Dr Paul Semugoma

Dr Paul Semugoma, the Ugandan gay activist who was embroiled in an immigration drama at O.R. Tambo airport in February, is to receive the Elizabeth Taylor Human Rights Award.

The award is in recognition of his work as a leader and advocate for human rights in the field of HIV/AIDS.

Semugoma came out as gay in a rousing speech at the last International AIDS Conference in Washington DC in 2012. Next week, he will be honoured with the award at the follow up 2014 AIDS conference in Melbourne, Australia.

Earlier this year, Semugoma who now lives in South Africa, came close to being deported back to Uganda in a stand-off at the Johannesburg airport. The incident made international headlines.

It was only thanks to the intervention of the former Minister of Home Affairs Naledi Pandor that he was allowed to reunite with his boyfriend and stay in the country.

Semugoma is currently working for Anova’s Health4Men project in South Africa. On hearing the news of the award, Health4Men Programme Manager Glenn de Swardt commented: “We’re thrilled at Paul’s award. Besides this being a reflection on Paul’s standing within the international HIV fraternity, it addresses the increasing criminalisation and human rights abuses against men who have sex with men (MSM) in several African states.

“In recognising Paul’s accomplishments, the Elizabeth Taylor Human Rights Award committee has also acknowledged the need to ensure uninterrupted access to health services by MSM throughout Africa,” he said.

A physician from Uganda, Semugoma has been at the forefront of efforts to address gaps in HIV prevention, care, and treatment among gay men and other men who have sex with men in Africa.


Dr Semugoma (right) and his happy partner Brian Kanyemba after being released from immigration detention in February

In 2009, when the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced in the Ugandan Parliament, he became a vocal opponent of the bill and testified before Parliament on the potential adverse effects of the proposed legislation on public health, especially among gay men and other MSM.

“In South Africa, there is still a lot of stigma and discrimination towards gay men, but our patients know they can talk to their doctor about their experiences,” said Semugoma in a recent interview with amFAR.

“We are given space where we can access medicines and care and protect our partners. All the advances happening in HIV in the world are accessible here at home. It gives me a belief that something like that can happen even in a country like Uganda. Uganda is not a good place to be as a gay person, but I am a gay African, and I will not let them take that identity away from me,” he explained.

Semugoma will be presented with the award at the opening session of the AIDS Conference on Sunday.

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