LGBT Rights Activist Arrested in Ugandan Police Raid


Dr. Frank Mugisha

The leading LGBT advocate in Uganda was among those arrested on Thursday following the police raid of a Pride event.

Police arrested about 20 people while raiding Venom, a nightclub in the capital of Kampala which had been hosting the Mr. and Miss Pride Uganda pageant. Those arrested included Dr. Frank Mugisha, a Catholic who is the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), reported Buzzfeed. Everyone arrested was released without charges after a few hours, and other attendees were allowed to leave after a time. But SMUG’s statement reports the violence which occurred in the interim:

“[B]eating people, humiliating people, taking pictures of LGBTI Ugandans and threatening to publish them, and confiscating cameras. Eyewitnesses reported several people—in particular transwomen and transmen—were sexually assaulted by police. One person jumped from a 4 storey window to try to avoid police abuse. This person is now in critical condition at private hospital.”

Police claimed the event did not have a permit, and there were reports of a same-gender wedding, but Pepe Julian Onziema of SMUG disputed these claims.

Pride celebrations in the capital have in large part been tolerated the last few years. Mugisha tied the raid to a broader uptick in police activity against Ugandans, in addition to targeting LGBT advocates. Pride 2016 celebrations are now being amended, including the cancellation of a planned Pride parade today because Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo threatened mob violence against any marchers.

Being openly LGBT in Uganda can be dangerous, as this incident makes clear. A report released by SMUG earlier this year, “And That’s How I Survived Being Killed: Testimonies of Human Rights Abuses from Uganda’s Sexual and Gender Minorities,” documented the persecution:

“In this report, based on first-hand testimonies, Sexual Minorities Uganda documented from May 2014 until December 2015 the physical threats, violent attacks, torture, arrest, blackmail, non-physical threats, press intrusion, state prosecution, termination of employment, loss of physical property, harassment, eviction, mob justice, and family banishment that are all too often apart of the lived experience for sexual and gender minorities in Uganda.”

There are 264 verified testimonies in all, about which Dr. Mugisha commented:

“This report is unique and unlike those that have come before it because it elevates the voice of the persecuted. What is inside this report is the human story – that is the lived experience of sexual and gender minorities in Uganda.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 3.32.33 PMUganda is about 40% Catholic, and Mugisha’s advocacy has been directed to church leaders, as well as government officials. Mugisha challenges claims by church leaders and others that homosexuality is a Western import and that Western advocacy for LGBT Africans has triggered a backlash. He criticized Uganda’s bishops for not condemning and even supporting the Anti-Homosexuality Act, colloquially known as the “Kill the Gays” bill, proposed by President Yoweri Museveni.

Last fall, Mugisha appealed to Pope Francis for words of compassion and equality about LGBT people during the apostolic voyage to Uganda, Kenya, and Central African Republic. The pope did not address the issue. He also unsuccessfully sought a meeting with Francis, and like many LGBT advocates, was disappointed at the pope’s silence in a context where LGBT suffer greatly.

Mugisha was the recpient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2011, and he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

Dr. Mugisha will be a keynote speaker at New Ways Ministry’s Eight National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” If you are interested attending the Symposium to hear Dr. Mugisha, click here for more information and registration instructions.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

8 replies
  1. Wilhelm Wonka
    Wilhelm Wonka says:

    Was Pope Francis publicly silent on LGBT oppression in Uganda in order to appease the local episcopate, so opposed to LGBT equality? To keep it loyal to Rome?

    Or was his silence prudent? A piece of Pius X11 diplomacy to avoid provoking Ugandan authorities to further oppression of its LGBT minority?

    Their are times when silence is indeed prudent. But silence, as in Nazi Germany, can be misconstrued by oppressors as tacit public endorsements of their policies.

    Like his predecessor Pope Pius X11, Pope Francis’ silence may actually have aggravated deep injustice.

  2. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    I met Frank when he was in St. Louis at a law conference earlier this year. He is a very courageous man. The suffering of LGBTQ people in Uganda is real. I admire the courage of people like Frank Mugisha who have stood up to the oppression despite the consequences. Their courage and suffering need to be honored by RC leaders, rather than swept under the carpet. Their rights should be supported rather than condemned. Francis was silent for whatever reason. In years to come, such behavior by RC leaders will not be looked upon kindly when the history of today is written.

  3. Barbara King
    Barbara King says:

    This is a disgrace. The Catholic clergy MUST speak up against the conditions in Uganda. Pope Francis cannot stay quiet on this

    • Friends
      Friends says:

      Absolutely agree. The longer Pope Francis stays silent on outrageous offenses against basic human rights, the more he jeopardizes the universal good will that he has earned across a broad spectrum of social justice issues. He’s obviously “playing politics” with contentious social issues which are viewed in very different ways around the globe — i.e., viewed very differently in Africa and parts of Asia than in Europe and the United States. But he can no longer get away with “playing footsie” around these inflamed issues, and still expect that the great good will he has widely enjoyed will continue. He needs to take some very explicit and morally-principled stands on these difficult issues. If we can figure out where he stands, then at least we can deal with his opinions appropriately, and according to our own well-informed consciences. But this “shell game” Francis is playing with different cultural constituencies is completely non-tenable.

  4. Loretta
    Loretta says:

    Frightening and heartbreaking. Who was it who said evil triumphs not when bad people do bad things but when good people do nothing.

    • amagjuka
      amagjuka says:

      Loretta, Elie Wiesel said that.
      This story makes me so sad and overwhelmed. The LGBT discrimination in Uganda can be deadly. Why oh why is our Pope allowing Catholic bishops to support the prison sentences for LGBT people?!


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  1. […] Frank Mugisha, Sexual Minorities Uganda, will report on “The Catholic Church, Criminalization Laws and the LGBT Experience in Uganda” […]

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