On Tuesday, March 21st, Uganda’s Parliament approved a new anti-LGBQT+ bill that would further criminalize the LGBTQ+ community and introduce harsher punishments, including making it illegal to identify as gay in Uganda. It also places a responsibility on friends, family, and community members aware of same-sex relationships to notify the authorities.
Property owners whose property is the location of homosexual or LGBTQ+ activities that take place will face punishment. The funding and sponsoring of LGBTQ+ activities or organizations will also be prohibited and punishable. Publishing, broadcasting, and distributing any pro-gay material or material advocating for gay rights will not be allowed. The bill introduces some severe punishments that include a death sentence for the act of “aggravated homosexuality” which is the act of sexually abusing a child, disabled/vulnerable person, or infecting the victim of a sexual assault with a life-long illness. The bill has not officially been passed as a law and will need to be signed by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni.
The Anti Homosexuality Bill 2023 was introduced by Asuman Basalirwa. The bill proved to be popular with the parliamentarians who voted for its passing, with Parliamentary Speaker Anita Annet Among reportedly claiming the “bill passed in record time.”
“The objective of the bill was to establish a comprehensive and enhanced legislation to protect traditional family values, our diverse culture, [and] our faiths by prohibiting any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex and the promotion or recognition of sexual relations between persons of the same sex,” Basalirwa told the CNN.
The bill has proved to be controversial, garnering criticism from several quarters. Condemnation of the bill has come from both Ugandan and international critics. “One of the most extreme features of this new bill is that it criminalizes people simply for being who they are as well as further infringing on the rights to privacy, and freedoms of expression and association that are already compromised in Uganda,” Oryem Nyeko, who is a researcher with Human Rights Watch Uganda. “Ugandan politicians should focus on passing laws that protect vulnerable minorities and affirm fundamental rights and stop targeting LGBT people for political capital,” he said.
Internationally, condemnation of the bill has come from organizations and government officials from the United States and the United Kingdom. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the bill. The White House criticized the bill, threatening to sanction the parliamentarians who voted in favor of it. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said they would continue monitoring developments around the bill.
Uganda is a conservative nation that has historically passed anti-gay laws. Anti-gay legislation already currently exists in the country. In 2014, Uganda’s constitutional court made invalid an iteration of the law that brought stricter terms against the gay community. President Museveni has used homophobic language before, referring to the gay community as deviants. In the weeks before the bill passed, it allegedly already caused friction in Ugandan communities with people using accusations of being gay to extort and blackmail one another.
“They are trying to drum up anti-gay rhetoric to divert attention from really what is important to Ugandans in general. There is no reason why you should have a bill that criminalizes individuals that are having consensual same-sex adult relationships,” Clare Byarugaba, LGBTQ+ Rights Activist told the BBC.