An extraordinary ally

Just a couple of days ago, I learned that former President Clinton will be presenting his “Clinton Global Citizen Awards” this evening, September 24. The award ceremony follows a day-long conference on global issues attended by a glittering international array of presidents, corporate CEOs, leaders of large foundations, and high-profile international non-governmental organizations.

Because my invitation appears to have – once again – been lost in the mail, I won’t be there in New York tonight. But I’d like to be. And not just to listen and learn from a stellar gathering of leaders (though that would be a treat).

No, I’d like to be there because among those whom President Clinton will recognize tonight is Bishop Christopher Sengonjo, a retired Anglican bishop – and an extraordinarily brave ally to LGBT people in his native Uganda.

Uganda, as you may well know, is a place where LGBT people could use a whole lot more allies. LGBT people there live in a climate of fear that’s actively fostered by the country’s government, the popular media, and much of its religious establishment. Virulently anti-gay legislation – among other provisions, allowing the death penalty for “repeat offenders” – has been introduced once more in its parliament. Activists take extreme risks, and are regularly threatened and, in the case of the heroic David Kato, brutally murdered for speaking out.

Bishop Christopher (as he’s known) did us the honor of coming by Horizons’ office this past June. What I remember best from his visit was his calm demeanor, that of a man who’s seen and thought and reflected a great deal. But just beneath that lay a fierce resolve to do right, and to do it no matter the personal consequences might be.

He’d come to town for the screening of the searing documentary Call Me Kuchu at the annual Frameline film festival. The film tells the story of several LGBT activists in Uganda – including David Kato – and their fight for equality. (It received the longest and loudest ovation I’ve ever heard at the Castro Theatre – it’s tremendously powerful. See for screenings and other information.)

The Bishop is truly an extraordinary ally. As an Anglican bishop, he began to speak up for LGBT people more than a decade ago, telling both LGBT and non-LGBT individuals and congregations that LGBT people are as loved by God as anyone else. For this simple preaching, he was pushed out of the church and stripped of his pension.

But that hasn’t made him go silent. Far from it. He continues his activist work in Uganda and now regularly goes on speaking tours outside the country to raise awareness of – and funds for – the struggle in Uganda.

Many of us know the pain caused by hostility from the communities of faith in which we were raised, or in which we seek a spiritual home. There’s reason that LGBT charitable giving to religious causes trails far behind that of non-LGBT people. And while the Ugandan crisis plays out in a largely Christian context, Christianity, of course, has no religious monopoly on exclusion and homophobia.

The Bishop has been recognized a number of times, including as a Grand Marshal of the Pride Parade here in San Francisco. But there is something very exciting about his being among those recognized by our most popular and high-profile former President in the company of such a powerhouse crowd. Let’s hope it shines more light on the daily struggles of our brothers and sisters in Uganda.