As mentioned in a prior post, Ugandan parliament passed a draconian anti-gay bill in December 2013, which would mandate life imprisonment for same-sex sexual acts. On Friday, January 17th, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni refused to sign the bill, according to BBC News.
The Daily Monitor reports that Museveni criticized Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, a supporter of the legislation, for passing the bill without a quorum of MPs. “How can you pass law without the quorum of Parliament after it has been pointed out? What sort of Parliament is this? How can Parliament be the one to break the Constitution and the Law repeatedly?” he wrote in a December 28th letter to Parliament.
Museveni's refusal to sign the anti-gay bill should not be interpreted as evidence of a pro-LGBTQ stance, however. In a copy of President Museveni's letter posted by Warren Throckmorton, Museveni described homosexuality as an instance in which "nature goes wrong", likening it to albinism, epilepsy, and sterility. According to the Daily Monitor, Museveni referred to gays as "abnormal", rejecting the idea that non-heterosexual orientations are normal variations of human sexuality. "You cannot call an abnormality an alternative orientation. It could be that the Western societies, on account of random breeding, have generated many abnormal people,” he stated. Museveni also claimed that some people become gay or lesbian due to "sexual starvation" or for "mercenary reasons", the Daily Monitor reported. Museveni's solution involves increasing economic opportunities in his country so that Ugandans will not be tempted by financial enticements to become gay for "mercenary reasons".
Museveni, like his more hardline colleagues in Ugandan parliament, embraces false stereotypes about LGBTQ persons. He refuses to countenance homosexuality as a legitimate sexual orientation, attributing it instead to pathology, sexual frustration, or financial enticement. Museveni's attitude does not bode well for LGBTQ rights in Uganda, even if his refusal to sign the anti-gay bill was a sound decision.
LGBTQ activists have welcomed Museveni's decision while admitting that more needs to be done. According to Pink News, African LGBTI Out & Proud Diamond Group's director, Edwin Sesange, welcomed Museveni's decision but added, "we are urging him to do more by publicly declaring the anti-gay bill unlawful."
"President Museveni should come out and tell the public that he doesn’t support it. He should also tell the public that he doesn’t support sections 145, 146, 148 of the penal code – which stipulates that homosexuality should be criminalised as ‘unnatural offences’.The Washington Blade reports that a delegation of U.S. lawmakers, led by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), is scheduled to meet with President Museveni in Uganda later this month. (Sen. Inhofe condemned Uganda's anti-gay bill in 2011, according to Red Dirt Report.) The delegation will reportedly address armed conflict in central Africa, although whether U.S. lawmakers will discuss the anti-gay bill is unknown. However, the Washington Blade added that the delegation rejected an offer to meet with Ugandan LGBTQ rights advocates during their visit.
He should also ask the MPs to vote against the bill when it goes back to Parliament. The President should work towards striking down both sections of the penal code in order to achieve equality and justice for the LGBT people in Uganda."
The future for LGBTQ persons in Uganda is uncertain. Will Ugandan parliament try to push the legislation through in spite of Museveni's decision? Will international pressure alter the course of the bill? What role will the Religious Right play in the bill's future, given that U.S. Religious Right leaders have encouraged homophobia in Uganda? Uganda's LGBTQ community and LGBTQ rights supporters across the globe will watch the situation closely.
UPDATE: According to a press release from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, a delegation of human rights advocates met with President Museveni today to discuss the anti-gay bill. The press release stated that Museveni pledged to reject the anti-gay bill in its current form, branding it "fascist".
Museveni reportedly plans to consult with his party and propose new legislation protecting minors from coercive sexual activity. In response, the RFK Center argued that the Ugandan government should enforce its current laws outlawing sexual abuse of minors and refrain from introducing bills that discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. (Hat tip to Box Turtle Bulletin.)
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
Reliefweb: Prosecution and persecution: Anti-gay legislation in Nigeria, Uganda endangers LGBTI refugees, too
The Bilerico Project: Uganda's Anti-Gay Bill: What the West Should Know
Anthony B. Susan: When Shaping Culture Means Shaping Hate