By Chastity Dillard, The Daily Iowan
The Rev. Mark Kiyimba was forced to leave his Ugandan home in March for his safety.
The gay-rights activist, now in the United States, stood before a captivated church crowd Sunday morning to discuss Uganda’s gay rights issues.
Though he’s not gay himself, Kiyimba has traveled from church to church across the United States for the last 12 weeks, hoping to raise awareness of a Ugandan anti-homosexuality legislation.
“[The bill] is ugly and inhuman,” Kiyimba said during the service at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City, 10 S. Gilbert St.
Under the bill, homosexuality — which is already a criminal offense in Uganda — would be punishable by death for those considered serial offenders, suspected of “aggravated homosexuality” and are HIV-positive, or involved with sex acts with minors.
Kiyimba is scheduled to speak again at 6:30 p.m. today in the Iowa City Public Library Meeting Room A. The event is free and open the the public.
Under huge international scrutiny, the Ugandan Parliament adjourned in May without passing the bill.
But University of Iowa religious-studies and history Professor Raymond Mentzer said the Ugandan reaction isn’t a surprise, given the prominence of Christianity in the area.
“People know you for four square miles. When you out a young man of 18 years, you have destroyed his life.”
“It’s often the case that in the developing world or even in those places where there are new Christian roots, those Christians tend to be more conservative,” he said. “It is important that they demonstrate the value of their position, and anything that might threaten that must be avoided.”
Even so, Kiyimba, like other activists, cited influences from American evangelists such as Lou Engle, who traveled to Uganda in 2010 and aggravated the homosexuality taboo, causing mass support for the bill.
“The people of Uganda don’t need any more discrimination,” Kiyimba said, noting that the tribal differences and colonialism had created enough.
“Now, [Uganda] is a society that is totally homophobic,” he said. “People know you for four square miles. When you out a young man of 18 years, you have destroyed his life.”
Kiyimba began as a “mainstream minister” before he left to create the first Unitarian Universalist Church in Kampala, Uganda, in 2004.
“I became a hypocrite with myself,” he said, and he realized he didn’t believe all that he preached. “I decided with my knowledge … I wanted to be a real person with myself.”
With the new church, he also created the New Life School for children who have lost parents to HIV or AIDS and an orphanage for children living with HIV.
The minister started the church because he came to the conclusion that there are many different sexualities.
“All men or women, rich or poor, black or white, gay or lesbian should have a place in our church,” Kiyimba said.
For the time being, Kiyimba’s work will be outside of Uganda.
“I had threats … because of the work I do. I chose to leave,” he said, with family in mind.
Kelly O’Berry, a Unitarian-Universalist member, said she had no idea the discrimination in Uganda was this bad.
“I’m appalled that hate from our country is being exported to another,” she said. “I’m impressed with his bravery to take a look at his own opinions and reconsider.”