The Struggle Abroad and at Home: Ugandan Bishop Senyonjo Is Fighting for LGBT Rights
By Andrea Shorter
Deputy Director of Marriage and Coalitions, Equality California
Reprinted by permisssion
Bishop Christopher Senyonjo is a hero. The 78-year-old civil rights leader from Uganda has paid a heavy price for speaking out for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Bishop Senyonjo is the religious leader in Uganda who is leading the fight against the country’s proposed “Kill the Gays” bill, which would allow people with previous convictions for homosexuality and people who are HIV positive to be sentenced to death. Created at the encouragement of radical right-wing Christian leaders from the U.S., including author Scott Lively and Exodus International board member Don Schmierer, this hate-driven bill authorizes the country to engage in genocide of its LGBT citizens. “With the introduction of this new bill,” the Bishop has said, “there is a lot of fear what might happen… That is why we are talking against this bill. It is a draconian bill. Inhuman.”
Why are U.S. evangelicals crossing the Atlantic Ocean to try to pass anti-LGBT policies? They know that they cannot imprison LGBT people in the United States, so they are trying to spark a movement in places where our communities are less supported and less able to fight back. The LGBT movement around the globe depends on us all rallying to defeat this bill.
The Bishop has been touring internationally to raise awareness of the repression of LGBT people in his home country. He met with White House officials last week, along with Right Reverend Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first openly gay bishop in a major Christian denomination. Both men are faith allies in the movement for LGBT equality and provide an important link between religion and LGBT issues. With U.S. anti-LGBT activists encouraging prejudice and hate abroad, Bishop Senyonjo’s work in the U.S. encourages LGBT supporters to also get involved in this crisis and stop the hate.
At the end of May, the Bishop’s tour brought him to the LGBT Community Center in San Francisco, where an ecstatic audience greeted him with a standing ovation the very moment he entered the room. He shared his story of advocacy for Uganda’s LGBT community, a story that started more than ten years ago when he began to act as a counselor for people questioning or struggling with their sexual orientation. Hearing the stories of many people who were afraid and often under threats of violence for simply being who they are, he became a fierce advocate and straight ally. He helped to found an LGBT community center and began to speak out for equal rights.
During his visit to San Francisco, Bishop Senyonjo told stories of harassment and rejection that he has faced simply for being an LGBT ally. “When I was passing along the road, people said oh, there is that man, that man supports something which is wrong,” he told the crowd at the Center. “One time, one old man, I was talking to him, I said, I know these people are also loved by God. He said, ‘what do you mean by that?’ He slapped me.”