Congratulations are in order for Frank Mugisha, the renowned Ugandan LGBTI activist. He’s been named one of Fortune magazine’s World’s 50 Greatest Leaders of 2017.
The prestigious annual list, now in its fifth year, aims to highlight those who “are transforming the world and inspiring others to do the same”.
It includes the likes of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Pope Francis, philanthropist Melinda Gates, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Mugisha, 37, was recognised by the magazine for his work in advancing the rights of LGBTI people in one of the planet’s most homophobic countries.
“It is challenging enough to be a member of the LGBT community in the West. Imagine functioning in a society that still criminalises—and even debates the death penalty for—homosexual activity,” wrote Fortune. “That is the world facing Frank Mugisha.”
While citing his role in defeating Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, the magazine noted that, “more battles lie ahead for a leader of a community that faces open hostility”.
Born in Kampala, Mugisha was raised in a strict Catholic family. He first came out to his brother at the age of 14. At university he founded Icebreakers Uganda, a support network for LGBTI Ugandans.
Mugisha is now the Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), an umbrella organisation of various groups, including Icebreakers.
In addition to his latest accolade from Fortune, Mugisha has been recognised by the UN Secretary General and numerous publications around the world. In 2011, he received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.
Mugisha is involved in the ongoing lawsuit against American evangelist Scott Lively for his role in perpetuating hatred against LGBT people in Uganda.
Mugisha has actively fought against the widespread belief in his homeland (and in many other parts of Africa) that homosexuality is some kind of Western phenomenon imposed onto the continent.
“I am a gay man. I am also Ugandan. There is nothing un-African about me,” he wrote in The Guardian in 2014.
“Uganda is where I was born, grew up and call my home. It is also a country in which I have become little more than an unapprehended criminal because of whom I love. I want my fellow Ugandans to understand that homosexuality is not a western import and our friends in the developed world to recognise that the current trend of homophobia is.”
Under colonial-era legislation criminalising gay sex, the courts in Uganda may sentence anyone found guilty of homosexuality to life in prison.
In 2014, President Museveni signed Uganda’s draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill – one of the harshest such laws in the world – despite international condemnation. It was later overturned by the courts following a suit by activists, including Mugisha.