Out in the World: Museveni calls for changes to Uganda's anti-gay bill

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Monday April 24, 2023
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Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni wants some sort of rehabilitative provisions added to the proposed anti-gay bill and returned it to parliament. Photo: Courtesy Anglican Ink<br>
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni wants some sort of rehabilitative provisions added to the proposed anti-gay bill and returned it to parliament. Photo: Courtesy Anglican Ink

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni returned the country's Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 to Parliament on the eve of the deadline to take action on the legislation and ordered it to be improved with some sort of rehabilitative mechanism.

The deadline for Museveni to take action on the bill was April 21. As the Bay Area Reporter previously reported, Parliament overwhelmingly passed the revived so-called Kill the Gays bill in March. The bill criminalizes LGBTQ people for even existing or acknowledging their existence and turns family and community members against them. LGBTQ Ugandans face various prison sentences and fines based on their age and the severity of their offenses up to the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality."

On April 20, Denis Hamson Obua, the Ugandan parliament's chief whip, told reporters at a news conference the president had agreed in principle to sign the bill into law, reported The Guardian. The news conference followed a meeting with Museveni and leaders of his party, the National Resistance Movement, many of whom voted to pass the bill.

"Before that is done, we also agree that the bill will be returned in order to facilitate the reinforcement and the strengthening of some provisions in line with our best practices," Obua told reporters, reported The Guardian.

Uganda held on to British colonial-era anti-sodomy laws used to criminalize homosexuality when the country became independent in 1962. Currently, LGBTQ people face up to seven years in prison if convicted of gay sex.

In a video, Museveni praised Ugandan lawmakers for passing the bill.

"I congratulate you for that strong stand," he said in the video, reported Deutsche Welle. "It is good that you rejected the pressure from the imperialists. And this is what I told them. Whenever they come to me, I say, 'You, please shut up.'"

In a tweet, Museveni's spokesperson, Sandor Walusimbi, explained Museveni was not opposed to the punishments proposed in the bill but he wants lawmakers to look into "the issue of rehabilitation."

Museveni told the members that he had no objections to the punishments but wanted changes for people who have in the past been engaged in homosexuality but would like to live normal lives again, Walusimbi wrote on Twitter.

Supporters approved Museveni's move returning the bill to parliament to change the bill.

"It's a good step forward to include in the legislation an amnesty for those giving up sodomy voluntarily," pastor Martin Ssempa, one of the main backers of the bill, told The Guardian. "And to include in the legislation a road map of rehabilitation including rehabilitation centers. Both amendments are human and legitimate."

France 24 reported that in the letter to speaker Anita Among, Deputy Attorney General Kaafuzi Jackson Kargaba said the bill was returned to parliament for reconsideration.

Karaba told the media outlet that Uganda's government wants to "ensure that once the bill is assented to, it stands the test of time without being struck down by the court as being unconstitutional." He was referring to 2014 when the former "Jail the Gays" bill, a watered-down version of the 2009 "Kill the Gays" bill that swapped out the death penalty with life imprisonment, was struck down by a court due to a technicality.

Karaba also explained that the death penalty piece of the bill leaves it open to a legal challenge as well as other drafted clauses that are "too broad or vague." Uganda has effectively ended the use of capital punishment, he said.

These issues need to be addressed to avoid legal challenges before Museveni signs the bill into law, Karaba said.

Obua said he plans to meet with parliament's legal and parliamentary affairs committee to draft the amendments to the bill.

Violence already spreading

The law hasn't been signed but there are reports of Ugandan LGBTQs' human rights being violated.

The Guardian reported there have been more than 110 reported incidents of LGBTQ people being arrested, sexually violated, evicted, and publicly stripped, according to Sexual Minorities Uganda, the country's coalition of LGBTQ organizations.

A court in Jinja, an eastern Ugandan town, denied bail to six young health care educators for an organization who were arrested and charged with "forming part of a criminal sexual network." Ugandan police admitted to conducting forced anal exams on the six individuals and tested them for HIV, the newspaper reported.


The United Nations spoke out against the bill and the widely debunked conversion therapy, the practice of attempting to change a person's sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

The European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the bill with 416 votes and urged the European Union to put pressure on Museveni not to sign the bill into law. However, Brussels is not obliged to act, reports stated.

"The resolution deplores President Museveni's contribution to the hateful rhetoric about LGBTIQ persons, adding that European Union-Uganda relations will be at stake should the President sign the bill," a statement from the European Parliament said.

Fifteen leading scientists from around the world also condemned the bill last week in an open letter to Museveni, reported CNN.

"We cannot say this enough: homosexuality is a normal and natural variation of human sexuality," the group of scientists stated.

Professor Glenda Gray, president and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council, stated separately, "Despite the rhetoric, homosexuality is not a pernicious western import. If anything, it´s state-sponsored homophobia that's un-African and against the principles of Ubuntu [humanity toward others], not homosexuality," reported The Guardian.

Their criticism against the bill and urging Museveni not to make it law joined the United States and other countries' condemnation and threats of economic stipulations if the bill becomes law.

President Joe Biden is planning a trip to Africa later this year.

Spreading American hate

U.N. officials and global leaders are concerned about the implications if Uganda enacts the law. Lawmakers in other African countries, such as Ghana, Kenya, Niger, and Tanzania, are also considering similar anti-LGBTQ bills.

Frank Mugisha, head of SMUG, expressed concern about the rise and rapid spread of anti-LGBTQ hate not only in Uganda, but around the world in an interview with Democracy Now earlier this month. Mugisha was touring the United States to raise awareness of the current bill and the involvement of American conservatives.

"That is very key for very many Americans to know — that the homophobia we are seeing rising and growing in Africa is not African. That is being — it is homophobia and transphobia being exported by American evangelicals," he said.

"We are worried about other countries, like Burundi, Tanzania, that could introduce similar legislation," he said. However, he noted Ugandans' success in the past in beating back legislation and attacks on Uganda's LGBTQ community, referencing Uganda's Constitutional Court overturning of the 2014 "Jail the Gays" bill and taking U.S. evangelical pastor Scott Lively to court for being the key instigator behind the original "Kill the Gays" bill. (SMUG lost the case, as the B.A.R. has previously reported.)

Lively recently told the B.A.R. that he now favors a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" type of legislation for Uganda and opposes the current bill.

Mugisha said, "President Biden has a very big role," pointing out that the "U.S. is a very key and strategic partner to many countries in Africa" and can speak out against the anti-LGBTQ bills in Uganda and other African countries.

Biden, who is expected to announce his reelection campaign April 25, placed LGBTQ rights at the forefront of his foreign policy soon after he took office in 2021.


Ugandans abroad and global LGBTQ activists are mobilizing to help Uganda's LGBTQ community.

DeLovie Kwagala (Papa De), a queer Ugandan photographer and activist living in South Africa, told Reuters they are working with friends to raise funds through crowdfunding campaigns to support LGBTQ Ugandans who have been evicted to those who are in hiding. The group has received more than 50 requests for help.

Global LGBTQ organization All Out launched an emergency fund campaign for Ugandan LGBTQ people.

Got international LGBTQ news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at WhatsApp/Signal: 415-517-7239, or [email protected]

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