LGBTQ People in Uganda Are Under Threat, and They Need Our Support
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The below article about the struggles faced by LGBTQ Ugandans was written by Jessica Stern, Executive Director of Outright Action International.
Earlier this month the Ethics and Integrity Minister of Uganda, Simon Lokodo, told Thomson Reuters of plans to reintroduce to parliament a bill imposing the death penalty for same-sex relations in order to curb a rise in “unnatural sex” and the “promotion and recruitment” of homosexuality. A government spokesperson has since denied such plans pertaining to LGBTQ Ugandans, and no known text exists yet, while local activists note that several MPs are known to have sought support for an impending draft.
Whether there is a bill or not, the increased rhetoric about it and corresponding hate speech serve to demonize LGBTQ people and give the green light for violence.
This would not be the first time such a bill appears on the agenda of Ugandan lawmakers. The so-called “Anti-Homosexuality Act” was first passed by the parliament of Uganda in 2013. It was signed into law by President Museveni in early 2014. Although it was invalidated by the Constitutional Court of Uganda on procedural grounds later that same year, rumors of its resurgence have been surfacing every once in a while since that very day.
Same-sex relations are already criminalized in Uganda, with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment for LGBTQ Ugandans. Further efforts to impose a death penalty — and mere discussions about the possibility of further criminalization — constitute legal overkill, and only serve to increase hate and stigma against LGBTIQ people, putting them at risk not only of government persecution but also in grave danger of vigilante violence.
Minister Lokodo’s remarks that “promotion” of LGBTQ issues should also be criminalized to the same extent are especially concerning, as this constitutes an indirect call to kill activists not only for being LGBTQ, but also for engaging in any community support, awareness raising or providing community services.
Whether a new draft of the anti-homosexuality bill will be tabled or not, hate speech alone is a driver for violence and persecution. Remember the article in Uganda’s Rolling Stone, which published the photos, names and addresses of people suspected to be LGBTQ under the title “hang them”? David Kato was one of the people on the Rolling Stone list, and he was beaten to death with a hammer a year after that article was published. Now, too, violence has increased, many community members have fled and remaining activists are working in an ever more hostile environment, often fearing for their lives and safety. Just this week it was reported that 16 LGBTQ people were detained on suspicion of homosexuality and subjected to forced anal exams, which amount to torture.
Kasha Jacquelin, a vocal activist in the country, told me, “The timing of the possible resurrection of the bill is callous — LGBTQ people are being used as a scapegoat as elections approach.” She highlighted that violence has escalated and expressed “fear that it will only get worse.”
LGBTQ people and organizations in Uganda need the support of the international community to stand up to scapegoating and incitement of violence launched against them. We need to support them in every way we can; raise the voices of LGBTQ people in Uganda; and establish once and for all that LGBTQ people have existed, do exist and will continue to exist in every corner of the world.
It is high time authorities everywhere put effort into ensuring inclusion and protection for all, instead of demonizing an already marginalized community merely for loving who we love, or being the gender that we are.