Neal Gottlieb, founder of the Petaluma-based ice cream company Three Twins, is getting international attention after planting a rainbow flag on the tallest mountain in Uganda, protesting the country’s new law that makes homosexual acts punishable by life imprisonment.
On April 23, Gottlieb posted a picture on his personal Facebook page of himself, smiling on the snowy 16,763-foot peak next to the flag, along with a letter he penned to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, criticizing the law and daring him to take the flag down.
“I could think of no better way to really stand up and make this issue known,” he says, during an interview with Mina Kim of KQED.
Because he feared the ramifications, both for himself and the LGBT community in Uganda, Gottlieb did not share his plans with anyone before the six-day hike to the top, which he reached on April 16. The reaction has been largely positive, he says, but he has also received some unexpected criticism.
“A number of people have said that this doesn’t fit within the guidelines. And as an inexperienced activist, I wasn’t necessarily aware that there was a set of guidelines,” Gottlieb says. “But as I am learning more and more about the activism surrounding this issue, it’s very much a divided group of passionate, caring people that want to see this go away but see different ways to make this go away.”
Now that he has stepped into the world of activism, he feels a responsibility to continue fighting for gay rights in Uganda. Gottlieb is urging people to call their local representatives to pressure Uganda to change the law, and he is supporting other activists’ efforts, including Melanie Nathan’s Indiegogo campaign, which would provide money, allowing persecuted Ugandans to leave.
Margherita Peak is not the highest mountain Gottlieb has climbed, but it might be the hardest.
“It rained on us every day. We were soaking wet. We were cold,” he says. “It was really an ordeal, but it made getting to the top all the more worthwhile.”