Frank Mugisha. (Pic: Sara Slawnik)

Frank Mugisha, a Ugandan LGBTI activist has been selected to receive the prestigious 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.

Mugisha is the Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a leading LGBTI activists group in the county.

“Frank Mugisha’s unbending advocacy for gay rights in Uganda in the face of deep-rooted homophobia is a testament to the indomitability of the human spirit,” said RFK Human Rights Award Judge, Dean Makau Mutua, Professor of Law and Dean of the University at Buffalo Law School.

Ugandans have faced a wave of homophobia in recent years, with both religious and political leaders targeting the LGBTI community.

While homosexuality is already illegal and punishable by jail time there have been ongoing efforts to pass the notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would impose the death penalty in certain cases of convicted homosexuality.

In January, Mugisha’s colleague at SMUG, David Kato, was bludgeoned to death with a hammer in his home. It remains unclear if his murder was tied to his activism and/or sexuality.

“For me, it is about standing out and speaking in an environment where you are not sure if you will survive the next day; it is this fear that makes me strong, to work hard and fight on to see a better life for LGBTI persons in Uganda,” said the 29-year-old Mugisha in response to news of his recognition.

“The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award gives me courage and hope that my work, which may not be accepted and recognised in my own country, is making a change with this international visibility.”

Mugisha will be presented with the award by Mrs. Robert F. Kennedy and Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a ceremony on November 10th in Washington, D.C.

“Frank Mugisha has fought courageously in support of the rights of sexual minorities in Uganda, despite death threats and even exile,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.

“He has become a leading advocate for sexual minorities in a country where they are persecuted, jailed, and their lives destroyed.”

Mugisha began advocating for LGBTI rights and HIV/AIDS awareness as a university student in 2004. After being targeted for arrest, he was smuggled out of the country to seek safety in exile, later returning to Uganda to resume his work.

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