The Defenders

Frank Mugisha

“As a gay Ugandan, I know I am one of thousands. But as someone who has chosen to be out and is still living in Uganda, I am in a minority of fewer than 20 people.”

Frank Mugisha knew he was gay at 13. Because he thought his sexual orientation went against his Catholic faith, he prayed, asking God to take away his feelings. When he came out, or identified himself as gay, to his family, they tried many times to “cure” him. They eventually accepted him, though they wished he would not be so open to others. Being gay in Uganda was risky. Many Ugandans viewed the LGBTQ community as essentially “un-African” and “un-Christian.” Laws also criminalized the LGBTQ community, and people could be put in jail simply for identifying as gay.

When he was at college in 2004, he noticed that many of his LGBTQ friends were struggling. Frank’s friends had families that were not as accepting as his family had been. As a result, he started Icebreakers Uganda to provide guidance and resources to those who were in the process of coming out to their families. Many did not know how to start the process, or once they did come out, their family members would stop talking to them or kick them out of the house. Frank gave advice, provided housing, and offered ways to help make the coming out process less stressful. However, his real activism began a few years later when Ugandan legislators began to push an anti-gay bill which called for stricter enforcement of the current laws that punished the LGBTQ community because of their sexual orientation. In some cases, the punishment included the death penalty.

Around that time, a newspaper published a list of 100 gay men and women, giving out their full names and contact information. Many people on that list were harassed by neighbors, family, and even employers. One of the identified men was David Kato, a lawyer, one of the first openly gay men in Uganda, and the founder of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). David sued the newspaper. Frank and David become close friends over the course of the trial. Eventually, the Ugandan courts ruled in David’s favor, saying his fundamental rights to dignity and privacy had been attacked. Three months later, David was murdered in his home.

After David’s death, Frank became the director of SMUG and began an international campaign to bring awareness to Uganda’s human rights violations toward the LGBTQ community. For the past several years, he has been involved in major court battles. Some are domestic cases seeking to challenge the constitutionality of strict anti-gay laws. Others are more internationally-focused, seeking to prosecute foreign interests who used their influence to encourage Uganda’s recent homophobic surge.

WHAT ARE LGBTQ RIGHTS?

LGBTQ is a term used to describe all people who do not identify as heterosexual or cisgendered. Cisgendered means that one identifies with their birth gender. When someone advocates for LGBTQ rights, they are saying they believe that people should not be discriminated against for their gender identification or sexual orientation.

LGBTQ people are one of the most likely groups to have their human rights violated in the world. In over 70 nations, the LGBTQ community faces criminal charges for their sexual orientation, and in those countries where it is not illegal, LGBTQ people often have no legal protections under the law. For example, in the United States, only 20 states protect LGBTQ citizens from discrimination from employers and landlords. Human rights are called “human” rights because all people are entitled to them, regardless of race, religion, creed, or sexual orientation. People are making some progress to protect the rights of LGBTQ people, but not every country is moving in the right direction.

WANT TO JOIN THE FIGHT FOR LGBTQ RIGHTS?

  • Learn more about LGBTQ rights here.
  • Learn more about LGBTQ discrimination in the United States using these maps.
  • Find out what protections are in place to ensure the rights of LGBTQ citizens in your school and your state.
  • Speak to school administrators and/or local politicians about implementing or, if in place, enforcing protections for LGBTQ citizens.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Mission Statement

Led by human rights activist and lawyer Kerry Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights has advocated for a more just and peaceful world since 1968. We work alongside local activists to ensure lasting positive change in governments and corporations. Whether in the United States or abroad, our programs have pursued justice through strategic litigation on key human rights issues, educated millions of children in human rights advocacy and fostered a social good approach to business and investment.