On December 20th, the Ugandan Parliament approved a controversial anti-gay bill mandating lengthly prison sentences for those who engage in same-sex sexual relations, according to the New York Times. Uganda's New Vision reports that President Museveni plans to read the bill before signing it. “I will first go through it. If I find that it is right I will sign but if I find that it is not right I will send it back to Parliament”, he said.
According to the Ugandan Parliament website*, the bill mandates a 14-year prison sentence for "the offence of homosexuality" and life imprisonment for "aggravated homosexuality". While less harsh than an earlier version mandating capital punishment for "aggravated homosexuality", the current bill is still draconian.
The bill triggered international outrage when it was introduced after American Religious Right figures engaged in anti-gay activism in Uganda. In 2009, several American Religious Right activists, including Scott Lively and a board member of the now-defunct Exodus International, spoke at a homophobic conference in Kampala. Later, Lou Engle praised Uganda's "righteousness" regarding the bill at TheCall Uganda rally, according to the New York Times, although his ministry issued a statement stressing that it would not promote the bill. The role of American Religious Right figures in fomenting homophobia in Uganda has been well-documented Jeff Sharlet's "Dangerous Liaisons" article, Box Turtle Bulletin's "Slouching Toward Kampala" series, and documentaries such as Missionaries of Hate, Gospel of Intolerance, and God Loves Uganda.
The language surrounding the bill should sound familiar to anyone who has been observing global anti-LGBTQ activism. The parliament website states that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill seeks to prohibit recognition of same-sex sexual relations by NGOs and public institutions, so as to "protect the traditional family by prohibiting any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex". The Committee on Legal and Parliamentary Affairs described the bill as an effort at "strengthening the nation’s capacity to deal with emerging internal and external threats to the traditional heterosexual family." The Committee framed the bill as a means of protecting Ugandan children from sexual abuse (an assumption rooted in toxic stereotypes of LGBTQ persons as predators).
Ugandan MP Benson Obua Ogwal spoke warmly of the bill as it progressed through parliament. “Ugandans have been anxiously waiting for this Bill. This day will be good day for all Ugandans,” he said, according to the parliament website.
Thankfully, some Ugandan MPs have criticized the bill. In a minority report, MPs Sam Otada and Fox Odoi rejected the bill as invasive. "What two consenting adults do in the privacy of their bedroom should not be the business of this Parliament. It is not right to have the state allowed in the bedrooms of people," they said, according to the parliament website.
Horrified LGBTQ rights supporters in Uganda quickly spoke out. Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), an Ugandan LGBTQ rights organization, was appalled at the parliament's decision. In a statement shared at Box Turtle Bulletin, SMUG condemned the bill and the "haphazard manner" in which the Ugandan parliament passed it. The SMUG statement warned that should President Yoweri Museveni sign the bill into law, the bill would be a severe blow to LGBTQ human rights, HIV/AIDS treatment efforts, and the family unit.
“Today will go down in history as the worst day for LGBTI identifying persons and human rights in general. The passing of the bill has caused significant panic even before its assented," said SMUG Legal/Human Rights Officer Mr. Mawadri.
Pink News reports that Edwin Sesange of the African LGBTI Out & Proud Diamond Group has called on President Museveni to reject the anti-gay bill as well.
"We know that President Museveni has always championed good causes like the fight against HIV and AIDS, the struggle for women equality, regional peace, and has always endeavored to protect the rights of the minorities like the squatters.
The president accepts that LGBTI people exist in Uganda and have always existed; therefore legislating against their existence will only incite violence towards them.
President Museveni prides himself as a liberator and a protector of all Ugandans. This bill however is not liberating and neither protects any individual.
We are calling on the President of Uganda not to sign this bill into law.”
Christopher Ssenyonjo, a former Anglican bishop in Uganda, told Religion News Service that Ugandans' support for the anti-gay bill is rooted in misunderstandings about LGBTQ people. “People here don’t understand what homosexuality is,” Ssenyonjo said. “If they did, I don’t think they would have allowed this law.”
The world now waits to see what President Museveni will do. If he signs the bill into law, it will be a catastrophe for LGBTQ rights in Uganda. The country finds itself in a similar situation as Nigeria, where another anti-gay bill has been approved by parliament and awaits President Jonathan's signature. Uganda and Nigeria have come to represent the precarious state of LGBTQ people in Africa, where multiple countries have anti-LGBTQ laws and the struggle for LGBTQ rights continues.
If Uganda's anti-gay bill becomes law, the global community must demand accountability not only from Uganda's lawmakers, but from the American Religious Right figures who helped foment homophobia there. The anti-gay bill is but one example of what is at stake in the struggle against fundamentalism, both here and across the globe.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
What Would J.T. Do?: Uganda Passes Massive Anti-Gay Bill
Mother Jones: The Love That Dares
Warren Throckmorton: Uganda’s President May Not Sign Anti-Homosexuality Bill; Ssempa Involved in Stealth Plan to Pass Bill
Gay Star News: Ugandan activist ‘worried for supporters’ facing life in jail in gay crackdown