UC Global Health Day 2024 Closing Plenary Speaker Dr. Frank Mugisha’s Tireless Fight for LGBTQ+ Rights

May 30, 2024
Frank Mugisha headshot
Photo of Frank Mugisha (Photo Credit: TIME)

We were honored to have Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), human rights champion, and anti-violence advocate, Frank Mugisha, PhD, as our Closing Plenary Speaker at UC Global Health Day gathering at UCLA on March 7th, 2024. Recently, Dr. Mugisha was recognized as one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People. He has risked a great deal in his life in the name of human rights. Yet, as Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote about him for TIME, “In the face of death threats and intimidation, of lost jobs and lost friends, and as one of the few out gay people in Uganda, Frank Mugisha has never backed down from fighting for LGBTQI+ rights.”

Clinton wrote about Mugisha’s tireless fight for TIME’s 100 Most Influential People issue. For most of his life, Mugisha has fought for LGBTQIA+ people in Uganda and beyond. He founded Icebreakers Uganda as a college student, advocating for Ugandan LGBTQIA+ young people. For decades since he has fought to change the stigma and most recently has worked to challenge Uganda’s draconian anti-gay law where people charged with “aggravated homosexuality” could be sentenced to death. Mugisha’s courage and tenacity has earned him not only a spot on the TIME 100 list, but also the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination.

Mugisha has observed the drastic shift in landscape for the LGBTQIA+ community as the government seeks to put in place even more aggressive and harmful laws to punish not only LGBTQIA+ people, but the people and clinics who serve and treat LGBTQIA+ people’s health issues. The shift comes from the tone of Ugandan political leaders accusing and dismissing “The West” of bringing acceptance and visibility of LGBTQIA+ people to Africa. There is also evidence that the decrease in acceptance and tolerance actually comes from The West, particularly anti-LGBTQIA+ evangelical groups bringing culture wars from The West to places like Uganda. However the shift is taking place, it’s making Uganda much less safe for LGBTQIA+ people today than it was when Mugisha was young. “I came out at the age of 14 in my country, and during that time as a young boy, I was never worried of getting arrested, I was never worried about getting killed, I was never worried about getting beaten,” Mugisha said to the audience. “Right now, a young 14-year-old boy in my country would be worried about coming out, either they will think they will be arrested or they could get killed. The narrative has shifted, it is very volatile and extremely difficult to live in Uganda and be LGBTQIA+.” And for this reason, Mugisha persists as a leader in the LGBTQIA+ movement in Uganda and worldwide. He inspired us with his determination and courage.

The solution, says Mugisha, is international solidarity. “Starting a movement, we need to work together as a collective because LGBTQIA+ rights are under attack and reproductive health and rights are under attack globally,” he said. It is coming together in solidarity and seeing these issues as intertwined globally that must drive us.

In honor of Pride Month, we are excited to celebrate Frank Mugisha’s accomplishments and recommit ourselves to the global movement and fight for LGBTQIA+ rights.

You can listen to Frank Mugisha’s full presentation here and you can read Hillary Rodham Clinton’s words about him in TIME here.