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Putting homophobia on trial

Much as there’s been success for LGBTI rights in courts, winning hearts and minds of Ugandans remains a struggle

COMMENT | Frank Mugisha | Dear Reader, today I chronicle our struggles and what we have achieved despite numerous hindrances and try to forge a future ahead.

The Anti-Homosexuality Act was the culmination of frothing Homophobia in Uganda. It is impossible to describe the depth of the ugliness, rage, revulsion, disgust and malevolence exhibited by the vocal homophobic public.

We the few voices in support of LGBTQIA rights were drowned out by deafening homophobic outcries. Much as this was a very bad moment it was a blessing in disguise because for the first-time sexuality discourses were unveiled to the public and what was shrouded in taboo came up for debate. Despite us being a minority in the media space we made an indelible mark by debunking homophobic lies but most importantly, according to make queer people’s testimonies, it gave us a sense of community.

The much-taunted court ‘victory’ marked the beginning of a much more ruthless fight against the homophobes that had lost round one. In rage and anger they struggled through all sorts of machinations to reintroduce the Bill.

But this fight on the floor of parliament was not innocuous. It was funded by the US based extreme right homophobic Evangelicals and, as such, I went for one of the funders; Scott Lively, a US based evangelical who through evidence in court was found to have provided support to Ugandan homophobic churches and politicians with whom they exchanged email correspondences between 2003 and 2009 according to evidence tendered in court.

We engaged institutions such as the Uganda Aids Commission to stop discrimination against LGBTI people among others.

We also opted to use the courts as an arena for this struggle through Public Interest Litigation (PIL). PIL challenges constitutional standing of government policies, laws, and practices. Successes of our PIL include the challenge of the law which put in place Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) that violated the rights of sexual minorities by including a provision prohibiting the Commission from investigating issues considered “immoral and socially harmful or unacceptable by the majority.”

The parliamentary record left no doubt that legislators targeted sexual minorities with this eleventh- hour insertion. Those who engineered its inclusion in the law feared that the broad mandate of the EOC would be used to “promote” homosexuality in the country. Professor Oloka Onyango & 9 others vs Attorney General which challenged the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act.

Much as there’s been success for LGBTI rights in courts but how effective is this in the ordinary lives of LGBTI members who are threatened by the social institutions in which we live and work? PIL remains limited. No amount of legal reform without putting out the fire or breaking the cultural and structural foundations that fuel and support homophobia can substantially amount to anything.

The struggle therefore is to win the hearts and minds of the Ugandan public or even to move the extremists to the center. As my friend Professor Makau Mutua reminds us in his beautiful article “Sexual orientation and human rights: putting homophobia on trial” that homophobia is deeply embedded in the social fabric of Uganda. The question is how to understand the resilience of homophobia in the country, stoke public debate on the subject, and agitate for the recognition and protection of sexual orientation as a basic human right. This is a challenge that will require thoughtful analyses, courageous advocacy and fundamental reforms. It is the normative obligation of civil society, and human rights groups in particular, to lead such a struggle.


Dr. Frank Mugisha is a Peace and Human Rights Advocate.


  1. Dr. FRANK, Do not be deceived, for there is peace for the sinner and woe to him that calls wrong right.

    1 Corinthians 6:9 AMP
    Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit or have any share in the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate [by perversion], nor those who participate in homosexuality,

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