Uganda’s gay activists came out loud and proud last year. Their government and countrymen, however, would rather stick them in the closet. We recently chatted with Sexual Minorities Uganda leader Frank Mugisha to learn more about growing up gay in one of Africa’s most homophobic nations. It’s not as blakc and white as one may think.
Andrew Belonsky: Can you describe coming out to your family?
Frank Mugisha: I did not come out to my whole family. My Dad died when I was age 7, so me and my brother were raised by my mother. I did not come out and tell my mom that am gay for a long time. I did not know how she would react, because I had never heard her mention anything against or in favor of LGBTI people. She never mentioned any thing at all, even when the topic came up on TV or on radio. I went single sex boarding school and unlike other parents who warn their children about homosexual acts in school, my mother never mentioned anything about gay people.
At age 17 I came out to my younger brother, because he asked a lot of questions and some how found out that I am gay. He asked me and I told him the truth. He was age 15 then. He did not mention it again until he was 18, then he made it a big deal and thought it was funny. He made fun of me, but with humor. For instance, when we would meet a cute boy with a nice ass, he would tease me and say, “Does he turn you on?” He still does, but we are very close and he supports me a lot.
AB: How did you get involved in activism?
FM: I developed the idea of starting a gay organization after fully accepting myself as a homosexual man. The idea of starting this LGBTI organization was given momentum in 2004, when I found out that there was an organization called Icebreakers Manchester. I contacted one of its volunteers – David Armstrong – and he gave me the moral support and courage to carry on with the idea.
That’s when my mother came face to face with my sexual orientation. I told her I was gay and this is what I wanted to do. At first she did not object, nor did she support me. A few months after realizing how determined I was to carry on with activism, she tried to talk me out of it, but I said that I wanted to go on. I had only one year left to finalize my bachelor’s degree and I was free do as I please after my studies. I graduated in 2005, with Second Class Upper Honors Degree and that’s when mom stopped the hassle about my activism.
I also started to come out to my friends. I had tried earlier, but I lost almost all my friends who I had told that I was gay. By the way, most of my relatives don’t talk to my family because of me.
AB: What did you learn – as a child – about gay people? What were you taught?
FM: I was raised a Catholic. My brother and I went to all boys school until college. At home I wasn’t taught any thing good or bad in regard to gay people, but at school I was taught how bad it was to be gay and how sick and sinful it was. My class mates and school mates had all the bad names for gay people or people who were rumored to be gay. At school there was no choice: if one was rumored to be gay, he was expelled immediately. I stayed very far away from any one who was rumored to be gay or any one who made advances on me, because I did not want to be suspended or face humiliation. I wanted to be close to some one who felt like me, but, it was a sin. I thought maybe it was true: I am abnormal…
I prayed to God so many times to take it away and heal me. I made bets with God as a child I asked Him in my solitude that if He takes it away I will double the times I go to church. I asked God for a sign, a dream, a vision to take it away, but I never received any… Even now there are days when ask my self and wish there was a pill I could take to change the way I feel. However much we fight for our rights, even if we get the rights, there are some people who will never understand, there are people who will see us different and continue to hate us.