A Shining Light Cutting Through the Darkness
Ugandans are fighting back, however. Recently, I conducted an exclusive interview with Gay/SGL (Same-gender-loving) activist Kiggundu Ronald Reagan, the co-founder of Liberty for Marginalized Persons Uganda, which is a think tank aimed at defending and promoting human rights. In the interview, he discussed his journey as a Gay/SGL man, the state of LGBTQ+ Ugandans, and how his organization is making a difference. As you’ll see, Mr. Reagan’s responses are thoughtful and well-researched. And as you’ll discover, Mr. Reagan is resolute, committed–and inspiring.
Wyatt: Kiggundu, thanks so much for sitting down with Wyattevans.com.
Kiggundu: It’s my pleasure. I cannot thank you enough for having me.
Wyatt: First, please give us a mini geography lesson. Precisely where is Uganda located, and what countries border it?
Kiggundu: Uganda is a land-connected country located in the Eastern part of Africa. It is bordered by South Sudan in the North, Kenya in the East, the Democratic Republic of Congo in the West, Tanzania in the South, and Rwanda in the Southwest.
Wyatt: What part of Uganda were you born and raised?
Kiggundu: I was raised in Mityana District in the central part of Uganda, 67km from Kampala City (the capital of Uganda).
Wyatt: Kiggundu, what were you like as a child?
Kiggundu: Resilient, tolerant, and committed to work.
Wyatt: Describe your coming out process. When did you first realize that you were Gay/SGL? Being that Uganda is extremely homophobic, how difficult was it for you to reconcile yourself with your sexual orientation and then navigate it?
Kiggundu: Raised in a strict catholic family, I realized that I was same-gender loving at the age of 12; at that time, I was having same-sex crushes just like my heterosexual peers were having opposite-sex crushes. Extremely unique, I had specific qualities and characteristics that set me apart from my fellow boys.
Kiggundu: As a result, for example, I was badly beaten and sustained injuries all over my body. I was admitted to a private clinic and slowly recovered, with my mother covering the medical bill.
Kiggundu: I healed emotionally and mentally because of the support I received from my mother. She made me realize that I had nothing to hide or be ashamed of.
Kiggundu: When I was 16, my teachers reported me to my father (who passed away earlier this year), who reacted by forcing me out of the house and chasing me away.
Kiggundu: Therefore, I had nothing to hide and came out. Like any other Gay child, I faced stigma, discrimination, and name-calling, but I would lean on my mother, tolerance, and resilience to negotiate the difficulties.
Wyatt: It’s so hard for me to wrap my head around your father’s rejection. Kiggundu, what happened next? Where did you go? How did you cope emotionally, mentally, and physically? How did you survive this ordeal?
Kiggundu: I went to live with friends, but I was still communicating with my mother via her phone. During that time with friends, who were heterosexuals, I was mentally tortured and resorted to drug abuse. And at one point, I thought that committing suicide was the solution. But after two months, my mother financed me to live with her mom, my grandmother.
Kiggundu: She also secretly paid the fees for my Uganda Advanced Certificate of Education and further sponsored me. My father vowed never to sponsor my education again. In 2018 I joined Kampala International University where I received a diploma in Clinical Medicine and Community Health. My mother understood I needed support to be who I was, and she never fought that.
Wyatt: Kiggundu, what a loving and understanding mom you have!
Kiggundu: Absolutely! My mom loves me the way I am, and she is so proud of me.
Wyatt: Your father passed away earlier this year. Before he died, did he make amends for the way he treated you? Were you able to forgive him?
Kiggundu: My mother had conversations with him. By the time he died, we were able to talk, and he was accepting of my sexual orientation.
Wyatt: Kiggundu, I’m elated that both of you were able to reconcile! Now, let’s dissect the dicey situation for LGBTQ+ Ugandans, and delve into your role as an activist. You’re the co-founder of Liberty for Marginalized Persons Uganda.
Kiggundu: Yes. Established in June of this year, Liberty for Marginalized Persons Uganda addresses all forms of injustices against marginalized persons and communicates all forms of injustices towards LGBTQ Ugandans to the international community. Additionally, our organization promotes individual rights, property rights, entrepreneurship, free markets, and limited government through research, advocacy, and public interest litigations for the prosperity of all Ugandans.
Wyatt: You’re 24 years old, correct? There are individuals twice your age who haven’t accomplished what you already have! What drives and compels you?
Kiggundu: I strongly believe that human beings must have an opportunity to be who they want and love the way they want. Being educated in human rights drives me to continue demanding respect for LGBTQ+ Rights. Human rights education promotes values, beliefs, and attitudes that encourage all individuals to uphold their own rights and those of others.
Wyatt: I see. Kiggundu, let’s deconstruct the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023.
Kiggundu: Certainly. The Anti-homosexuality Law 2023 is an act of the parliament of Uganda that prohibits any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex, prohibits relations between persons of the same sex, restricts freedom of speech on LGBTQ+ issues, and introduces harsher penalties for homosexual acts.
