Gay men and women beware in Kampala, capital of Uganda.
Despite urging from Western leaders, the African country of Uganda has declared war on homosexuality.
In late February, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a law that imposes tough jail terms for homosexual acts. Museveni called homosexuals “disgusting” and said their acts are “unnatural” and they should not be given human rights.
Museveni signed the law despite pleas from Western heads of state, including U.S. President Barack Obama who said the law is an “affront and danger to the gay community in Uganda.”
Obama further warned the new law would “complicate” relations between Uganda and the U.S.
Museveni, Uganda’s longtime president, was pressured by members of his own political party to sign the legislation, first introduced into the Ugandan parliament in 2009 as the “kill the gays” bill because of its original intent to put homosexuals to death.
David Bahati, a member of Uganda’s ruling National Resistance Movement party, told Reuters,“(The law) is very much worth it because it will protect our values. I think a society that has no moral values is a contradiction to development.”
According to Amnesty International, Uganda is now one of 37 African countries where homosexuality is illegal. Fear reigns supreme in the African LGBT community. People living and working in Uganda and other nearby countries have remained tight-lipped about their day-to-day lives.
A Ugandan tabloid, The Red Pepper, has even begun printing the names of the country’s “top” homosexuals in response to the law’s requirement to report known gay people and provides penalties for those who do not.
“It’s going to be hard to get anyone to talk about this,” said a person familiar with the situation on the ground in Uganda.
The consequences of Uganda’s law are likely to result in a massive exodus of gay people to more accepting countries, in the West, said Ugandan gay rights activist Frank Mugisha, who told London’s Daily Telegraph, “Countries like Britain and the U.S. will get many Ugandan asylum seekers.”
One consequence, foreign aid, is already taking shape. European nations, Norway and Denmark, have announced reductions in their foreign aid to Uganda. Likewise, the World Bank is currently diverting aid. The U.S. is reviewing its ties, but does not budge on its stance concerning same-sex relations.
Aaron Jensen, spokesperson for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the U.S. State Department, said, “The United States opposes any action that criminalizes same-sex conduct among adults.”
Museveni has held power in Uganda since 1986 and, officially, the country calls itself a republic. A landlocked country in East sub Sahara Africa, Uganda’s boundaries were created by Britain during colonization. Uganda received its independence from Britain in 1962 and today has a population of more than 34 million people, ranking 37th globally.
Museveni had previously made public statements against imprisoning homosexuals for life, saying, instead, he believed gay people were “sick” and “abnormal.” His about face on the bill was tweeted to the world by a government spokesman, Ofwono Opondo, who also parroted the party line in another tweet: “The NRM caucus has welcomed the development as a measure to protect Ugandans from social deviants.”
While it is becoming more and more clear that social religious conservatives — with the help of American evangelicals — pushed this new law through Uganda’s parliament, the outcome leaves complicated conditions for world health organizations.
Doctor Vanessa Kerry, MD, MSc and CEO of Seed Global Health, released the following statement:
“This issue is especially important to Seed Global Health, and me personally, because of our mission. We strive to help improve the health of all where we work by supporting U.S. doctors and nurses to help train a new generation of medical and nursing providers in Uganda and other countries. We and our Ugandan partners can’t do this if patients are at risk disclosing their sexual orientation and doctors and nurses are put in harm’s way for treating gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) Ugandans. Furthermore, we are restricted from safely sending volunteers to Uganda who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender themselves.”
Kerry joins a growing chorus of prominent public figures to condemn the Ugandan law. South African social rights activist, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu pleaded with Museveni to not sign the bill into law, equating discrimination against gay people to the horrors of World War II and atrocities of apartheid in South Africa.
“We must be entirely clear about this: the history of people is littered with attempts to legislate against love or marriage across class, caste, and race. But there is no scientific basis or genetic rationale for love. There is only the grace of God. There is no scientific justification for prejudice and discrimination, ever. And nor is there any moral justification. Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa, among others, attest to these facts,” Tutu said in a statement.
A retired Anglican bishop, Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. In his statement, Tutu asked Museveni to use this debate to strengthen Uganda’s culture of human rights and justice and asked the president to focus his energies on sexual exploitation rather than orientation.
The uproar surrounding Uganda’s criminalization of homosexuality has highlighted the problems LGBT people face on the continent of Africa, where homosexuality is illegal in 37 of Africa’s 55 countries with some penalties resulting in death.
“Any effort to outlaw or push LGBT Ugandans out of sight is wrong,” said Kerry, who is calling for the law’s repeal. “It hurts Uganda, the health of all its population, and the ability to treat all its citizens with the fundamental rights and dignity they and we all deserve. We believe Ugandans and the world deserve better.”
10 Ways You Can Help LGBT Ugandans
A coalition of Ugandan LGBT and human rights groups, the Civil Society Coalition On Human Rights and Constitutional Law, has issued guidelines on how people all over the world can help stand up to the nation's anti-gay bill.
Visit Ugandans4Rights.org for more information.
1. Speak Out
“It is very critical that we continue to speak out against the law and its implications in terms of security of the LGBTI community, their allies, and the general implications of the Act on the work around public health and human rights in general.”
2. World Wide Demonstrations
“We call upon all partners, friends and allies to organize demonstrations in different cities around the world now as this Act is set to have detrimental effects for all of us. We all MUST continue to speak out. These could include demonstrations at the Ugandan embassy in our country, or asking your place of worship to organize a vigil.”
3. Contact International Companies
“Call on Multinational companies that have businesses in Uganda to go public about their concerns on the Act and their future economic engagements in Uganda: For example Heineken, KLM, British Airways, Turkish Airlines, Barclays Bank, and other companies with important interests in Uganda and that already respect and value LGBT rights in their own internal policies, should note the risk that these laws pose for the safety of their own employees, as well as the impact on their brand image of continuing to do business in Uganda.”
4. Urge Asylum Reform
“…adjust their asylum policy with regard to LGBTI persons from Uganda, Nigeria, Russia, Cameroun and other countries in which levels of state-sponsored homophobia are rapidly rising.”
5. Travel Advisories
Urge the government to issue travel advisories “on Uganda, and remind them that they have a duty to protect and therefore should take responsibility for alerting their own LGBTI citizens to the risks of traveling to Uganda.”
6. Contact Travel Companies
Contact travel companies “to urge them to also routinely issue such travel advisories to their customers (on the same principle that tobacco products must have a health warning visibly displayed, so flights and package holidays should have warnings of the risks of traveling to Uganda!)”
7. Urge Foreign Leaders to Speak Out
“…to say something about the Act as they have not come out strongly as it was expected.”
8. Urge Celebrities to Speak Out
“We need more voices that Ugandans recognize and revere socially to speak out against this Law.”
9. Contact Religious Leaders
Contact religious leaders “of all faiths (Catholic, Anglican, Muslim, Protestant, Seventh Day Adventists, Quakers, etc.) to issue statements encouraging tolerance and respect for human rights for all Ugandans and Africans.”
Donate “physical, financial, or technical support to the Coalition and the LGBTI community as well as the exposed Human Rights Defenders working on LGBTI rights who are likely to begin to be arrested and charged or otherwise persecuted. Financial and technical support for challenging the Act in the Constitutional Court and the East African Court of Justice.”