For years, Rev. Mark Kiyimba has witnessed what could be called the moral colonization of Uganda.
Evangelical ministers, financed by American Christian megachurches, enlisted celebrities, high-profile preachers and a legion of missionaries to preach a toxic message: Westerners were trying to unravel the East African country’s social fabric by spreading the “disease” of homosexuality to its children.
Those ministers — stung by their failure to stop the advances in civil rights for gays and lesbians in the United States — targeted predominantly Christian Uganda, Kiyimba said, because one-half of the country’s population aren’t yet adults.
The efforts of those Western missionaries has paid off.
On Feb. 24, Uganda’s parliament passed a law making homosexuality punishable by up to life imprisonment. It also proposed years in prison for anyone who counsels or reaches out to gays and lesbians; that includes renting a home to a known gay man or lesbian, or providing medical assistance.
The law also seeks punishment for those who know someone is gay and fails to report it. Parents face imprisonment for sheltering their own gay child.
Human Rights Watch reported that since December violent attacks on LGBT people in Uganda increased nearly tenfold. LGBT people and those perceived to be gay are being beaten in the streets, denied medical attention and fleeing to neighboring Kenya.
Kiyimba is in Syracuse to ask for help.
“You as Westerners have the power to help us quench this terrible fire,” he said. “We need you to speak to your evangelical ministers who have been spreading this hate speech.”
Kiyimba (pronounced KEY-em-ba) is the founder and senior minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Uganda, which preaches the acceptance of all people. That makes the 38-year-old minister and his congregation criminals under the new law. A straight ally to LGBT people, Kiyimba has received hundreds of death threats. Kiyimba, a National Education Association award winner for his leadership in human rights, runs a school for 650 children who have lost parents to HIV and AIDS and an orphanage for 22 children infected with the virus.
At 7 p.m. Saturday, May 31, ArtRage Gallery, 505 Hawley Ave., Syracuse, will host a free showing of the Sundance Film Festival winner God Loves Uganda, a powerful documentary by Academy Award winning filmmaker Roger Ross Williams. The film chronicles American and Ugandan religious leaders fighting “sexual immorality” and missionaries trying to persuade Ugandans to follow biblical law. Kiyimba will lead a discussion after the movie.
Kiyimba will also be the guest preacher at 10 a.m. Sunday, June 1, at Plymouth Congregational Church, 232 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse. At 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 3, All Saints Catholic Church, 1340 Lancaster Ave., Syracuse, will host a presentation with a question-and-answer session with Kiyimba.
“Eighty-five percent of Ugandans support the anti-homosexuality law,” said Kiyimba, who believes the criminalization of LGBT people in Uganda has been largely ignored by the West. “We know well here in Uganda what happens when you spread hate,” he said.
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