African gays make simple request to pope: preach tolerance

African gays make simple request to pope: preach tolerance

African homosexuals who often face persecution in the streets and sometimes prosecution in courts have issued a plea to Pope Francis, ahead of his first visit to the continent.

The pontiff is being asked to bring a message of tolerance for homosexuals.

Francis travels to Kenya and Uganda, where many conservative Christians bristle at the idea of the West forcing its morality on them, especially when it comes to gays and lesbians. He also visits conflict-torn Central African Republic on a tour that starts on November 25.

While Francis has not changed Catholic dogma on homosexuality and has reaffirmed the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage, his more inclusive approach has cheered many gay Catholics while annoying conservatives.

Jackson Mukasa, a 20-year-old Ugandan man was imprisoned last year on suspicion of committing homosexual acts, before charges were dropped for lack of evidence.

He is interested to hear what the Pope has to say during his visit.

“I’d like the Pope to sensitise people but not to go so deep in the issues of LGBT community because it might affect the Christian community because some people will maybe think that becoming a Christian is your becoming gay because as you said at first that the Pope is the biggest voice of Christianity,” he said.

Homosexuality or the act of gay sex is outlawed in most of Africa’s 54 states. South Africa is the only African nation that permits gay or lesbian marriage.

The Catholic church believes that being gay is not a sin but homosexual acts are.

“Who took me to the church is God and I know he is the one who created me like that so I cannot say that the preacher has done wrong whereby it is even in the Bible where you hear they talk about Sodom and Gomorra so from there to me, I always most of the time I do not give my ears to the preachers when they come to preach about homosexuality,” said gay man, Mwesigwa Aaron Kintu.

Uganda, which is about 40 percent Catholic, has been seen as a bastion of anti-gay sentiment since 2013, when it sought to toughen penalties, with some lawmakers pushing for the death penalty or life in prison for some actions involving gay sex.

The law was overturned on procedural grounds, but not before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry compared it to anti-Semitic legislation in Nazi Germany. Other Western donors were outraged.

Frank Mugisha, director of Sexual Minorities Uganda and one of the country’s most outspoken advocates for gay rights, said he hoped the Pope would bring a message that gays and lesbians should be “treated like any other children of God.”

“f we start talking about rights, then Ugandans are going to be very defensive and say: ‘no, we do not want someone to come from somewhere else and tell us about rights’. But I would think if the Pope was here and talking about love, compassion and equality for everyone, Ugandans will listen,” he said.

“He is very influential and the Catholic faith is one of the most staunch and also they listen to the Pope. So, a message aimed at reaching the ordinary Catholic person and changing the mind of that person to view gay and lesbian person as any other Ugandan and saying all the gay and lesbian people need is to be treated like any other children of God,” said Mugisha.

Archbishop of Gulu, John Baptist Odama said he did not expect Pope’s message to divert from the core beliefs of Ugandans and the church.

“Homosexuality is not to be promoted as a way of marriage, this is out. Neither should people be forced to carry that way of life but we encourage in the church what we call a sense of abstinence from sexuality of that nature,” said Odama.

The lightning progress of gay rights in much of America and Europe, where same-sex couples can marry and adopt children, has encouraged gay Africans but hardened attitudes of those who object to the idea on religious grounds.

U.S. President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, likened discrimination against gays to racism, speaking during a visit to Kenya, where about a third of the population is Catholic.

Francis’ ascent to the papacy in 2013, replacing the more conservative Pope Benedict, has heartened gay Africans.

They welcomed Francis’ comment early in his papacy that: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?”

Although many Kenyan Christians are deeply conservative, the country has been comparatively tolerant and now hosts about 500 gay refugees from neighbouring Uganda. Kenyan law calls for jailing those involved in homosexual acts but rarely prosecutes. (REUTERS)