Rev. Eric Cherry, Director of the UUA’s International Resources Office, is currently on the ground in Kampala, Uganda, attending the UU Association of Uganda’s Standing on the Side of Love event, which began yesterday and concludes today. For the second year in a row, LGBT advocates in Uganda have gathered together in solidarity, worship, celebration, and this year in remembrance of David Kato, an LGBT activist who was tragically slain last month. At great personal risk, over 200 attendees from the religious and LGBT communities have come to provide one another support and to continue their protest against the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which is still under consideration by Uganda’s legislature.
It’s been an honor to accept Rev. Mark Kiyimba’s invitation to come and represent the UUA at the UU Association of Uganda’s “Standing on the Side of Love” event in Kampala. The full day of activities has just come to an end, and nearly 200 people have departed this tremendous witness event feeling energized, ministered unto, and connected to the network of LGBT Human Rights organizations in Uganda.
Those in attendance were welcomed in prayer by Uganda’s only Theravadan Buddhist Monk: Venerable K. Bhante, who described Buddha’s understanding of Love and explained that the Uganda Buddhist Centre welcomes LGBT Ugandans. If you’re interested in knowing how Rev. Mark and Ven. Bhante connected with each other, let me know and I’ll tell you the story.
Other speakers included our emcee for the day, John, who’s experience as a gay Ugandan was described with great thoughtfulness in “Missionaries of Hate” – watch the full program here.
Rev. Kiyimba not only welcomed attendees and led them in song, but described the history of Standing on the Side of Love in Uganda (this is the second annual event) and the work of the new LGBT Human Rights Defenders Network: Edoboozi (The Voice for the Voiceless). The Ugandan UU Association was instrumental in its formation, and Rev. Mark will be taking me for a visit to their offices and safe house tomorrow – I’ll share my impressions shortly thereafter.
Stella Nyanzi spoke as a representative of SMUG (Sexual Minorities of Uganda) and discussed the issue of Love and Safety. SMUG was, of course, the organization which LGBT activist David Kato worked tirelessly for before he was murdered in January. Stella described how the kind of love that David Kato embodies – a Human Rights/Agape kind of love – is inherently risky. She explained that David Kato knew the risks of love and gave himself to it with his eyes wide open. She advocated that everyone in attendance embrace David’s example and live lives that are full of Love – but understand how risky it is.
Retired Anglican Bishop Christopher Senyonjo – who has been a tireless supporter of LGBT human rights – gave the featured presentation of the day. He offered a biblical reflection on the meaning of Love and ended by saying that “today I am Standing on the Side of Love, just as Jesus did” to thunderous applause. Bishop Senyonjo had visited David Kato’s mother and his two siblings earlier today and told us that they asked him to convey their greetings to the meeting – and that they would be standing on the side of love with us in spirit.
The program also included a celebratory lunch, dances performed by “Young Adults on the Rock,” and a reception at the end of the day. I was told over and over again that this is the only LGBT event of this sort in Uganda and how important it is to the community. Everyone was in awe that the turn-out was so strong given the current climate of violence in Kampala. And, the leadership is convinced that it will help continue the struggle for LGBT Human Rights.