Sunday, September 5, 2010 - 20:30

Plans to introduce the death penalty for gays and lesbians in Uganda are causing an international outcry. The new laws currently being considered even include punishment for anyone who doesn't report gay people to the authorities.

US President Obama has called the legislation 'odious' and many other leaders and human rights groups have condemned the bill. Some governments are even threatening diplomatic sanctions against Uganda.

Those behind the new laws see homosexuality as an abomination against their religion and believe a Western 'homosexual juggernaut' is threatening Uganda. They say they want to 'cure' gays and lesbians and get rid of all homosexual influence in the country.

One lawyer opposing the plans tells video journalist Aaron Lewis that even murderers are treated with higher regard than gays and lesbians.

Aaron meets those opposing the laws in constant fear for their safety, and hears the extreme views of the government officials and church leaders trying to silence them.

Below, replay the online chat with Aaron Lewis about the story and filming in Uganda and read more about the gay rights situation around the world... gay rights campaign group, the International Lesbian and Gay Association, says seven countries currently have the death penalty for gay people.

Photo (rainbow flag): AAP

Live Chat

Aaron Lewis was online from New York after the program on Sunday 5th September to answer questions about filming in Uganda, where laws are being considered to introduce the death penalty for gays and lesbians.

The chat ran from 9.30pm-10.30pm AEST, so apologies to viewers of later showings, but Aaron was only available online for a limited time. Anyone who missed the chat can replay it below or leave comments on the story here.


The International Lesbian and Gay Association monitors gay rights around the world and campaigns against discrimination. It reports that seven countries in Africa and the Middle East currently have the death penalty for gay people.

Those countries are Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen, plus parts of Nigeria and Somalia. The ILGA also lists 75 countries where gay people face imprisonment, in what it calls 'state-sponsored homophobia’.

But it has recently taken India off its list, where homosexuality was legalised last year, saying 'One country less"¦ may seem little progress, until one realizes that it hosts one sixth of the human population."

At the other end of the scale, Argentina in July became the 27th country to recognise same-sex relationships. Some of those countries also have registered unions for gay couples.

And just this week, Fidel Castro acknowledged the 'great injustice’ against homosexuals in Cuba during his rule in the 1960s and 70s, regretting that security issues meant he didn’t pay enough attention to the issue.

Click here to view the ILGA’s map showing the situation around the world.




This week, MPs in NSW passed a soil-breaking law allowing same-sex couples to adopt children. Meanwhile, in a very different part of the world, a very different mood towards gays - in Uganda, in Africa, they're currently drafting a bill introducing draconian punishment for gays, including - almost unbelievably - the death penalty for not much more than just being gay. Here's Aaron Lewis.

REPORTER: Aaron Lewis

Frank Mugisha drives fast and he almost always takes Kampala's back roads. He believes it is not safe for him to linger anywhere in public because Frank is a homosexual in a country where 'gay' is the dirtiest of words.

REPORTER: You were telling me before how much you like this car. Why do you like your car so much?

FRANK MUGISHA, SEXUAL MINORITIES UGANDA: Sometimes when I have to run away from the mobs. So, it's easy for me to run very, very fast and run away.

REPORTER: So you need a fast escape car?


As chairman of the organisation Sexual Minorities Uganda, Frank Mugisha has become a target for the anti-homosexual lobby, the church and even the law of the land.

PASTOR MOSES MALE, NATIONAL COALITION AGAINST HOMOSEXUALITY: Legally in Uganda, it's a crime - it's an offence. Morally it's an abomination to us and biblically it's a sin, an abomination. As a pastor, and as religious leader, a Christian leader, I have to stand by what my Bible teaches me.

Pastor Moses Male wants to rid Uganda of all gay and lesbian influences and it seems he has the people's ear.

PASTOR MOSES MALE: I'm the leader of the National Coalition Against Homosexuality and Sexual Abusers in Uganda. This is a coalition that was established in 2008 and we say the time has come for us to equip our people, to sensitise them that many people fall victims of homosexuality - the homosexuality cult - are minimised and that is why;.

Tonight's popular radio session with Moses Male is just one of many in a long campaign. Uganda is a deeply Christian country;..

PREACHER: If you leave your country to go down with homosexuality, with sin you'll go to hell - you perish - you fail.

