Thursday 8 December 2016

'Don't condemn us' - Gay Africans plead with Pope Francis to preach tolerance ahead of historic visit

Edith Honan and Elias Biryabarema

Published 23/11/2015 | 09:03

Pope Francis will tour Africa later this month
Pope Francis will tour Africa later this month

Gay Africans are pleading with Pope Francis to bring with him a message of tolerance ahead of his first visit to the continent.

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Francis travels to Kenya and Uganda, where many conservative Christians bristle with the idea of accepting gays and lesbians, on an African tour that starts November 25.

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"I would like the Pope to at least make people know that being LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) is not a curse," said Jackson Mukasa (20), a Ugandan in Kampala who was imprisoned last year on suspicion of committing homosexual acts, before charges were dropped for lack of evidence.

"Being a gay in Uganda is a challenge. You expect mob justice, you expect to be killed, you expect to be arrested," said Mr Mukasa.

Uganda, which is about 40 pc Catholic, has been seen as a bastion of anti-gay sentiment since 2013, when it sought to toughen penalties, with some lawmakers pushing for the death penalty or life in prison for some actions involving gay sex.

The law was overturned on procedural grounds but not before US Secretary of State John Kerry compared it to anti-Semitic legislation in Nazi Germany.

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Rihana, who identifies as a trans-woman, poses for a picture outside her house in an undisclosed suburb of Kampala, Uganda Credit: Edward Echwalu (REUTERS)
Rihana, who identifies as a trans-woman, poses for a picture outside her house in an undisclosed suburb of Kampala, Uganda Credit: Edward Echwalu (REUTERS)
A participant of the Mr and Miss Pride beauty contest gets make-up done backstage at an undisclosed venue in Kampala, Uganda Credit: Edward Echwalu (REUTERS)

Frank Mugisha, director of Sexual Minorities Uganda and one of the country's most outspoken advocates for gay rights, said he hoped the Pope would bring a message that gays and lesbians should be "treated like any other children of God".

"If he starts talking about rights, then Ugandans are going to be very defensive," said Mr Mugisha.

"But I would think if the Pope was here and talking about love, compassion and equality for everyone, Ugandans will listen."

However a Ugandan government spokesman, Shaban Bantariza, said: "We hope the Pope's message will not diverge from the core beliefs of Ugandans."

"We don't view homosexuality as a normal lifestyle but also we have chosen not to persecute those who have fallen victim to it."

Homosexuality or the act of gay sex is outlawed in most of Africa's 54 states, and South Africa is the only African nation that permits same sex marriage.

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Although many Kenyan Christians are deeply conservative, the country has been comparatively tolerant and now hosts about 500 gay refugees from neighbouring Uganda.

Kenyan law calls for jailing those involved in homosexual acts but rarely prosecutes.

David Kuria, a well-known Kenyan gay rights activist, said his mother, a devout Catholic, was kicked out of her village prayer group because she had raised a gay son.

He said he hoped Pope Francis' visit would lead to parents of gays not being victimised or made to "doubt themselves as parents or as Christians".

Supervisor Mary Njue (50) displays three robes made for Pope Francis to wear during his upcoming visit to Kenya, sewn by the Dolly Craft Sewing Project and Women's Group in the Kangemi slum of Nairobi, Kenya Credit: Ben Curtis (AP)
Supervisor Mary Njue (50) displays three robes made for Pope Francis to wear during his upcoming visit to Kenya, sewn by the Dolly Craft Sewing Project and Women's Group in the Kangemi slum of Nairobi, Kenya Credit: Ben Curtis (AP)

"I hope the Pope would say, 'Love everyone,' especially those who are still coming to church."

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While Francis has not changed Catholic dogma on homosexuality and has often reaffirmed the church's opposition to same-sex marriage, his more inclusive approach has heartened gay African.

They welcomed Francis' comment early in his papacy that: "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?"

The Catholic church holds that being gay is not a sin but homosexual acts are.

Reuters

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