This week a new legislative assault has been launched against LGBTQI+ rights in Uganda.
New anti-LGBTQI+ Legislation in Uganda will Increase Harassment and Discrimination
This week a new legislative assault has been launched against LGBTQI+ rights in Uganda. Although same sex intimacy has been criminalized in Uganda over the past decade, the Ugandan government has made repeated attempts to further entrench and exacerbate human rights violations against LGBTQI+ people.
On March 9, 2023, a Ugandan lawmaker read a new bill, The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, into parliament after its introduction last week. The Bill seeks to prohibit any form of same sex intimacy and prohibits its promotion or recognition. In Uganda, same sex intimacy is already punishable by life imprisonment under the Penal Code 1950 which criminalizes acts of ‘carnal knowledge against the order of nature’ and ‘gross indecency’, colonial era provisions which were retained after independence. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women ruled last year that criminalisation of consensual, same-sex intimacy between women (and by extension, all people) is a human rights violation.
Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), described the ongoing debate over homosexuality as a “diversion” from the real issues that affect Ugandans. “Homosexual acts are already illegal, and a new law would mean more harassment and discrimination against people who are already vulnerable.”
A 2014 bill, the Anti-Homosexuality Act, imposed the death penalty for same sex relations; it was adopted by Parliament but overturned by the Ugandan Constitutional Court on procedural grounds. Although this new bill does not impose the death penalty, it criminalizes a new set of behaviors with harsh prison sentences. Simply touching someone with the “intent” to engage in same sex relations carries a sentence of ten years of imprisonment. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill is an attempt to expand existing legislation to prohibit any form of same-sex intimacy, and funding of LGBTQI+ related activities. This would effectively criminalize the entire LGBTQI+ movement in the country.
Rainbow Railroad has had an active presence in Uganda for almost a decade, facilitating emergency travel support and providing direct support to civil society partners on the ground. Anti-LGBTQI+ legislation such as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill affects not only LGBTQI+ Ugandans, but also LGBTQI+ migrants from other countries who are in desperate need of refuge. As a major transit country for migrants in the region, refugees form a third of the requests for help Rainbow Railroad receives from Uganda.
We know through previous experience how legislation like this can lead to the displacement of LGBTQI+ persons at risk. Through our partnership with SMUG, a leading LGBTQI+ organization in Uganda, we have provided support to the LGBTQI+ community in 2020 and 2021, when the Ugandan government engaged in crackdowns. We were able to assist hundreds of LGBTQI+ community members with medical support, food relief, psychosocial services, rent support, and legal assistance. Alarmingly, in 2022 SMUG’s operations were shut down by the government of Uganda and the NGO bureau, despite its impeccable reputation as a leader in human rights advocacy. The new legislation has put activists at increased risk, as lawmakers call on the Ugandan Police and the NGO Board to ensure the apprehension of alleged ‘perpetrators’. We will continue to monitor the situation closely as it unfolds, and support the leadership of LGBTQI+ activists and organizing partners working on the ground.
At Rainbow Railroad we stand with the entire Ugandan LGBTQI+ community in demanding meaningful protection of human rights and unequivocally opposing this proposed bill. This harrowing legislation is another step in the wrong direction for the protection of LGBTQI+ Ugandans, and the continued fight for queer protection and solidarity around the world.
Below is the Joint Uganda Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) Press Statement against the Anti Homosexuality Bill 2023.
The lesbian gay bisexual transgender and queer community of Uganda gravely opposes the Anti- Homosexuality Bill, 2023 that has been introduced for its first reading today the 09th of March 2023.
According to the Memorandum of the Bill, the proposed legislation is intended to, ‘establish a comprehensive and enhanced legislation to protect the traditional family’, by ‘strengthening the nation’s capacity to deal with emerging internal and external threats to the traditional, heterosexual family’ and ‘protecting the cherished culture of the people of Uganda’. The Memorandum further indicates that the Bill is intended to address the fact that the Penal Code Act’s prohibition of same-sex sexual conduct is insufficient. In his submissions, the mover of the bill further alleges that homosexuality is a ‘cancer’ eating up the world and a human wrong that needs to be addressed through legislation.
The tabling of this bill follows a period of heightened debate on homosexuality in Uganda, evidently documented by various print publications, online engagements, public demonstrations and press conferences by fundamentalist religious groups and politicians. The disinformation and misinformation public dialogues have led to vitriolic physical, verbal, and digital harassment, attacks and violations of the LGBTQ+ community.
“This bill is based on conspiracy theories aimed at erasing the lives of LGBTQ Ugandans. It has created more hatred and violence on an already vulnerable community, and sadly unprecedented harm.” said Dr. Frank Mugisha, Uganda LGBTQ Activist.
This bill is a duplication of the nullified 2014 Act with expansion of the offence of homosexuality by making it an offence for one to identify as gay, lesbian, transgender, queer ‘or any other sexual or gender identity/expression that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female.’ The Bill further reintroduces the offence of promotion of homosexuality which includes producing, procuring, marketing, broadcasting, disseminating pro-LGBT information, funding, and offering premises and other related fixed or moveable assets for purposes of homosexuality – directly targeting LGBTQ focused organizing.
“We are already experiencing denial of health-care services including HIV care and prevention, evictions, family rejections, arbitrary arrests, blackmail, online abuse and calls for the murder of known and/or perceived LGBTQ+ persons.” said a Ugandan gay man.
As Ugandan citizens of conscience, we reject discrimination and stigmatization of the LGBTQ persons. We condemn in the strongest terms sexual violence against all persons including children and we firmly believe that the existing legislation comprehensively protects them, if enforced. The proposed bill is unconstitutional and regressive in nature and if passed it will curtail public health services, access to justice, housing, association, and conscience among others.
We urge the Parliament of Uganda to uphold the principles of non-discrimination and desist from legislating hatred towards any group based on propaganda, myths and personal bias.