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Rev. Mark Kiyimba

"I found compassionate people who are willing to stand with us."

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In a world with too few heroes, Rev. Mark Kiyimba stands tall. He stands against hatred, ignorance and oppression.

BW readers first read about Kiyimba's fight against the Ugandan government's proposed anti-homosexuality legislation in September (BW, Feature, "Exporting Homophobia," Sept. 8, 2010).

Kiyimba, 36, is a minister in the Unitarian Universalist Church in Kampala, Uganda. His church runs a school for 150 orphans who lost their parents to HIV and AIDS, as well as an orphanage for 22 children infected with the virus.

A bill introduced in Uganda's parliament in 2009 would give the death penalty to any homosexual person who tests positive for HIV, and up to three years in jail for anyone who knows a gay person and does not report him or her. Kiyimba, and others, said it was not until American evangelicals intervened with Ugandan politics that the anti-gay sentiment surfaced.

Kiyimba visited Boise recently as part of a cross-country pilgrimage to talk to Americans about his nation's fight against hate.

When you were young, who inspired you?

It was my father, who I never met. He was killed by Idi Amin [Uganda's military dictator 1971-1979] simply because he opposed his regime. I never knew my father, but I love him.

What were some of your first experiences with the gay community in Kampala?

I began counseling gay people who came to me because they were struggling with their Christianity. They were told that as long as they were gay, they couldn't be a Christian.

What was your message to them?

Normally, people use scriptures to put gay people down. But I always tell them God is God. He continues to create all people with love and equality.

Did the anti-homosexuality bill escalate the ignorance?

Absolutely. Uganda has had a gay population for many, many years. There was never any real serious hostility toward gays until last year.

We've heard of a newspaper being distributed in the streets of Kampala, outing gays.

Yes. It's called the Rolling Stone.

But this is not the Rolling Stone that we know of here in the West.

No. It's totally different. This is the Uganda Rolling Stone. This is being put out by pastor Martin Ssempa [one of the leaders of the anti-gay movement in Uganda]. It's a paper that is outing gays. It's listing names, addresses and workplaces. And the paper says these people should be hanged. Not because they broke any laws, not because they were bad workers, but simply because they're gay.

How are your countrymen reacting to the Ugandan Rolling Stone?

This is very new. But I already know of three students from my congregation, high school boys. They were outed. And now they've been disowned by their families. They have no home. And they've been thrown out of school. I know of two other members of my church. They were working-class people. The moment they were outed, they lost their jobs.

In your sermons and conversations across the United States, what has been your message to Americans?

You as Westerners have the power to help us. We need you to speak to your evangelical ministers who have been spreading this hate speech.

How can we stop it?

You have to talk to them. They are your brothers. You can speak to your congressmen and women, and maybe they can help.

What else can the West do?

Keep in mind that there are some Ugandans who have been outed as gays, and they no longer have homes. So they have nowhere to go. I can tell you about a woman who was an editor of a newspaper in Uganda, and she was covering the anti-homosexuality bill, and she lost her job. She couldn't even stay in her home. Our church had to make arrangements with the American embassy for her to come to the U.S. She's starting over in Boston. She's safe, but how can you be happy when you've lost your home?

When you return home, what will you tell your congregation about your trip to America?

I will tell them how I found compassionate people who are willing to stand with us, and we hope they can help us quench this terrible fire.

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