On Valentine's Day 2010, more than two-hundred Ugandans who are bisexual, gay, lesbian, and transgender (BGLT) gathered in Kampala for the “Standing on the Side of Love: Reimagining Valentine’s Day” conference. The conference served to organize a response to the anti-gay bill that will soon be voted on by the Ugandan Parliament and to provide support for Ugandans who are facing persecution. Ugandan Unitarian Universalist (UU) minister Rev. Mark Kiyimba convened the conference in conjunction with Spectrum Uganda and other grassroots BGLT community organizations.
Many of the conference participants were young adults. Risking arrest and imprisonment, the courageous activists at this conference engaged in hours of discussion. One organizer described it as a “Pride Parade in a closet.” But the subject matter was serious.
Conference participants called for the complete decriminalization of homosexuality and full access to services, human rights, and protection by the state. Sessions included talks by religious and human rights activists. The keynote speaker was Anglican Bishop and Integrity Uganda President Christopher Ssenyojo, a champion ally of BGLT rights who spoke on the theme of love and justice. Bishop Christopher was formerly exiled from Uganda and continues to offer Christian sanctuary to the BGLT community.
The conference culminated in a petition for equality that will be presented to the speaker of the house or a local member of parliament and the conference has promised to bring legal action against the state if the bill is passed. Organizers stated that a procession had been planned to deliver the petition on foot, but as one organizer put it, “If we walk through the streets we will surely be stoned.”
Pastor Kiyimba, whose congregation includes many BGLT people, offered this statement about the conference:
I cannot stand by and watch as my community is exterminated. If the bill finally passes into law, our church will go to court and sue the government, because some provisions of the bill contravene the Ugandan constitution.
What this work means to me is that my church can take a leading role in liberating the sexual minorities in Uganda. This work will benefit almost everyone, but we wanted our people to have freedom. The wider view is that the bill can put people in danger, lying about them. People should have freedom of worship and of relationship. The fact remains that BGLT people exist. They are in Uganda.
BGLT people are all ages and types of people. My dream for Uganda is a Uganda that would look like any other country where all people are equal on all sides of the law: black, white, gay, straight, rich, poor. Mandela identified South Africa as a vulnerable nation because there are so many different people, and all of them live side by side. That is what I would like to see in Uganda. It will take a while but I believe it will come.
For more information on the conference, visit the website of the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists.