Out in the World: US condemns new Uganda anti-LGBTQ law

  • by Heather Cassell, BAR Contributor
  • Thursday June 1, 2023
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Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signs the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023 into law against global outcry and threats of divestment in the East African country, Monday, May 29. Photo: Courtesy BBC News Africa
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signs the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023 into law against global outcry and threats of divestment in the East African country, Monday, May 29. Photo: Courtesy BBC News Africa

President Joe Biden called Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni's signing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023 a "tragic violation of universal human rights," and "shameful," condemning the bill in a statement from the White House May 29.

Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023 on May 26, but it wasn't made public until early May 29. It is the most restrictive anti-LGBTQ law in the world.

Biden, along with leaders of other Western nations, threatened sanctions and other actions, placing billions of dollars in financial support for Uganda in jeopardy.

The U.S. is a major sponsor of Uganda, financially supporting the East African country by investing nearly $1 billion annually and providing access to trade deals with the U.S. through the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

Biden stated he directed his administration to incorporate "impacts of the law" into the U.S.'s review of Uganda's eligibility for AGOA, according to the release. He directed "the National Security Council to evaluate the implications of this law on all aspects of U.S. engagement with Uganda, including PEPFAR and other forms of assistance and investments." Biden added that his administration is "considering additional steps, including the application of sanctions and restriction of entry into the United States against anyone involved in serious human rights abuses or corruption."

LGBTQ Ugandan leaders filed a lawsuit at the constitutional court before the end of the day, according to Outright International and Reuters.

"I find it absurd to hear leaders promote hate and exclusion as African values," award-winning Ugandan feminist and LGBTQ activist Kasha Jacqueline told Outright, calling the threats and violence against queer Ugandans "horrifying."

"A legal challenge has already been filed, and we won't stop until this law is overturned," she said.

Uganda's leaders called the legal actions "blackmail," reported Reuters.

Being LGBTQ is not a crime, according to the new law, but attempting to act on consensual same-sex desire is and can subject people not only to hefty fines and long prison time but also conversion therapy. The new law criminalizes people suspected of being LGBTQ with 10-year prison sentences for attempting to engage in gay sex and up to 14 years in prison for multiple attempts. LGBTQ people can be sentenced to death for having sex with children, are HIV-positive, and are people from other vulnerable communities. Promoting homosexuality can get a person up to 20 years in prison. Those who provide space for LGBTQ people to gather or who do not report suspected LGBTQ people can also find themselves in trouble with the law and facing long prison sentences.

Uganda Parliamentary Speaker Anita Annet Among praised Museveni and lawmakers in the legislative chamber for "withstanding the pressure." Among did not name specific countries or organizations.

"We have stood strong to defend [the] culture, values, and aspirations of our people," Among said. "As the Parliament of Uganda, we have heeded the concerns of our people and legislated to protect the sanctity of the family.

"The people of Uganda have spoken, and it is our duty now to enforce the law in a fair, steadfast, and firm manner," she concluded.

The Human Dignity Trust noted in a tweet that as a member of the Commonwealth, Uganda must publish the law in the Gazette. The bill provided no specific publication date.

U.S. response

Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken immediately condemned the law. Other countries and global human rights and LGBTQ rights groups also rebuked Uganda for the law and joined the United States' call for Uganda's president to repeal it.

"No one should have to live in constant fear for their life or being (sic) subjected to violence and discrimination. It is wrong," Biden stated.

Biden stated the law is "one that is not worthy of the Ugandan people and one that jeopardizes the prospects of critical economic growth for the entire country."

"The United States shares a deep and committed partnership with the people of Uganda," Biden said. "For more than 60 years, we have worked together to help millions of Ugandans live healthier, more productive lives."

Global HIV/AIDS organizations UNAIDS, PEPFAR, and the Global Fund expressed concern about the bill's effect on Uganda's ongoing efforts to combat HIV/AIDS.

The Washington Post reported the International Monetary Fund projected the average annual expansion of Uganda's economy to grow by more than 6% over the next five years due to gearing up of countries and corporate investments. The World Bank and other lenders shored up Uganda's economy. The new law threatens those investments.

International corporations that tout LGBTQ-friendly policies that have operations in Uganda, like Alphabet, the owner of Google; Microsoft, PricewaterhouseCoopers International Limited, Ernst & Young Global Limited, and Unilever expressed deep disappointment about the law, reported Reuters.

"As a coalition of global companies, many doing business in Uganda, we want to see a thriving Ugandan economy," wrote Dominic Arnall, CEO of Open For Business, in a statement to Reuters responding to Uganda's making the bill law. "Our data shows that this law runs counter to the interests of economic progress and prosperity of all people in Uganda."

