Ugandan President Signs Anti-Gay Bill Into Law and the U.S. Might Be Making Things Worse

On Monday, February 24th, the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni signed the now infamous anti-homosexuality bill into law. Although homosexual acts were already illegal in the country, the law officially sentences any people convicted of sodomy, same-sex marriage, or even promotion of homosexuality (such as LGBTQ activists who encourage people to come out) to life imprisonment. Noticeably, this piece of legislation includes lesbians in the indictment for the first time.

Interestingly, Ugandan lawmakers have watered down some provisions of the law. The anti-homosexuality bill previously proposed a sentence of up to 14 years for first-time offenders and also made it a crime to not report anyone whose heterosexuality is suspect. This legal distinction would have made it impossible to be openly gay. However, even without a clause demanding that citizens report any queer members of their communities, LGBTQ folks in Uganda now face an even more dangerous and fearsome epoch in their nation’s history. A press statement reviewing U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power’s meeting with the Director of Sexual Minorities, Frank Mugisha mentions that “the recent publication of a list of the country’s “200 top” homosexuals… raised concerns for the safety of LGBT individuals inside Uganda.”

President Museveni signs the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law on Feb. 24th, 2014 via Daily Monitor

President Museveni signs the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law on Feb. 24th, 2014
via Daily Monitor

The United States has wasted no time responding to President Museveni’s actions. In a statement issued the same day as the law’s initiation, Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Ugandan lawmakers’ decision.

The United States is deeply disappointed in the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda. For the four years since the bill was introduced, we have been crystal clear that it blatantly violates human rights obligations that Uganda’s Human Rights Commission itself has recognized are enshrined in Uganda’s Constitution. Today’s signing threatens a dangerous slide backward in Uganda’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its people and a serious threat to the LGBT community in Uganda. We are also deeply concerned about the law’s potential to set back public health efforts in Uganda, including those to address HIV/AIDS, which must be conducted in a non-discriminatory manner in order to be effective.

The United States has already begun examining its relationship to the Ugandan Government, with whispers about this new law compromising the U.S. aid budget to Uganda. In the press statement, Secretary Kerry concluded, “From Nigeria to Russia and Uganda, we are working globally to promote and protect the human rights of all persons. The United States will continue to stand against any efforts to marginalize, criminalize, and penalize vulnerable persons in any society.”

President Museveni’s actions may be a direct response to Western leaders who have criticized Ugandan policies. Ofwono Opondo, a Ugandan government spokesperson, asserted that President Museveni signed the anti-homosexuality bill into law “with the full witness of the international media to demonstrate Uganda’s independence in the face of Western pressure and provocation.” President Museveni himself also attacked the way the U.S. has initiated more of a diatribe than a dialogue by insisting, “[we] “never seek to impose our view on others; if only they could let us alone.”

The speed and intensity with which anti-gay sentiments have influenced Ugandan politics seriously brings attention not only to the United States’ imperialist methods of condemning certain countries for “backwards politics” without examining how backwards U.S. politics can be, but also to the influence of the U.S. evangelical right, who has played a significant role in implanting homophobic sentiments in Ugandan communities and has advocated for the incorporation of legal measures that would threaten “homosexual activity” within the country. Most notable is Scott Lively, a U.S. evangelical who delivered a neo-colonial white saviorist address at an anti-gay conference in Kampala, Uganda in March of 2009 that he deemed his “nuclear bomb against the gay agenda in Uganda.” Lively also discussed legislation that would target LGBTQ peoples in Uganda, and called the LGBTQ movement “an evil institution [whose] goal is to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity in which there’s no restrictions on sexual conduct except the principle of mutual choice.” Cool guy.

