SYMPOSIUM: Frank Mugisha: Stand Up, Speak Out for Global LGBT Human Rights

When I had the honor to introduce Dr. Frank Mugisha at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium a few weeks ago, I described him as a “prophet in our midst.” Why this is the case came through in his address on criminalization laws and the LGBT experience in Uganda, according to the National Catholic Reporter:

“Frank Mugisha still thinks twice before going down certain streets, into malls or nightclubs in his native Kampala, Uganda. Mugisha lives as an openly gay man in a country whose Parliament tried in 2009 to introduce a bill seeking the death penalty for homosexual acts. The bill has cost some Ugandans their life and has made many live in fear, not show up for work, and hide from family and friends. . .”

Frank MugishaThese threats, however, have not altered Mugisha’s determination to see LGBT rights expanded in Uganda and worldwide. Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and winner of several other prominent human rights awards, Mugisha leads Sexual Minorities Uganda, the nation’s leading LGBT rights organization.

Mugisha shared with Symposium participants how much Uganda’s LGBT community appreciated Pope Francis’ message of love for all people during his 2015 visit to several African nations. Mugisha had contacted the Vatican to ask for a meeting with the pontiff when he visited the country.  He said an assistant to Francis told Mugisha that a visit would not be possible, but that the pope planned to make clear to Uganda’s religious and political leaders that anti-gay rhetoric is unacceptable.

Though he did not speak publicly on LGBT issues, the pope’s message of love nonetheless challenged Catholics in a nation where the church remains both powerful and quite homophobic. Some church officials are still organizing to bring back the 2009 Anti-Homosexuality Act.  He told The National Catholic Reporter that a Ugandan prelate’s new book argues transgender people can be changed. But while Pope Francis visited, Ugandan church leaders remained quiet on the subject.

Mugisha shared how dangerous it still is to be an LGBT person in Uganda, saying, “We live every day in fear.” Last fall, he was arrested along with other people celebrating Pride, about which he explained, “We were put in police custody. Tortured. Forced to bathe in filthy water.”

Asked during a question and answer period how he sustains himself with prayer, Mugisha, a Catholic, replied, “Before I go to bed, I pray about things I care about. I ask God for help. I ask God to listen.”

Mugisha concluded with an exhortation to Symposium participants, encouraging them to be in contact with local solidarity groups as the best means of ensuring global LGBT human rights.  He stated:

“I encourage you to think of any way you can support an LGBT person. Take it personally. Stand up. Speak out.”

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 25, 2017

 

London’s Catholic LGBT Ministry Rallies Around Ugandan Exile

In what is a strong display of Catholic advocacy for the human rights of gay people, the members of LGBT Catholics Westminster have rallied around a gay Ugandan who worships with them to prevent him from being deported to his native land where homosexuality is criminalized.

LGBT Catholics Westminster embers at London Pride.

London’s Tablet reported that the man “faces a very high risk of being killed if he is forced to return to the place of his birth.”  LGBT Catholics Westminster is the official diocesan pastoral ministry in London, approved by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the head of the Westminster Diocese.

The Tablet provided background about the man at the center of this situation:

“Godfrey Kawalya, a gay Ugandan refugee, LGBT campaigner and a member of LGBT Catholics Westminster, has been living in Britain since 2002. In Uganda, where same sex acts are illegal and punishable by life imprisonment, he says he was expelled from secondary school, sacked from his job and rejected by his family for being gay. He was also an active member of the political opposition to the current president, Yoweri Museveni.

“After he fled from Kampala to rebel-held territories in Northern Uganda, Kawalya said he was attacked and robbed, and a friend who sheltered him was killed. He escaped to Kenya with the help of some nuns and eventually made his way to England.

“In August 2015 the Home Office refused his claim for asylum on the grounds that they did not believe he was gay and because he didn’t disclose his sexuality when he first arrived. ‘I was fearful, it wasn’t easy. I don’t know why they don’t believe me’, Mr Kawalya told The Tablet.

“Several appeals have failed and Mr Kawalya has one final chance to appeal by supplying new evidence to support his case by 17 May.”