Kiggundu: On February 28, 2023, The Parliament of Uganda granted leave to Bugiri Municipality Member of Parliament, the Hon. Asuman Basalirwa, to introduce a private member’s bill titled the “Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023.” On March 21, Parliament passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023. At least 389 Members of Parliament in person and about 55 followed the proceedings via Zoom. On April 20, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni sent the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023 back to parliament. He asked Parliament to reconsider some provisions within the bill, which he said needed clarity before its assent.
Kiggundu: Then on May 2, the Parliament of Uganda passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2023 with amendments to five clauses following proposals made by President Museveni. On May 29, Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023 into law after improvements to make it tougher for people engaging in same-sex relationships were adopted by the Parliament.
Kiggundu: The object of the law is to establish comprehensive and enhanced legislation to traditions by:
- Prohibiting any form of sexual relations between persons of the same and promotion or recognition of sexual relations between persons of the same sex.
- Protecting the children and youth who are made vulnerable to sexual abuse through sexual homosexuality and related acts.
- Protecting the cherished culture of the people, legal, religious, and traditional family values of Ugandans against acts of sexual rights seeking to impose their sexual promise on the people of Uganda.
- Strengthening the nation’s capacity to deal with the emerging internal and external threats to traditional, heterosexual families.
Kiggundu: An attempt to conduct a same-sex marriage is punishable by a ten-year sentence, while the same punishment applies to anyone found guilty of conducting a marriage ceremony of same-sex couples. The legislation provides a death penalty for anyone committing aggravated homosexuality, and an act of homosexuality is prescribed by life imprisonment.
Kiggundu: The law further criminalizes landlords who rent premises to LGBTQ+ individuals. If they knowingly fail to evict tenants who are engaging in encouraging homosexuality, they also face 20 years in prison. International hotel chains, whose policies prohibit discrimination, are liable under this article.
Kiggundu: This legislation provides a three-year juvenile sentence for a child convicted of homosexuality with a fellow child.
Kiggundu: The law also provides a Shs (shilling) 1 billion fine and revocation of the broadcasting license for ten years for those in the entertainment and news media who are found to have produced programs or content that promotes homosexuality; while a Shs 5 million fine to a publisher, editor, reporter or columnist who is found guilty of distributing materials that promote homosexuality. (The Shs, or shilling, is the basic monetary unit in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, equal to 100 cents.)
Wyatt: This atrocious legislation is like an octopus, with its tentacles wrapped around and choking every aspect of the lives of LGBTQ+ Ugandans.
Kiggundu: Correct. Since the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023, there has been a rise in the number of attacks towards LGBTQ+ individuals, hence turning Uganda into a hostile environment for sexual minorities. Violence and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people have gone uninvestigated. This has created a climate of fear; as a result, sexual minorities flee their communities to go into hiding.
Kiggundu: Police have regularly arrested, abused, humiliated, and beaten people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. The police further expose Gay men to forced anal examination to gather evidence to prove them guilty in courts of law.
Kiggundu: Trans people are criminalized for impersonation and public indecency. For example, on May 8, police arrested a 25-year-old Ugandan identified as Zainabu Muchunguzi for dressing as a woman. Muchunguzi was arrested after several people reported him to the authorities for allegedly walking in the image of a woman. As the police officers questioned him, he insisted that he was a woman. However, the officers were not convinced, and Muchunguzi was charged with cross-dressing.
Wyatt: Precisely what does the term “aggravated homosexuality” mean?
Kiggundu: The bill provides for the death penalty for anyone convicted of aggravated homosexuality. According to the bill, Aggravated Homosexuality is an act against the order of nature performed by an adult on a person under the age of 18 years. Besides pedophilia, aggravated homosexuality also includes nonconsensual same-sex with vulnerable people such as persons living with disabilities. The Bill further confirms Aggravated homosexuality when the elderly engage in same-sex relations while knowing that he/she is living with HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases and the use of drugs before, during, and after non-consensual same-sex.
Kiggundu: The legislation criminalizes the “promotion” of homosexuality with a 20-year sentence. Individuals who operate non-governmental organizations and development partners who fund health, education, and human rights in Uganda are personally criminally liable for not only “promoting” homosexuality but also “normalizing” the vice. The legislation prohibits anyone from encouraging homosexuality through “the use of a computer, information system, or internet.” The law further prohibits providing “in-kind” support for example distribution of lubricants or other products that benefit LGBTQ people.
Wyatt: In August, two men were arrested, facing separate charges of aggravated homosexuality. Can you provide details on these arrests?
