LGBTQ+ Ugandans Are Fleeing As “Kill The Gays” Legislation Advances

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UgandaQueer Ugandans are fleeing the country as the government inches closer to passing the 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Parliament  colloquially known as the latest “Kill the Gays” bill.

It’s already illegal to be queer in Uganda. In 2009, a proposed bill, which was also dubbed the “kill the gays” bill, contained a provision that would allow gay people to be hanged. The nation’s previous Anti-Homosexuality Act which allowed for life imprisonment for some homosexual acts between consenting adults was ultimately struck down in court shortly after its passage in 2014.

As Human Rights Watch reports, the latest bill expands on the criminalization of homosexuality, including prohibiting, for example, touching another person “with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality.” People who are found guilty of the “offense of homosexuality” may be imprisoned for up to 10 years, while people who pursue LGBTQ+ advocacy may be imprisoned for up to 20 years. The bill also effectively declares all same-sex activity as nonconsensual, according to Human Rights Watch.

The 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill also proposes the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality,” referring to gay sex involving people who are HIV positive, minors, and other “vulnerable groups.” If the bill is passed, Uganda will become the fourth African nation in which homosexuality is punishable by death, The legislation has already passed Uganda’s unicameral parliament and has yet to be signed by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who previously praised the parliament’s “strong stand” against the nation’s LGBTQ+ community.

Museveni suggested that the bill include provisions for the “rehabilitation” of LGBTQ+ individuals who “would like to live normal lives again,” and sent it back to parliament to be looked at before he can sign it into law.

In the meantime, rhetoric surrounding the bill has already led queer Ugandans to fear for their lives. Mbajjwe Nimiro Wilson, a 24-year-old gay man, told the New York Times that he fled Uganda’s capital city of Kampala for the neighboring country of Kenya after a crowd threatened him while buying groceries.

“They kept saying, ‘We will hunt you. You gays should be killed. We will slaughter you,’” he told the publication. “There was no option but to leave.”

As Vox reporter Ellen Ioanes notes, anti-LGBTQ+ policy is often common in former British colonies like Uganda, in which colonial anti-sodomy laws established by the British have rarely been repealed since former African colonies gained independence in the 1960s.

Although the United States, the United Nations, and the UK have all condemned Uganda’s latest Anti-Homosexuality Act, other Western influences have played a key role in promoting the legislation  namely, the evangelical, Arizona-based organization Family Watch International, which helped craft the original “Kill the Gays” bill in 2009, LGBTQ Nation reported.

According to the Southern Law Poverty Center, Family Watch International works to promote anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-choice stances around the world. Founder Sharon Slater pushes pseudo-science claiming that queerness is a mental disorder derived from childhood trauma, and continues to support the widely condemned, ineffective practice of “conversion therapy.”

Last month, following the Anti-Homosexuality Act’s passage through Uganda’s parliament, Family Watch sponsored a conference joining together lawmakers from over a dozen African nations, all of whom are currently working to pass or introduce anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

“The wave of homophobia and transphobia in Uganda, and the region, has nothing to do with Ugandan or African values,” Ugandan human rights activist and lawyer Nicolas Opiyo recently said.

“It is a disguised campaign by American evangelicals through their local actors… Their claim about African family values is only a ‘dog whistle,’ a hate campaign and an imposition of a narrow Christian worldview upon us all. Once again, the Ugandan gay community is a target of this misinformation, hate, and culture wars.”


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