LGBT Catholics Westminster has organized a petition for UK citizens to sign, asking the British government to grant Kawalya asylum.  Several Catholic leaders have already signed the petition, including  Vincent Manning, chair of Catholics for AIDS Prevention and Support, Ged Clapson, Jesuit Communications Officer in Britain, and Fr. Tony Nye, a pastor at Farm Street Jesuit Church in Mayfair, London, which hosts the LGBT Catholics Westminster organization.

Martin Pendergast, a leader in the LGBT Catholics group said of Kawalya’s case that “even if he were not (gay), the law takes the view that refugees who are in danger of death or persecution because they are perceived to be gay in their home country must be granted asylum.”

For more information about LGBT Catholics Westminster or to learn how to sign the petition if you are a UK citizen, visit www.lgbtcatholicswestminster.org or email lgbtcatholicswesminster@gmail.com.

When people speak about appropriate Catholic pastoral ministry for LGBT people, I can think of no better example than this story of Catholics using church teaching condemning discrimination against LGBT people to help save a person’s life.

In less than two weeks, Frank Mugisha, the head of Sexual Minorities Uganda, the leading LGBT advocacy organization in that country, will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 19, 2017

 

Find Answers to “Controversial” Pope Francis at Upcoming Symposium

Pope Francis

If there is one word that best describes the reactions of LGBT and ally Catholics towards Pope Francis, I think it is “controversial.”  I use this word in its traditional usage meaning that there are two sides to the issue.  For some LGBT Catholics and supporters, he has been a savior and messiah, opening a new era in the church’s approach to issues of sexuality and gender.  For others, Pope Francis is simply, “more of the same,” not changing anything, and, in some cases, because his appearance is “kinder and gentler,” he may actually be making things worse.

And, of course, between these two poles, there are a variety of middle positions.  Some are happy with the pope’s calls for mercy towards LGBT people.  Others want him to also call for justice for LGBT people.

Whatever your take on Pope Francis, if you want to learn more about how he might be advancing LGBT issues positively or negatively, you should consider attending New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis , on the weekend of April 28-30, 2017, in Chicago.

If you are a regular reader (or even a casual one) of Bondings 2.0, then you know that Pope Francis raises more questions than provides answers in regard to LGBT issues.  The symposium will be an event where participants can gain information and perspectives to begin to form some of those answers for themselves.

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Bryan Massingale

Are you interested in how Pope Francis is affecting the Church’s social ethics in regard to LGBT issues?  Come to the symposium to hear Fr. Bryan Massingale,  Fordham University theologian.

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Lisa Fullam

Will Pope Francis make a change to Catholic sexual ethics?  Listen to the ideas of Lisa Fullam, Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley theologian.  The question of religious liberty, especially in regard to LGBT employees of Catholic institutions, has a lot of people wondering.

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Leslie Griffin

The question of religious liberty, especially in regard to LGBT employees of Catholic institutions, has a lot of people wondering.  Leslie Griffin, University of Nevada at Las Vega legal scholar, will provide some insight into these dilemmas.

Frank Mugisha of Uganda poses in front of a painting of Robert F. Kennedy, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Frank Mugisha

Why hasn’t Pope Francis spoken out on the terrible scourge of laws which criminalize LGBT people around the globe?  You’ll get a first-hand answer to that from Frank Mugisha, the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, who is at the center of this struggle.

In addition, there will be focus sessions on:

  • Hispanic Catholic Culture and LGBT Issues
  • Gay Men in the Priesthood and Religious Life
  • Youth, Young Adult Ministry, and LGBT Questions
  • Transgender and Intersex Identities and the Family
  • LGBT Parish Ministry
  • Lesbian Nuns: A Gift to the Church
  • Challenges of LGBT Church Workers

Prayer Opportunities

The symposium experience is not all about the intellect.  Unique prayer opportunities will also be available:

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    Simone Campbell, SSS

    Sister Simone Campbell, SSS, the “Nun on the Bus,” will lead a pre-symposium retreat day on Friday, April 28th, on the theme of the spirituality of justice and mercy.

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    Bishop John Stowe

    Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv, diocesan bishop of Lexington, Kentucky, will offer scriptural reflections during two of the symposium’s prayer services.

  • Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
    Bishop Thomas Gumbleton

    Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, retired auxiliary bishop of Detroit, will lead a special Saturday afternoon prayer service.

