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Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill: Identifying as LGBTQ criminalized, death penalty for some offences

Supporters of the bill say that is required to criminalize a broader array of LGBTQ activities, which they say threaten the traditional values of the country.

In one of the harshest crackdowns against the LGBTQ community, Uganda’s parliament on Tuesday passed a bill making it illegal for citizens to merely identify as LGBTQ, imposing a penalty of 20 years for the same and making some crimes even punishable by death.

In the country where same-sex relations were already illegal, the new bill targets an array of activities including same-sex intercourse, promoting and abetting homosexuality as well as conspiracy to engage in homosexuality.

While introducing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023 to the parliament, opposition lawmaker Asuman Basalirwa said that “it aims to protect our church culture – the legal, religious and traditional family values of Ugandans from the acts that are likely to promote sexual promiscuity in this country.”

“The objective of the bill was to establish a comprehensive and enhanced legislation to protect traditional family values, our diverse culture, our faiths, by prohibiting any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex and the promotion or recognition of sexual relations between persons of the same sex,” Basalirwa added.

The bill was passed with widespread support and cheers in Uganda’s parliament on Tuesday evening. While the final version of the bill is yet to be officially published but some points discussed in parliament include:

  • A person who is convicted of grooming or trafficking children for purposes of engaging them in homosexual activities faces life in prison
  • Individuals or institutions which support or fund LGBT rights’ activities or organisations, or publish, broadcast and distribute pro-gay media material and literature, also face prosecution and imprisonment
  • Media groups, journalists and publishers face prosecution and imprisonment for publishing, broadcasting, distribution of any content that advocates for gay rights or “promotes homosexuality”
  • Death penalty for what is described as “aggravated homosexuality”, that is sexual abuse of a child, a person with disability or vulnerable people, or in cases where a victim of homosexual assault is infected with a life-long illness
  • Property owners also face risk of being jailed if their premises are used as a “brothel” for homosexual acts or any other sexual minorities rights’ activities

Supporters of the bill say that is required to criminalize a broader array of LGBTQ activities, which they say threaten traditional values in the conservative and religious East African nation. “Our creator, God, is happy about what is happening… I support the bill to protect the future of our children,” lawmaker David Bahati said during the debate on the bill.

The queer community in Uganda stands extremely threatened amid this anti-LGBTQ sentiment in society and the media. As per human rights activists and organizations, members of the community are being blackmailed, extorted for money and even being lured into traps for mob attacks.

In some areas, law enforcers are using the current environment to extort money from people who they accuse of being gay. Some families are even reporting their own children to the police.

“They are trying to drum up anti-gay rhetoric to divert attention from really what is important to Ugandans in general. There is no reason why you should have a bill that criminalizes individuals that are having consensual same-sex adult relationships,” said Clare Byarugaba, LGBTQ+ Rights Activist, Chapter Four Uganda.

Human Rights Watch Uganda researcher Oryem Nyeko, while calling out politicians in the country for targeting the LGBTQ people for political capital, said, “One of the most extreme features of this new bill is that it criminalizes people simply for being who they are as well as further infringing on the rights to privacy, and freedoms of expression and association that are already compromised in Uganda.”

While the bill has witnessed wide public support in the highly conservative and religious East African nation, it has given rise to public outrage internationally which was joined by the US and the United Nations (UN) who condemned the “draconian” rule. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken slammed the bill, which would “undermine fundamental human rights of all Ugandans and could reverse gains in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” while urging the Ugandan Government to strongly reconsider the implementation of this legislation.” The White House has also warned Uganda of possible economic repercussions if the new law comes into force.

The bill is expected to eventually go to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for assent who has not yet made any remarks on the bill, but is known for his anti-LGBTQ stand and had even derided homosexuals as “deviants.” It is yet to be seen if Museveni would use his veto and maintain good relations with the West, or sign it into the law.

Uganda had earlier made headlines in 2009 when it introduced an anti-homosexuality bill that included a death sentence for gay sex. The bill was passed in 2014, but they replaced the death penalty clause with a proposal for life in prison. It was ultimately struck down by the court since it was passed in the parliament without the required quorum.

It is worth noting that at present same-sex relations are criminalized in about 32 African countries, where many people uphold conservative religious and social values.

In Egypt, gay men are frequently arrested and charged with debauchery, immorality, or blasphemy. In Somalia, while the penal code calls for a prison sentence of up to 3 years, the death penalty is often imposed under sharia law. Nigeria mandates a 14-year prison sentence, but the death penalty may be applied in the 12 northern states that follow sharia law.

South Africa is the only country that recognizes same-sex marriage, civil unions and adoption.

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