On April 22-25, Nobel Peace Prize laureates will gather in Chicago for the Nobel Summit, and Ugandan LGBTI activist Frank Mugisha will be there to ask the laureates to publicly recognize LGBTI rights as human rights.
Mugisha is working to raise awareness about the criminalization of homosexuality in Uganda and other African countries through his work as the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). Although LGBTI visibility has increased in African nations, many countries have laws, or are considering laws, that criminalize homosexualitysome with the punishment of death.
He believes that one of the most effective ways to stop the sanctioned brutality against LGBTI individuals is through human-rights leaders around the world acknowledging LGBTI rights as human rights. He was disheartened recently when Nobel Peace Prize winner and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was quoted in the Guardian supporting the criminalization of homosexuality and referring to her country's traditional values.
Mugisha received the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and the 2011 Rafto Prize for Human Rights from the Rafto Foundation in Norway for his work. He spoke with Windy City Times by email about his upcoming visit.
Windy City Times: What is the purpose of your upcoming visit to Chicago, and what do you hope to achieve?
Frank Mugisha: I will be in Chicago to attend the Noble Peace Summit and meet with local faith leaders. My goal is to raise awareness about LGBTI violations in Uganda by lobbying Noble Peace laureates and to advocate at the summit by highlighting these violations.
WCT: Why meet with the Nobel Peace Prize laureates now?
FM: In Uganda, we have a bill in Parliament that could make it illegal for any LGBTI person in Uganda to simply live at peace. Nobel Peace laureates are advocates who are respected in the field of human rights, so if I can meet with them and get them to lobby members of our Parliament, the government will listen to them about not passing this law.
WCT: What difference do you think can be made by having the Nobel Peace Prize laureates recognize LGBTI rights as human rights?
FM: Noble Peace Prize winners recognizing LGBTI rights makes a big differencethese are respected human rights defenders who have spoken out against many human rights violations around the world. If they speak out now, it shows the world that LGBTI rights are part of the broader human-rights platform.
WCT: Recently, Liberian President and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf made statements defending her country's anti-gay laws. What is your response to having someone who has been honored for her human-rights work make statements so opposite of human rights and discriminatory to the LGBTI community in her country?
FM: I would just be honest that her statement was disheartening. It was a step backwards for human rights in Africa, and it showed me that our struggle still has a long way to go. It reminded me that there is so much ignorance on LGBTI rights in Africa.
WCT: What is the current situation in Uganda like for LGBTI individuals?
FM: Times are changing so fast in Uganda, and however often we face threats and persecution, there are still many people continuing to come out and accept their sexual orientation. We see so much visibility growing.
WCT: Why do human-rights leaders continue to separate LGBTI rights from human rights?
FM: Ignorancemost leaders do not work to talk about LGBTI issues because of their cultural background and religious and political views.
WCT: You have mentioned before that one of the reasons that the criminalization of homosexuality became such a focus was due to the anti-LGBTI activists in the United States reaching out in Uganda. Are there still anti-LGBTI activists from the United States working with leaders in Uganda to try and promote their agendas? How about other countries?
FM: Yes, evangelicals and other religious leaders come to Uganda to support their sister and brother churches, but their work is not as vocal or advertised as it once was.
WCT: What is a gay person's daily life like living in Uganda or another country that has laws criminalizing homosexuality?
FM: Daily lives vary country to country and area to area, based on how open people are ... those who are out face harassment and threats often.
WCT: By coming out and being an activist for LGBTI rights you have put yourself in great danger. What overrides the fear and helps you to keep fighting for LGBTI rights?
FM: I do not call it fighting; I call it surviving to live. I speak because it is the only way to make a difference, and as I speak every day I am compelled to say more. What drives me is that fact that I know when I speak I am heard and that my voice protects and inspires other LGBTI people.
WCT: Have there been positive changes and advances in any countries that have or do criminalized homosexuality and how have those occurred?
FM: I have seen progress in India where the court ruled that a sodomy law should be abolished.
WCT: Recently you received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award for your work. How does that award impact your continued efforts?
FM: The award has been important to my work; in a way it has legitimized my work, and showed the world that LGBTI rights are human rights.
WCT: With the Robert F. Kennedy Award, you received a stipend and a six-year partnership to support your work. How are you using these resources?
FM: Some of the resources are used to support my organization, and through our partnership with the RFK Center, we are doing advocacy and lobbying work for the LGBTI community at all levels.