Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Out in the World: Uganda bill gone for the moment


Sam Muhumuza from Uganda has begun a fellowship in the U.S. (Photo Courtesy IREX)
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As of late Tuesday, August 23 it appears that Uganda's anti-gay bill was blocked by cabinet officials but David Bahati, the parliament member who authored the legislation, vowed to bring the bill back in November, according to media reports late in the day.

Originally introduced in 2009 by several members of parliament and a group of bishops, the bill sought to criminalize homosexuality where individuals could be jailed on suspicion without bail or trial for up to six months or punished by death throughout Uganda. Earlier this year the bill sparked international outrage and subsequently parliament didn't pass it during its second session.

Reports that Bahati urged the bill to be pushed off until November circulated, but in actuality the bill was quietly on the move to be voted on within the next two weeks, according to international and Ugandan activists.

Ugandan political analysts disagreed, suggesting that the cabinet's decision to "come out publicly against" the bill indicates that it cannot be passed "in the near future," reported Reuters Africa.

Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who has strong ties to the U.S., spoke out against the bill, telling ministers that the "bill was unnecessary since government has a number of laws in place criminalizing homosexual activities" and encouraged members to research and enforce laws already in place, reported the Daily Monitor .

Bahati, who sponsored the legislation during its revival with the backing of a small group of legislators, stood his ground that the "country should have stronger laws against homosexuality in order to protect the moral fabric that hold society intact," reported the newspaper.

This prompted Melanie Nathan of Gay USA Blog to circulate an online petition outlining the political effects of the bill if it were passed into law.

U.S. State Department places three fellows in LGBT group

For the first time the U.S. State Department has placed three international fellows in an LGBT organization as a part of a newly launched professional development program.

The three fellows: Luis Melgarejo from Bolivia, Tovian Estella Nelson from Liberia, and Sam Muhumuza from Uganda, came to the U.S. to learn about LGBT rights as a part of the Community Solutions Program. They started their work at the Family Equality Council August 19.

Steve Majors, director of communications of the FEC, said he hopes the fellows will learn how to "effect positive change back in their own countries" using the grassroots advocacy and public education and policy campaign skills they will learn.

"This is really a shared positive experience for all of us and we are looking forward to it," said Majors, adding that Melgarejo will work in the Boston office while Muhumuza and Nelson will work in the D.C. office.

Muhumuza, 31, a straight ally, was inspired to learn more about LGBT individuals because of Uganda's anti-gay bill. The bill was recently squashed by the country's cabinet as reported above.

He told the Bay Area Reporter that the climate in Uganda is a "bit hostile" due to the "intolerance" of LGBT individuals, but that the bill "opened up a discussion in the media" in the mostly traditional country.

An activist who mitigates violence and conflict resulting from land disputes for the Development Foundation for Rural Areas, Muhumuza hopes to learn how to counter the wave of intolerance by teaching LGBT and straight people how to live "harmoniously" together.

"I believe this program will help me to understand the gay community and how they live with other people," said Muhumuza.

The fellows are part of 66 groups of young leaders from 21 countries brought to the states by the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The professional development program is administered by the International Research and Exchanges Board. Its purpose is to "support and encourage grassroots initiatives around the world" spearheaded by young professionals, according to Carla Coolman, a State Department spokeswoman.

The professionals will work in fields focused on transparency and accountability, tolerance and conflict resolution, environmental issues, and women's issues in nonprofit organizations and government agencies for the next four to six months, according to Coolman. After the program ends, the fellows will return to their home countries to complete their collaborative community development projects.

"It is the U.S. State Department's hope that the exposure to the U.S., to Americans, and to American society gained over such a lengthy period of time will yield considerable public diplomacy impact as well as show support for grassroots initiatives around the world," Coolman wrote in an email.

Melgarejo, a 35-year-old gay man who directs the program Artistic LGBT Group, which brings local artists and intellectuals into the LGBT community for advocacy in Bolivia, is just as hopeful.

He told the B.A.R. soon after arriving in Washington, D.C. that while queer rights have developed and gained legal protections within the past decade, social acceptance and recognition of LGBT individuals hasn't changed in the mostly Catholic country.

"The prejudice still exists," said Melgarejo, who lives openly and works at a school for deaf children in Bolivia.

"I'm pretty excited about the work that I'm going to be doing," he said, hoping the skills that he learns will aid him with uniting Bolivia's queer community and training new LGBT leaders. Personally, he hopes that the exposure to happy, healthy LGBT families will be a model for his own someday.

Nelson, executive director and founder of Liberia Women Media Action Committee, was still traveling to the U.S. and was unavailable for comment by press time.

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