Out in the World: Ugandan prez rejects promoting homosexuality

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Wednesday April 12, 2023
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Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni spoke to Ugandan members of parliament and delegates from 22 African countries at the Inter-Parliamentary Conference hosted at the State House in Entebbe, Uganda. Photo: Courtesy Soft Power News
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni spoke to Ugandan members of parliament and delegates from 22 African countries at the Inter-Parliamentary Conference hosted at the State House in Entebbe, Uganda. Photo: Courtesy Soft Power News

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni used a recent two-day conference to call on African countries to save Africa from homosexuality.

Museveni called homosexuality "a big threat and danger to the procreation of human race [sic]," The Guardian reported. He called on his fellow African leaders to reject promoting homosexuality.

The 78-year-old African leader's actions come two weeks after Uganda's Parliament overwhelmingly voted 387-2 to pass the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023.

Museveni's actions signaled that he might sign the bill into law after he rejected a similar bill, the Sexual Offences Bill, in 2021. Museveni has 30 days from March 21 to sign or veto the bill.

The bill has also brought anti-gay conservative groups out into the open after nearly a decade of working in the shadows. The Guardian reported that Family Watch International, a U.S. evangelical organization that is on the Southern Poverty Law Center's hate watch list, sponsored the virtual portion of the two-day inter-parliamentary conference on "family values and sovereignty" March 31 and April 1. Sharon Slater, founder and president of Family Watch International, spoke at the event. Slater also chairs the U.N. Family Rights Caucus lobby group.

The conference was hosted at the State House in Entebbe and was attended by Uganda's members of parliament and delegates from 22 African countries, including Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Zambia. The event was promoted by the Ugandan parliament, the African Bar Association, and the Nigerian-based Foundation for African Cultural Heritage.

The revival of Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill criminalizes LGBTQ people for simply existing and enforces life imprisonment for anyone caught having gay sex (male or female). Youth engaging in gay sex get three years in prison and a rehabilitation period. The law turns family, friends, and neighbors against each other to report suspected LGBTQ people into authorities. It brings back the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality," which includes gay sex with minors or if the perpetrator is HIV-positive, among other categories. The law includes stiff fines, such as imposing 1 billion Ugandan shillings ($264,000) for promoting homosexuality.

The conference occurred while U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris was touring Africa on a diplomatic mission March 26 to April 1.

Harris raised the issue of LGBTQ human rights while completing the U.S.'s multimillion-dollar security deal during her tour. Harris and her husband, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, visited ahead of President Joe Biden's plans to travel to Africa this year, reported the Washington Post.

The Washington Post's editorial board suggested that Biden should "emphasize that LGBT rights are human rights" and to "reward" and "showcase" African countries, like South Africa and Botswana, that have upheld LGBTQ rights and decriminalized homosexuality rather than "reward" anti-gay countries with a presidential visit.

"In the face of such blatant discrimination, staying silent is not an option," the editorial board wrote.

The goal of Harris' trip was to shore up U.S. and African relationships like other diplomatic visits made by U.S. officials, to fend off China and Russia's investments in Africa and Asia, and pledge financial support. However, LGBTQ human rights were very much an undertone throughout Harris' trip. She addressed the issue diplomatically at a March 27 news conference with Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo.

Responding to a reporter's questions about LGBTQ rights, standing next to Akufo-Addo at a news conference in Accra, Harris recalled her long history of fighting for equality and human rights, including LGBTQ rights.

"I feel very strongly about the importance of supporting the freedom and ... fighting for equality among all people and that all people be treated equally," Harris said, stating that she considers LGBTQ rights a "human rights issue."

"That will not change," she said. Harris did not mention Ghana's proposed anti-LGBTQ bill. Ghana was the only point in her trip where she publicly spoke out on behalf of LGBTQ rights in Africa.


The tour came at a critical time for Africa's LGBTQ community, which has been increasingly under attack by government leaders. Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia have been cracking down on LGBTQ rights for the past two years. The countries stepped up attacks a month before Harris' visit. All five countries have been legislating stricter anti-gay laws and include banning books about LGBTQ subjects.

According to the Human Dignity Trust, 67 countries around the world criminalize homosexuality. Of those countries, 11 have jurisdictions that impose the death penalty. Additionally, 41 of those countries criminalize lesbianism and 14 criminalize transgender or gender-nonconforming people.

The Post's editorial board noted that "Africa forms a near-unanimous block of intolerance," with at least 32 of the countries that criminalize homosexuality located on the continent. Exceptions include South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Lesotho, and Seychelles.

The final draft of Ghana's bill, the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, was presented by a bipartisan group of members of parliament to the plenary April 3.

The bill was introduced in 2021. It was in a parliamentary committee. Akufo-Addo told reporters Ghana's attorney general, Godfred Yeboah Dame, spoke with the parliamentary committee "regarding the constitutionality" and "several of its provisions," reported Pink News.

"My understanding ... is that substantial elements of the bill have already been modified as a result of the intervention of the attorney general," but it "hasn't been passed," Akufo-Addo told reporters, according to CNN.

The bill was introduced to Ghana's parliament following the raid on the country's first LGBTQ center right after it opened in 2021, the B.A.R. previously reported. The raid and the proposed bill caused an international outcry.

Ghanaian Member of Parliament Samuel Nartey George, who is the originator leading the charge with the bill, told News 360 that the bill has not been "substantially changed" and remains "rigid and tough."