Networking

Perhaps the most valuable experience of the symposium is the opportunity to network with other Catholics who are working for a church and society that are more inclusive of LGBT people.  In addition to meeting people informally, the symposium also provides the opportunity for “Open Space,”  where participants can suggest and plan a gathering time/space for particular topics. Let’s have an Open Space session as a meet-up for Bondings 2.0 readers! For more information, click here.

Who should attend?

Everybody!  Well, as long as you have an interest in Catholic LGBT discussions, you will find the symposium to be a rewarding event.  New Ways Ministry has designed it to be accessible and relevant particularly to pastoral ministers, LGBT persons, leaders of men’s and women’s religious communities,  families and other allies, and others involved in church ministry either as a volunteer or a professional.

newwayssymp-draft_03-01Can I afford it?

Yes!  Though the time for early-bird registration is over,  you can still get the discounted early-bird rate if you put four registrations in one envelope and mail them, with payment, to New Ways Ministry by March 27, 2017.   Additionally, discounted hotel rooms and airfares are available.

What will I gain from the experience?

Over the years, we’ve learned that everyone’s symposium experience is unique.  For some, it is a starting point on a new direction in ministry or advocacy.  For others, it is an opportunity to affirm their sexuality and gender identity in a Catholic context.  Many people have developed lifelong friendships at symposiums.  Many others have experienced the event as a further step on their spiritual and intellectual journeys.

What if I don’t know anyone else who will be going?

No worries!  Symposiums are friendly, communal events.  Those who have taken part in past symposiums are quick to welcome “first-timers” and those who are attending on their own.  You will not be alone at the symposium!

Where can I get more information like rates, deadlines, schedule?  How can I register?

The symposium website, www.Symposium2017.org, has all the information that you will need. You can even register there online, as well as click through to reserve a hotel room and make a plane reservation.  If you have any further questions,  feel free to call New Ways Ministry, phone:201-277-5674, or email us, info@NewWays Ministry.org.

How can I help spread the word about the symposium?

Share the website link with your friends on email and social network sites!  Or share the link to this blog post with them! Contact New Ways Ministry if you would like to receive paper copies or a PDF copy of the symposium brochure.

See you in April at the Symposium!  You won’t want to miss it!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 15, 2017

 

 

 

 

New Ways Ministry Launches Symposium Website!

New Ways Ministry has launched a website with information and registration materials for its Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago.

newwayssymp-draft_03-01By going to www.Symposium2017.org, you will find all the information you will need about speakers, program, schedule, travel and hotel discounts–and even a form to register online!

Sign-up by December 31, 2016 to receive a substantial discount on the registration fee!

The Eighth National Symposium is looking to be the best one ever!  With Pope Francis in the Vatican, we are living in a new moment in our Church.  We’ve seen the opening of a dialogue on LGBT issues, but we’ve also seen that repressive practices and policies continue, too.  How to make sense of this new situation?

The program is designed for church leaders and ministers, parents, LGBT people, members of religious communities, and all who are interested in building a more welcoming and inclusive Catholic Church.

Our plenary speakers will cover some of the most pressing topics of our day:

  • Lisa Fullam, Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, will discuss “Sexual Ethics and Same-Sex Marriage”
  • Leslie GriffinUniversity of Nevada, Las Vegas, Law School, will examine “Religious Liberty, Employment, and LGBT Issues”
  • Rev. Bryan Massingale, Fordham University, will speak about “Pope Francis, Social Ethics, and LGBT People”
  • Frank Mugisha, Sexual Minorities Uganda, will report on “The Catholic Church, Criminalization Laws and the LGBT Experience in Uganda”
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Lisa Fullam
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Leslie Griffin
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Rev. Bryan Massingale
Frank Mugisha of Uganda poses in front of a painting of Robert F. Kennedy, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2011, in Washington. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
Frank Mugisha

 

 

 

 

 

In addition, the weekend includes some exciting prayer experiences:

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Bishop John Stowe
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Bishop Thomas Gumbleton
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Sr. Simone Campbell

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to these main events,  the symposium includes break-out sessions on the following topics:

  • transgender and intersex family issues
  • youth and LGBT topics
  • gay priests
  • lesbian nuns
  • LGBT ministry in the Hispanic community
  • parish outreach
  • LGBT church worker justice

And, of course, there will be opportunities to network with hundreds of Catholics from many different parts of the U.S. and the globe about the challenges and joys of advocating for LGBT people.

