African gays make simple request to pope: Preach tolerance

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Pope Francis On Gays

NAIROBI/KAMPALA (Reuters) -- African gays who often face persecution in the streets and sometimes prosecution in courts have a simple plea for Pope Francis ahead of his first visit to the continent: bring a message of tolerance even if you will not bless our sexuality.

Francis travels to Kenya and Uganda, where many conservative Christians bristle at the idea of the West forcing its morality on them, especially when it comes to gays and lesbians. He also visits conflict-torn Central African Republic on a tour that starts on Nov. 25.

While Francis has not changed Catholic dogma on homosexuality and has reaffirmed the church's opposition to same-sex marriage, his more inclusive approach has cheered many gay Catholics while annoying conservatives.

"I would like the Pope to at least make people know that being LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) is not a curse," said Jackson Mukasa, 20, a Ugandan in Kampala who was imprisoned last year on suspicion of committing homosexual acts, before charges were dropped for lack of evidence.

Homosexuality or the act of gay sex is outlawed in most of Africa's 54 states. South Africa is the only African nation that permits gay or lesbian marriage. The Catholic church holds that being gay is not a sin but homosexual acts are.

For more on Pope Francis, scroll through the gallery below:

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Pope's visit to the U.S. (Washington DC, New York, Philadelphia)
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African gays make simple request to pope: Preach tolerance
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Mark Perez wears a button bearing the image of Pope Francis while waiting for him to arrive for a visit to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington September 24, 2015, in Washington, DC. The charity serves dinner to about 300 homeless people daily at the site, and it will serve a meal during the pope's visit. (Photo by David Goldman-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NJ - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis visits Our Lady Queen of Angels School September 25, 2015 in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York City. The pope is in New York on a two-day visit carrying out a number of engagements, including a papal motorcade through Central Park and celebrating Mass in Madison Square Garden. (Photo by Kena Betancur-Pool/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - SEPTEMBER 26: Pope Francis waves to the crowd gathered on the route to the Festival of Families along Benjamin Franklin Parkway on September 26, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Pope is concluding his U.S. tour by spending two days in Philadelphia, having visited Washington D.C. and New York City. (Photo by Eric Thayer-Pool/Getty Images)
WYNNEWOOD, PA - SEPTEMBER 27: Pope Francis greets seminarians as he walks the loggia to his address to the Bishops at St. Martin of Tours Chapel at Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary, September 27, 2015 in Wynnewwod, Pennsylvania. After visiting Washington and New York City, Pope Francis concludes his tour of the U.S. with events in Philadelphia on Saturday and Sunday. ((Photo by Tom Gralish-Pool/Getty Images)
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Uganda, which is about 40 percent Catholic, has been seen as a bastion of anti-gay sentiment since 2013, when it sought to toughen penalties, with some lawmakers pushing for the death penalty or life in prison for some actions involving gay sex.

The law was overturned on procedural grounds, but not before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry compared it to anti-Semitic legislation in Nazi Germany. Other Western donors were outraged.

Frank Mugisha, director of Sexual Minorities Uganda and one of the country's most outspoken advocates for gay rights, said he hoped the Pope would bring a message that gays and lesbians should be "treated like any other children of God."

"If he starts talking about rights, then Ugandans are going to be very defensive," said Mugisha, a Catholic. "But I would think if the Pope was here and talking about love, compassion and equality for everyone, Ugandans will listen."

A government spokesman, Shaban Bantariza, said: "We hope the Pope's message will not diverge from the core beliefs of Ugandans."

"We don't view homosexuality as a normal lifestyle but also we have chosen not to persecute those who have fallen victim to it," he said.

While gays feel ostracized by the Catholic church's teachings, Africa's evangelical protestant preachers are often among the most strident opponents of homosexuality.

"LOVE EVERYONE"

The lightning progress of gay rights in much of America and Europe, where same-sex couples can marry and adopt children, has encouraged gay Africans but hardened attitudes of those who object to the idea on religious grounds.

U.S. President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, likened discrimination against gays to racism, speaking during a visit to Kenya, where about a third of the population is Catholic.

They welcomed Francis' comment early in his papacy that: "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?"

Although many Kenyan Christians are deeply conservative, the country has been comparatively tolerant and now hosts about 500 gay refugees from neighboring Uganda. Kenyan law calls for jailing those involved in homosexual acts but rarely prosecutes.

David Kuria, a well-known Kenyan gay rights activist, did not hesitate when asked about the message he would give to the pope ahead of the visit.

Recalling that his mother, a devout Catholic, was kicked out of her village prayer group because she had raised a gay son, he said he would say that parents of gays should not be victimized or made to "doubt themselves as parents or as Christians".

"I hope the Pope would say, 'Love everyone,' especially those who are still coming to church."

To see exclusive photos of the Pope in the U.S., scroll through the gallery below:

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Pope Francis: Mass at Madison Square Garden
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African gays make simple request to pope: Preach tolerance
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Participants listen to Pope Francis as he celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. The Pope ends his New York visit after a day of activities with the mass at Madison Square Garden and leaves for Philadelphia in the morning. (Photo by Alejandra Villa - Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: The clergy and Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. The Pope ends his New York visit after a day of activities with the mass at Madison Square Garden and leaves for Philadelphia in the morning. (Photo by Alejandra Villa - Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis celebrating Mass Madison Square Garden September 25, 2015 in New York. AFP PHOTO/DON EMMERT (Photo credit should read DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. The pope is visiting New York City during a six-day tour of the United States, that included a stop in Washington D.C. and includes one in Philadelphia. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
Pope Francis arrives to lead mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. The pope is visiting New York City during a six-day tour of the United States, that included a stop in Washington D.C. and includes one in Philadelphia. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis reads his homily while celebrating Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis is visiting New York City during a six-day tour of the United States, with stops in Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Julie Jacobson-Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis arrives at Madison Square Garden to celebrate Mass on September 25, 2015 in New York City. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis reads his homily while celebrating Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis is visiting New York City during a six-day tour of the United States, with stops in Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Julie Jacobson-Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis enters Madison Square Garden to lead mass on September 25, 2015 in New York City. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis is visiting New York City during a six-day tour of the United States, with stops in Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Julie Jacobson-Pool/Getty Images)
Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis arrives to celebrate Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. The Pope is on a six-day visit to the U.S., with stops in Washington DC, New York City and Philadelphia. (Photo by Michael Appleton-Pool/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Participants watch as Pope Francis celebrates Mass at Madison Square Garden on September 25, 2015 in New York City. Pope Francis is visiting New York City during a six-day tour of the United States, with stops in Washington D.C., New York City and Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Julie Jacobson-Pool/Getty Images)
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