Like Uganda's current anti-gay bill, LGBTQ Ghanaian activists say that country's bill will make living in Ghana tougher for queer Ghanaians if parliament passes it.

"It's going to make it difficult for the [LGBTQ] community to exist. They are just trying to erase the community through this bill, so it will definitely lead to an increase in attacks," Danny Bediako, who runs Rightify Ghana, one of Ghana's LGBTQ organizations, told CNN.

Bediako said Rightify Ghana has documented 27 cases of violent attacks against LGBTQ Ghanaians so far this year. He added that violent groups are widespread, warning if the bill passes the situation for queer Ghanaians will get worse.

Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, Ghana's information minister, told CNN the bill may differ from its original draft after the 275 members of parliament debate it clause by clause.

"[It] may end up being different from what was proposed," he said, pointing out that the lawmakers could "make it harsher or less harsh ... it is in the hands of parliament now."

Ghana Web reported that Kwame Anyimadu-Antwi, the chairman of the Constitutional, Parliamentary, and Legal Affairs Committee, raised his doubts about the implementation of the bill, stating that it will be challenging to enforce. He also cited that Ghana already has a law that criminalizes gay sex and other issues the bill seeks to strengthen.

Gay sex is illegal in Ghana. The former British colony retained the colonial-era law when it became independent in 1957 and joined the Commonwealth.

It's anticipated that the final bill will be sent to Akufo-Addo's desk to sign or veto sometime later this year.

Harris announced the U.S.'s $100 million pledge to Ghana and Benin, Guinea, Ivory Coast, and Togo and an additional three-year $86 million commitment to support a 10-year plan to implement the U.S. Strategy to Prevent Conflict and Promote Stability, during her March 27 meeting with Akufo-Addo. The financial aid to Ghana is on top of the U.S.'s $139 million in bilateral assistance planned for the West African country in 2024, reported Reuters.


American conservatives provide about $2 billion in collective wealth annually to Uganda's evangelical organizations, according to Borgen magazine. More than 20 U.S. Christian organizations have pumped more than $50 million into Africa since 2007 to 2020, reported openDemocracy. At that time, Uganda's original kill the gays bill battle hit a wall with Uganda's Constitutional Court, which struck it down in 2014 due to a technicality.

Uganda's journey to legislate hate has been long. It has involved Uganda's poor and embattled LGBTQ community rising up and fighting back against American evangelicals and the conservative religious country's political leaders for more than 15 years.

The anti-gay organizations stayed relatively out of the limelight after 2014, but they did not abandon their mission, the New York Times noted.

"They have been working very meticulously over the last five years in mobilizing a constituency, fanning public sentiments, in spreading misinformation as the basis for this law," Nicholas Opiyo, a Ugandan lawyer and human rights activist, told the Times.

Since 2014, local leaders and groups have fed anti-gay sentiment in Uganda. The East African country has been teeming with attacks on its LGBTQ community. The B.A.R. has reported that LGBTQ Ugandans have suffered multiple raids in bars and its annual Pride parade twice, along with the attempts to resuscitate the kill the gays bill without success.

The country's passage of the new Anti-Homosexuality Bill follows its restrictions on HIV/AIDS services and Museveni's anti-LGBTQ-fueled reelection campaign in 2021.

In 2022, Uganda's government denied Sexual Minorities Uganda to legally register its organization. SMUG is the umbrella LGBTQ organization for a coalition of queer organizations in Uganda.

In 2017, SMUG lost its case against American evangelical Scott Lively in a U.S. court. Lively played a key role in the 2009 kill the gays bill. The case wasn't moved forward on jurisdictional grounds because the incidents happened in Uganda, not Springfield, Massachusetts, where the trial was held, ruled Judge Michael Ponsor. However, Lively did not leave the courtroom without a stern word from Ponsor, who strongly denounced Lively's involvement in Uganda's anti-gay bill, reported Human Rights Watch. SMUG and Lively's appeals were denied in 2018.

Lively denied supporting Uganda's kill the gays bill in an email responding to the B.A.R.'s request for comment April 7.

"While I share the majority African belief that mainstreaming LGBT ideology and practices destroys the natural-family eco-system that keeps society healthy, I have always opposed the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act in all of its forms as excessive and unmerciful," he wrote. "I (unsuccessfully) urged the Ugandan legislature to focus on prevention and rehabilitation rather than punishment when they first drafted this law in 2009."

He added that if he were to have any influence in the process today, he would simply advise a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"-style bill.

"I would have them scrap that law and produce something like a society-wide 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' [bill] that preserves the primacy of the natural family while allowing those who choose to live outside the mainstream to do so in discrete, protected subcultures. I think that's the only workable compromise."

The law hasn't been enacted, but it has unofficially taken effect. Uganda's LGBTQ activists reported that police arrested 12 people for allegedly "practicing homosexuality" in two separate incidents within the past two weeks, reported Al Jazeera.

A teacher is awaiting trial after being arrested for allegedly "grooming" young girls into "unnatural sex practices," reported Reuters. She was charged with gross indecency and is awaiting trial.

"The LGBTQ community has basically been told, you can't raise your head, you can't be seen, you can't be heard," Ugandan gay activist Richard Lusimbo told NPR. He added that "what's happening in Uganda is not just in isolation."

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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