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Posts for January, 2012

Ugandan Television Coverage of David Kato’s Memorial Service

Jim Burroway

January 26th, 2012

It was one year ago today when Ugandan LGBT advocate David Kato was brutally murdered in his home. Today, NTV Uganda has posted this news report on a memorial service which was held on the grounds of the Emerald Hotel in Kampala.

YouTube Preview Image

There has been a great deal of discussion over the past several years about the influence American pastors have had in stoking the flames of homophobia in Uganda. Against that backdrop, it was very refreshing to see an American pastor, Rev. Joseph Tolton of Rehoboth Temple Christ Conscious Church in New York City, speaking at the memorial. Also speaking at the memorial was Kato’s mother and retired Anglican bishop Christopher Senyonjo.

Hearings Continue In Uganda’s Parliament on Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Jim Burroway

May 9th, 2011

[Update: Paul Canning alerted me to this 30-minute audio snippet from today’s hearing. Beginning at the two-minute mark, the speaker describes how the bill is based upon false premises and is not supported by science:]

Warren Throckmorton has his ear to the ground on the rapidly developing situation in Uganda, where Parliament may be set to pass the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law. He reported that  the Human Rights Commission, Sexual Minorities Uganda and the Coalition on Human Rights all testified against the bill during hearings today. The Associated Press reports that pastor Martin Ssempa testified again this morning, calling for the death penalty to be removed and replaced with seven year’s imprisonment. This is a remarkable backtracking from supporting lifetime imprisonment previously. Ssempa went on to call for the bill’s passage “because homosexuality is killing our society.”

LGBT Advocate and retired Anglican Bishop Christopher Senyonjo also testified against the bill. He warned the committee that the bill would not make gay people suddenly disappear, but would instead turn Uganda into a police state. He also warned that the bill would result in an increase in the spread of HIV/AIDS because gay Ugandans would fear seeking treatment.

The AP also reported on the bill’s future:

Stephen Tashobya, the head of the parliament committee, said it is time legislators give the bill priority. He said a report on the bill would be ready by Tuesday and could be presented to parliament by the end of the week.

“Due to public demand the committee has decided to deal with bill,” Tashobya said. “The bill has generated a lot of interest from members of the public and members of parliament and that is why we spared some time deal with before this parliament ends.”

Parliament is due to end on May 11, although Parliament itself doesn’t constitutionally expire until the 18th. It’s not clear whether there is enough time for the bill to make it to the floor before the 11th, but Frank Mugisha of Sexual Minorities Uganda said that if Parliament does take up the bill, it will be almost certainly be passed. Warren Throckmorton, who is constantly updating this thread with new information as he finds it, comments on the bill’s prognosis:

Tashobya is quoted as saying he would have the report completed by tomorrow. However, he just told me a few minutes ago that he cannot promise to complete the report by tomorrow. He did say that he would complete the report before the end of Parliament which is the 18th of May. When I asked him how the Parliament could vote on a bill in this manner, he said that the Speaker (Edward Ssekandi) makes those decisions. Theoretically, the Speaker could call Parliament into session anytime before May 18 for a vote on any left over bills.

According to Tashobya, the Company bill did not pass today, and the Procurement bill was pushed to tomorrow, thus making it even more difficult for any new bills to come to the floor before Speaker Ssekandi’s end of official business date of May 11. The AHB coming to the floor appears to hinge on the completion of the committee report by Mr. Tashobya  sometime tomorrow and the Speaker’s willingness to bring it to the floor on Wednesday. If this does not happen, the Speaker would have to call the MPs together sometime during the festivities of the Presidential inauguration and the swearing in of the new Parliament on the 18th.

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, if passed in its current form, would impose the death penalty for those who are HIV-positive, who is a “repeat offender,” or whose partner is deemed “disabled” regardless of whether the relationship was consensual. It would also impose a lifetime sentence for other cases. Those provisions may be modified, although that still remains uncertain.

Even with those proposed modifications, the bill would still remain a potent threat to human rights. The bill would lower the bar for conviction, making mere “touching” for the perceived purpose of homosexual relations a criminal offense. It threatens teachers, doctors, friends, and family members with three years imprisonment if they didn’t report anyone they suspected of being gay to police within twenty-four hours. It also would broadly criminalize all advocacy of homosexuality including, conceivably, lawyers defending accused gay people in court or parliamentarians proposing changes to the law. It even threatens landlords under a “brothel” provision if they knowingly rent to gay people.

There is an AllOut petition which is now at about 40,000 signatures with a goal of 100,000 signatures by tomorrow. This will be presented at Parliament by Bishop Senyonjo tomorrow.

Pro-LGBT Ugandan Bishop Issues Open Letter to Anglican Communion

Jim Burroway

February 9th, 2011

Front cover of the Oct 2, 2010 edition of Rolling Stone, featuring a photo of David Kato (left) and Bishop Christopher Senyonjo (right). (Click to enlarge.)

Retired bishop Christopher Senyonjo was the second person (along with murdered LGBT advocate David Kato) whose photograph was featured on the front page of the Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone (no relation to the U.S. publication by the same name) under the headline tagged with “Hang Them!”

Following Kato’s murder, Bishop Senyonjo was among the mourners who attended David’s funeral, which was marred by the homophobic rantings of an Anglican priest. According to a statement sent by Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of the St. Paul Foundation for International Reconciliation, Bishop Christopher “walked with the mourners, said the blessing and comforted the community at the graveside.”

