Frank Mugishu, 27, has one of the most challenging jobs in the global LGBT community.
He is chairman of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and on Dec. 10 was recognized by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as one of the top three human rights defenders on the planet.
The following day, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, quoted Frank and made a major commitment to do all he could to decriminalize homosexuality globally. This was a very brave thing to do. Immediately, the Secretary General drew criticism from several of the 128 countries where homosexuality is punishable by imprisonment and even execution.
“With extraordinary eloquence, Mr. Mugisha has appealed to the United Nations for help. He asked us to rally support for the decriminalization of homosexuality everywhere in the world. And that is what we will do. We have been called upon, and we will answer.”
Frank has the most disarming smile. I recently spent some time with him in Minneapolis at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Creating Change Conference. We both presented a workshop on “Uganda -- The Armageddon of the Culture Wars,” and he talked about his work to decriminalize homosexuality and defend the rights of his community.
The evening before our workshop, Frank gave the most moving tribute to his friend and mentor David Kato at a memorial service for him at the conference.
My heart went out to him because David was killed while he was touring and educating us in the U.S. and he could not be present with his Ugandan family and friends to mourn David. His eulogy talked about how much he learned from David in being a human rights defender (and to bail LGBT people out from jail when they were arrested without cause by the police).
It is difficult to imagine returning to a country where you live in daily fear of being killed. Frank cannot shop in public any more because he is attacked. Even members of his family have assaulted him.
He has moved to a part of Kampala where he can drive straight into a compound and not be exposed to the kind of mob intimidation that has become common place for those in the public profile of LGBT human rights advocates. He could have remained in the U.S., where he has spoken so eloquently before various congressional committees and recently on National Public Radio.
Frank has warned us of the dangers of the Christian Right and the devious work of people like Scott Lively and Exodus International in helping to create the anti-gay “Bahati Bill.”
His organization provides important legal advocacy and protection for a largely underground community. Frank’s organization is part of a 34-member Civil Society Coalition that challenged the bill and took the Rolling Stone editors to court, winning an injunction to shut down the publication.
Although Kato’s killing was a terrible blow to both Frank and his good friend, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, their work continues to grow. Both organizations have moved into larger facilities and plans are underway to create a network of “safe houses” and hire five newly graduated attorneys to give free legal services to the LGBT community.
There is also growing interest in the legal aspects of covering the Kato murder trial, which begins on March 17. There is a fear the perpetrators will either get off or a lenient sentence. Authorities are underplaying Kato’s LGBT activism and Frank’s organization has a lot to lose if the case goes the wrong way.
It is important the spin that is expected from the authorities is balanced by a stellar legal team who will be reporting on the trial on a daily basis. The international community has a right to know what is happening in Uganda and how the newly elected Ugandan government will respond to violence from the mob or anticipated state sanctioned violence from a new round of the Bahati Bill.
Frank has been invited to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative University at UCSD in San Diego in early April. He has heard so much about our city and is really looking forward to coming here.
St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation is working with Frank and the bishop on safe houses and legal issues and has arranged for a one of a kind meeting with him on Tuesday, April 5, at the Park Manor Hotel. The cocktail reception will be from 6-8 pm, so we are hoping the core activist support that has been so visible in our equality wars in California will come and support the most courageous gay man I know.
There is so much we in Southern California can learn from Frank and his community. Here is some more information on his work.
Please RSVP to Albert Ogle at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (949) 338-8830.
The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle is President of St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation and lives in San Diego. Donations for the work of Bishop Christopher can be made by clicking HERE.