Ugandan LGBT campaigner speaks out!
Publish Date: 13/02/2012
Anyone who saw Scott Mills programme ‘The World’s Worst Place to be Gay’ will know Frank as the 29-year-old gay activist and director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a leading Ugandan umbrella organization that consists of four groups, including Icebreakers Uganda which Frank founded in 2004, after being inspired by the Manchester Icebreakers support group for gay and bisexual men.
With homophobia and constant homophobic attacks in Uganda, Frank himself is often harassed in the street and vilified in the Ugandan press and yet he is determined to stay in his home country and fight for the rights of the gay community.
Not only that but despite death threats Frank is not deterred to keep his profile high. David Kato - the most visible of Uganda’s gay rights campaigners - was murdered last year after the Ugandan press outed him and called for him to be executed.
“It is important to encourage everyone in Uganda to be visible” says Frank. The more people that can come out as gay, the more the authorities will realise that there are many of us here. It is important to do it for yourself because if you are not out, you cannot be free. But it is also important to come out and show that the media will no longer have anything to use against us.”
“When you are in the closet people make your life their business. If you have nothing to hide they aren’t interested. All I ask for is that others accept that they are heterosexual but that I am homosexual .Why do they feel the need to litigate against me? It is not my issue it is their issue”
It’s hard to understand what difference we in the UK can make to help people like Frank and the LGB&T movement in Uganda but as he told us there is much we can and should do.
“You may have challenges in the UK as an LGBT person, but understand that our challenges in Uganda are much greater. What makes us the same is that we are all fighting for the same thing.
Look at your past and the history of gay rights in your country and keep this issue alive. At least there are laws in the UK that protect you. Keep talking about this issue. This helps because when people keep talking about LGBT issues political leaders take notice.
The UK gives support and money to Uganda but it is important that some of this is spent on human rights issues. The UK government is slow to act because they don’t want to be seen as being colonial. If this issue is being taken seriously in the UK then politicians can amplify the voice of the majority.”
“Many people working in Uganda don’t talk about homophobia. Faith organisations who support an end to prejudice won’t discuss it but why shouldn’t our rights be discussed? We should expect faith communities to do much more. We don’t want their pity but we need their understanding. You can’t just watch as the Ugandan gay community suffers.”
We know that many LGBT people feel it is easier to flee Uganda then to stay and put up with the hardships there so why does Frank stay?
“Activism is my life. My work is important. The people I’m speaking out for are important. I get motivation form the people I support .I’ve never even thought about seeking asylum but I do get about 3 or 4 e-mails a day from those that do and need support with their asylum cases.”
The internet is the way people make contact in Uganda and it was Icebreakers in Manchester that received a message from Frank when he wanted to set up a similar group in Uganda.
Dave Armstrong form Icebreakers says “Frank heard about Icebreakers and wanted information, particularly on how to support people around sexual health. We were able to send Frank some gay men’s health information from The Lesbian & Gay Foundation and this was the very first time gay and bisexual men in Uganda were ever given the facts about safer sex” he says. “We felt it was about time that Frank visited Manchester to meet some of the groups and people that have supported Icebreakers Uganda for many years.”
Since it began Icebreakers Uganda has evolved into an LGBTQI group as it is much safer to have mixed gender groups in Uganda than all male. The group and the gay rights movement frequently suffers from police raids and other attempts to destroy it but it is much harder for them to attempt this when they can’t identify who is who and what is what.
Many agencies work to get the message out about gay rights and human rights especially Amnesty, ILGA and Stonewall but although they can and do raise the profile of the situation for the LGBT community in Uganda what is needed is more direct support.
“We need more than just campaigns and conferences” says Frank.” We need organisations in the UK to support us because everything in Uganda depends on foreign aid. We need a powerful gay community because only then can we put pressure on police, on the government and on the media.
“I have seen change happen, groups become organised and support around sexual health especially through the UK HIV & Aids Consortium and I am determined to keep on doing everything I can to change people’s minds to the best of my ability.”
Check out Sexual Minorities Uganda on Facebook: http://on.fb.me/ySzjGH
Frank was recently awarded the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and the 2011 Rafto Prize for his work pursuing LGBT rights in Uganda. The Lesbian & Gay Foundation also recently gave Frank a Homo Hero award for his work challenging homophobia.