Today, the bishop has issued his first public statement on Kato’s murder, in the form of an open letter to Archbishop Rowan Williams, head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and to the bishops of the communion. In the letter, Bishop Senyonjo calls on the Anglican Church to be more aggressive in the protection of human rights, particularly in Africa where the church has expressed support for certain aspects of that draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Bishop Senyonjo wrote:

If Anglicans in one country dehumanize, persecute and imprison minorities, we must be true to the Gospel and challenge such assaults on basic human rights. The key to our ministry must be to educate our people and encourage LGBT people to tell their stories and the impact of homophobia in their lives. Listening to the stories of LGBT people was the beginning of my own transformation.

Bishop Senyonjo retired ten years ago, and opened a counseling center in Kampala where he began to encounter LGBT people who went to him for help. Working with those clients led him to become an advocate for the LGBT community, a move that brought with it serious consequences for the bishop and his family. The bishop received several death threats, and he had to leave the country in 2001 for six months for his own safety. But after considering whether he should apply for political asylum in the United States, Bishop Senyonjo decided that his work was needed in Uganda. And that has become the basis of his ministry since then. As the bishop wrote in today’s letter:

Many African countries imprison LGBT people because of who they are. As a bishop in the midst of those countries, I am now a shepherd caring for the lost sheep that are persecuted by the Church and threatened by a pending anti-homosexual draconian bill in Uganda. I preach the new covenant of Jesus Christ sealed in love as we read in John 15:12. This is the heart of the Gospel-the Good News. This sacrifice of Love is mocked when sister churches tolerate or promote the violation of basic human rights. Life and liberty are at risk and we must hold each other accountable. A loving Anglican Communion should not keep quiet when the Rolling Stone tabloid in Uganda openly supports the “hanging of the homos,” including a fellow bishop who pleads for their inclusion and non-discrimination! Silence has the power to kill. We have witnessed its destruction this past week in the tragic and cruel murder of David Kato.

L-R: Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, Jim Burroway

Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting with the bishop and speaking with him when he was on tour in Southern California. You can read about that here, here and here. He and others in Uganda are trying to raise funds for safe houses and attorneys. Donations can be made via the U.S.-based St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which is working closely with Bishop Christopher’s St. Paul’s Centre for Equality and Reconciliation.

Click here for the full text of Bishop Senyonjo’s letter.

“Hang Them”: Another Wave of Anti-Gay Vigilantism Strikes Uganda

Jim Burroway

October 4th, 2010
Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone cover: "100 pictures of Uganda's Top Homos Lean -- Hang Them"

October 2, 2010 edition of the Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone (Click to enlarge)

A new tabloid appeared on the streets of Kampala, Uganda about a month ago, and they appear intent on displacing the notorious Red Pepper as the leader of vigilante mobs against the country’s beleaguered gay community. The latest tabloid, Rolling Stone (no relation to the American publication of the same name), has published several photos and names along with other identifying information in outing private LGBT citizens and others who are accused of homosexuality.

Rolling Stone has upped the ante considerably over previous vigilante campaigns by attaching the tagline “Hang them” on the front cover. Previous Red Pepper campaigns typically revealed first names and general descriptions of their residences and places of employment. Rolling Stone goes further by including surnames for many of those who are being forcibly outed, as well as numerous photos. The article also promises that their list is “to be continued in the next issue.”

One of the two photos on the cover is that of retired Anglican Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, who is married and a father and grandfather. He has been a tireless advocate for LGBT people since his retirement, and has suffered tremendously for it. In 2001, Bishop Senyonjo received numerous death threats because of his advocacy, requiring him to remain in exile in the United States for about six months.

The anonymous blogger GayUganda was the first to note this latest round of anti-gay outings in a post this morning. Since then, we have received photos of other pages of the paper from other sources, but because of the danger they pose to those exposed, we cannot post them at this time.

I will have much more on this later this evening.

Australia’s SBS Television Focuses on Uganda

Jim Burroway

September 8th, 2010

Australia’s SBS network, which fills a role similar to that of PBS in the United States, delved into Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill last Sunday in a segment of the documentary program Dateline by Canadian journalist Aaron Lewis. The non-embeddable video is available online at the Dateline web site, along with a full transcript.

This documentary explores similar ground covered in other documentaries on Uganda that have appeared in the U.S. and Britain. Regular readers of BTB are unlikely to learn many new facts, but this documentary does a wonderful job of re-telling the story in different contexts. As with the other documentaries, Lewis obtained interviews with M.P. David Bahati, chief sponsor of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, and Ethics and Integrity Minister James Nsaba Buturo, one of the bill’s most ardent supporters in Uganda’s Cabinet. It also features brief appearances from pastors Martin Ssempa and Solomon Male, who both have been involved with hurling accusations of homosexuality toward rival pastors during last year’s vigilante campaign.

Among the things this documentary covers that we’ve seen before is Bahati’s assertion that many American evangelical leaders privately tell him that they support the Anti-Homosexuality Bill bill:

We have friends who are evangelicals in the US and they are being supportive. Some confidentially supporting this, others, very few openly, in support of this because of the fear to be blamed back home and we truly accept that.

Frank Mugisha, head of Sexual Minorities Uganda

But where this documentary truly excels is in covering the impact the debate over the the Anti-Homosexuality Bill has had on Uganda’s LGBT community. Frank Mugisha, head of Sexual Minorities Uganda, said that since the bill has been introduced, life has become much more difficult:

Many Ugandans have taken the law into their own hands and started attacking homosexuals, beating them up. Landlords have thrown people out of their houses because they are saying “If this legislation is passed and I have a homosexual who is a tenant, then I become a criminal, so it is better I throw you out now before the law is passed”.

