Ugandan gay activist honored with human rights award

May 7, 2011

Nairobi, Kenya, May 6
(ENInews)--Religious leaders in Uganda have responded from conservative and
liberal perspectives to the news that Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, a Ugandan
gay rights activist, was given on 3 May the Martin Ennals Awards for Human
Rights Defenders.

The award, given by the Martin Ennals Foundation in
honor of the first secretary general of Amnesty International, will help the
campaign for minority group rights in the East African country, said retired
Anglican bishop Christopher Senyonjo. "It is appropriate and encouraging … We
now know there are people who understand what we are suffering from and
support our position," he said on 6 May in a telephone interview with

However, conservative church leaders criticized the award,
saying it went to a "disgraceful ground," where the recipient is not a hero.
They have charged that homosexuality is evil; and is rejected by the
scriptures and African communities.

"We are outraged … but not
surprised. This is a public embarrassment …. There is nothing to celebrate,"
said the Rev. Martin Ssempa, a Pentecostal pastor, who has been crusading
against homosexuality in Uganda. He accused the West of forcing its practices
on Africa. "We pray that Kasha is changed so that she can help the other gay
people change their ways," he said.

Senyonjo, however, noted that being
gay "is not a matter of choice." He added, referring to some church leaders,
that "it takes time to understand it and I think they need a lot of
education." Ugandan church leaders have been challenging homosexuals to repent
and seek forgiveness, but Senyonjo said the main tenets of the Gospel were to
love those whom you do not understand, and persecuting them was

Nabagesera is the founder and Executive Director of Freedom
and Roam Uganda, a lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) rights
organization which works in a country where homosexual acts are illegal and
can be punished by long jail terms.

Those opposed to homosexuality have
been seeking even stiffer penalties. The Ugandan legislature has been
considering a bill that proposes life imprisonment for homosexual acts and
death penalty for a form called "aggravated homosexuality." The bill says this
will occur if one of the participants is a minor, HIV-positive, disabled or a
hardcore criminal.

The award, which was created in 1993, is granted
annually "to someone who has demonstrated an exceptional record of combating
human rights violations by courageous and innovative means," according to the
foundation website. It "aims at encouraging human rights defenders who are at
risk and therefore in need of immediate protection. This protective publicity
requires media attention, particularly in the country of origin of the
laureate." The award carries a prize of at least 20,000 Swiss francs, to be
used for further work in the field of human rights.

The ten
organisations (including the German faith group Diakonie) that make up the
award's jury said Nabagesera was courageous and faced harassment because of
her work. She has had the courage to appear on national television in Uganda,
has issued press statements on behalf of the gay community, and spoke on
several radio stations, said the citation.

In January, Nabagesera's
colleague, David Kato, was murdered three months after a Ugandan tabloid,
published a list of what it claimed were Ugandan gays and called for their
hanging. Nabagesera's name appeared on the list.