Scott Lively, center, enters U.S. District Court in Jan. 2013,  when first sued by Ugandan activists for his hateful speech via Slate

Scott Lively, center, enters U.S. District Court in Jan. 2013, when first sued by Ugandan activists for his hateful speech
via Slate

Lively and his Abiding Truth Ministry, as well as his Defend the Family Ministry, have a legacy of preaching anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in Uganda as far back as 2002, as described in a comic by Andy Warner about Lively’s hate speech. While conservative Christian groups in the United States have not issued many public statements about Uganda’s new law, Lively did choose to comment:

“I would rather the Ugandans had followed the Russian anti-propaganda model which reflects my philosophy of preventing the mainstreaming of homosexuality with the minimum limitation on personal liberties for those who choose to live discretely outside the mainstream.”

Thanks for clearing that up for us.

In August of 2013, an Atlanta federal judge permitted Ugandan LGBTQ activists to proceed with a lawsuit against Lively, an act that may serve at least to dissuade U.S. evangelicals from imposing their hate rhetoric abroad if not punish them. Still, the fate of LGBTQ Ugandans hangs in the balance as the country comes to term with this new piece of legislation.

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Helen McDonald is a 20-something college student living off of bad cooking, social justice and a lil snark. She also discusses the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality on her personal blog revolutionaryrainbows.tumblr.com and is a contributing writer at ElixHer.com

Helen has written 34 articles for us.

13 Comments

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    This is such a complicated case in terms of what lead to this point. But we are there now and history has shown that it is nearly impossible to “force” democracy and tolerance on people when they aren’t there yet. Other influeces are just too strong. Thanks for showing that the origin of this hate is much more complicated than “they still live so far in the past in Uganda” and how our countries somehow took part in this as well.

    As a German I wish our Chancellor would speak out as clearly as Obama does.

    I hope that our countries acknowledge the situation and offer help to gay Ugandans and give them asylum if they ask for it.

    The thought of our brothers and sisters over there and their situation right now just breaks my heart.

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    It’s a catch 22 situation. If you cut the aid you turn the population against LGBT Ugandans that also happen to benefit from the aid, if don’t cut the aid you are supporting all that.
    I just hope that LGBT Ugandans (and Nigerians, and Russians..) get granted asylum

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    I was in Uganda for January, working with transgender activists (as well as HIV activists). If any of you want to help out, but aren’t really sure what will, there’s currently a fund trying to get some of these trans women (the most visible and endangered queer people in Uganda right now) to safety.

    http://www.gofundme.com/72purc

    Anything is helpful, including sharing the link around.

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    ^ yeah.. a few of our ‘esteemed’ mp’s are readying themselves. . its going to be tabled in parliament real soon.
    I was wondering why autostraddle didn’t comment on this..it’s been 3 days already. But thanks for not letting an ardent follower down albeit a few days late..

    This thing is affecting even those in Kenya. (Uganda’s neighbour to the East for those who didn’t take Geography seriously). Lesbians are being evicted from their places by the neighbours and being beaten up. It’s getting us very worried.
    Also seeing friends on your timeline praising the Ugandan president and you can’t say shit because every one is entitled to their opinion. Engaging them is just a dead end because you will end up outing yourself and endless hate inboxes that just end up down and depressed.
    Really there is no way to spin this into a witty informative message as I usually do.. Lesbians are getting attacked at the bus stops. The last time I heard of such an incident was 4 years ago..That it is happening now has especially the more ‘masculine inclined’ fearing for their safety..
    I apologize for the long post . And also one last thing doing rounds on facebook in Kenya is the confession of a South African twink who says the Ugandan president is his lover.. The evidence to incriminate him have apparently been cleared to be authentic by S.A auditors. . Take what you will from that..

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    This is all so horrible. It makes me want to do something and I’m not sure how to do it, but I’d like some thoughts and encouragement…

    So when I was younger I made a Samaritan’s purse box that got sent to a girl who lives in Uganda. Just about a month ago this woman sends me a letter telling me that she greatly appreciated the box and sent this thank you letter “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” She is the pastor of a church of over 200 people and she said that if I answered back that that would answer her prayers.

    This is all a strange coincidence to me because I am a lesbian, but it would be interesting to see if I could change her mind on homosexuality (assuming that she is against it). Although I am not a christian anymore, I am still a good person, and maybe I could share my story with her? Thoughts please.

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