Pepe, a transgender advocate for SMUg, agrees:

Kampala is one of the places that is known for mob injustice – anything can happen. You can move on the street and someone can say “Look, the homosexual is doing something” – just that word alone is going to draw attention and something can happen so that we live in fear of all the time.

SheilaMore compelling is this recounting of a case of “curative rape,” a common threat against lesbians throughout Africa.

SHEILA MUGISHA: At the age of 12 I had a friend at home – and actually these things are done by friends. I had always told him my stories, my secrets, my encounters in bed. So, he would tell me, “You know what? I want to teach you how to play with boys, not with girls.” He put his leg here, and here, and then he got into my body, into my vagina, and I screamed because I’d never had any sex, I’d never known, you know, any of those practices. “So, from now, you are going to learn how to play with boys.”

As a result of the rape, Sheila became pregnant at the age of 12. Her family took her to have the child aborted but the effects of the rape continued.

SHEILA MUGISHA: I went to a certain AIDS information centre in Mengo with a friend – I took a test – and it was positive.

Minister for Ethics and Integrity James Nsaba ButuroSheila has been living with HIV for almost twenty years. When the reporter told Minister for Ethics and Integrity James Nsaba Buturo about Shiela, the cabinet minister who has been one of the anti-gay bill’s staunchest supporters said that the entire story is a lie:

I have never heard of that, actually. But they lie a lot. Lies. They use that as a major tool because you see that’s the only way they garner sympathy from all over the world. Now the idea that in Uganda we have plans to kill gays you know, that the bill of Honourable Bahati is intended to kill homosexuals – that is the view that the entire world has got, yet it is not the case.

Stanley NdualaBut what has to be the most interesting element of the documentary for me is that for the first time we get to hear from Stanley Nduala, who writes for the notorious tabloid Red Pepper. He has been in the forefront of that tabloid’s outing campaigns. Apparently, making life miserable for LGBT people pays very well in Uganda; we see Nduala driving around Kampala in a late model Mercedes. Incredibly, he claimed that he, too, would fall under the bill’s provisions against “promoting” homosexuality:

STANLEY NDUALA, JOURNALIST ‘RED PEPPER’: For them, they believe that anything you write about homosexuality is promotion. So they think that I’m working with the activists to promote homosexuality in Uganda. So it is quite strict.

Far from promoting homosexuality, ‘The Red Pepper’ goes so far as to out homosexuals in its most popular section. No-one is spared.

FRANK MUGISHA: I know very many people who were outed in that tabloid who lost their jobs, who lost their families, who lost friends. I know people who were even bashed, I know people who were beaten. I know people who were harassed because they were outed in ‘The Red Pepper’.

REPORTER: Do you feel that you are persecuting a minority?

STANLEY NDUALA: I don’t know why they believe like that. We are just being journalists – True journalists.

Stanley tells me that the reason for such interest is that no crime is as hated as homosexuality here.

STANLEY NDUALA: When you commit homosexuality, they think all these other things, like rape, what, are just minor. If you have done that one, you could do everything.

REPORTER: So here in Uganda, being a rapist is minor compared to being a homosexual?

STANLEY NDUALA: Yes, to the public eye

Lawyer Lad Rekefuzi confirms that rapists and murderers fare better in Uganda’s courts than do gay people.

Also making a brief appearance is retired Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, a brave man who I had the distinct pleasure of meeting last May in Southern California. This documentary is a great addition to the body of work being done all over the world to call attention to the deplorable treatment of LGBT people in Uganda.

Myths and Consequences: The True Impact of the Kampala Anti-Gay Conference

Jim Burroway

May 26th, 2010

L-R: Unidentified woman, American holocaust revisionist Scott Lively, International Healing Foundation's Caleb Brundidge, Exodus International boardmember Don Schmierer, Family Life Network (Uganda)'s Stephen Langa, at the time of the March 2009 anti-gay conference in Uganda.

One criticism of the coverage of the three American Evangelists who held their anti-gay Kampala Conference in March 2009 and its aftermath is over the inference that without the conference, we wouldn’t be in this mess today. Critics of our coverage have charged that we have blamed Uganda’s rampant homophobia on these American activists — a position we have never held. Holocaust revisionist Scott Lively, one of the principal American speakers who delivered his “nuclear bomb” at that notorious conference  has even played the race card: “It’s racist to suggest that Africans have no will of their own to produce public policy to suit their own values.”

While we do reject the notion that homophobia in Uganda is an American import, I think it is proper nevertheless to hold the three Americans — Lively, Exodus International board member Don Schmierer, and the International Healing Foundation’s Caleb Brundidge — accountable for the conference and its aftermath. As many independent observers have noticed, this particular conference, with the unwieldy title “Exposing the truth behind homosexuality and the homosexual agenda,” turned out to be – as I correctly feared when I first learned about it a week before it took place – the prime catalyst for the massive convulsion of anti-gay hysteria which followed and ultimately led to the tabling of the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill before Parliament.

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo (Retired)

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo is a rare straight allies for LGBT people in Uganda, and he’s paid a very heavy price for his support. Last Friday, I asked him whether the link between the conference and the events following were overstated:

Jim Burroway: Over here in the US, we often get an unclear, distorted view of what’s happening in Uganda. But when we look, we find that there have been a lot of outing campaigns in the 2006, 2007. To put things in perspective, did that conference really make things worse for LGBT people in Uganda? Or was it just that the rest of us in the Western world, we noticed it because we hadn’t been paying attention before? Did it really make things worse?

