Frank Mugisha
2011, Uganda
Frank Mugisha

In December of 2013, Uganda’s parliament did the unthinkable: it passed a law that criminalized homosexuality; the statute carried penalties up to and including life in prison.

Frank Mugisha set to work. As the Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), Mugisha has long risked his personal safety for the cause of LGBT rights in a nation hostile to them. He faces death threats and other forms of intimidation regularly. His colleague and dear friend, David Kato, was murdered in 2011. He’s lost jobs and friends and become estranged from family, all for fighting for the human rights of LGBT people in Uganda, and for being gay himself.

With the help of lawyers from Robert F. Kennedy Human rights, Frank set about challenging the law, despite the new dangers created by the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which was having disastrous consequences, not least in making LGBT people afraid to seek medical treatment for fear of being arrested.

Frank’s courage paid off. In August of 2014, a judge overturned the law, though anti-LGBT sentiment remains high in Uganda, and the threat of more legislation persists. Frank only draws strength from adversity, however. “For me,” he says, “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.”

Reflecting on her trip to Selma, Alabama, for the 50th anniversary of the civil rights marches there, RFK Human Rights President Kerry Kennedy said, “Standing there listening to heroes like John Lewis reflect on their struggle for justice, all I could think about was Frank.”