Written by Sylvester Kazibwe
There has been a particularly targeted wave of well-funded anti-gender and anti-queer movements in West and East Africa alike. These movements have a thoughtfully curated propaganda that capitalises on the paternalistic protection of children, and family values as tools to cultivate state sponsored hate and violence.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023, hastily passed by Uganda’s parliament on 21 March 2023 has one objective; to erase the existence of the LGBTQ+ people in Uganda. In Uganda’s parliamentary debates, one is usually quick to discern ignorance and sometimes intolerance displayed by Ugandan parliamentarians and other stakeholders regarding topics with which they are not well versed.
For example, for the recently passed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, the degree of intolerance became increasingly evident to the extent that some members of parliament admitted to not distinguishing the representative constituents of each of the different clusters under the LGBTQIA+ community. Such sentiments and aloofness were not helped by the rather inflammatory role adopted by the Speaker of Parliament in advocating for harsh repercussions.
The legal system currently established in the Anti-Homosexuality Bill actively seeks to erase people who do not conform to cis-normative and heteronormative gender roles. Sanctioned by this law, one who identifies as anything other than heterosexual is doomed to a life, or indeed death (penalty), in prison. This multi-part law seeks to restrict the ability of people of different genders and sexual orientations to organise, to live, and to enjoy their basic human rights.
By criminalising sexual activity between two consenting adults and imposing a sentence of life in prison, this law poses a threat not just to the safety of the LGBTQIA+ community in Uganda, but also to their very existence in the country. Moreover, the law goes ahead and imputes liability, upon conviction, of up to ten years for property owners who provide shelter to members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Additionally, when applying for a job in the child care industry, a person who has been previously convicted for homosexuality must disclose this information.
The law also introduces a monetary fine or six months imprisonment for any individual who fail to report any suspicious homosexual activity, or intent to the police which basically exposes families, friends and neighbours of LGBTQIA+ to unreasonable conviction if they do not report.
The Anti-Homosexuality Act violates several rights guaranteed by the Ugandan Constitution including the rights to privacy, equality, freedom from discrimination, protection from inhuman treatment, right to shelter, right to association, and right to education. Since the passing of this law by Parliament, there has been a rise in reports of violence such as mob justice against LGBTQIA+ people. There has also been reported unlawful police activity spanning from arrests on the suspicion of recruiting and promoting homosexuality, to the forcible eviction of LGBTQIA+ people from their rented premises, as well as closure of LGBTQIA+ organisations. Most people in the LGBTQIA+ community are now in hiding, afraid for their physical safety. This has impacted on their mental health and well-being.
Per Article 91(3) of the Constitution, once a bill is presented to the President, He may either assent to within thirty (30) days or send it back to Parliament with comments, or notify the Speaker that he will not sign it. However, most LGBTQIA+ Ugandans are apprehensive about the very real possibility of the Bill being approved by the President.
Moreover, even if the president opted not to sign the bill, the other two options are not any more desirable in the long run. This is because a bill not assented to by the president can be passed by Parliament and sent to the President for his assent again. In any case, legislation may be passed with a two-thirds majority if the President rejects it three times. Due to a lack of parliamentary oversight and a legislature that, rather than consider principles of legality and constitutionality, bases draft legislation on emotions, culture, and religion—all of which are social constructs—the country is in a bad place.
The concept of separation of powers in Uganda is also questionable. Where we have seen the judiciary in most cases only assenting what the legislature and executive arms of government have validated as right. Therefore there is a high chance that this law would be enacted if there is international pressure from other countries, United Nations Human Rights Bodies for the Ugandan government to retrieve this punitive law.
The anti-gender and anti-queer movement has ensured a massive dissemination of
misinformation, from which the general public draws and uses to justify its animosity. It is time to have the uncomfortable conversation pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity, conservations of anatomy doesn’t equate to gender and the existence of male and female bodies doesn’t dictate for people to be heterosexual.
There is no debarking the misinformation in our communities. We need to speak out as a community and raise awareness of how these laws enable discrimination and violence against a specific population. We can all do more to combat the dehumanising and criminalising attitudes and policies that make life for LGBTQIA+
people next to impossible in this country.
As a queer Ugandan who is aware of the plight of Uganda’s children, I adopt the viewpoint of Uganda’s parliamentarians in protecting children from rape, defilement, paedophilia, to mention but a few. My point of departure comes in the means adopted by the Parliament in passing this Bill. Parliament ought to amend the already existing laws to accommodate such acts for all sex and gender. By adopting a neutral language in the amendment of the existing laws, it will no longer be necessary to have a separate legal framework.
Consensual same sex relationships are protected by the international, regional and domestic human rights framework to which Uganda ascribes. Laws such as the AHB invade people’s right to bodily autonomy and integrity as well as the right to privacy, while threatening the very existence of a minority population in our country. This law is not just violent, it is also unconstitutional and has no place in a democratic country.
We are all human beings made of made up of different ingredients and should respect each other in all our diversities.