Bishop Senyonjo: What we saw coming to the office, it made things worse. Because soon after that conference, we saw the introduction of the bill, you know what I mean? Because I think it was October something when Bahati came out with that bill, And we knew, I knew, different ones were at that conference that before the people come to speak to us, Lively and his company, they had also met with some members of Parliament and talked with them, even I think with the Minister of Integrity. So they had met with him and of course they spoke with someone in power behind them. Right? And not long after, this bill comes up.

Burroway: So, some of the people that you counsel, have they talked about their fears about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill?

Senyonjo: Oh yeah.

Burroway: Do you have any particular examples you can share without breaking anybody’s confidentiality?

Senyonjo: Many, many are afraid, and they have been coming and talking to me about it. And they are afraid and would like to run out of the country. And that is something very difficult. They don’t know how they can live in Uganda like that because their life will be in great danger, because they feel they cannot change what they are. And because many are losing their employment, we are trying to see that we can have some place where people can have what they call self-employment in a certain way so that they may not live a destitute kind of life. We’re trying to do what we can, to have some possible room where you can have people, even if for a short time in a transition to allow them to see where they are going. Some people would need some shelter for some time, they could need transit to get to work…

Burroway: Because a lot of them loose their family, too, is that correct?

Senyonjo: Oh yeah. That’s true. … so it is not easy. There is real fear of what is going to happen if this bill passed. And that is why many of us feel everything possible should be done to reject this bill.

Bishop Senyonjo was an eyewitness to all three days of the three-day conference, so I pressed him to talk more about Lively’s talk –particularly Lively’s assertion that homosexuality and Nazism are inextricably linked, and his blaming the Rwandan genocide on gays — but he was reluctant to touch those topics. “It creates a lot of unnecessary fears,” he said. “It does, and we may probably not want to repeat those.” Besides, he felt that those who attended the conference didn’t place much weight to those two points, which surprised me because I thought that those were the most incendiary parts of the entire conference.

Instead, it turns out that the centerpiece message that came out of the conference was Lively’s,  Brundidge’s and Scmierer’s reinforcement of the myth that gays recruit school children through child sexual abuse. That was the message which struck a particular chord in Uganda. Bishop Senyonjo concurred:

Burroway: One of the things that I keep reading in the newspapers in Uganda that are on the Internet is that there’s a widespread belief that gay people are recruiting children in the schools, and then I heard basically Scott Lively say the same thing at his conference. Do you think that his talk helped confirm some of those fears that people have?

Senyonjo: Yeah. In fact, even myself, I was at one time accused that I was going to schools and trying to recruit, as it were, people into homosexuality, which is actually blackmail. And you can see, what are the intentions of these people to do this? …. People who will say this, they have very evil intentions which I don’t understand. Because I don’t go to schools to recruit young people. In each …. People develop into what they are, they know themselves whatever they are, what kind of sexual orientation they are. They are not being recruited into it.

Buroway: I know. I mean nobody recruited me.

Senyonjo: [Laughs] That’s what I’m saying there’s a lot of work we have to do in education. They threaten the parents, they say that people are going to schools trying to recruit their children into being gay or what?  This is not true, you know?

This reinforcement of the already prevalent myth — and it truly is a myth – is perhaps the worst legacy of the conference. As NPR’s East African correspondent Gwen Tompkins reported last December:

Scott Lively’s philosophies have been deeply internalized here among those who are proponents of the law, and for people who are listening to these public dialogues on homosexuality, they’re hearing Scott Lively’s words reiterated by Ugandan Evangelicals and others who are proponents of the bill. And they believe it to be Gospel. They believe it to be scientific fact, what they’re listening to.

The Vanguard episode, “Missionaries of Hate,” which premieres tonight on Current TV, further confirms the critical role that March 5-7 conference played in propelling this myth as “scientific fact.”  Here is one exchange between Pepe Onziema of Sexual Minorities Uganda and Peabody-award winning reporter Mariana van Zeller:

Pepe Onziema: (SMUG) The conference basically introduced the idea that homosexuals, their agenda is to recruit children into homosexuality.

van Zeller: So before this conference this concept didn’t really exist in Uganda?

Onziema: No.

The truth is, despite Pepe’s recollection, this allegation didn’t originate with the conference. I’ve seen these allegations in Uganda media long before the conference took place. But Pepe’s faulty memory reinforces what NPR’s Tomkins reported, that because those prior suspicions are now regarded as “scientific fact,” the March 5-7 conference has now been thoroughly associated with being the origin of the charge. Where before, the myth was passed on as rumor, this conference led by three American “experts” elevated this rumor to “fact.” Human rights advocate Julius Kaggwa told van Zeller confirms, “The theme of this conference was the gay agenda and the gay agenda was that there is a massive recruitment of school children into homosexuality.” He added:

There is a culture of fear among gay people and among non-gay people. I mean the non-gay people are fearing that the gay people are invading our culture and want to recruit children into this thing. The gay people are scared because there’s a massive onset of hatred, if you look like you’re gay then you might be arrested, you might get mob justice, you might just get assaulted. So there is generally fear on every front.

And to match what Bishop Senyonjo told me about his clients’ fears in the conference’s aftermath, van Zeller followed the story of “Long Jones,” a gay man who was arrested by police following the conference. Because of the conference, he said, “people became more out and spying and mentioning others.”

