Ugandan Gay Activist Found Beheaded

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday July 6, 2010

Uganda has been in the headlines ever since a lawmaker there last year proposed legislation that would punish some gays with the death penalty. But it would seem that some in Uganda are not waiting for the bill to pass into law: a priest has vanished after delivering a sermon urging compassion for gays, and a young GLBT equality activist, who had also disappeared, has been discovered dead--his head severed from his body and thrown down a latrine.

The dismembered head of Pasikali Kashusbe, who, together with his partner--referred to only as "Abbey"--worked with GLBT equality group Integrity Uganda, was found in a latrine on a farm that reportedly belongs to the chairman of the country's electoral commission, Badru Kiggundu, reported Box Turtle Bulletin on July 5. The grisly discovery was made as searchers looked for some trace of Rev. Henry Kayizzi Nsubuga, an Anglican priest who had vanished after delivering a sermon supportive of GLBTs. Kashusbe had reportedly been a worker at the farm.

One or more suspects had been arrested before the head's discovery, according to a news report that has subsequently been posted at YouTube. The report noted that "blood stained clothing" was discovered along with the head.

Only days earlier, a sexually mutilated, headless corpse had been discovered, less than a mile from the farm. It is now thought that the corpse also belonged to Kashusbe.

Box Turtle Bulletin reported that Kashusbe disappeared during a national holiday commemorating the killing of Christian converts by King Mwanga II. The observance, called Martyrs' Day, was said by Box Turtle Bulletin to be "a particularly dangerous time for LGBT people," partly because of propaganda that King Mwanga had been a gay man.

Religion has also reportedly played a part in the proposal, by Ugandan lawmaker David Bahati, that homosexual activity--already illegal in Uganda--be punished with steeper penalties, including the death penalty in some cases. The bill also calls for severe punishment to be meted out to anyone who knows of a gay or lesbian relationship, but fails to report it to the authorities.

That bill was reportedly spurred in part by an appearance of anti-gay American evangelicals, who addressed Ugandan crowds prior to Bahati introducing the so-called "death to gays" bill. In March of 2009, several American evangelicals traveled to Uganda and presented what they called the "Seminar on Exposing the Homosexuals' Agenda." Their talks contained assorted claims about gays and the "dangers" that gays pose to society, reported the New York Times in a Jan. 3 article.

The conference was put together by the Ugandan group the Family Life Network, which purports to uphold "traditional family values." The speakers included anti-gay writer and missionary Scott Lively--author of a book that purports to tell parents how to "gay-proof" their offspring--and Don Schmierer, a board member of Exodus international, an organization dedicated to the idea that gays can be "cured" through prayer and counseling.

A third speaker was also in attendance: Caleb Lee Brundidge, who claims once to have been gay, but now to be heterosexual. Mr. Brundage heads seminars focused on "healing" gays (that is, attempting to turn them straight).

The views set out by the Americans ranged from highly dubious claims that gays can be "converted" to heterosexuality to wild, undefined assertions that a "gay agenda" was at work "to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity," as well as stereotype-based pronouncements that gay men prey on teenaged boys.

Some worry that the presence of anti-gay "missionaries" in Uganda is evidence that Africans are in danger of becoming "collateral damage" in the struggle by U.S. religious conservatives to deny gay individuals and families equal legal recognition and protections, with those denials based on the claim that homosexuality is a "choice."

But when Bahati proposed his "death to gays" bill, international pressure led to a plea by Ugandan president Yoweri Musaveni--who is also anti-gay--for Bahati to withdraw the bill. Bahati, however, refused.

Among those decrying the bill, however, were some American evangelicals. The Anglican church also came out against the bill because of its harshness, and because many of the church's leaders oppose capital punishment. An estimated two thirds of Uganda's population belong either to the Catholic or Anglican faith.

Box Turtle Bulletin noted that an anti-gay Anglican website, VirtueOnline, reported on Rev. Nsubuga's disappearance, calling Nsubuga an "Ultra-liberal," and speculating that as Bahati's bill undergoes a final round of debate in the country's parliament, "liberal American churches" would try to stop the bill from becoming law as part of a "homosexual agenda."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.