BBC Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills delivered a talk on Thursday evening at St Anne’s on the dangers faced by gay men and women in Uganda.
The 38-year-old radio personality was invited by Exeter LGBTQ Society to speak to students about his 2011 documentary The World’s Worst Place to Be Gay?, which won an award from Stonewall, the UK’s largest LGB rights organisation.
The talk was held at St Anne’s after Exeter LGBTQ Society had to rearrange the venue at short notice.
Mills, who is himself gay, insisted his sexuality was “not a big deal”, saying, “I don’t really ever want it to define me.” Nevertheless, he is no less passionate about his achievement. He continued, “I would do it all again tomorrow. I am really proud of what we did out there.”
Filmed in a week in late 2010, the BBC Three documentary exposed the endemic nature of anti-gay attitudes in Uganda, where it is illegal to be homosexual.
An ongoing anti-homosexuality bill in the small African state seeks to increase the level of punishment imposed on gay citizens. It has attracted widespread international condemnation, with US President Barack Obama describing it as “odious”.
In the capital city of Kampala, Mills met gay campaigners such as Frank Mugisha, and described his futile search for pro-gay voices in the community – which are practically non-existent in Uganda’s deeply conservative social and religious culture.
Mills also met highly vocal Ugandan figures, such as anti-gay preacher Solomon Male and the proposer of the latest bill, MP David Bahati. The politician attempted to arrest Mills after an interview for the documentary. “It did feel as though we were in some film. I’ve never been that scared,” he recalled. “He told our fixer that he was going to search every hotel in Kampala, seize the tapes, and arrest us.”
On Uganda’s future, Mills was pessimistic. He was sceptical of any viewership of the documentary in the country, and noted how, shortly after filming, one gay contributor was beaten violently to death with a hammer. He commented, “It was really scary at times, and actually quite depressing, because it doesn’t look like it’s going to get better any time soon.”
He did, nonetheless, affirm that the experience left him feeling “very lucky” by comparison.
As well as the film, Mills took questions regarding his career in radio. Talking about casual homophobia in the media, Mills defended BBC colleague Chris Moyles, who was criticised for using “gay” as a derogatory term live on air in 2006. “I know Chris very well, and I know it’s a cliché thing to say, but he loves the gays,” he remarked. “I remember the press calling me that day going: ‘Your friend’s a homophobe!’ and I was like, ‘He’s not.’ But he was right to apologise.”
Audience members were very positive about Scott Mills’ appearance. Fourth year St Anne’s linguist George Hicks thought the presenter was “very well informed” and noted, “He was obviously committed to portraying the situation in Uganda accurately and sensitively.”
Second year musician Toby Huelin found the talk “insightful”, commenting, “Scott is the jewel of Radio 1 and it’s fantastic that he is using his media power to highlight the horrendous treatment of gay people in Uganda. It is shocking to think that everything he describes is happening now – in 2013.”
Hannah Smith, a second year linguist at St Anne’s, agreed. “It was very different to see him speaking in person on a very serious topic, but his passion and honesty were really inspiring,” she said. “It was great to see another side to him and hear his views on homosexuality – I’ll be listening to his innuendo bingo and other work in a different light after that.”
Exeter’s LGBT rep Adam Ward, who organised the event, stated, “Scott is deservedly praised for his fantastic radio work and his brilliant contributions to Eurovision, but listening to his insights on the serious problems confronting LGBT individuals in Uganda was particularly rewarding. I’m sure his well-attended talk will make many reflect on the wider struggle for LGBT individuals in the world and appreciate that even though more can be done, we are fortunate to live in a much more welcoming society.”