As we noted yesterday, van Zeller talked to Scott Lively, who admitted that he knew that Ugandan lawmakers were considering new legislation to “strengthen” their already draconian anti-homosexuality law (life imprisonment is already the current penalty, depending on how it is prosecuted). And as we have reported multiple times, the three Americans also met with Ugandan members of Parliament as part of their tour in March, 2009.  Van Zeller also spoke with MP David Bahati, who introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into Parliament. She asked him why he wrote the bill. His response:

I did that for the sake of protecting our children. Here in Uganda we have a problem of people promoting homosexuality, especially using money and materials to recruit young people.

And we know exactly where he got his “facts” from.

Missionaries of Hate” airs Wednesday on Current TV at 10:00 EST. A preview is also available on Hulu.

(See also part 1 and part 2 of our talk with Bishop Senyonjo.)

Bishop Senyonjo on Marginalization and Death Threats as an LGBT Ally in Uganda

Jim Burroway

May 25th, 2010

L-R: Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, Jim Burroway

Yesterday I  introduced you to the Rt. Rev. Christopher Senyonjo, who I had the pleasure of meeting a little more than a week ago. The retired Church of Uganda Bishop of the West Buganda diocese is a tireless straight ally and LGBT advocate, and he is now in his third week of a six-week speaking tour in the U.S.

Uganda’s LGBT community has paid a heavy price in its battle for equality. They have endured threats to their personal safety, some have been forcibly outed in the news media, many have lost their jobs and have been disowned by their families. We’ve covered much of that ground before. Today, you will come to know the heavy price that awaits straight allies like Bishop Christopher when they come to the defense of LGBT people.

About thirty of us had gathered in the home of Ed and Scott for a private fundraiser and question-and-answer session for Bishop Christopher. Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, who is facilitating Bishop Christopher’s tour, led the Q&A session. Yesterday, I recounted how Bishop Christopher happened to become an advocate for LGBT people. Unsurprisingly, when his superiors in the Church of Uganda discovered the nature of Bishop Christopher’s new found ministry, they made their displeasure known. Bishop Christopher said:

So I’ve come to this [becoming an advocate] since 2001 when some young people came and we formed what we call Integrity Uganda. But my church didn’t like this. In fact, they said, “No, no, no, no… You shouldn’t support such a group. What you should be is just ask these people to be converted. And if they are not converted, well you are just leading them nowhere.”

But I said, “I know these people and what they are. In spite of not being converted, they should be accepted.”

And I was told, “If you don’t change that attitude and you don’t condemn them, you are no longer going to work with us as a church in the service.”

I accepted, because I knew the truth and I felt I couldn’t compromise on this truth, which I am sure is right and I’ve remained convinced in spite of a lot of suffering which I may not enumerate one by one.

Well, we wouldn’t let him get by without enumerating just a little of what he experienced, so he indulged us.

In the Anglican Church (as is the case with all lower-case “episcopal” churches such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Orthodox Christian churches, etc.), a retired bishop is still a bishop. He just no longer carries the responsibility of the day-to-day administration and care of a diocese. Retired bishops however are often called upon to conduct services, co-consecrate fellow bishops, conduct confirmations, and so forth. But because Bishop Christopher’s refusal to condemn his LGBT clients, he was barred from performing any official function inside of an Anglican Church in Uganda or on behalf of the Church. (Which explains why Bishop Christopher was beaming so broadly when I met him after having participated as a co-consecrating bishop for the Rt. Rev. Mary Glasspool just a few hours earlier.)

What’s more, after thirty-four years of service in the Church of Uganda,

My pension was stopped, and of course, I will say I was marginalized as they marginalize the homosexuals, the LGBT people. I’m regarded as the same way as a marginalized person, not respected. It is not easy.

But that was just the beginning of his problems:

In 2001, I was here in the United States, and really that’s when my church knew [learned] that I was counseling the LGBT people and they said they would no longer work with me. There were so many threats – If you read the papers at that time, Monitor, the other paper… I think it’s New Vision, Bukedde Uganda… if you read, you will find a lot of things said against me. Actually my wife was not with me and I was advised by many people that there were so many threats, it was not safe for me to go back to Uganda. So I had to find friends to stay with in Washington, D.C. for six months…

But after pondering on this matter – should I file for asylum, seek for asylum here? — I felt my family is in Uganda, my wife is in Uganda [and each time he says "Uganda," he draws it out the way people who love their homeland do]. I didn’t think that I should ask them to come over, and I didn’t really see what I had done. Of course the law was not as clear as it might be if [the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill] is passed. Because if it was as it is [proposed], secondly, when I went back to Uganda I might have been arrested or something. But apart from people and what they were saying and the threats, there was no such law. It is there, but a bit mild against homosexuality. I hadn’t done really anything.

After six months, Bishop Christopher felt it was safe enough to his home in Uganda. But the harassment continued:

I remember one time I was talking with a gentleman and I said why these people should be respected and recognized as human beings. He said, “How can you recognize these people? God doesn’t love them.”

I said, “I believe also these people are created by God.”

But that man – he knew me and I knew him – he give me a slap. And I wondered… but I couldn’t return anything. What I do when such things happen, I neglect what happens. I just walk away. Because that’s what I think is the best way, not just to return a kind of angry reaction. If you do it, it can make things worse.

It has also taken a toll on his family, but they have remained supportive:

They’re worried. There was a time of course when I didn’t go back, my wife was saying, “Don’t come back, it is too dangerous.” So I stayed here for about six months. God willing, one day, Albert was saying I should come along with my wife and so she sees [America]… I’ve been here before but … she has been a wonderful help to me. It hasn’t been easy for her. But she said, “If this is really your call, I cannot stop you.”

