THE NEW 2023 UGANDAN ANTI-LGBTQIA+ LAW: TALE OF WOE OF AN AFRICAN COUNTRY’S LGBTQIA+ PEOPLE

Written by Adriaan van den Berg

 

The Most Recent installment in a Saga of Hate

March 2023 – Uganda’s parliament accepted a new law on the 21st which makes merely identifying oneself as gay or as lesbian a crime along with introducing other restrictions and punishments besides. Even though there were already stringent anti-LGBTQIA+ laws in place in Uganda, the new law tightens the noose around the country’s LGBTQIA+ people’ necks. By contrast, there was elation in the Ugandan parliament following enactment of the Bill – lawmakers congratulated themselves for passing one of the severest anti-gay and lesbian laws in the world. And journalists interviewing members of the public on the capital of Kampala’s streets, also found many people who said they were glad the anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation has been enacted and some thanked parliament for the new law.

   Some, of course, opposed the new hate law. Systematic and effective suppression of LGBTQIA+ advocacy, intimidation of LGBTQIA+ people and threats to anyone who supported them have left many scared of openly criticizing the new law though, or the anti-LGBTQIA+ lawmakers whose ranks had included opposition politicians. A number of critics still went on record pointing out problems with the new law and raised a number of serious critical and humanitarian objections to it. Nevertheless, those trying to perpetuate persecution of Uganda’s LGBTQIA+ community and to further the hate campaign of recent years against them, have apparently scored a victory again.    

    Supporters of the hate law campaigned and advocated for it under the banner of “making Uganda a Christian nation with Christian morals.” They seemed to indeed not only have triumphed over humanitarian considerations and over human rights concerns, but to also have trounced Christian love, tolerance and compassion too. They fiercely defend their hate law on religious grounds and justify their demand for the death penalty with faith-based arguments, that is, despite the undeniable and unassailable facts that Jesus Christ never spoke a word against same-sex love, never mind that he never called for the death penalty for anyone or for any transgression whatsoever. Christ’s example supposedly holds sway over and above denouncements in and of the Old Testament and his example should have served all His followers to come after him. Yet this example apparently never impressed the apostle Paul who was the actual author of the New Testament’s homophobic pronouncement and indictment of same-sex acts. But all of this is lost on Uganda’s homophobes as they celebrate their latest lowest and basest victory. 

   But where did the hate begin? Where did the religious and political anti-LGBTQIA+ sentiments in Uganda expressed through the new law originate? A certain true story awaits in reply. It is well known and is quite a story, a tale of woe of Uganda’s LGBTQIA+ people… It’s plot has dark conspiratorial aspects and there are prominent figures and shady operators alike in this tale, a web of people whose tracks can be followed leading to key events and contributions to what would ultimately become the organised hate campaign towards Uganda’s LGBTQIA+ people of the past decade and longer. And the horrible truth of the whole story is that a genocide of LGBTQIA+ people in Uganda might just have been narrowly averted by a court ruling in the USA recently, just for the next chapter in this tale to resume with the newfound momentum of the anti-LGBTQIA+ campaign’s new hate legislation. 

The latter not only renews the hate, it places Uganda’s LGBTQIA+ people at peril all over again. In a country which has seen too much violence in its recent history, the new law does nothing less than assault the country’s LGBTQIA+ people and enable the shedding of blood in Uganda once more. So, let’s look at this story, this tale of woe and its plot and components, its protagonists and its role-players and its characters and key events.

Once Upon a Time There Was a Country in Africa…

Uganda did not always have problems with LGBTQIA+ people – actually, it rather had a quite permissive history instead… that is, until the modern colonial dispensation. Prior to it, effeminate men known by the enticingly-sounding name as “mudoko dako” were granted the right to marry men and were treated like women amongst the Langi people of Northern Uganda. Cross-dressing homosexual priests were found amongst the Bunyoro people and the Teso people also acknowledged and permitted cross-dressing men. It should be pointed out though that cross-dressing didn’t always mean or imply a certain sexual orientation too, and forms and categories of transgenderism amongst these people occurred independently from and didn’t necessarily mean that the men at stake were also homosexual. It is also alleged that King Kabaka Mwanga II who ruled during the latter half of the 19th century was bisexual, though no historical documentation attests to the fact.

   Homosexuality was criminalized during the colonial dispensation in Uganda in 1902. Since then, there has been a problematic attitude and association with same-sex love and same-sex acts and towards transgenderism. The Christian religion and Islam have both come to play an important role in Ugandan society and have also came to dictate the condemnatory attitudes of many towards same-sex relations, same-sex acts and towards transgenderism. Under the guidance of fundamentalists, these religions did so throughout the twentieth century and over the past two decades and more of the twenty-first century as well.

   We should therefore consider that Uganda had a problem with homophobia and transphobia before this story began. Sodomy laws introduced during colonialism already made homosexual acts illegal in the country and imposed sentences from 14 years to life in jail from the time at which our tale commences. And as part of that background and of a contributing, enabling context for homo- and transphobia, we also have to keep in consideration that somewhere, during the first decade of the new millennium, Ugandan Pentecostal pastors like Martin Ssempa and Solomon Moses Male began complaining that gays were recruiting Ugandan children at schools with Western assistance. Resulting rumors about the alleged perversion of youngsters by gays did the rounds amongst the population and homosexuality and transgenderism came to be associated negatively with Western influence and were seen as forms of deviance and decadence by many. This homo- and transphobia have seemingly indeed spread widely amongst the local population. In interview after interview conducted by journalists with ordinary Ugandans who were the parents of gay, lesbian or transgender or intersex children, the parents expressed disappointment if not disgust at their children’s LGBTQI status. So, already before the actual events which began the recent history of religious and political homophobia and transphobia commenced, a significant part of Uganda’s population was already unfavorably disposed towards homosexuals and transgender people.

Uganda: Ripe for Interference and with a President Ready to be Poisoned Against His Own People by Emissaries from Abroad 

After more than a century of having laws criminalizing homosexuality and a history of homosexual, lesbian and transgender and intersex people being targeted by missionaries, we can say that Uganda was vulnerable and receptive for fundamentalist and fanatical ideas about such people spread by modern-day evangelical emissaries from abroad. Already the existence of the Lord’s Liberation Army had proven that religion could be used in Uganda to mobilize people into fanatical extremist groups who could wage violent campaigns against the state and society in the name of religious principles and fundamentalist beliefs. But the starting point for this story, however, seemingly was the 2009 Seminar for Exploring the International Homosexual Agenda and the arrival in Uganda of three American evangelicals who were to be keynote speakers at this seminar or conference and at its workshops.

   It is not always easy to identify the exact persons and their organizations in cases of hate campaigns like these, but the three operators involved have been identified in a report by a credible newspaper and online news service, the Mail and Guardian. The first was Scott Lively, co-founder of the controversial international anti-gay extremist group Watchmen on the Walls and co-author of The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party, a proponent of the well-worn dictum that fascism and homosexuality have a natural affinity and therefore make easy bedmates. The next one was Don Schmierer, cooperator with various homosexual recovery programs and author of five books on “straightening” homosexuals out and on reforming them. The last was Caleb Lee Brundidge, a “reformed” ex-gay man said to, peculiarly, have led groups to mortuaries in attempts to raise the dead and whose CV included the entry “worked as a sexual reorientation coach.” Caleb demonstrated on CNN how he goes about “reforming” homosexuals: Guys hit chairs with tennis rackets screaming “Mom, why did you do this to me?!”

   The organizers sold places at the seminar to the Ugandans at R108 a head and then the evangelical speakers got them all riled up and to cry about homosexuals and transgender people. Stephen Langa, executive director of the Family Life Network, the Ugandan Christian right advocacy group that organized the seminar, claimed that Lively, Brundidge and Schmierer were called to Uganda “because gay activists in that country are recruiting children to homosexuality” – which the watchdog Hatewatch alleged were “farcical, considering that death threats and the fear of state-sanctioned execution have forced gay activists in the African country underground. For decades homosexuality in Uganda had already been a crime.” And the evangelicals found fertile grounds in Uganda for their ideas. Before they would leave, they would turn leading and influential Ugandans against their own people. 

Poisoned Seeds Sowed Against Uganda’s LGBTQI People

Scott Lively stands accused of political interference in Uganda, and of instigating a hate campaign in the country before getting on a plane and leaving the wounds he had inflicted or had opened to fester, and leaving the bitter seeds he had planted to sprout in repression and suffering of LGBTQI people. If the seminar had been the starting point, then the next act was when, at some point, Scott Lively is said to also have been in contact with the Ugandan parliament. It was soon followed by the presentation of a draft Bill to parliament, which Ugandan gay rights activist Dennis Wamala alleges, contained and perfectly matched and reflected all the talking points exactly as Lively had touched upon them during his address at the Seminar, it was so similar it was uncanny. Wamala knew this since, after-all, he had been one of a number of LGBTQI activists who had actually paid and attended the seminar inconspicuously as observers. This was in April, 2009 and in October that year MP David Bahati also presented legislation which imposed the death penalty for homosexual acts such as gay people with Aids who had had sex anyone else, whether they used condoms or not.

   Doctor Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian Anglican priest and a senior religious and sexuality researcher at social justice think-tank Political Research Associates who also attended the original seminar/conference as well as the strategic meeting on combatting homosexuality hosted by FLN afterwards, recalled being informed that Parliament, having heard from Lively, “believed a new Bill was needed to take into consideration the international gay agenda” (Mail & Guardian, 6 March, 2014). Lively has denied drafting the law adopted in 2009, but Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a lobby group, has sued Lively and he has admitted “editing” or proofreading the Bill. Caleb Okereke, a Nigerian journalist and co-founder of and managing editor at Minority Africa in an article for foreignpolicy.com titled “How U.S. Evangelicals Helped Homophobia Flourish in Africa” has also exposed the same group of three and their agenda in Uganda though. There was an undeniable direct link between Uganda’s 2009 hate legislation, the named outside agents and the latter’s detrimental influence and impact on LGBTQI people’s lives and safety and thus on human rights in Uganda – which can be said to be felt till this day. Dennis Wamala says the war against LGBTQI people in Uganda “went from rhetoric to action” with Ssempa and Male’s allegations against gays and the Seminar on Exploring the International Homosexual Agenda, he and others accuse the visiting three evangelicals of having lit the flame for all that had also happened since 2009.

 

 

Yoweri Museveni’s Penchant for Signing Hate Legislation into Effect

It is also postulated, however, that either one or all three the American evangelicals might also have had the President’s ear and had in particular poisoned Yoweri Museveni against his country’s LGBTQI people. The meeting with the President is largely conjectural though, but Yoweri Museveni has not only not minced words when it got to stating which side he was on, his signing of consecutive anti-LGBTQI legislation has made it clear: he has become a committed enemy of LGBTQI people who still has to be hauled in front of the International Criminal Court.

   So, Museveni did not resist the 2009 hate Bill, he signed it. At the end of 2013, another anti-LGBTQI Bill was presented to Uganda’s parliament. Called “Kill the Gays Bill” by journalists for its demand of the death penalty for certain same-sex acts, it would also have enabled Uganda to extradite people from abroad for contravening this law and prescribed penalties for individuals, companies or non-governmental organizations who aided and abetted same-sex acts and relationships, including gay marriages besides. It too was signed into effect by President Museveni early in 2014. In response, the USA imposed economic sanctions on Uganda for the law and the World Bank postponed a loan to the country indefinitely besides other countries taking their own measures. However, on the first of August, the Ugandan Constitutional Court annulled the 2014 law on the basis that it had been passed without the requisite quorum, which had perhaps been an indication of just how eager and enthusiastic Uganda’s hatemonger legislators had been to pass the Bill.

   Indications are, however, that Yoweri Museveni has reckoned with the severe criticism and penalties from other countries and that he has taken note of the worldwide outcry at the repression and persecution of LGBTQI people in his country. He is therefore also aware and wary of possible undesirable consequences for himself, especially if things turn genocidal for Uganda’s LGBTQI people. So, Museveni doesn’t hesitate to proclaim in television interviews that homosexuals are “disgusting” and he doesn’t s mind explicitly backing anti-LGBTQI-legislation and signing it into effect, but he is careful to let the politicians in parliament and religious leaders do not only the footwork, but also get their hands bloodied in executing the more repellent and incriminating aspects of the Ugandan anti-LGBTQI hate campaign, thus avoiding partaking in anything which can get him hauled in front of a court for human rights abuses. At the very least, as things are getting worse and worse for his country’s LGBTQI people, Yoweri Museveni will not protect them. However, if anything really bad and genocidal happens to Uganda’s LGBTQI people, Museveni must pay for signing the enabling hateful legislation into effect and nothing must protect him either. 

The Cases Against the Instigators of Uganda’s Anti-LGBTQI-Hate Campaign

Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) teamed up with the US-based Center for Constitutional Rights to sue Scott Lively in his home state of Massachusetts. They detailed Lively’s role in Uganda’s swing towards draconian anti-LGBTQI legal measures. Langa, Ssempa and Bahati were also named in the case. However, the case against Lively has since been dismissed on jurisdictional grounds, namely on the basis that it could not be heard and prosecuted in the USA. Judge Michael Ponsor nevertheless were swayed to state that Lively had aided and abetted “a vicious and frightening campaign of repression against LGBTI people in Uganda.” It is believed by many that the case may have staved of a genocide of Uganda’s LGBTQI people.

