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Gay Ugandan Activist Urges Pope: 'Talk About Acceptance'

Frank Mugisha

Activist Frank Mugisha is asking Pope Francis to address LGBT issues during his visit to the African nation.


For the first time in over two decades, a pope is visiting Uganda. And LGBT activists there are watching and hoping that he will address the African nation's deep-seated homophobia.

On Friday, Pope Francis begins his three-day tour of the African country. In the past, Francis has responded to gay issues with a more tolerant tone than his precedessors.

"If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?" he said in 2013, which prompted The Advocate to name him Person of the Year.

Frank Mugisha, a prominent gay activist in Uganda and the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, hopes the pope will bring this message to his country, where homosexuality is a crime and 96 percent of the population believes society should not accept gay people.

The Catholic Church, he told Al Jazeera, has been complicit in creating these antigay attitudes.

"The Catholic Church in Uganda has been in alliance with all the other churches in condemning and discriminating against LGBTI persons. The language that preachers use and the anti-gay statements make people who are even in the closet feel discriminated against," Mugisha said.

"Church is a place for love, for refuge and for peace and support, but that support is not given to them. They feel they have been let down by the Church a lot," he added.

Mugisha, who is Catholic, said the words of one of the world's most influential religious leaders will carry much weight in a society that is 80 percent Christian with a rapidly growing Catholic population. He joins a chorus of other voices urging His Holiness to speak about LGBT rights.

"We hope the pope will talk about acceptance in the Catholic community, and an end to discrimination, hatred, and violence towards LGBTI persons in Uganda," said Mugisha, who is a past honoree of The Advocate's 40 Under 40.

"I feel that Pope Francis is liberal and has talked about many issues, but I still think he can say more - that LGBTI people should be welcome in the church, that they should not be discriminated against. Then the violence against us will reduce significantly. If he says something, the Catholic Church here will take that seriously," he added.

At present, no LGBT activists have been invited to meet with the pope during his visit. Mugisha said he was "disappointed" at a missed opportunity to begin a conversation about acceptance.

But he gave Al Jazeera his own message for the pope:

"I would have told the pope that Ugandans love him so much, and so do LGBTI Ugandans, and we - all Ugandans - want the same things: to live with each other in peace," he said. "So, the churches that discriminate against us the most should preach tolerance and acceptance."

"But I still hope that somehow we can go, or some of our representatives can meet the pope and we can tell him what we suffer."

Uganda has been at the center of anti-LGBT policies influenced by evangelical Christians. In 2013, Ugandan lawmakers passed a law that sentenced gay people to life in prison or death. After international outcry by human rights activists, the law was overturned on procedural grounds.

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Daniel Reynolds

Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.
Daniel Reynolds is the editor of social media for The Advocate. A native of New Jersey, he writes about entertainment, health, and politics.