Uganda’s ‘Kill the Gays’ Bill Examined
Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill is on track to pass successfully through the African nation’s legislative body. With passage expected by December, some leaders in the nation are calling the bill a “Christmas present.”
The specifics of the current law leave little room for hope in the LGBT community. It lays out two kinds of homosexual acts, both punishable with extremes. The first is considered “Aggravated homosexuality” and concerns any homosexual act with someone HIV positive, sex with a minor or someone with a disability, sex involving a parent or authority figure or by someone administering intoxicating substances. This is punishable by death. Any other consenting homosexual act is punishable with life in prison. Repeat offenders are also given the death penalty.
Promotion of gay rights and funding or sponsoring homosexuality is also a punishable offense.
Current Legal persecution of gays in Uganda comes from lingering and outdated colonial laws barring “unnatural sex.” Similar US laws dealing with sodomy were phased out through the sexual liberation in America – ending nation-wide in the 2003 Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas. While the US, Europe, and even several countries in Africa have moved past these dangerous and overreaching laws, Uganda stands as a pillar of sexual minority persecution.
A small protest of LGBT rights in Uganda via Salon
The specifics of why and how Uganda got to this place are fairly simple to trace – the influence of foreign religious groups in the form of financial aid. Christian groups come into third world regions, establish a foothold, and exercise their will politically.
Specific groups have made it their mission to impose anti-homosexual beliefs onto the African continent, and many have succeeded. VCU’s head Africanist, Dr. Christopher Brooks, spoke of the treatment of LGBT folks and the culture of Africans.
“Throughout Africa, gay activity is not public, it’s still a taboo.” While he was less knowledgeable about the specifics of Uganda, he said there are some countries that are taking steps to support the persecuted sexual minorities. South Africa is the only country that recognizes same-sex marriage in their constitution, and Mali allows consenting sexual acts, meaning homosexual sex is not specifically criminalized.
Again, according to Brooks, the root of these anti-gay feelings comes from international religious influence. “A lot of this sentiment has been stirred up by American Fundamentalist preachers.”
The cultural ties between religion and politics in Africa make efforts even harder for LGBT people to live safely.
“Churches (in Africa) are stronger. Americans are more likely to question their bishops and priests because of how we are socialized.” Said Brooks, “That tends to be less so on the African continent where bishops can be seen like overlords.”
The concept of church and state as individual entities does not exist in Africa like it does in America. VCU International Studies Professor Mark Wood spoke more to this idea.
“You have traditions of separating church and state which have a much shorter history there, so its safe to say that religious leaders are equally seen as political leaders.” Said Wood.
Wood goes further to suggest the anti-homosexual sentiment that exists in the US is similar to that in Uganda, though it is more often frowned upon or legally punishable here.
“Even in the US, its not that long ago that homosexuality was criminalized. And we still live in a society where, if you’re gay, you are potentially subject to brutal assaults. While not legally sanctioned, the assaults spring from a similar religious understanding that LGBT life is somehow compromising the integrity of the body politic, and therefore should be eliminated.”
The post-colonial nature of African nations could play a part in the issue as well. As European rulers fade, nations seek to develop their own cultural identities. Ironically, it seems in the case of Uganda, as foreign political rulers left, foreign religion took its place. Uganda is trying to distinguish themselves, and using this controversial issue as a focal point.
In an October article from the Daily Kos, Uganda’s Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, lays out her country’s independence from foreign influence and dependence on aid money.
“I will not accept to be intimidated or to be directed by any government in the world because we are independent. We are Ugandans. We are not a colony of Canada; we are not even a protectorate…” said Kadaga.
Originally drafted in 2009, the first form of the “kill the gays” bill was watered down and pushed back after international outcry first appeared. Threats to cut aid funds from Europe and the US are thought to have influenced the delay, though leaders in Uganda say the two are not connected.
Kadaga speaking publicly against LGBT rights via in2eastafrica.net
“If the price of aid is going to be promoting homosexuality in this country, I think we don’t want that aid. I don’t think we want it.” Said Kadaga.
Of the $1.8 trillion in aid Uganda received in 2010, the US gave about $500 million. But the push-back from citizens here and from other donating nations could stem that foreign aid in the future.
Sentiments from US leaders have sided with LGBT activists. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spent time in Uganda over the summer, has stated her support for LGBT rights in line with the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights.
“Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct; but, in fact, they are one and the same.” Said Secretary Clinton. “It should never be a crime to be gay… gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights.”
There are many additional issues with the treatment of gays in Uganda – this article attempts to examine the situation as best and in-depth as possible. Uganda’s legal moves are terrifying, but the violence that occurs there outside of this legal battle is all too real – citizens aren’t waiting for this law to pass; many have already been murdered, been the victim of “correctional rape” or worse. People like David Keto, a Ugandan teacher, were brutally murdered for their attempts to stand up for LGBT rights.
We’ll be following the story as it develops.
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