludgeoned to death with a hammer.
"That gives me more fear because he was murdered [in] his house," he says. "That is more scary. Not having the privacy. Not having the closure. It's very fearful for me."
Mugisha says all he can do is continue to keep speaking out: "Maybe if I keep talking, maybe they will stop, maybe the homophobia will stop. People call me up and they, 'My family, they beat me up, they throw me out.' All I can do is shout and say, 'Please listen. We are hurting our own children, our own people.'"
Listen to the interview with Mugisha: