In October of 2009, with the backing of the Ugandan Parliament, MP David Bahati submitted a law that would make a distinction between “aggressive homosexuality” and “the offense of homosexuality”, with harsh penalties for both. Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda, but this bill added harsher sentences for the act:
- “Aggressive homosexuality” is defined in the bill as any person who engages in same-sex relations more than once, parents who engage in same-sex relations, people who engage in same-sex relations with minors or those with a disability, and HIV positive people who engage in same-sex relations. The penalty would be death.
- “The offense of homosexuality” is defined in the bill as any person who attempts to engage in same-sex relations or attempts to enter into a same-sex marriage. The penalty would be life imprisonment.
- Any person, business, media organization or NGO who is aware of same-sex relations is required to report them within 24 hours or face fines and possibly imprisonment.
- The bill also included a provision which would demand foreign nations to extradite any Ugandan person within their borders who is suspected of engaging in same-sex relations, even if the host country does not criminalize homosexuality.
- Like Russia’s anti-gay law, this bill also added punishments for the “promotion of homosexuality”.
Under Bahati’s bill, gay people’s parents, children, friends, counselors, employers and their representatives all risk breaking the law unless they report them to the authorities, effectively signing their death warrants. Around 500,000 gay people would become criminals. This was the “Kill The Gays” bill that would create a Western media storm, bring Uganda into the international spotlight, and expose just how bad the situation for gay people in the country is.
The law was given unanimous support by the Ugandan Parliament, the Parliamentary Speaker, and the Ugandan government, but when international scrutiny fell on the bill, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was faced with a decision – support the bill, and risk losing massive amounts of foreign aid from Western governments, or veto the bill, angering conservative Ugandans (who make up a massive portion of the electorate). Museveni sought a middle ground, whereby the death penalty clause would be replaced with life imprisonment. The bill passed the Ugandan Parliament in December 2013, signed into law by the President in February 2014. Museveni’s middle option failed to placate Western leaders’ concerns, and many redirected or completely stopped their aid budgets.
The effects of the bill’s passing were both obvious and immediate, and the situation for gay Ugandans has become unbearable. Sexual Minorities Uganda estimates that anti-gay violence has risen between 700% and 1900% since the bill passed, and individual stories really bring a human face to the national tragedy. One gay Ugandan teenager killed himself with rat poison because he felt his life had no value. Four Ugandans were kidnapped and tortured by a vigilante gang. Twenty-five Ugandans have fled to neighbouring countries. These cases make up a tiny amount of the everyday human rights abuses that gay Ugandans endure by the courts, the police force and their fellow citizens.
The Kill The Gays bill is the most extreme and well-known example of institutionalized homophobia in Uganda, but it is just one among many. Take the national media of Uganda, which has repeatedly outed many “known homosexuals” in its tabloids. Rolling Stone (not to be confused with the musical magazine) is the worst offender for putting gay Ugandans in danger, after it published hundreds of “homos” names and addresses and called for their hanging in 2010. The tabloid also outed David Kato, a human rights advocate called “the first openly gay man in Uganda”. Kato was murdered in his own home after Rolling Stone ran pieces on his “deviant lifestyle”.
The documentary Call Me Kuchu shed further light on the conditions gay Ugandans live under, with a focus on the life and death of David Kato. The film also documented his funeral, which descended into protests when the presiding preacher went off on an anti-gay tirade as David’s mother stood by his coffin. David wasn’t even granted peace in death after a police investigation refused to consider hate crime as a motivation for his murder. Instead, they ran through every possible motive – from a routine robbery gone wrong to a payment dispute with a jealous prostitute, David Kato was denied the proper investigation he was entitled to. His accused murderer, a prostitute, was sentenced to 30 years hard labour. Rolling Stone’s editor Giles Muhame refused to apologize for publishing his name.
Homophobic Ugandans know no shame and no humanity. They have put hundreds of gay Ugandans at the mercy of mobs, called for the deaths of over 500,000 people and seized every opportunity to spread violence with the full backing of the government. By contrast, gay Ugandans have absolutely no services available to them because at every turn they are met with prejudice, rejection and in most cases threats to their lives. They can’t vote for somebody in elections who will stand up for their rights, and they can’t find solace in their own home, their school or their workplace. No pride parades exist. No gay villages exist. No LGBT sexual health clinics exist.
Thankfully the Kill The Gays bill has recently been declared void by Uganda’s Constitutional Court, based on the parliamentary technicality that not enough MPs were present when it was voted on. Sadly the bill was not declared void for its violations of basic human rights or the adverse effects it has on gay Ugandans, but a repeal is a repeal. Homosexuality still remains an offense under colonial-era law, although the threat to life is not so severe.
For now at least. Ugandan Archbishop Stanley Ntagali has already called for its immediate reinstatement, and. Ugandan MPs are attempting to bypass parliamentary regulation by signing a petition which would allow them to vote on an identical law within three days. They’re currently barred from passing such a law for 45 days, but the architect of the original bill said that Uganda was in a state of “emergency” and that parliamentary procedure ought to be put on hold.
The sad fact is that these sorts of laws and attitudes are leftovers from the British colonial era. Conquering forces implemented extreme sexual codes which of course altered the attitudes of the local people and created a culture of rejectionism about gay rights. The anti-homosexuality laws we see across Africa now are direct descendants of the British laws imposed upon the colonies, and Uganda is one example among many of a country completely hostile to gay rights. After the colonial forces abandoned Uganda and it gained independence, the Western powers-that-be moved towards acceptance of gay rights. We had our cultural revolutions, we were able to petition our governments and fight for our rights. Ugandans cannot.
In fact, that colonial effort to criminalize homosexuality is still going on today, albeit by a different nationality of people under a different banner. American Evangelicals have worked closely with Ugandan ministers and authorities to spread the word about the “evil” of homosexuality. Scott Lively, one of the most prolific authors about the dangers of being gay, attended a conference in 2009 aimed at trying to convert gay people, where he told audience members that gay people routinely sodomize teenage boys and turn them gay.
African leaders like to imagine that homosexuality is a Western import that is being forced upon African culture. The truth is that homosexuality existed long before European powers invaded, and will last long after these leaders are dead. A country that supports killing or imprisoning its own people for who they love is beyond redemption. I do not know if the situation for gay Ugandans will ever get better, and I call on Western leaders to grant asylum to them so that they may survive.
To finish, please watch this Youtube video which sums up Ugandan homophobia in under 3 minutes.