Ugandan LGBTQ leaders cry for support after media attacks on affirming church

GLAAD joined up with The Fellowship for Affirming Ministries (TFAM) to call attention to continued violence against LGBTQ people in Uganda, and call on the Trump administration to live up to its loud promises to protect LGBTQ people and people of faith. 

On February 21, TFAM Uganda became a target of public persecution by a premeditated media campaign seeking to erase the pro-LGBTQI ministry. Two Ugandan newspapers, Trumpet News and the Red Pepper published photos and video falsely claiming that the ministry was officiating the wedding of a same-sex couple. Bishop Joseph Tolton, TFAM’s Global International Minister, stated the young couple was only testifying their relationship before the ministry. Following the publication of the articles, the couple fled to Nairobi, Kenya out of safety.

Many LGBTQ spaces and gatherings in Uganda have been swiftly shut down by authorities, and TFAM was one of few spaces left that offered the LGBTQ community a safe space to worship and express themselves. The ministry has not been able to meet over the past week, due to safety concerns. “The church had become a place of healing, one of the few spaces where the LGBTQ community can come together and worship freely,” said Bishop Tolton. 

The past year saw a number of documented murders, arrests, and violent attacks against LGBTQ Ugandans. Local politicians have been reintroducing the “Kill the Gays” Bill. The bill was signed into law in 2014 before being struck down by Uganda’s Constitutional Court. Identifying as LGBTQ resulted in life in prison, and those who were associated with a LGBTQ person(s) received harsh prison sentences. Although one of the Trump Administration's foreign policy initiatives was to target countries criminalizing LGBTQI peoples, Uganda’s situation has received silence from The State Department. Sexual Minorities Uganda’s Executive Director, Frank Mugisha, stated, “It is not a secret that US involvement has greatly reduced ever since the Obama administration. Now, we are seeing partnerships from our government and US politicians with extreme conservative views”.

Discrimination against LGBTQI peoples does not occur within a vacuum. Bishop Tolton stated, “The LGBTQI Issue must be understood within the broader concerns of the undermining of human rights, particularly in Uganda. The specter and shadow of violence looms in a very real way because in 2019, we had several murders within the community”. Following the incident, TFAM launched the Our Freedom is Your Freedom campaign. The campaign seeks to connect progressive activists in the US and elsewhere to uphold democratic values and norms that are globally under threat. Pastor Simon Mpinga summed it up, “The freedom that the Americans are fighting for is connected directly to our freedom [in Uganda].”