Our website, www.Symposium2017.org, has all the information you need to plan your participation at the symposium.  If you have any additional questions, please contact our office at info@NewWaysMinistry.org or (301)277-5674.

Register today to reserve a space and to get a great discount!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 6, 2016

 

 

 

LGBT Rights Activist Arrested in Ugandan Police Raid

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Dr. Frank Mugisha

The leading LGBT advocate in Uganda was among those arrested on Thursday following the police raid of a Pride event.

Police arrested about 20 people while raiding Venom, a nightclub in the capital of Kampala which had been hosting the Mr. and Miss Pride Uganda pageant. Those arrested included Dr. Frank Mugisha, a Catholic who is the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), reported Buzzfeed. Everyone arrested was released without charges after a few hours, and other attendees were allowed to leave after a time. But SMUG’s statement reports the violence which occurred in the interim:

“[B]eating people, humiliating people, taking pictures of LGBTI Ugandans and threatening to publish them, and confiscating cameras. Eyewitnesses reported several people—in particular transwomen and transmen—were sexually assaulted by police. One person jumped from a 4 storey window to try to avoid police abuse. This person is now in critical condition at private hospital.”

Police claimed the event did not have a permit, and there were reports of a same-gender wedding, but Pepe Julian Onziema of SMUG disputed these claims.

Pride celebrations in the capital have in large part been tolerated the last few years. Mugisha tied the raid to a broader uptick in police activity against Ugandans, in addition to targeting LGBT advocates. Pride 2016 celebrations are now being amended, including the cancellation of a planned Pride parade today because Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo threatened mob violence against any marchers.

Being openly LGBT in Uganda can be dangerous, as this incident makes clear. A report released by SMUG earlier this year, “And That’s How I Survived Being Killed: Testimonies of Human Rights Abuses from Uganda’s Sexual and Gender Minorities,” documented the persecution:

“In this report, based on first-hand testimonies, Sexual Minorities Uganda documented from May 2014 until December 2015 the physical threats, violent attacks, torture, arrest, blackmail, non-physical threats, press intrusion, state prosecution, termination of employment, loss of physical property, harassment, eviction, mob justice, and family banishment that are all too often apart of the lived experience for sexual and gender minorities in Uganda.”

There are 264 verified testimonies in all, about which Dr. Mugisha commented:

“This report is unique and unlike those that have come before it because it elevates the voice of the persecuted. What is inside this report is the human story – that is the lived experience of sexual and gender minorities in Uganda.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 3.32.33 PMUganda is about 40% Catholic, and Mugisha’s advocacy has been directed to church leaders, as well as government officials. Mugisha challenges claims by church leaders and others that homosexuality is a Western import and that Western advocacy for LGBT Africans has triggered a backlash. He criticized Uganda’s bishops for not condemning and even supporting the Anti-Homosexuality Act, colloquially known as the “Kill the Gays” bill, proposed by President Yoweri Museveni.

Last fall, Mugisha appealed to Pope Francis for words of compassion and equality about LGBT people during the apostolic voyage to Uganda, Kenya, and Central African Republic. The pope did not address the issue. He also unsuccessfully sought a meeting with Francis, and like many LGBT advocates, was disappointed at the pope’s silence in a context where LGBT suffer greatly.

Mugisha was the recpient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2011, and he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

Dr. Mugisha will be a keynote speaker at New Ways Ministry’s Eight National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” If you are interested attending the Symposium to hear Dr. Mugisha, click here for more information and registration instructions.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Malawi Bishops’ Anti-Gay Remarks Raise Human Rights Issues

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Bishop Mathews Mtumbuka

LGBT communities in a number of African nations face some of the world’s most oppressive contexts. Worse yet, socially-sanctioned discrimination and violence are supported and even encouraged by religious leadership. Two recent incidents in Malawi, which is 20% Catholic, reveal how church officials contribute to homophobia and transphobia.

