We have been working with some of the bravest souls I have encountered this past week, as over 200 LGBT and allied people (primarily youth) gathered in Kampala, Uganda, to stand in solidarity and express their faith and love in the face of government oppression.
Rev. Mark Kiyimba, the minister serving the two Ugandan UU congregations, was the key organizer of the gathering. The reverend was well aware of the personal risks facing members of his community for speaking out, but he believes that if the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 passes the consequences would be devastating, both for his church and his country. He accepts the risks; "Breaking the barriers of inequality has never been the safe or easy thing."
The only media present at the conference was a CNN International reporter we worked with closely and who provided live coverage and also had Rev. Kiyimba on air briefly.
Kiyimba was trained and ordained in the Evangelical tradition but his views on justice and equality led him to explore a new direction in both his ministry and his personal spirituality. The Unitarian Universalist Association of Kampala includes the urban congregation of about one hundred members in Kampala as well as a rural community that oversees a school and orphanage for HIV/AIDS orphans near the town of Masaka.
Below is a report from participants at the conference, including Rev. Patricia Ackerman of the Unitarian Universalists UN office and Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, Senior Minister of All Souls Church of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The location was kept secret, with good reason. Anti-gay Minister Martin Ssempa alerted the authorities, including Gen. Kayihura, who was quoted in the Daily Monitor as follows:
However, Gen. Kayihura said he was not aware of the meeting and vowed to arrest them. "I am not aware of this meeting. But if we get them, we shall arrest them," he said.
"This was different from other conferences... gay banners and flags... no pretense, it was very straight forward." - A conference attendee
"Our conference showed that religion does not need to be an enemy to the cause of LGBT concerns. LGBT people have a strong sense of religion and God and values. What is at stake here in Uganda is religious freedom, human rights and minority protections. We pray that the international community will continue to stand with us."
Rev. Mark Kiyimbe
FROM THE CONFERENCE ORGANIZERS
More than 200 LGBT Ugandans (including many young adults) gathered in Kampala to strategize and organize a response to the anti-homosexuality bill that is about to voted on by the Ugandan parliament. Risking arrest and certain imprisonment, these courageous activists convened by Ugandan Unitarian Universalist minister Mark Kiyimba, Spectrum Uganda and other grassroots LGBT community organizations engaged in hours of discussions what one organizer described as a "Pride Parade in a closet." But the subject matter was deadly serious.
The conference attendees called for complete decriminalization of homosexuality, 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 LGBT rights spoke on the theme of Love and justice. Bishop Christopher, was formerly exiled from Uganda and continues to offer Christian sanctuary to the LGBT community at great risk.
Immediately following the conference, the Ugandan Daily Monitior newpaper reported that police are currently seeking to find and arrest the organizers of the conference.
At the meeting there was a strong sense from the grassroots of feeling supported and given a voice in the midst of persecution. The conference culminated in a petition for equality which is to be presented to the speaker of the house or a local member of parliament. 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."
According to Pastor Kiyimba, whose church members include many LGBT persons, "I cannot stand by and watch as my community is exterminated. My church will become illegal and cease to exist if this bill becomes law"
On behalf of all of those who gathered and those who remain in Uganda as the vote regarding this heinous legislation nears, we ask you to keep everyone in your thoughts and prayers.