Interview with Rev. Patrick Leuben Mukajanga (SPAVOC)

The start and planning of the SERENE project has been greatly affected by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have had to postpone the first project workshop, that was supposed to take place in May 2020, and we don’t know when we will be able to reschedule it. An important part of the first workshop was for project partners to meet, get to know each other, and learn about each other’s work. As an alternative way to address that aim, we publish a series of short interviews with stakeholders. The second is with Rev. Patrick Leuben Mukajanga, of St. Paul’s Voice Centre, Uganda.

Could you please briefly introduce yourself and your organisation?

My name is Rev. Patrick Leuben Mukajanga, known by many as Mleuben Maccarthy. I was born on 2 December 1976. I am a Christian teacher and pastor in Uganda who founded St. Paul’s Voice Centre of Uganda (SPAVOC), where I also serve as executive director. For many years I have been committed to the LGBTI in struggle in Uganda, including human rights and HIV/AIDS health advocacy.

I grew up in a village setting in the Kiruhura district with family and neighbours that were supporting, but who were bound by a very concrete religious foundation that never tolerated anything against the normal African family setting. My mum (the late Naomi) was a very loving and caring mum who taught us a lot of things as we were growing up.

Amid my religious upbringing, I struggled with sexuality. I grew up with a feeling for fellow boys, which was contrary to what they expected, since all other boys used to play with girls. My friends were fellow boys, and they are the ones I enjoyed playing with up to now when I grew up. I have never enjoyed the company of girls, though I respect most of them as my sisters. I enjoyed having fun with men.

Finally, in 2004, I came out as gay, and received harsh and rude reactions from family members and straight friends, many of whom disowned me. Despite those setbacks, living my truth as an openly gay man opened many new doors, including the founding of St. Paul’s Voice Centre, which supports the Ugandan LGBTI community in 2011.

Ever since I came out of the closet, I developed much love to serve fellow community members with all my passion, and decided to dedicate my life to activism which has exposed me to many great friends both locally and globally. I was not forced to come out—I was willing to come out—but I was still waiting for the right time. After coming out, some of my gay friends and I came up together since we had much love in serving God and to offer spiritual rehabilitation to the stigmatised LGBTI members.

In the same year that I lost my beloved mother, affectionately known as Mama Naomi, I was honoured with the 2013 MAKWAN PRIZE, awarded annually by Italian-based EveryOne Group in memory of Makwan Moloudzadeh, a gay man who was hanged in Iran in 2007. The prize is given to a human rights defender who has distinguished him/herself for humanitarian work in a non-violent defence of life, or an institutional figure who has taken a tolerant public stance towards minorities, acting as an example of civility for society as a whole.

The following year, the 2014 Anti-Homosexuality bill in Uganda dramatically changed the lives of members of the LGBTI community. I still recall how terrified I was since the original (and later revised) legislation called for the death penalty, forcing many members of the community back in the closet. I wrote several petitions to leaders in Uganda and beyond, declaring the death penalty as a serious issue which needed to be fought as it was encroaching on the rights of Ugandan LGBTI people. I also helped friends find safe places in Uganda and places like the Netherlands, and provided them with food and counsel.

On Easter Sunday in 2016, I was attacked by a mob who asked why I was promoting homosexuality in Uganda. Three years earlier, I had been harassed and arrested by police while attempting to pick up money donated for my mother’s funeral.

SPAVOC runs an orphanage school in Kamwenge district

I run an orphanage school in Kamwenge district. I am a church minister with affirming Pentecostal churches, and I am a passionate LGBTI activist. I like taking care of the needy children or the orphans since it was my dream as a child, and I thank God who made my dream come true. I love my job and I thank my international allies in Europe and USA who help me in fundraising and providing scholastic materials as well as school fees for these children.

I dream about one day living in a country with total respect, dignity, liberty, equality, and freedom to all its citizens despite their religious, cultural, and sexual orientation differences, built on tolerance for those to express their individuality.

My organisation, St. Paul’s Voice Centre, is aiming, together with other organisations, national and international, to fight against LGBT discrimination in Uganda and the rest of the world. We are the voice for the voiceless and a human right defender and Christian organisation based in Uganda. We support equality, access to health care and AIDS/HIV Prevention materials and services. We are committed to supporting the Ugandan LGBTI community here and abroad by documenting need for asylum, safe haven, and equality. (For more information about SPAVOC, its vision and mission, see here.)

How do your work and interests relate do the focus of SERENE on engaging religious leaders on issues of LGBTI inclusion in East Africa?

Saint Paul’s Voice Centre works with affirming Pentecostals to provide a safe and LGBTI inclusive worship space and online forums for religious reflection and worship locally in Uganda.  We also work globally with other LGBTI affirming churches, Welcoming Congregations, and Reconciling Ministries to be in dialogue on human rights and social justice issues as called to by the gospel and our common humanity internationally.

How have you and your organisation been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak, and how do you try to continue your work?

Covid-19 Pandemic is a global challenge that requires solidarity, partnership and collaboration.

Human rights organisations may face stress in this period. SPAVOC is basically on a stand still. LGBTIQ are affected individually due to segregation: when the government is supplying food, it does not go to LGBT people’s homes, and HIV+ persons are not accessing medicine. Our little funds have been diverted to work on issues faced by our members. We all need to work together for little better tomorrow. We have shared health advisories to our members and opportunities for online worship with welcoming pastors from online ministries.

What do you hope to get out of the SERENE project, once this pandemic is over?

We hope to share experiences with, and learn from best practices of other faith-based community organisations in East Africa and also with academics worldwide.  We hope to be in fellowship with concerned humanitarians and religious leaders for a better tomorrow for the LGBTI community in Uganda and East Africa.