Bishop Mathews Mtumbuka of Karonga told a women’s gathering that lesbian and gay people are “sinners who need to repent,” adding that Scripture’s condemnation of homosexuality is clear. These comments come just as the nation’s government dropped charges against Cuthert Kulemeka and Kelvin Gonani for homosexual activity, both of whom were forced to undergo invasive physical examinations while in custody reported All Africa

In a separate incident, Bishop Montfort Sitima of Mangochi addressed homosexuality negatively in a homily last Sunday, according to All Africa. Despite saying the church “does not hate” gay people, the bishop applauded a Catholic musician, Lucius Banda, who cancelled a concert on Christmas Day after observing two male audience members kissing each other. A human rights advocate noted that it would very unlikely for a gay couple to kiss publicly in Malawi, and suggested that the whole event was staged to stir up anti-gay sentiments, according to Nyasa Times.  Banda is a member of Malawi’s Parliament.

Sitima also said Malawi’s government “should not sell out our culture and our religion in exchange for money,” referencing the generally false but popular notion that Western foreign aid is tied to LGBT human rights. This connection between LGBT human rights and international aid was explicitly included in the Synod on the Family’s Final Report, presumably at the insistence of African bishops who present it as a new form of colonialism.

This reality of LGBT oppression, Catholic leaders’ complicity, and the colonial history of unjust Western interventions in Africa raise questions about how LGBT advocates in the U.S. can justly respond.

A recent article in The New York Times claimed that U.S support for LGBT human rights is backfiring in Africa, where the federal government has spent more than $350 million since 2012. Private support is increasing, too, as U.S. advocates seek to work internationally, following major victories at home. This work seeks, in part, to counter influential U.S.-funded Evangelical groups promoting anti-gay laws abroad.

Increased visibility is actually leading to more anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in the estimation of some advocates. Rev. Kapya Kaoma of the U.S.-based Political Research Associates suggested that “African L.G.B.T. persons are just collateral damage to U.S. politics on both ends.”

Frank Mugisha
Frank Mugisha

But not all agree, including Frank Mugisha of Sexual Minorities Uganda, who is Catholic and wrote in The New York Times:

“There will always be backlash to activism. That is not news.

“Instead of elevating the significance of American influence, it would have been better if the article had focused on African politicians who employ any narrative at their disposal — including ‘neocolonial’ ones — to maintain their power at the expense of scapegoated minorities like L.G.B.T.I. people, regardless of what the United States may, or may not, do.

“Is there more violence now that L.G.B.T.I. people are more visible in Nigeria and elsewhere? Maybe, but it is homophobia, not funding, that is at fault.”

Catholic officials could easily be added to the African politicians Mugisha labeled as those who use anti-LGBT sentiments for their own purposes. In conveying church teachings on homosexuality, church leaders like Bishop Mtumbuka too often rely on a biblical fundamentalism at odds with Catholic principles for scriptural interpretation. They ignore, almost entirely, relevant Catholic teachings about LGBT people related to social justice. Bishops like Bishop Sitima employ false narratives, like homosexuality being a Western import or Western governments denying aid to nations without marriage equality, with dangerous repercussions. Neither one of the Malawian bishops condemned the human rights abuses enacted against Cuthert Kulemeka and Kelvin Gonani, even though their treatment was contradictory to Catholic teaching.

Why do Catholic bishops in Africa behave in this fashion? There are likely many as many reasons as bishops. Perhaps the expansion of Evangelical churches in Africa has something to do with their statements. Christianity is exponentially exploding among Africans, and denominations are fighting for adherents. Established Catholic and Protestant churches are struggling to retain adherents against successful Evangelical and Pentecostal efforts. Similar to politicians scapegoating LGBT people for electoral victories, Catholic officials may fear being seen as ‘weak’ on homosexuality.

These complex situations leave U.S. and other Western LGBT advocates puzzled when it comes to human rights work in Malawi, Uganda, and other nations which criminalize and stigmatize minority sexual and gender identities. Frank Mugisha makes clear, though, that, ultimately, we are united in the fight against homophobia and transphobia wherever we live.

For Catholics, as members of the universal church, we cannot abandon this work as long as oppression exists. Moving forward, we must ensure that not only the ends we seek, but the means  with which we seek them, are just on all accounts. Catholic Social Teaching is one of the richest sources for figuring out how to do just that, and the Year of Mercy is the perfect time to recommit to seeking justice for LGBT people around the world.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Pope Francis “Missed an Opportunity” on Papal Visit to Africa

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Pope Francis greeting crowds in Uganda

LGBT advocates are saying Pope Francis missed an opportunity to preach tolerance and save LGBT lives because he remained silent during his Apostolic Voyage to Kenya, Uganda, and the Central African Republic which ended just over a week ago.