Blinken expressed that the U.S. was "deeply troubled" by the anti-gay law's passage, agreeing with Biden that it "undermines the human rights, prosperity, and welfare of all Ugandans," in a statement from the State Department.

"Uganda's failure to safeguard the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is part of a broader degradation of human rights protections that puts Ugandan citizens at risk and damages the country's reputation as a destination for investment, development, tourism, and refugees," Blinken stated.

Blinken added that as of May 29, the State Department will "develop mechanisms to support the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals in Uganda and to promote accountability for Ugandan officials and other individuals responsible for, or complicit in, abusing their human rights."

The State Department is revising its travel advisory for Americans and U.S. businesses traveling to Uganda. The department was also considering restricting U.S. visas against Ugandan officials and others who violate the human rights of LGBTQ people.

Reuters reported the anti-gay bill's sponsor, Asuman Basalirwa, told reporters that Among's U.S. visa was revoked after Museveni signed the bill.

The Monitor reported that Henry Oryem Okello, the state minister for foreign affairs in charge of international cooperation, equated the U.S.'s economic sanctions threats to "school playground bully tactics."

New law threatens HIV/AIDS progress

The law not only threatens Uganda's financial stability, but also the progress it has made in combating HIV/AIDS, according to UNAIDS, PEPFAR, and the Global Fund.

The three global government and private partnership agencies stated in a joint news release that they were "deeply concerned about the harmful impact" of the law, stating Uganda was on track to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

The agencies fear the new law will have drastic negative consequences.

According to the release, in 2021, Uganda is on track to meet its 95-95-95 goals to have 95% of people living with HIV know their status; 95% of those people to be on treatment; and 95% of those on treatment to have achieved viral suppression by 2030. In 2021, 89% of people living with HIV in Uganda knew their status, more than 92% of people who knew their HIV status were receiving antiretroviral therapy, and 95% of those on treatment were virally suppressed.

"Uganda has repeatedly demonstrated leadership and commitment to ending AIDS - and has achieved great success - by leaving no one behind," stated UNAIDS Executive Director and Under-Secretary General of the United Nations Winnie Byanyima, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy, U.S. Department of State Ambassador John Nkengasong, and The Global Fund Executive Director Peter Sands.

"Uganda's progress on its HIV response is now in grave jeopardy," the global public health leaders said.


The U.N., U.S., other countries and human rights and LGBTQ organizations immediately condemned Uganda's new anti-gay law.

Gay Congressional Equality Caucus Chair Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) said in a statement that the caucus stands in solidarity with Uganda's LGBTQ community.

"Uganda - and any country looking to replicate this extreme law - must know the United States will not stand idly by as they threaten their citizens with criminalization and death just for being who they are," Pocan stated.

Outright International Executive Director Maria Sjödin stated the law could have dire consequences.

"The new Ugandan law is based on a genocidal ideology aimed at eradicating LGBTQ people from public existence. We call on Uganda to honor its international commitments and respect the human rights of everyone, including LGBTQ people, as no one should be denied these rights based on their sexual orientation or gender identity," Sjödin said.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk called the law "devastating" and criticized religious groups involvement in the anti-gay law.

"They want to use the machinery of the state to impose their views, which is utterly unacceptable," he told Reuters.

Fighting back

Ugandan activists are challenging the new law. The Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, along with 10 individuals, filed a complaint at the constitutional court, reported Reuters.

It is unclear if the court will take the case.

Türk urged Uganda's judiciary to review the law, stating it appears to violate Uganda's constitution, reported Reuters.

The U.N. human rights commissioner's office added that the anti-gay law breaches many international laws. Türk added that the U.N. human rights experts will also do an independent review of the law.

Other African countries

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.

Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia are considering similar bills, the B.A.R. previously reported.

Kenya's Member of Parliament George Kaluma praised Uganda's passage of the anti-gay bill Monday.

"Wow! What a leader we've in Africa! Congratulations Uganda! Kenya is following you in this endeavor to save humanity ... Perversion is treated, not normalized!" Kaluma, who supports a similar anti-gay bill, the Family Protection Act Kenya, introduced in April, tweeted Monday.

Gillian Kane, a senior analyst at the nonprofit Ipas, who has studied anti-gay measures across Africa, told the New York Times, "What's so troubling about this moment is how swiftly the bill moved through Parliament and how thoroughly Uganda's institutions beyond the legislature, like the judiciary and police, have absorbed and pushed anti-LGBTQ sentiment."

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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