I have a daughter too. One day I was in Colorado, Denver… And I was speaking to her. It was hard. She said, “Dad, if you really believe that’s what God wants you to do, then do it.” I sometimes talk as though she’s there. “Dad, your voice was a voice from God.”

So, these people have been supporting me in the way I have explained. They love me. I love them. But serving humanity surpasses other things.

Because of the backlash that the Bishop suffered, it allowed him to walk in the shoes of those who were marginalized. In the eyes of Ugandan society, Bishop Christopher became one of “them,” which only spurred him to greater efforts to try to improve the lives of LGBT people there:

Well what it is like [for LGBT people], many have lost their jobs because if someone discovers you are an LGBT person, you couldn’t keep you’re job. And many find it difficult to tell the parents. The parents, many of them, for whatever reason many of them are not happy with the children who come out as LGBT people. So it is really hard for these people.

And because of this, we’ve been trying in our group to start what we call self-help United Uganda, to sort of start their own employment, to have their own employment. They can employ themselves. For instance, there is one young man who grows sugar cane and sells it. Some start restaurants or become cobblers (shoe repair) so they can survive. In fact, this has been a great help.

Until recently, when we were just starting, we had this, what we call “financial recession.” Some of the help we were getting to start this was curtailed. But I believe that if we could do this, many people who have lost their jobs, who cannot be employed because of their coming out and because of this orientation, could be able to survive and get some kind of employment.

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo (center) meeting with a group in his office near Kampala (From the video, "Voices of Witness Africa")

Bishop Christopher’s group also works to provide rooms or shelter for those who were kicked out of their homes, either by their landlords or their families. But providing these services in such a difficult climate for LGBT people calls for great care and discernment. Bishop Christopher offered this parable to describe how he navigates the roiling homophobia in Uganda:

We have been what we call, “Be wise as a serpent.” You see, one person talked to me about the serpent. The serpent, there is a time for the serpent is very quiet. There may be a some time a serpent in the corner there. [He points to a corner of the room.] But if you don’t disturb it, it may just be quiet. You may not know it is there. Right? And so there is a time of keeping quiet.  Then the serpent, you may find another time, it [he gestures forcefully] — running out, just to rushing out. “Oh! There has been a serpent, a snake here!” Eh? It rushes out!

There’s a time of running away. Then there’s a time when the serpent may attack. But, it’s so hard to know what to do at different times. You need the Grace of God to help you.

Through his work, Bishop Christopher remains both determined and optimistic:

Well I think this is what we should really discuss, because I think we shouldn’t despair. When you despair, you are already defeated. But we can do something. One think I say is solidarity. When your friend is suffering, say “what can I do to help?” Right? For instance, there are times when it will be necessary to be helped out. Supposing the bill passed. There will be many refugees. But this will not be forever. You know, even if we don’t, they are what we call martyrs. People are killed because of what they believe. But some run away, others are killed. Those who run away live to fight another day. So I think we shouldn’t despair.

Things are changing. The world is becoming one. One thing we share, it gives me hope, is the Internet. The Internet! You know what goes on in Uganda, you know it just at that moment and you can respond. The influence is there.

Several days later on May 21, Bishop Christoper spoke at a Harvey Milk Day breakfast in San Diego before approximately a thousand people. I wasn’t there, but I understand that his talk was a huge success. I talked to him by phone later that morning, and he returned to the theme of sacrifice and why he remained optimistic:

Even in the history of the Church or of the world, some people run away and live to fight. Others become martyrs and die for their beliefs. Even today, I’ve been thinking of Harvey Milk. He stood for what he knew was right. The truth for which he died will never die.

Tomorrow, I will cover Bishop Christopher’s observations of the March 2009 conference by three American anti-gay activists which set the stage for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

(See also part 1 and part 3 of our talk with Bishop Senyonjo.)

A Talk With Bishop Senyonjo, A Straight Ally In Uganda

Jim Burroway

May 24th, 2010

Church of Uganda Bishop Christopher Senyonjo (Retired)

The LGBT community has always drawn its strength from among its many diverse members, but even in the earliest days of our modern history, we have also been able to count on the support of key straight allies. And these allies have been very critical in times of crisis and great danger. For more than a year now, we have been diligently following a long series of events in Uganda, beginning with a three-day conference in Kampala in March, 2009, by three American anti-gay activists, which led to a long series of events which ultimately culminated in the draconian “kill-the-gays” Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda’s Parliament. Through it all, we have been impressed with the resilience and resourcefulness of the beleaguered LGBT community in Uganda. And I have come to especially appreciate the few brave Ugandan allies who have paid a heavy price for their advocacy on behalf of the the LGBT communities in East Africa.

A week ago, I had the privileged of attending the ordination of the Rt. Rev. Mary Glasspool as the first Lesbian bishop in the Episcopal Church, in a ceremony that took place in Long Beach on May 15. As exciting as that was to attend such a historic event, that wasn’t the reason for my trip. My real reason to go to Southern California was to meet with Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, the retired bishop who has been a stalwart supporter of the LGBT community in Uganda for more than ten years.

The Rt. Rev. Senyonjo studied at the Union Theological Seminary in 1963, and was ordained into the priesthood in 1964 in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. He then served in the Church of Uganda, where he was elevated to bishop in 1974. He was the Bishop of West Buganda until his retirement in 1998. And that’s where his real story began, which we will get to in a moment.

