Gay witness in Lively case to speak in SF

  • by Heather Cassell
  • Wednesday November 9, 2016
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San Franciscans will get a rare personal account from the frontlines of Uganda's LGBT rights movement when a gay man who is a witness in the case against an American evangelist speaks in the city next week.

Richard Lusimbo, 29, is one of the chief witnesses in the case against American anti-gay preacher Scott Lively. He will be interviewed by Peter Teague about the case, Sexual Minorities Uganda v. Scott Lively, and the ongoing influence of American evangelical religious leaders in the African country. He will also speak about the current state of the Ugandan LGBT movement and share personal stories about living openly as a gay man in Uganda at "From Uganda With Love" at San Francisco's GLBT History Museum Thursday, November 17.

SMUG and its legal team at the Center for Constitutional Rights presented oral arguments on motions for summary judgment in the case November 9 in federal court in Boston. Lusimbo will be in San Francisco November 12-21.

SMUG is also represented by Jeena Shah of the International Human Rights Clinic at Rutgers Law School in Newark, New Jersey; the law firm of Dorsey and Whitney, LLP; Christopher Betke; Luke Ryan; and Judith Chomsky.

If successful, SMUG v. Lively will solidify that persecution based on sexual orientation or gender identity is a crime against humanity under U.S. and international law.

Lusimbo is the research and documentations officer of SMUG, Uganda's leading LGBT organization, which is a network comprised of 18 groups. He is responsible for documenting human rights abuses against the LGBT community. He is also a documentary filmmaker. His film, And Still We Rise , shows the resistance and resilience of Uganda's LGBT community throughout the anti-homosexuality movement's grip on the country. He's also the chair of the African Research Team for Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights.

The case against Lively charges him with crimes against humanity in an attempt to hold him accountable for his involvement in, and collaboration with, Ugandan government officials and religious leaders to persecute Ugandan LGBT people under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows for non-U.S. citizens to file claims in federal court in violation of international laws. LGBT activists claim Lively violated international law by actively promoting homophobia and working to strip queer Ugandans of their rights, particularly with the infamous so-called kill the gays bill introduced into Uganda's parliament in 2009. The bill called for capital punishment of LGBT people, but penalties were watered down to lifetime imprisonment by the time it passed in 2013 and was signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni in 2014.

It was struck down by the East African country's Constitutional Court the same year it became law.

"This case really means a lot to us, and while this may look like it's just a SMUG case, I think that this case is for our entire community globally," said Lusimbo. "It's not just in Uganda that homophobia exists. We stand for the rest of the world."

The case has shone a spotlight on the role extremist Christian evangelicals play in spreading hate, he said, and that's a win for SMUG.

"I think this also causes a bunch of leaders �" Christians around the world or Christians like myself �" to hold accountable our fellow church leaders," said Lusimbo, "but also our fellow Christians who have turned it as a business or their work to actually promote homophobia."

During his visit, Lusimbo will also meet with activists and supporters of SMUG's work, he said.

"We hope to raise people's awareness about how imperiled LGBTQ people remain around the world," said Jeff Cotter, a gay man who is the founder and executive director of Rainbow World Fund, which is a co-host of next week's event.

He hopes people will gain some knowledge about "how the religious right has been losing their battle at home in the USA and have been quietly exporting LGBTQ hatred around the world, and what we can do to help stop this evil and directly provide real life-saving aid," said Cotter.


Forging ahead

In September, the Bay Area Reporter spoke with Lusimbo about what he hopes will be accomplished by the SMUG v. Lively trial, the current status of Uganda's latest "jail the gays" bill, and the state of the Ugandan LGBT movement.

In spite of the failed attempts to bring back the so-called jail the gays bill, government officials are seeking alternative ways to attack and deny the LGBT community's fundamental human rights. The raid on Uganda Pride in August was a reminder to LGBT activists and the world of this reality.

"What happened during the Pride event was clear manifestation that there is a lot that needs to be done," said Lusimbo, "because if police officers can break the law or can go ahead and attack and beat peaceful Ugandan citizens, it really shows you that we are dealing with a very, very big situation here.

"It also shows that we are still on the hunt and that they will do anything to suppress our voice even when it goes against our constitution," he continued.

Lusimbo left the Pride event for an interview with a German media outlet 15 minutes before the raid occurred. He had just started the interview when the news hit that there was trouble unfolding at Uganda Pride. He conducted the interview while racing back to the nightclub on a motorbike. He then spent the early morning hours calling advocates, attorneys, organizations, and the U.S. ambassador to Uganda to help get people released who had been arrested.

He said he was concerned about the safety of the activists who were being beaten by the police at the police station and at the nightclub, where some members of the community were being held. Lusimbo was relieved that they weren't held overnight. If they were, they potentially faced severe beatings and rape by other inmates and possibly authorities, he said.

Within hours following the release of fellow SMUG leaders Frank Mugisha and Pepe Julian Onziema, Lusimbo searched and found the gay man who allegedly jumped from the building when the raid happened. (Activists are withholding his identity.) He broke two vertebrae. They found the injured man unattended in a hospital, lying on a bed with no mattress in a pool of blood. Shielding him to protect his privacy from the media and authorities, they took him to a private hospital where he's received surgery and he has been recovering.

"It was a clear indication that there is a lot that we have to do," said Lusimbo. "I don't want anyone to ever go through that again. If we can avoid it we should as much as possible. [It's] not a scene that you want to wake up to. You don't want to relive that moment again."

That's why it's imperative that Ugandan LGBT activists remain vigilant against the hate, he said. Attempts to revive the Anti-Homosexuality Act would amend the country's current penal code that already has a clause criminalizing homosexuality, making it punishable up to 10 years in prison.

Currently, evangelical Christians who are continuing to push the anti-gay agenda are attacking comprehensive sex education, stating that the educational materials promote homosexuality, said Lusimbo.

"It really shows this kind of network that continues to push for homophobia as much as they can," he said.



In spite of the challenges he's faced in Uganda �" including leaving twice to protect his life �" Lusimbo continues to return to his homeland to fight for people's rights.

"Uganda is very beautiful and I want to be here as much as I can always," said Lusimbo.

"Regardless of these challenges I always feel that someday something is going to change," he said, talking about the warmth of the people and the beauty of the land. "The reason why I speak out, it's not just because I want us as a community to be free or liberated. I want us as a nation to be untied to work together as a team as opposed to segregating different members of the society just because of who they choose to love."

The bottom line is that LGBT Ugandans are holding a strong front against the hate in a difficult and dangerous environment, he said.

"The LGBT community in Uganda continues to be resilient and fight back," said Lusimbo. "They have not been discouraged."

Lusimbo will be joined by event co-hosts Cotter of the Rainbow World Fund, and Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Also on hand will be LGBT activist and Names Project founder Cleve Jones and other community leaders.

"From Uganda With Love" takes place from 7:30 to 9 p.m. at the GLBT History Museum, 4127 18th Street. Admission is free. RSVP at For more information, call (415) 621-1107.


To read SMUG's report, visit


Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at Skype: heather.cassell, or [email protected].


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