Uganda's gay community is one step away from a new reality — being illegal

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is The World. In Uganda today, the parliament passed a bill that some gay rights activists are calling the worst in the world. The legislation mandates life in prison for gay sex in a variety of circumstances, and it imposes a seven year jail sentence on anyone who conducts a same sex marriage ceremony. The bill needs a signature of Uganda's president to become law, but the LGBT community activists for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights are already mobilizing against it. Frank Mugisha leads a group called Sexual Minorities Uganda. Frank, Uganda's long been a place where homosexuality has been demonized. How big a surprise is the passage of this law?

Frank Mugisha: The law has come as a surprise to us because we did not expect the law to be passed, and we did not expect the law to be passed this very day. Whoever is surprised it has been very quick, so it has been a very big shock to us and the entire LGBT community in Uganda.

Werman: I mean homosexuality already is in the books as illegal in Uganda. What does this new law, what can it possibly add to that?

Mugisha: This law would send two consenting adults to prison for life. This law will stop the work that myself, my colleagues and my organization have been doing to promote the rights of LGBT persons. This law will stop any organization in Uganda working on sexual rights, working on health rights, HIV/AIDS, and this law will stop any kind of non-government organization that is working on rights of LGBT persons, and this law is going to create a witch hunt for people who are known or perceived to be LGBT.

Werman: You are a gay rights activist. What are you going to do?

Mugisha: It's going to make life extremely difficult for people who are openly gay and those who are in the closet in Uganda.

Werman: So will you leave the country to continue your activism?

Mugisha: No, I am going to stay in Uganda here, and I am not going to leave the country, and I'm going to try and fight this legislation to the end.

Werman: But if you can't be a gay rights activist, won't the second you start trying to fight this legislation, won't they put you in jail?

Mugisha: Definitely, that is likely to happen, but I'll use the avenues that are provided within the constitution to do my work once the president signs this into a pact because this legislation totally contravenes with our own constitution.

Werman: So this legislation was first proposed back in 2009. There was international condemnation, a big controversy around it. How did it manage to get passed and so quickly?

Mugisha: That is my shock and surprise at this moment that the law has actually been passed given the international attention and also the local attention from human rights organizations and our allies within the country?

Werman: For you Frank, I mean, what does this day just represent? What does it feel like now to be out in public in Kampala? Is it weird?

Mugisha: It is very weird, and it is very fearful, and also it's like a nightmare for me.

Werman: Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a human rights organization based in Kampala. Frank, thank you very much for speaking with us.

Mugisha: Thank you too.