UGANDA DECLARATION — A COALITION FOR LIFE AND LIBERTY
On May 20, 2010, two men in Malawi were sentenced to a maximum prison term of 14 years for announcing their engagement to each other. (Later news reports have identified one of the individuals as a transgender woman). A coalition of faith leaders who signed the “Uganda Declaration,” condemned the prison sentences in Malawi and called on political and religious leaders to stop all state-sponsored attacks on the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
“We speak out against this action as faith leaders in traditions with relationships that span the globe. In that global network are people of faith with widely varying opinions and cultural understanding of family and human sexuality. Yet, when we talk together, overwhelmingly, people of faith agree that every person has the right to life and liberty, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Today, we speak out in defense of life and liberty—basic human rights—for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people everywhere. We protest the imprisonment of this couple and choose this moment to join our voices to right this wrong, and to take actions that will eliminate all laws that allow punishment of people for their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Malawi is predominantly a Christian population, as is Uganda, where a death penalty bill was proposed as punishment for gay people. Such state-sponsored persecution goes against both human decency and core faith values of love of neighbor. But, no matter what the religious tradition or social setting, persecution of minorities must be challenged by all people of good will.
“We call on all people to speak out against this violence and we do so today because if we are silent, people will continue to sit in prison or hang from gallows, simply because of who they love or how they express their gender identity.
“We speak because we know that if we are silent, we are complicit.”
THE UGANDA DECLARATION
Launched May 17, 2010, International Day Against Homophobia
Introduction and Background
In the very first years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic across the world, people with AIDS were shunned by their families, religions and communities. It wasn't long, however, before faith communities began to reach out to support orphans, provide medical care, engage in grief ministries and more. Stigma and discrimination of HIV positive people declined and grassroots leaders and experts emerged in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas inspiring millions to work for prevention. Whole cultures shifted and paired traditional music, storytelling and healing models with medical models to stem the spread of HIV.
Today, this progress is being threatened by increasing homophobia in the name of religion. When religion is quick to judge, condemn and reject rather than love, inspire and bless, it becomes a damning force rather than a life giving one.
Uganda's harsh "anti-homosexuality” bill originally proposed the execution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and became a widely publicized example of state sanctioned persecution of people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill included penalties for giving information about homosexuality, even life-saving HIV/AIDS prevention information. Pro-LGBT leaders from Uganda and across the world spoke out and pushed Uganda’s parliament to reconsider their actions.
But, even if this draconian bill is defeated or modified, life imprisonment is already a punishment for LGBT people under Ugandan law. Sexual minorities there have few rights and live in constant fear. Uganda is not alone in its criminalization of LGBT people. Seven countries allow the death penalty for homosexuality and 73 more have laws that make people criminals because of who they love or who they are. These laws combined with religious persecution based on sexual orientation or gender identity are the backdrop for so much violence. For example:
With the increase of religiously based homophobia and violence against gay people, the infection rate around HIV/AIDS also increases. People are afraid to be identified, to get tested, and to be treated.
Uganda's culture, like many the world over, is a faith-based one. Its population is over 40% Catholic and 35% Anglican. Core Christian values of love of neighbor and welcome of strangers are part and parcel of the culture's fabric and do not allow for the persecution of LGBT people. All religions hold human beings as worthy of respect.
And, despite consistent condemnation of LGBT people, even Vatican officials could not rationalize the imprisonment or execution of LGBT people and publicly announced its support for the decriminalization of homosexuality in 2008 and 2009. Tragically, no further statements or actions have followed—in Uganda or anywhere. Protestant national and international groups also have policies in support basic human rights for all people. Because of fear of controversy, too often leaders in denominations and faith traditions do not speak out.
Today, we speak out because 80 countries criminalize people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity-and 7 of those countries include the death penalty. Public law must protect the vulnerable and stop the misuse of power in society, no matter its basis or source. People must not be imprisoned or executed because of who they love or their gender expression.
The Uganda Declaration:
As faith leaders from many traditions, we, the undersigned, commit ourselves to:
Sign the Uganda Declaration
I am signing the "Uganda Declaration" because as a person of faith, I believe it is time to apply human rights to everyone and work to eliminate imprisonment, execution and persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people.