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Ugandan LGBT Groups Severely Underfunded

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BY ANDY HUMM | If everyone who went to a vigil or memorial service here in the US for slain Ugandan gay leader David Kato over the past several weeks had given his Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) ten bucks, the group’s budget would have been doubled.

Kato could not even afford a fence around his home that might have provided some security in the wake of constant death threats stoked by Uganda’s infamous “kill-the-gays” legislation and a right-wing newspaper that put his picture and those of other gays in the paper under the headline “Hang Them!”

He was brutally murdered in his home on January 26.

US advocates working on the crisis, but not providing money

The budgets for SMUG, an umbrella organization, and the LGBT group Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) are “about $10,000 a year” for everything, according to Val Kalende, a leader of the latter organization currently studying in the US.

The desperate need for resources for these groups was raised at a February 3 vigil for Kato near the UN by the Reverend Kapya Kaoma, the Anglican priest who worked with him to expose how American evangelicals were behind the intense anti-gay movement in Uganda.

Kalende wrote in an email, “There is a general perception by the anti-gay movementists in Uganda that kuchus (LGBT Ugandans) are wealthy people and receive millions of dollars from the West. Ugandan gay blogger, Gay Uganda, has been accused of having received 200 million shillings [about $84,000] to ‘promote homosexual­ity.’ As a matter of fact, the ‘promotion’ accusations are hinged on the ‘dollars’ we receive from the West. As Kapya said, there is no escape route for us in this because whether we say that we are underfunded or not, we are still going to be accused of receiving the money we don’t even have.”

Many American LGBT leaders and groups have decried Kato’s murder and the anti-gay campaign in Uganda that led to it, but few have made direct donations to the Ugandan groups on the ground that are fighting the poisonous atmosphere there.

Two of the largest US groups, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, cited their work to draw attention to the plight of LGBT Ugandans, but have not made direct donations to groups in that country.

Boris O. Dittrich, the acting director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch, wrote in an email, “At the request of David Kato, Frank Mugisha, and Pepe Noziema, I became a member of the Council of Advisers to SMUG in 2008. Human Rights Watch is not a donor organization, so we did not give SMUG financial support.”

Charles Radcliffe, chief of the Global Issues Section of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, spoke at a memorial service for Kato at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church on February 7 led by the Reverend Calvin O. Butts III. Radcliffe told Gay City News that they have an office in Uganda and are working with several groups there on “cataloguing and reporting human rights violations,” but they, too, “are not a development or funding agency.”

Michael Petrelis, the blogger and gay organizer, noted the substantial funds that have gone to the campaigns for marriage equality and an end to the ban on gays in the military here.

“I’d rather see money go to Uganda than fighting for more US troops in Afghanistan” by allowing gays to serve, he said. “The issue of funding for foreign gays has to be addressed.”

Noting that a number of US funders support the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, a coalition of about 34 civil society groups including some LGBT organizations in Uganda, to campaign against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Kalende wrote, “They are big donors who do not fund ‘small’ organizations like SMUG or FARUG, but can channel funding through other registered organizations or the coalition. Still the funding from the coalition does not pay our salaries or rent for office space. This is why it’s important to bring more funders on board.”

The Reverend Pat Bumgardner, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church/ NY, who also spoke at the Abyssinian service for Kato, wrote in an email, “The most I can say is that no one from SMUG or on behalf of SMUG asked MCC or the Global Justice Institute for funding for the organization or for David personally. Had we known, we would have scraped something together. Instead, we have been working with the Faith Coalition on Uganda and I have been in the group focusing on safe space. Albert Ogle of Integrity is the primary fundraiser for St. Paul’s, a house we are all working to support, that will be run by [Ugandan] Bishop Christopher Senyojo and offer safe space to LGBT people who are being targeted and/ or need to leave the country. In addition, as part of that project, Joseph Tolton and I are working on some economic projects to help people become self-sustaining.”

There is no question that the plight of LGBT people in Uganda is now on the radar screens — if it wasn’t already — of the UN, the State Department, US and international LGBT groups, and African-American groups such as the NAACP and the TransAfrica Forum. A congressional briefing on the Uganda crisis, which featured SMUG’s Mugisha, was held February 11.

Hilary O. Shelton, senior vice president for advocacy at the NAACP, said at a press conference in Washington that the situation for Ugandan gay people was “a civil and human rights catastrophe” and that the fight against anti-gay legislation there needed to be “a top priority for US lawmakers and the entire civil society.” He added that they must “work with those working in the country.”

The concern is there. The question is whether it will reach those on the front lines before we lose another David Kato.

Donations to SMUG can be made directly online at sexualminoritiesuganda.org. You can learn more about FARUG at faruganda.org.

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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