Pepe Julian Onziema of Sexual Minorities Uganda told the Washington Blade:

“. . . I feel he missed an opportunity to be specific about his stand on the issue, by publicly discussing the continued persecution of LGBT people in Uganda. . .If he’s not done it publicly in Uganda, I don’t see him doing so anywhere else.”

Onziema added he had not had much hope for positive statements because the pontiff, in his estimation, is “wishy washy” on LGBT rights.

Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, had sought to meet with Pope Franci, a;ong with other LGBT advocates. He told Al Jazeera:

“Yes, I am disappointed. It would have been a very good gesture and the start of a conversation with the Catholic Church on accepting LGBTI Catholics in the Church.

“I would have told the pope that Ugandans love him so much, and so do LGBTI Ugandans, and we – all Ugandans – want the same things: to live with each other in peace. So, the churches that discriminate against us the most should preach tolerance and acceptance.”

Advocates in the U.S. echoed Onziema, Mugisha, and others’ disappointment in Pope Francis. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told the Blade:

“Pope Francis usually is much more courageous and direct in confronting controversial issues, especially when bishops have acted poorly, as the Ugandan bishops have done in regard to ignoring the human rights of LGBT people.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of Dignity USA, said Pope Francis speaking out “would have made a huge difference globally.”

While Catholic teaching disavows discrimination against LGBT people, including the criminalization of homosexuality, as Mumbai’s Cardinal Oswald Gracias made clear recently, Uganda’s church leaders have acted differently.

Frank-Mugisha
Frank Mugisha

Mugisha, who is Catholic (and was featured in Bondings 2.0‘s first Advent reflection this year for his courageous witness), explained the situation in his country which is more than 40% Catholic. He told Al Jazeera:

“Church is a place for love, for refuge and for peace and support, but that support is not given to them. They feel they have been let down by the Church a lot. . .

“The Catholic Church in Uganda has been in alliance with all the other churches in condemning and discriminating against LGBTI persons. The language that preachers use and the anti-gay statements make people who are even in the closet feel discriminated against.”

Thes discrimination and violence, fueled by Catholic and U.S.-based Evangelical churches includes “hate crimes, arrest, blackmail and extortion, public humiliation” and being outed in the media. Additionally, in Uganda, a highly religious nation, lacking affiliation with a church can exclude one from society at large. Mugisha revealed discrimination he faces specifically in the Catholic Church, saying priests will preach against homosexuality if they know he is attending Mass.

But this high religiosity also means that Ugandans listen closely to Pope Francis’ words. If he had spoken out, they would have taken a message of tolerance towards LGBT people “seriously,” said Mugisha To not have spoken out “will go down in history,” he told Citizen.

LGBT advocates in Uganda and Kenya repeatedly sought words of tolerance from the pope. The Rainbow Catholic Network of Africa appealed to Francis for mercy and inclusion. People of faith worldwide had asked Pope Francis to condemn anti-LGBT laws through New Ways Ministry’s #PopeSpeakOut campaign. The pope’s decision not to respond, covered in more detail here, is troubling despite an otherwise remarkable papal visit.

Pope Francis’ silence is especially problematic because that same week Uganda’s Parliament passed the Non-Governmental Organizations Bill in the middle of the night.  Since the bill allows the government to dissolve community groups at will, critics fear it will be used to curtail LGBT advocacy, reported PinkNews.

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Though Pope Francis missed an opportunity to save LGBT people’s lives and promote their dignity, some Catholic bishops are speaking out. Cardinal Gracias’ opposition to LGBT criminalization in India is quite notable, as he is the subcontinent’s only religious leader to preach tolerance. Maltese Bishop Mario Grech gave a positive interview in recent days, too.

Most hopeful are the many and varied good works of the People of God happening locally. Some make headlines, but most are quietly planted and lovingly cultivated in communities. Pope Francis should consider how he can help water these seeds during the Year of Mercy. It is always the right time to speak out for LGBT people’s lives and dignity.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry