Uganda official threatens planned interfaith conference

Simon Lokodo

Simon Lokodo, Uganda ethics minister

Ugandan ethics minister Simon Lokodo has threatened legal action against a proposed conference in Uganda at which religious and political leaders would discuss the effects of the country’s laws against homosexuality.

Plans for the Uganda conference sprang from a similar gathering in October in New York. That Compass to Compassion meeting, attended by about 90 gay and straight people, included clergy from the Roman Catholic Church and other denominations, representatives of the U.S. government, the media, and the Institute for Religion and Democracy, a conservative Christian think tank.

The focus was on “the effects of prohibitive laws that limit our ability to be pastors, physicians and good fellow citizens to one another,” said conference organizer the Rev. Canon Albert Ogle in a letter to Lokodo inviting him to a similar conference proposed in Kampala for Ugandan leaders.

Albert Ogle

The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle

Ogle, who is president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, wrote to Lokodo, “I hope your Honour would consider attending or even co-chairing the proposed conference that would bring together religious and political leaders with NGO’s, World Bank and other concerned organizations.”

He added that “a small gathering of Ugandan leaders under the auspices of your Ministry and other religious leaders for dialogue and shared values might be a helpful next step. I know the Ugandan Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and association, so I hope the Ugandans wishing to discuss the theological issues would have your support and protection and encouragement.”

Lokodo rejected the invitation and said he would take action against such a conference. He wrote:

“As the custodian of moral values and principles of my country i will give no slumber to my eyes in the fight against LGBT advocates. Please if you have already forgotten, the laws and cultures of Uganda criminalize homosexuality and lesbianism and are punishable by life imprisonment and death in cases of aggravated cases say abusing minorities or recruiting inferiors into the perversion.

“I advise you not to make a mistake of staging the said conference anywhere in Uganda. I can assure you you will face the arm of the law.”

In February, Lokodo and police broke up a gay rights workshop in Entebbe that he declared an “illegal assembly.”

In March, gay rights activists sued Lokodo. They said his disruption of the workshop violated their constitutionally guaranteed freedom of assembly.

Danie Herbert, program coordinator of the St. Paul’s Foundation, urged Lokodo to reconsider his opposition to the proposed conference. She wrote to him:

“It remains your responsibility as government to protect and ensure the welfare of all citizens of Uganda regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The threats you have started giving to our organizers of the conference will only cause chaos. Leave the conference to go on and, as a leader of the people and Representative of the government, you should embrace all the citizens of Uganda and listen to all. The conference would be a great opportunity for you and other government officials to learn how religion relates to issues of LGBT people.”

Ogle said the United Nations Development Program “is also interested in having a small conference to share insights and experience for lawmakers and religious leaders. This suggestion had the support of the conference [in New York] and we wanted to share Bishop Christopher’s Senyonjo’s experience and leadership among you and hope you might agree to meet with him and [Ugandan pastor] Rev. Mark Kayimbe.”

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo

Senyonjo is the founder of the St. Paul’s Reconciliation and Equality Center and sponsor of the LGBTQ/Straight Alliance in Kampala.

Ogle added:

We are not in favor of forcing the Ugandan people or parliament to legislate for something which is morally and ethically repugnant to them. We are also not in favor of the recent British strategy to withhold aid because of alleged violations of human rights. However well-intentioned, to withhold existing aid in the present world recession is itself a cause for more suffering when the intent was clearly to relieve the suffering of one segment of the population. So, under the Constitutional guarantees of freedom of association and expression, we would like to be in dialogue with you and others in Uganda on how we might proceed constructively and creatively with this conversation. We are committed to assisting you in your ethical and moral responsibility to help the Ugandan people make good and rational decisions without the high level of misinformation that is coming from an extremist element within your country and supported by a few people in the USA.

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