   In a stunning indictment of Lively for his role in the Ugandan anti-LGBTQI legislation and human rights affairs, presiding Judge Ponsor stated that, furthermore: “This crackpot bigotry could be brushed aside as pathetic, except for the terrible harm it can cause. The record in this case demonstrates that the Defendant has worked with elements in Uganda who share some of his views to try repress freedom of expression by LGBTI people in Uganda, deprive them of the protection of the law, and render their very existence illegal.” He added that Lively had violated international law: “Anyone reading the memorandum should make no mistake. The question before the court is not whether the Defendant’s actions in aiding and abetting efforts to demonize, intimidate, and injure LGBTQI people in Uganda constitute violations of international law. They do.”

   SMUG considered the case a win for themselves nonetheless, or as Frank Mugisha, SMUG’s executive director put it: “The court’s ruling recognizes the dangers resulting from the hatred that Scott Lively and other extremist Christians from the US have exported to my country. By having a court recognize that persecution of LGBTI people amounts to a crime against humanity, we have already been able to hold Lively to account and reduce his dangerous influence in Uganda.” It, however, makes the newest 2023 legislation all the sadder – since the victory for SMUG did not translate into abstinence from further legislating against the country’s LGBTQI people by their parliament.             

The New 2023 Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act

   The Act finally accepted and approved by the legislature in Parliament in 2023 added to the existing 2009 Bill and its life imprisonment for same-sex acts by adding new offenses curtailing activism on gay, lesbian and bisexual and transgender issues – a most narrow-minded petty provision – and “eradicates LGBT people from any form of social engagement in Uganda” according to Human Rights Watch. Its report went on to state: “But one of the most egregious provisions  – the Bill called it “aggravated homosexuality” – calls for the death penalty in certain circumstances, including for “serial offenders,” or anyone having same-sex relations with a person with an disability, thereby automatically denying persons with disabilities the capacity to have sex.” As draconian is the new provision for punishing people for merely identifying as gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender.

   The Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2023 was tabled by Bugiri Municipality MP, Asuman Basalirwa. In motivating the Bill, Basalirwa emphasized the need to improve the penal Code Act enacted by the British colonial authorities “because recruitment, promotion, and funding of same-sex practices threatened the continuity of the family and the safety of children.” In the runup to the enactment of the Bill, Pastor Solomon Male and Pastor Martin Ssempa who had made the allegations of gays recruiting minors with Western help prior to 2009, both appeared before the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee prior ti its enactment and stated their opinions regarding the Bill. Surprisingly, Pastor Male was critical of the Bill and stated that the new Bill was needless since the country already had adequate provisions under the existing Penal Code. He rather suggested better endorsement of current laws and noted the narrow description of homosexuality by the Bill by excluding women whom he said often also were victims of sodomy. He accused law enforcers of failing to arrest perpetrators of homosexuality and suggested the country should establish rehabilitation centers for homosexuals. Amongst the clergymen who supported the Bill was Bishop David Kiganda of the National Pastors Platform of Uganda (NPPU) and the notorious Pastor Martin Ssempa. Ssempa said the Bill shored up existing legislation and he also spoke in favor of rehabilitation centers for homosexuals – a view which reflected both an inadequate understanding of sexual orientation and homosexuality which could also be seen by the Bill itself as well as heard from statements made by the legislators. The pastors’ views also again clearly reflected the influence of the evangelical gay rehabilitators and reformers whom had been “invited to Uganda” for the seminar in 2009. Much was made of the pastors’ seeming differences over the Bill, but essentially, they all supported a draconian Penal Code with regards to LGBTQI people which criminalized the latter and abused their basic rights to safety and protection by the state.

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As the legislators who had passed and adopted the Bill left Parliament, member of Parliament John Masira was most conspicuous for wearing an striking white gown on which was printed in stark black letters “Just Say No to Homosexuality, Lesbianism, Gays – Down with Babylon!” It was as telling of the underlying naivete of the legislators as the new hate law itself – in thinking sexual orientation was a mere choice, one to which one could just say “No!” like Nancy Reagan urged us to say to drugs, that it was a manifestation of Western decadence (Babylon), and an anti-Christian conspiracy. Already during the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee hearings on the Bill as well as from numerous statements by the legislators who approved of and who had enacted the Bill, a mishmash of garbled, corrupted and confusing perceptions and misunderstandings were heard attesting of profound ignorance regarding human sexuality, human rights and Christianity by Uganda’s leading homophobes.

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