Kiggundu: On August 22, Erisha Mukisa, 26, and Ramond Kitimbo, 21, were arraigned before the Buganda Road Chief Magistrate and Charged with engaging with two counts of homosexuality contrary to section 2(1)(2) of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. These are the two men who were arrested and are facing charges of aggravated homosexuality. Prosecutor Ivan Kyazze alleged that the suspect engaged in sexual acts between December 2022 and July 2023, yet they were of the same gender. However, Erisha Mukisa and Ramond Kitimbo denied the charges and were remanded to prison. If the two men are convicted, they will face the death penalty.
Kiggundu: Also in August, on the 23rd, police arrested Kato Ivan over allegations of promoting homosexuality. The police were tipped off by Kato’s landlord after suspecting homosexual activities in his rental unit. According to Kato’s landlord, he severally invited male strangers to his house hence raising eye cows in the neighborhood leading to his arrest. However, Kato denied engaging in acts of homosexuality when asked about the allegations but after a search in his house, LGBTQ+ authored books by “Kestrel Gainan,” a well-known Gay poet, author, and performer from the UK (United Kingdom) were discovered.
Wyatt: Kiggundu, I’m curious: does the act require that medical practitioners report the LGBTQ+ patients they treat?
Kiggundu: Yes. The law requires that anyone who knows or has reasonable suspicion that a person has committed or intended to commit the offense of homosexuality report this information to the police. As a result, the legislation jeopardizes the integrity of the health care system that benefits all Ugandans. Therefore, medical practitioners must report patients they suspect to be LGBTQ+ or face prison time.
Kiggundu: Additionally, under the article of “duty to report acts of homosexuality,” parents must report their children, employees of humanitarian organizations or multinational corporations must report their workers, teachers must report their students, clergy members must report their parishioners, and refugee services must report LGBTQ+ asylum seekers.
Wyatt: It’s my understanding that Ugandan LGBTQ+ activists vow court challenges. Your fellow activist Clare Byarugaba has stated, “The Ugandan president has today legalized state-sponsored homophobia and transphobia.” Do you agree?
Kiggundu: I totally agree with the reasoning of my fellow human rights defender that the Ugandan president used the Anti-Homosexuality 2023 to legalize hate, violence, discrimination, and sorts of activities that undermine the dignity and respect of LGBTQ+ persons. Currently, violence against LGBTQ+ individuals has gone uninvestigated, establishing dangerous precedents of impunity from crimes against sexual minorities.
Wyatt: There’s been widespread condemnation from the West. President Biden called the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023 “a tragic violation” of human rights, and said that Washington would evaluate the implications of the law “on all aspects of U.S. engagement with Uganda.” Further, he stated, “We are considering additional steps, including the application of sanctions and restriction of entry into the United States against anyone involved in serious human rights abuses or corruption.”
Kiggundu, what actions do you believe the West can and should take to support the Ugandan LGBTQ+ community?
Kiggundu: Although it could be challenging to address the issue of U.S. evangelical influence in Uganda, The US has a variety of tools to pressure the Museveni regime to repeal the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023. For example, the Ugandan Government is one of the top beneficiaries of the United States military assistance in Africa. By withholding the funds that greatly support Uganda’s security system could be a greatly persuasive tool to repeal this draconian act.
Kiggundu: Although many activists prefer cutting off the aid that supports people living with HIV, I do not associate with their reasoning because I don’t advocate for the trade of LGBTQ+ rights against the rights of persons living with HIV. I do not call for any cuts in assistance to Uganda or reduction in aid programs like PEPFAR (The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) because 1.2 million innocent Ugandans living with HIV/AIDS will suffer because of the decisions taken by the homophobic legislators.
Kiggundu: My humble appeal to the United States Government is to continue punishing individuals and their families who supported the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 through sanctions and those involved in other human rights violations. The U.S. Government should further heavily punish the corrupt Ugandan officials who steal funds meant for vulnerable persons.
Wyatt: Let’s discuss the U.S. evangelical influence in Uganda that you just touched on. Uganda is a religiously conservative country. Is it true that anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes have hardened in recent years, due not insignificantly to the campaigns of Western evangelical church groups?
Kiggundu: It’s true; many Western evangelical groups saw Uganda as a fertile ground for the anti-LGBTQ+ ideology since Uganda is a highly religiously conservative country. Reports show that from 2007 to 2020, over 20 evangelical groups spent at least USD 54 million in Africa to influence laws, policies, and public opinion against the LGBTQ+ community, and half of the money was spent in Uganda.
Kiggundu: These groups encourage the perception that same-sex relations are un-African and imposed by the West. The US evangelical groups are using local actors who have continued traveling across Uganda spreading hate speech towards the LGBTQ+ community. They have greatly misled many Ugandans to believe that homosexuality and the LGBTQ community are a threat to their way of life.
Kiggundu: U.S. evangelical preachers use the “prodigal son” story from the Bible as a tool to spread homophobia. They quote that the prodigal on his return was contingent; therefore, they can only welcome LGBTQ+ people back to the kingdom of God after converting. They claim that LGBTQ+ people are “valid” as long as they denounce their sexual orientation and gender identity.