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  • Grace Condon

Anti-LGBTQ+ Legislation in Uganda

A gay Ugandan couple cover themselves with a pride flag as they pose for a photograph, March 25, 2023 [AP Photo]


By Grace Condon

The Anti-Homosexuality Act

On May 29, 2023, Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA), one of the world’s harshest anti-LGBTQ+ laws. The AHA includes the death penalty for so-called “aggravated homosexuality.” According to the AHA, aggravated homosexuality includes consensual same-sex relations between adults if an individual is a “serial offender” or has consensual sex with a person with a disability. The law also prescribes life imprisonment for same-sex acts. By August 2023, two people already faced the death penalty because they were arrested and charged with “aggravated homosexuality.”

 

Uganda is one of just 6 countries that render homosexuality a capital offense. The AHA “effectively renders existence as an LGBTQ person in Uganda impossible: it will no longer be possible for queer people to rent homes or to access affirming health care services.” This law not only targets LGBTQ+ individuals, but also those who advocate for LGBTQ+ rights.

 

“Promotion of homosexuality” carries a 20-year prison sentence, which criminalizes individuals working for non-profit organizations doing health and human rights work. In addition, Article 15 of the law includes the “duty to report acts of homosexuality.” Under Article 15, every individual in Uganda faces six months in prison for failing to report LGBTQ+ individuals to the police. Parents must report their children. Doctors must report their patients. Refugee services must report LGBTQ+  asylum seekers. The AHA has created a climate of terror among LGBTQ+ people and suspicion in their families and neighbors.


Source: OutrightInternational


International groups working to fight HIV/AIDS have stated that the AHA puts Uganda’s anti-HIV fight “in grave danger.” According to Outright International, “decades of progress in the HIV prevention sector hang in the balance, since best practices on tackling HIV by reducing stigma toward key populations, including men who have sex with men and trans people, will be illegal.” Uganda’s law threatens LGBTQ+ existence in a myriad of ways. The law has also fueled abuse against LGBTQ+ people by police, religious leaders, social services, and neighbors.

 

The Convening for Equality (CFE) coalition published a report that states that the main perpetrators of human rights abuses against LGBTQ+ peoples in 2023, including torture, rape, arrest, and eviction, were private individuals. The report states that the increase in rights abuses against LGBTQ+ peoples is a direct result of the draconian AHA law. Between January and August of 2023, 306 rights violations were documented, with only 25 being perpetrated by state officials. In contrast, in 2020 and 2021, nearly 70% of documented rights violations were perpetrated by state officials. Mob-aided arrests have increased, “because AHA has put LGBTQ+ persons on the spot as persons of interest, and the public seems to be the custodians of enforcing the witch hunt.”


History of Homophobia and Imperialism in Uganda

Before European colonization, African kingdoms seldom persecuted LGBTQ+ individuals. Their kingdoms had no anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Traditional African views on sexuality and gender expression were more relaxed and accepting than those in Christian Europe. The last men to be sentenced to death in England for engaging in homosexual activity were convicted in 1835. At the same time, Uganda had an openly gay monarch, King Mwanga II, who opposed Christianity and colonialism.

 

The British began to colonize Uganda around 1860, and consolidated power over the region by 1891. Colonisation and the spread of fundamentalist Christian teaching by Anglicans and evangelicals meant that British Africa lost its previous cultural tolerance of LGBTQ+ sexual orientation and gender identity. Ugandans were taught to adopt the “civilized” values of the British colonisers.

 

While Uganda and other African countries that had been under British rule are now independent, they continue to criminalize LGBTQ+ individuals. Many Africans now believe that anti-LGBTQ+ rules are part of their traditional culture.

 

Former Zimbabwean President Mugabe called homosexuality a “white disease.” The claim that homosexuality and gender nonconformity are imports of the West allows anti-LGBTQ+ legislators to argue that enacting homophobic and transphobic laws are anti-imperialist. This is how President Museveni has framed the Anti-Homosexuality Act of Uganda. President Museveni told a meeting of lawmakers last spring that “Europe is lost. So they also want us to be lost.”

 

Suspicion of the West and has strengthened the need to hold on to indigenous cultures and traditions. Western countries have reinforced the view that anti-LGBTQ+ laws are traditionally African. Western threats to deny aid to African countries that discriminate against LGBTQ+ people have made the pro-LGBTQ+ movement appear to be “foreign.” Revoking aid to countries like Uganda actually hardens the position of those who argue that pro-LGBTQ+ policies are products of Western imperialism.

 

Top down reform, with the western world leading the way is not going to be the road that Africans take to change their anti-LGBTQ+ laws. Anti-imperialism and homophobia are closely intertwined. Enforcing top-down change from the West will have little effect on anti-LGBTQ+ attitudes in Uganda and other African countries.


The experience of African countries that have improved their LGBTQ+ rights record shows that tolerance comes from the work of local LGBTQ+ groups and communities. This is how tolerance should come in Uganda as well. Ugandan human rights activists, journalists, religious leaders, academics, and lawyers are already challenging the Anti-Homosexuality Act. It is the work of people like these, and the work of groups advocating for LGBTQ+ rights within Uganda, that should be supported. Threatening to revoke aid will prove to be counterproductive.


The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Genocide Watch.



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