Uganda Passes Stricter Anti-LGBT Laws

Hatred and fear of homosexuality has become more aggressive and normalized in many African countries, and for the second time this month, an African nation took a step backwards in terms of LGBTQ equality. Yesterday in Uganda, despite protests from the international community, President Yoweri Museveni signed a controversial bill that strengthens existing anti-gay laws.  Museveni said, “This law was provoked by arrogant and careless groups that are fond of coming into our school to recruit.” The bill also sends a clear message to the international community that Uganda is autonomous.

The bill itself strengthens existing punishment for LGBTQ individuals having sex and imposing life sentences for “aggravated homosexuality,” including sex while HIV-positive. Under the new law, Ugandans have to denounce homosexuality as well as report any suspected gay citizen to the police. In the original version of the bill, some LGBTQ acts were punishable by death; however, due to international diplomatic pressure from the Western donors (led by Sweden), the death penalty was lessened to life imprisonment.

The bill has had alarmingly strong domestic support. The anti-gay sentiment has traditionally been strong in Uganda and has intensified over the last five years due to the influence of American evangelical groups. Many well-known evangelist extremists, such as Scott Lively, have recently visited Uganda in order to spread anti-gay messages and demand higher punishment for LGBTQs. The signing of the bill proves to be a result of these efforts.

Unfortunately, Uganda is not an isolated incident. Angola, Kenya, and Botswana also have created similar laws. In northern Nigeria, gay men can face death by stoning. Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh calls gay people “vermin.” With the exception of South Africa and a few others, Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the most aggressive anti-gay laws. According to Amnesty International, identifying as LGBTQ is punishable in thirty-eight of fifty-four African countries.

The bill signed by the Ugandan president received widespread condemnation from Western governments and a few African leaders. Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, compared Yoweri Museveni with Hitler and said, “The history of people is littered with attempts to legislate against love or marriage across class, caste and race.”

U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have also condemned the bill. Kerry announced that it was “a tragic day for Uganda and for all who care about the cause of human rights.” President Barack Obama said that the bill is a “step backwards for all Ugandans” and sent a warning that it will complicate the relationship between that country and the United States. Some European countries have announced that they are withholding or diverting aid money intended for the East African country.

For the LGBTQ community in Uganda, the future looks sinister indeed.

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