Homophobia in Uganda

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LISA MULLINS: Uganda caused a stir last year when a lawmaker there introduced legislation that would make homosexuality punishable by the death sentence in some cases. An international uproar followed. There's been no action on the actual bill. But the anti-gay climate in Uganda is alive and well. A few weeks ago, a little known newspaper published a front page story. It contained a list of quote, �Ugandan's top homosexuals� and had a banner across it reading �hang them.� The article included photos of many of those people who were named. Julius Kaggwa is an activist on behalf of sexual minorities in Uganda. He's now in the United States to receive a human rights prize for his work opposing intolerance against gays in Uganda. Julius, were you one of those who was named in the newspaper?

JULIUS KAGGWA: No, I was not named in that first edition and hopefully I won't be.

MULLINS: Do you know the people who were named?

KAGGWA: Yes. All of them.

MULLINS: And of the 100, there were photos that were displayed on how many?

KAGGWA: About 20 of them. About 20 activists. What we're trying to do as a coalition is to ensure that they're no subsequent additions.

MULLINS: No subsequent additions of this newspaper, which has the name Rolling Stone?

KAGGWA: Exactly.

MULLINS: Well first let's make it clear that the Rolling Stone newspaper that is at issue here has no relation to the Rolling Stone magazine that's published here in the United States. What have been the repercussions since this article came out, as you said, with a banner �hang them� on it? This was a couple of weeks ago. Has anything happened to the Ugandans who were named in the article?

KAGGWA: Almost everybody who was outed in that paper is in fear for their lives. Now people are in hiding, people don't want to go to their places of work, and those who are lucky enough to have jobs because the paper outed names, places of residence, places of work, [INDISCERNIBLE] if possible, family members. It was a serious witch hunt.

MULLINS: And maybe you can get to specifics, Julius? Are there actual threats that have been made against any of the people who are pictured or named in the newspaper? I mean has there been any actual repercussion?

KAGGWA: There has been violence. [INDISCERNIBLE] orchestrated violence, where people have attacked and abused, verbally attacked and abused, some of the people that were outed in the paper.

MULLINS: There is a bill, we mentioned it in the introduction to our discussion, that would make homosexuality punishable in some cases by the death penalty. Now we understand that the bill has not gone anywhere, but the controversy around it inside the government and outside the government, how has it affected things for gays in Uganda? Has it made them better or worse?

KAGGWA: What happened was it evoked a very hateful climate which is still at large. There's still a lot of hateful speech going among the community. But the upside to that is that it has also given us space to talk. People are talking about homosexuality and it has given us space to be able to talk and to educate. But the reality on the ground for gay people in Uganda is still far from what can be desired.

MULLINS: I mean there's a contradiction that exists here because Uganda has been so much at the forefront of the fight against AIDS and heralded for that internationally. Can you explain how the country can be so progressive in one way and not in the other?

KAGGWA: Okay, that is really the irony. You know the excuse that is being used is that HIV is a disease. It's a disease that we can work on and treat and cure maybe someday. They're saying that homosexuality is an attack on [SOUNDS LIKE] the cultural fiber. It is not a disease, it's a choice. It's an agenda. It's something that must be eradicated and stopped. And I think the whole issue is about messaging the way that homosexuality has been presented. It has been presented as an abuse, as equal to pedophilia, as equal to sodomy, not a loving relationship between two people of the same sex. It has been presented differently in a sensational, provocative manner. And I think that's where the problem is. We want to bring it down as a human rights issue, not as a gay issue. Because it is not a gay issue really. All this discrimination, all of this hate speech and hate crimes is a human rights issue. It's not really a gay issue.

MULLINS: Julius, what's it like for you to be a very public face on this issue that's so deeply controversial in Uganda?

KAGGWA: It can be scary sometimes, but you get scared at certain point and then you just have to do your bit. You just have to do your bit.

MULLINS: Julius Kaggwa, gay right activist in Uganda, who's here in the US to receive a human rights prize from Human Rights First for his work opposing intolerance in Uganda. Julius, thanks for speaking with us.

KAGGWA: Thank you very much.

MULLINS: You can see a video of Julius Kaggwa at the Human Rights Summit in Washington, held by Human Rights First. It's at TheWorld.org.