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Uganda's gays fight back

Activists to petition government to scrap Anti-Homosexuality Bill and instead decriminalize gay sex.

Members of Christian groups campaigning against homosexuality in Kampala, Aug. 21, 2007. Ugandan gays are petitioning the government to scrap the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which calls for the death penalty for some gay acts. (James Akena/Reuters)

KAMPALA, Uganda — Even as Uganda’s parliament considers the Anti-Homosexuality Bill — which calls for the death penalty for some gay acts — a group of about 100 Ugandan gays and lesbians held a secret meeting to determine how to stand up for their rights.

The clandestine conference was held a hotel function room in downtown Kampala last week and was titled “Standing on the side of Love, Re-imagining Valentine’s Day.”

Organized by the Rev. Mark Kiyimba of the Ugandan Unitarian Universalist Church, and financially supported by the Austria Foundation, the meeting was a strategy session to discuss how to respond to the bill. The participants resolved to petition the Ugandan Speaker of Parliament to scrap the bill and to instead move to decriminalize homosexuality.

“Our conference showed that religion does not need to be an enemy to the cause of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] concerns,” said Kiyimba, who declares himself a married bi-sexual. “What is at stake here is religious freedom, human rights and minority protections.”

Kiyimba said the conference is “a kick-off or starting point for us, against this bill.” He said in March he will take his petition to various countries, including the U.S., to galvanize international support for Uganda’s gays.

Most of the participants wore bright red T-shirts with a heart showing the “gay pride” rainbow colors in the center.

“This was different from other conferences,” said one gay man attending the meeting, who declined to be named, fearing reprisal. “Gay banners and flags, no pretense, it was very straightforward.”

Two Americans attended the meeting. Gay-rights activist and Episcopal minister Rev. Patricia Ackerman of New York City as well as the Rev. Marlin Lavanhar of the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, Tulsa, Okla.

No sooner had the meeting taken place than a newspaper report highlighted how dangerous it was. Kampala's inspector of police, Major General Kale Kayihura, said he was unaware of the gay conference but vowed to arrest participants if he found them, according to a report in the Kampala Daily Monitor.