Bishop Senyonjo is currently touring the United States to raise awareness of the plight of the LGBT community in Uganda. On the day that I met him in Newport Beach, he had just arrived at the home of our hosts, Ed and Scott, following the consecration in Long Beach. Bishop Senyonjo was among the consecrating bishops for that service, and he was in a very jubilant mood when I met him. Our hosts were getting everything ready for a fundraising party for that evening, so the Bishop and I sat down briefly at the dining table to get acquainted before the guests arrived.

Bishop Christopher is an amazing man, and I hardly know where to begin to describe him. He’s 78 years old yet full of energy and strength, but its a rather quiet energy and strength that I imagine may be easy to underestimate. The first thing I learned that when you talk with Bishop Christopher, the conversation would be long and deep. He’s not much for chit-chat or the one-liners. His narrative is that of a novel, not a short story, and what a story he has to tell.

L-R: Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, Jim Burroway

Later, after the guests had all arrived — there were about thirty in all, I’d say — and after we became acquainted with one another, Bishop Christopher took his  seat again at the dining table and the rest of the guests gathered around for a question and answer session led by Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, who is organizing Bishop Christopher’s six-week tour. One of the first questions on all of our minds was how was it that Bishop Christopher became such a great ally for the LGBT community in Uganda. This is what he said:

In Uganda at the beginning of 2001, there were some younger people who had suffered very much because of their sexual orientation, and they wanted to give them some kind of counseling. Because I had studied counseling in 1998, when I retired I decided to start counseling. And I’m very much interested in the area of human sexuality and marriage. Of course, other came and have been coming to me.

Now these young people, they knew that probably I could help them. So they were recommended to come, and I took to them and shared. They were so frightened and had hated themselves so much. Some of them were on the verge of committing suicide. But after discussing with them, of course they realized they are human beings like others. And that God, you know many people, I would say, in Africa believe in God. But they were being told that God doesn’t even love you because of what you are. God doesn’t love homosexuals. And there are a number of people who have hated God because of this. But with my counseling, many of them realize that God loves them as they are.

This is hard for some people, that God can love you as you are. As he loves somebody who may be heterosexual, he also loves LGBT people in the same way. For many people it is not easy who think they are religious. But I’ve been convinced that this is true. One doesn’t need to be converted first to another sexuality to be loved by God.

So this counseling has helped me to understand and to welcome people although they are different from others’ sexuality, I mean as far as sexuality is concerned.

When I spoke with Bishop Christopher earlier, he told me that he really hadn’t intended to become an advocate for LGBT people. After he retired, he thought he would put his education in human sexuality and marriage counseling to use by opening a counseling practice. But very early on he had his first gay client, and Bishop Christopher’s first reaction on learning that this client was gay was to do what he always does: he listened. He listened to the young man as he poured out his struggles and thoughts of suicide, which Bishop Christopher found alarming. The young man, in turn, experienced something that he hadn’t fully expected from the Bishop: a sympathetic ear of a churchman who would not condemn the young man.

As Bishop Christopher was able to help that client through his problems of dealing with his sexuality in such a repressive climate, that client then began to refer others to Bishop Christopher for help. Soon, he started seeing a larger number of LGBT people who came to him by word-of-mouth. And as Bishop Christopher explained to me, he gained as much from the experience of counseling gay people as his clients gained from him and each other. “I discovered,” he said, “that you cannot marginalize the person because of his or her sexuality. What is important is to respect each person for what that person is.” And that was his repeated refrain throughout that evening and in my later conversations with him: respect each person for what that person is.

Bishop Christopher decided that counseling wasn’t enough, so he went on to found Integrity Uganda as a branch of Integrity USA, the Episcopal Church’s LGBT outreach organization. He has opened a ramshackle community center where LGBT people can safely gather, and he has worked to provide housing and employment for those were were forcibly “outed.” And for that work, Bishop Christopher has paid a huge price. I’ll have more on that tomorrow.

(See also part 2 and part 3 of our talk with Bishop Senyonjo.)

Uganda’s Anti-Gay Campaign Snares LGBT People and Rival Pastors, Tabloid Promises More “Outings”

Jim Burroway

May 14th, 2009

The situation in Uganda continues to deteriorate, with the latest anti-gay campaign now descending into what appears to be a circular firing squad among rival Pentecostal pastors. But while that civil war is going on, LGBT Ugandans continue to be caught up in the crossfire. The anonymous blogger Gay Uganda reproduced a statement from Sexual Minorities Uganda about the arrest of two gay men in Mbale:

Sexual Minorities Uganda – SMUG, visited Mbale and learnt that Fred Wasukira who is commonly known as Namboozo Margrete is business man in Mbale town who owns a bar and several houses in Mbale. On the night of 7th April 2009, the two were witnessed in a romantic mood at a bar in Namakweki Mbale district and according to the Police officer we talked to, the two were calling each other by names “darling , sweetheart” , we were told that from the bar Fred and Brian proceeded to their house where they were followed by residents, who alerted area local councils and the Police. They were caught kissing and cuddling at their house. Police and area local councils picked them up and took them to Mbale Police station, where they were held until the 17th April. 2008. At Maluke Prison we were not allowed to visit the prisoners saying it was not a visiting day, however we confirmed that they are on remand at Maluke Prison in Mbale.

That was in early April. On April 30, Gay Uganda reported that the two were still being held by police. He also reports of a seventeen year old male in Mukono who has been sentenced to life imprisonment, and another case in Entebbe. Gay Uganda continues:

Suddenly, prison is becoming something that anyone suspected of being gay gets rail roaded to. Doesn’t matter that you may not be gay. Or you may not be guilty. Fact is, us seasoned gay people are kind of too suspicious to be caught in the act. But damn!

