BENNINGTON -- Ugandan Unitarian Universalist minister for rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual individuals in Uganda, Rev. Mark Kiyimba, visited Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. on Friday to plan a speaking tour of colleges and universities in late September.
During his current one month stay in the U.S., Kiyimba is spreading awareness of his opposition to recent anti-LGBT laws in Uganda with the help of UU congregations.
The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bennington, 108 School St., will be offering a dinner featuring traditional African cuisine and holding a benefit for Ugandan refuge tonight, Saturday, June 14 at 5:30 p.m. The event is open to non-church members. The church suggests a $15 donation per adult and a $5 donation for the first child; additional children are welcome for free.
Kiyimba came to the Banner on Friday to elaborate on his mission and the oppression of gay individuals in Uganda. "This is an opportunity for me to reach out to the communities of America and explain what's happening and see how we can work together to help set the world free," he said.
Kiyimba leads the Unitarian Universalist Church of Kampala. The church runs an orphanage and school for children infected with HIV/AIDS and who have lost parents to the disease. Kiyimba also once operated a "safe space," an office not affiliated with the church, to assist LGBT individuals with needs. He said he had to close his office because Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009, has now made it unsafe for individuals seen going in or out of its doors.
Initially proposed with death penalty clauses, the Parliament of Uganda passed an edited version of the bill favoring life in prison instead in December 2013. Those penalties are held against anyone who commits homosexual acts or identifies as LGBT. The bill was signed into law by the President of Uganda in late February.
"It's Americans who are partly responsible for the anti-gay law in Uganda," Kiyimba said. "Many American Evangelical pastors came to my country and stewarded hate toward the LGBT community there By coming here, I'm bringing the case to them that you have to do something again to make sure that law is repealed."
By spreading awareness of the issue, Kiyimba hopes to bring sense to certain Christian leaders who saw the law through. He said the law is complicated, but he hopes to change public opinion of the law in Uganda as well.
The anti-homosexual law does not agree with the Bill of Rights of the Ugandan Constitution, which guarantees the right to equality and freedom from discrimination and the right to secrecy and privacy. Kiyimba said these contradictions are ways that the law could be seen into repeal, however that the government is unlikely to do so with such a high public support.
In the bill's process, support grew from 85 percent of the Ugandan population to 95 percent after the parliament dropped the death clauses. Most judges also stand with the law. Nevertheless, Kiyimba anticipates a few people going to the courts to fight their convictions, and may see clauses of the law drop little by little.
"They say democracy is for the majority, but I think for the first time people realize that it is not about the majority that means a democracy," Kiyimba said. "(The rest) may be a minority, but it is the right thing to do It is a total violation of human rights with no excuse whatsoever."
Kiyimba said he has begun to change some people's attitudes as the law is enforced by the Ugandan government, but is embarking on dangerous territory. Since he works in the public image, Kiyimba's message gets confused as one that promotes and recruits LGBT rather than one that just supports.
"(Kiyimba) runs the risk of being accused, and they have accused him of using the schools to recruit youth to homosexuality," said Williams College lecturer Kiaran Honderich. "To speak out the way he does is very brave."
Kiyimba will continue to preach acceptance and challenge public opinion in Uganda. He is starting to take on another challenging task of spreading awareness in the U.S. with the help of UU America. Kiyimba said he hopes to expand his audience to the United Church of Christ, Metropolitan Community Churches and the United Methodist Church.
"I always have to explain ‘you don't know how privileged you are to be in America.' Sometimes when they are talking about gay marriage, they don't know that someone in Uganda cannot even confess ‘I'm gay,' it's a different world."
For more information on Kiyimba and his mission, visit UUA at http://standingonthesideoflove.org/tag/rev-mark-kiyimba/. To make donations for immediate humanitarian needs, make payments out to the UU Fellowship of Bennington. Memo any checks as Ugandan LGBT.
Contact Tom Momberg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomMomberg