We recently had the pleasure of having Rev. Pat Bumgardner, Senior Pastor from MCC New York, as a guest on our weekly ‘Aged to Perfection’ podcast. After speaking to Rev. Pat, it seemed a perfect opportunity to profile some of the people she’s worked with on the social justice frontlines and who continue to seek equality for LGBTQI and all people. Our first profile is with Victor Mukasa, a human rights defender from Uganda now living in the United States.
Victor has pursued the cause of human rights with tremendous dedication in Africa and globally. He is a founding member of several Ugandan and regional human rights groups, including Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRDN) (2005), Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG) (2002), Trans Support Initiative, Uganda (TSI-Ug) and the Pan African e-networks; African Solidarity (2006) and Trans Africa (2008).
Victor has also served as a board member of many African and international LGBT groups, including Gender DynamiX (South Africa), Behind the Mask (South Africa), Coalition of African Lesbians (Pan African), and the International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA).
He has previously worked as Advocacy Adviser for East Africa and Project Coordinator for the Human Rights Defenders Project at the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), and at the Africa Regional Program of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).
Victor was the initiator of the Nairobi Trans* Declaration 2007 and the first Pan African Transgender workshop supported by IGLHRC, from which the project Proudly Transgender and African, as well as several transgender organizations in Africa, emerged.
Victor is currently an Independent Consultant working with capacity building in support of human rights defenders, movement building and documentation of human rights violations.
MM: How closely connected are you now with what’s going on in Uganda?
VM: Even though in the diaspora, I am still Ugandan, I love and miss Uganda, I am a human rights defender and definitely still committed to the LGBTI struggle in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa. On a daily basis, I am in touch with activists and victims of human rights abuses and violations. I am still mentoring activists and playing an advisory role to several organizations on the continent. Every now and then, I am also called upon by U.S. institutions to talk about the human rights situation in Uganda. I am very closely connected.
MM: Have you returned, do you want to, and what are/would the dangers be?
I have just fled Uganda in search of safety and security in the U.S. Even though I would love to return home, I would not at this point. I fear for what could happen to me if I returned at this point. My life has been at threat since I sued the government in 2005, a case that I won in 2008. I hope to return some day. I believe that things will get better as our efforts are not going to be in vain.
MM: Are you still involved with SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda), and how important do you think the organization is to striving for improvement in the lives of Uganda’s sexual minorities?
VM: Yes I am still very involved in SMUG. SMUG is like a child to me. Being a founder member and the first leader of the network, I cannot keep away from SMUG. It happens naturally. The leaders are great and I have played a supportive role to their wonderful work. The organization’s main goal is legal and policy reform which it is doing well. Without reform in those two aspects, there is no space for LGBTI people in Uganda.
MM: What are some of the biggest differences you’ve experienced being transgender and LGBTQ outside Uganda, from the experiences of people living there?
VM: According to many here in the US, I am not trans enough! According to many I have interacted with, I will be once I have hormonal therapy. It is different in Uganda. I am trans because it is the inner sense of who I am and many around me respect that when I come out to them.
MM: Do you think progress is being made in Uganda, and what progress do you think is reasonable to hope for in the short term?
VM: There has been a lot of progress. When I started activism in 2002, things were different. Homosexuality was not a topic in spaces. There were no faces of homosexuality. Homosexuals hardly knew of their human rights. No perpetrator of violations was brought to book. Mainstream human rights organizations had nothing to do with the human rights of homosexuals and transgender people. Over the years, we have progressed; many LGBTI people are out, activism has grown, debate has been sparked off, attitudes have improved, court cases by LGBTI people have been won, inclusion of Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) in some HIV interventions has been achieved, civil society has taken on the issue of human rights for LGBTI people, and most recently, gay pride. That is progress, step by step. More is coming. I foresee some legal and policy reform in the next 4-6 years. I am positive.
MM: What’s next in the life of Victor Mukasa?
VM: Well, on the human rights front, I am still defending the basic human rights of everyone both here in the U.S. and back at home. On a personal front, I see family, higher education; growth in every aspect.