L-R: Don Schmierer, Scott Lively, Lee Caleb Brundidge

L-R: Don Schmierer, Scott Lively, Lee Caleb Brundidge

This latest campaign began nearly two and a half months ago when three American anti-gay activists spoke at a conference in Kampala organized by Pastor Stephen Langa’s Family Life Network. That conference featured Exodus board president Don Schmierer, Holocaust revisionist Scott Lively, and purported raiser-of-the-dead and Richard Cohen protegé Caleb Lee Brundidge.

The March 3-5 conference called for Uganda’s laws against homosexuality — which currently call for a life sentence — to be “strengthened” with an option to force those convicted into ex-gay therapy. Exodus International “applauded” Schmierer’s role at the conference, but Exodus President Alan Chambers later tried to wash his hands of responsibility for it as the repercussions of the conference unfolded.

April 19, 2009 edition of Uganda’s Red Pepper (Scans via GayUganda. Names and faces obscured by Box Turtle Bulletin. Click to enlarge).

April 19, 2009 edition of Uganda’s Red Pepper (Scans via GayUganda. Names and faces obscured by Box Turtle Bulletin. Click to enlarge).

Those repercussions include a public outing campaign which named more than sixty people in the pages of the tabloid newspaper The Red Pepper. In an interview posted Monday on the South African web site Beyond the Mask, the News Editor for The Red Pepper, Ben Byarabaha, promised to continue the outing campaign. Byarabaha said, “We are just exposing the vice, the immorality from colonialists that is eluding African culture. As long as the practice is still illegal, we shall continue the campaign.”

LGBT people aren’t the only ones in danger of being caught up in this latest anti-gay vigilante campaign. Uganda’s anti-gay religious leaders are taking advantage of the opportunity to accuse rival pastors of homosexuality.

George Oundo

George Oundo

The first round in this pastor-against-pastor conflict was fired soon after George Oundo claimed to have been saved and became an immediate “ex-gay” in Pastor Martin Ssempa’s Makerere Community Church in Kampala. Oundo’s “salvation” occurred sometime after he went sought money from Uganda’s fledgling LGBT rights organzation, Sexual Minorities Uganda. Apparently snubbed by the LGBT community, Oundo found a savior in Ssempa and Pastor Stephen Langa, director of Kampala-based Family Life Network.

Ssempa had led several anti-gay campaigns in the past, but this time he appears to be taking a back seat to Langa, who organized a news conference featuring Oundo. It was at that news conference where Oundo named a popular Catholic priest, Fr. Anthony Musaala, as a homosexual. Musaala, whose Charismatic Renewal Movement has a huge youth following, just happens to be a longtime rival of Ssempa.

Other pastors are jumping onto the “outing” bandwagon to settle scores as well, and the rivalries are so complex that it takes some diagramming to keep it all straight. Here goes: Pastor Solomon Male of Arise for Christ Ministry accused Pastor Robert Kayanja of the Rubaga Miracle Center Cathedral of being a homosexual, along with “a group of other pastors.” Kayanja’s Rubaga Miracle Center is a very large and prosperous megachurch in Kampala. (Controversial American faith healer Benny Hinn will present a “Fire Conference” at that church on June 5th and 6th.) But an apparent friend of Kayanjka, Pastor Joseph Serwadda of the Victory Christian Centre, another megachurch in the Ndeeba section of Kampala which operates two FM stations, accused Male of of being an impostor, saying that he doesn’t even have a church.

L-R: Pastor Robert Kayanja, Pastor Michael Kyazze, alleged kidnap victim Chris Muwonge (New Vision)

L-R: Pastor Robert Kayanja, Pastor Michael Kyazze, alleged kidnap victim Chris Muwonge (New Vision)

Kayanja’s personal aide, Chris Muwonge, was allegedly kidnapped and tortured by armed men and held for five days. His captors allegedly wanted him to make a video statement accusing Kayenja of molesting young boys. Kayanja accused his rival, Pastor Michael Kyazze of the Omega Healing Center of being behind the plot. Kyazze’s assistant, Pastor Robert Kayiira was arrested earlier for trying to sneak a laptop computer into Kayanja’s Miracle Center. His close friend? Pastor Solomon Male. Kayanja reportedly believes that Martin Ssempa is involved in the allegations against him as well.

Medics carry Tumukunde to an ambulance as Kayanja and others look on (Red Pepper)

Medics carrying Tumukunde to an ambulance. (Red Pepper)

Solomon decries the kidnapping as “a desperate but tactical attempt to divert attention from the broader anti-homo and cult awareness campaign.” That’s right. He also accuses his rivals of fraud, “miracle faking,” and human sacrifices. And now there is a report that another Kayanja aide, Herbert Tumukunde, was kidnapped and tortured. He was reportedly rescued just as he was drenched in kerosene and was about to be set on fire.

Meanwhile, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo of the Church of Uganda was fending off insinuations that he was gay. The Rt. Rev. Senyonjo believes those insinuations came from the Church of Uganda’s Archbishop Luke Orombi. Senyonjo is the retired bishop of West Buganda Diocese. He has written and spoken out in support of Uganda’s beleaguered LGBT community. Senyonjo isn’t gay, but merely speaking up in support of LGBT people can draw dangerous accusations in the current climate.

That, or being a rival pastor.

Click here to see BTB’s complete coverage of recent anti-gay developments in Uganda.