Out in the World: Uganda's Parliament passes slightly revised anti-homosexuality bill

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Friday May 12, 2023
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Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has been sent a revised anti-LGBTQ bill. Photo: AP file
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has been sent a revised anti-LGBTQ bill. Photo: AP file

In the face of global criticism, Uganda's Parliament earlier this month passed a slightly revised version of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023. In spite of some changes, the bill remains the strictest in the world and retains the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality."

Ugandan lawmakers kept most of the bill intact, including long prison sentences for both LGBTQ people and anyone who knowingly provides space for and does not report homosexual acts. Lawmakers followed most, but not all, of President Yoweri Museveni's recommendations.

Five clauses were revised by lawmakers, according to an article about the vote on parliament's website. Reuters reported that the legislation was amended to stipulate that merely identifying as LGBTQ is not a crime. Lawmakers also revised a measure that obliged people to report homosexual activity to only require reporting when a child is involved.

The penalty for not reporting people to officials was raised from six months to five years imprisonment. Anyone who promotes homosexuality could face up to 20 years in prison.

The Bay Area Reporter previously reported that Museveni, who supports the bill, returned it to Parliament to amend some clauses, and requested some sort of rehabilitative mechanism. Parliament passed the first version of the bill March 21, the B.A.R. previously reported.

Parliament did not include Museveni's request to address rehabilitation, or so-called conversion therapy, in the proposed bill. Conversion therapy is the widely debunked practice of trying to change someone's sexual orientation or gender identity.

Unlike in 2012, when Uganda's Parliament removed the death penalty from the 2009 version of the bill, watering it down after a global outcry by amending the clause to life imprisonment, this time Uganda's lawmakers kept the death penalty and longer jail terms. Museveni signed the previous bill in 2014, however, later that year, Uganda's Constitutional Court struck down the law.

Homosexuality is already criminalized in the former British colony. The East African country kept the colonial-era law criminalizing homosexuality when Uganda gained its independence and joined the Commonwealth in 1962. []

The Wall Street Journal reported that no one has been convicted of consensual same-sex relations since 1962. However, LGBTQ Ugandans are regularly discriminated against, harassed, and experience violence, including being killed, as has been widely reported.

Yet, American evangelicals have stoked anti-LGBTQ sentiment in Uganda for more than two decades espousing false claims about queer people, such as that they recruit young people and spread HIV/AIDS.

"Let's protect Ugandans, let's protect our values, our virtues," Parliamentary Speaker Anita Among told members before calling a voice vote. "The Western world will not come and rule Uganda."

Members of Parliament debated for less than a half-hour May 2. Doors to the floor were closed to keep the required 170 members present to vote on the bill. The bill passed with 371 of 556 members casting their vote in favor of the legislation.

A single vote was cast against the bill by MP Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, who said the bill contravened the constitution, reported The Guardian.

Odoi-Oywelowo belongs to Museveni's ruling party, the National Resistance Movement.

The bill is expected to be presented to the president.

Outrage and resistance

The United Nations, the United States, the European Union, scientists, and human rights and LGBTQ organizations around the world condemned the revised bill.

The bill's passage sparked protests in the United Kingdom and the U.S.

Speaking with lesbian Rachel Maddow, host of MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, described the potential impact of the bill on Uganda's LGBTQ community.

SMUG is an umbrella coalition of LGBTQ organizations that Uganda's government banned from legally operating last year, as the B.A.R. previously reported.

Mugisha called the current bill "more extreme than the one in 2009," referring to the former "Kill the Gays" bill that was overturned by the country's courts in 2014.

Ugandan authorities' purpose is to "radicalize Ugandans into hatred of the community" and to "erase" LGBTQ Ugandans' "existence," he said.

"If this bill passes, we will definitely see many people getting arrested," he said, stating that activists are already seeing an increase in people getting beaten, violence against LGBTQ people, and social exclusion. "People like myself, outspoken, I could get arrested. My colleagues could end up in prison.

"We will see many LGBT persons leave the country," he continued.

Mugisha said if the United States stepped up and took action by speaking directly with Uganda's leaders, "It would make a big difference."

President Joe Biden's administration postponed the final planning meeting for the Uganda Country Operational Plan 2023 under the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which has provided a $400 million funding program in Uganda since 2003.

The World Bank is also keeping an eye on the bill's status as some of the clauses could be in breach of its non-discrimination policies, reported The Monitor. Uganda is one of the 189-member states and a board member of the global bank, but the U.S., Japan, China, Germany and the U.K. have the most voting power.

Peter Ogwang, Uganda's state minister for sports, urged lawmakers not to be intimidated by the Western world's threats of withdrawing funding from the Ministry of Health to combat HIV/AIDS.

"Have they been giving us that aid for purposes of promoting homosexuality in Uganda?" he asked. "Studies have shown that homosexuals are the ones spreading AIDS."

Homosexuality is criminalized in more than 30 of Africa's 54 countries, reported the Associated Press.

Museveni has 30 days to sign into law, veto, or return the bill to Parliament for another revision and inform Among, the parliamentary leader. However, Museveni promised he would sign the bill once Parliament considered his recommendations. The Guardian reported if Museveni returns the bill to Parliament a second time, it could pass into law without his assent. For that to happen, a supermajority of two-thirds of Parliament will be needed to validate the legislation, reported Africa News.

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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