;. where the church and state work hand in glove. Homosexuality has always been a criminal offence in Uganda, but last year, parliament began drafting the Anti-homosexual Bill, 2009. The bill calls for new penalties including the death sentence for homosexual acts. David Bahati was the bill's author.

DAVID BAHATI, AUTHOR - ANTI HOMOSEXUAL BILL: The time is appropriate because this is the time when actual homosexuality has almost conquered the West - it has taken over, the influence of homosexuals in the US has increased. It has increased in the UK, it has increased in many other parts. And I think the world is looking for a country which can provide leadership in this direction. And I think Uganda is providing leadership on this issue.

David Bahati's bill made public spectacle out of Uganda's deep fear and hatred of homosexuality, the nation gathered around him - many to pray for his success in this campaign.

MAN: We don't want homosexuality in Uganda, full stop.

And as the anti-homosexuality campaigners stepped into the spotlight, Uganda's sexual minorities were pushed further into the shadows.

FRANK MUGISHA: Right now they want to use the law to silence us so that we don't speak out at all. And they speak out. And imagine, they are the majority, and the majority is speaking. That means we are going to be discriminated even the more. Homophobia is going to increase.

But in Uganda, people like Frank, who speaks out for gay rights, or live an openly homosexual lifestyle, do so at great personal risk.

FRANK MUGISHA: Now what happens if right now people come and take me away and I disappear forever and I'm never seen again? What happens if the neighbours just decide, if they have a meeting and say "Let's go kill this homosexual tonight"

Daily life on the street has become even more difficult for Uganda's sexual minorities since the campaign for the bill began. Not yet passed into law, the bill has further criminalised Frank and others in the eyes of the public.

FRANK MUGISHA: 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 works with Frank on advocacy for sexual minorities.

PEPE: 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.

Sheila Mugisha is a lesbian. She's lived her entire life under attack. Sheila's worst fears were realised at only 12 years old. She had already started to show interest in other girls and she then became the target of what is known here as curative rape.

REPORTER: Curative rape is the process of sexually assaulting someone hoping that, that process will turn them into a heterosexual?


REPORTER: And this has happened to you?

SHEILA MUGISHA: It has happened to me.

REPORTER: Can you tell me anything about that?

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.

Sheila has lived with the HIV-AIDS virus now, for almost 20 years. But she is constantly harassed and is almost always on the move. Uganda's Minister for Ethics and Integrity, James Buturo, didn't believe a word of it.

JAMES BUTURO, MINISTER OF ETHICS AND INTEGRITY: 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.

REPORTER: There is a clause however, that does allow capital punishment for repeated acts of homosexuality in that bill.

JAMES BUTURO: Remember that is a proposal from a member of parliament. We have not yet discussed this as lawmakers and I do believe that clause will change.

The death sentence is the most contentious part of the anti-homosexuality bill. Lad Rakafuzi is a lawyer representing Uganda's homosexual community.

LAD RAKAFUZI, LAWYER: When you have not killed a person, it would really be very difficult to be sentenced to death. It has not happened before. When you have not killed a person, you can't be sentenced to death. There is no court which has done it. So, I don't know how this bill can come up with that kind of thing, it is kind of vindictive, it was written in bad anger, it is not really meant to solve problems of society.

Even if the death penalty is removed, the Anti-homosexuality Bill would still have sweeping powers under the clauses that deal with the promotion of homosexuality. If the anti-homosexuality act were to be passed, courts like this could have their hands full. A whole range of everyday behaviours, including public touching, text messaging, or reporting on a gay or lesbian issue, would be criminalised. Even witnessing an act of same-sex public affection and failing to report it to the authorities could land you in the dock.

DAVID BAHATI: I think the bill addresses the real problem. And the real problem is promotion of homosexuality in Uganda. Whether it is children, whether it's the adult people, it's the real problem.

David Bahati and Moses Male both believe that if no-one is promoting the homosexual lifestyle, there simply won't be homosexuals.

PASTOR MOSES MALE: None is born a homosexual. Homosexuality is a habit that is gradually learned. When it is gradually learned, it can finally become an addiction, just like drugs, just like alcoholism.

Yet there are a great many homosexual men and women who claim very strongly that they have felt homosexual since birth.

PASTOR MOSES MALE: They are liars! How did a homosexual feel that he was a homosexual when he was one day old? It's a lie.

Lad Rakafuzi tells me that this idea of promotion is the biggest danger for Uganda's sexual minorities.

LAD RAKAFUZI: That means shutting out debate on these issues. Which means it will be infringement of freedom to speak and freedom to communicate, and to receive information.

FRANK MUGISHA: It can mean promotional materials like brochures, it can mean any kind of information on health, it can mean and kind of information on HIV-AIDS. Promotion can mean any kind of donor funding for non-governmental organizations or human rights groups who are working on sexuality, which also includes same sex.

The government says that the bill has drawn a long bow to protect the people of Uganda from a force that has been let loose on its streets and back alleys, what James Buturo calls "the Western homosexual juggernaut".

JAMES BUTURO: I do see the homosexual juggernaut all out to impose a way of life on everybody. That's why in our country, which is, by the way, the reason we're discussing this, there has been HUGE amounts of aggressive promotion in our schools, in our communities, by groups that are largely from outside this country. We've seen a lot of funding going to community groups with a view that these groups can now begin to promote homosexuality in our land.

What Buturo calls a homosexual juggernaut others call a Western human rights agenda. Uganda has come under heavy fire from Western governments over the bill.

BARACK OBAMA, USA PRESIDENT: We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is inconsiderable to target gays and lesbians for who they are whether its here in the United States, or as Hillary mentioned, more extreme and more odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.

Threats have been made to withdraw foreign aid money and even ban the bill's author from travelling to the West.

DAVID BAHATI: The reaction by the international community, and everybody who has been negative in reacting to this, testifies to the fact that, indeed this was a big problem.

REPORTER: You feel that proves you right?

DAVID BAHATI: Yes, it proves me right - that what I'm engaged in is worth engaging in.

Many here have pointed to an influx of American evangelical influence and money, in the last two years as the beginning of the public outcry against homosexuals.

DAVID BAHATI: 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.

Bishop Alawe Sonjogo was threatened with excommunication from the Anglican church of Uganda for defending the rights of homosexuals.

BISHOP ALAWE SONJOGO: That bill is draconian and the first thing - people into hiding.

REPORTER: In what way is the bill draconian?

BISHOP ALAWE SONJOGO: First of all, you have to report, me as a counsellor, I would be reporting people who are homosexuals - if I don't - I could be punished. So anyone working with a person is supposed to report that person. And again, the punishments, the penalties are so severe, ranging from five years to life imprisonment, even to have some people sentenced to death.

Stanley Nduala's articles on homosexual crimes for the tabloid newspaper 'The Red Pepper' are infamous - he has named and shamed more homosexual men and women than any other writer but even Stanley is looked on with suspicion.

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.

Even Lad Rakafuzi's clients that have committed murder have an easier time in court than his homosexual defendants.

LAD RAKAFUZI:The constitution makes the same guarantees to any person accused of any offence, but the court of public opinion here is that these guarantees are easier available for other crimes including murder than for homosexuals.

REPORTER: It's better to be a murderer here than a homosexual?

LAD RAKAFUZI:That's how it looks, because they are saying you can get annoyed and kill your friend, it's a human thing, it's human to get annoyed and kill, out of jealousy or that kind of thing, but homosexuality, that's like having a pig, that kind of thing, you are reducing yourself to animal. So that is the argument of my people here.

For all the long days and months of battling between government and human rights groups, no one I spoke to in government sees gay rights as human rights.

JAMES BUTURO: The issue of rights is rather suspect, because if you argue that a perversion can be a right, then anything will become a right, you know... robbing others will become a right, sleeping with your mother when you're a son will become a right and nobody should stand up and say don't. No, this is simply a ploy by people who want to pervert the way nature is really and they want to impose it on the rest of us.

PASTOR MOSES MALE: We have not launched a hate campaign against homosexuals, we've launched a campaign against homosexuality, which is a practice, which is dangerous, which is wrecking people's lives. We love people called homosexuals, we want them to reform.

PEPE: For them to say they hate homosexuality and they don't hate the human being, it's contradicting. You can not separate the sexual orientation from the human being.

REPORTER: They think you can, people can be counselled away. I've heard homosexuality called an addiction.

PEPE: Yes, I've heard that as well, but I think it's just ignorance, really, and ignorance for me I think is a disease, so if anyone needs curing, it's probably them.

GEORGE NEGUS: According to the International Lesbianand GayAssociation, seven countries in Africa and the Middle East currently have the death penalty for gays. What was that last comment in Aaron Lewis's piece? Ignorance is a disease. Says it all really.




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5th September 2010