Last week in Uganda the piece of legislation known to the world as the “Kill the Gays Bill” passed in Ugandan parliamentary committee. The bill can be voted into law any day and the Ugandan House Speaker has promised to pass the bill as a “Christmas gift” to the Ugandan people. Since 2008 when Uganda was inundated by high profile western Christian fundamentalists who preached against homosexuality in large conferences, a growing homophobic sentiment has taken hold in Uganda. Harsher punishments for homosexuals have overwhelming majority support in both Ugandan public opinion and government. This bill would represent a barbaric regression for Uganda’s human rights record. Besides directly punishing homosexuals, sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) advocates and LGBT allies, the International HIV/AIDS Alliance warns that the bill would have a disastrous impact on the country’s HIV response.
The bill proposes harsher punishments for homosexual acts, advocacy and even allies. The original bill calls for the death penalty or life prison sentence for “aggravated homosexuality” –defined as when one of the participants is HIV-Positive, or considered a “serial offender”. The bill also prohibits any public support for LGBT rights. Concepts like pride, anti-gay bullying, gay safe sex initiatives or LGBT outreach would all be illegal. The bill also criminalizes those who do not report homosexuals. Parents, teachers and even priests would be punished if they don’t report someone who tells them that they are gay. Landlords who rent to gay people would face up to three years in prison. Finally, and most insidiously, the bill exonerates those who kill gay people if they feel threatened; promoting the kind of mob killings and lynchings that lead to the death of Ugandan Gay Activist David Kato last year.
Today in Africa
There are rumors that the explicit death penalty language of the bill has been replaced with more ambiguous language that merely suggests the possibility of a death penalty. Regardless, a life prison sentence in a Ugandan prison for being convicted as a “serial homosexual” is a step backwards to time of repression and oppression. Unfortunately, this is a trend that gaining momentum across Africa and Eastern Europe. Nigeria, the most populated country in Africa, has a similar bill that has also passed in parliament and is about to become Law. Besides expanding punishments for gays, Nigeria also is proposing to outlaw LGBT advocacy , supportive organizations, and free speech with respect to homosexuality. Particularly disturbing is the clause in the Nigeria bill that would make gays who get married in other countries subject to prison if they ever return to Nigeria. The popularity of these measures in both countries exemplify a disturbing momentum taking hold in parts of Africa, where gay people are being scapegoated and anti-gay initiatives used for political power grabs.
The Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office’s work in Uganda
The UU-UNO leads in the faith-based effort to spread awareness about the plight of LGBT Ugandans at the United Nations. UU-UNO has launched the UU-UNO LGBT Uganda Fund to help local Ugandan organizations fight for social justice and equality for LGBT citizens living in Uganda. Click here for more information on the Uganda Fund. In February 2010, our office sent staff to Kampala to bear witness to the violence faced by local LGBT people. We support the Kampala UU congregation led by Rev. Mark Kiyimba that has steadfastly protested against homophobia in Uganda and worked to protect the LGBT community from harm. Besides LGBT advocacy, the church runs an orphanage and a school for children infected with HIV/AIDS and who have lost parents to the disease.
In 2009 Human Rights Watch asked our office to lead the faith-based response to fundamentalist faith organizations which were promoting the anti-gay bill. In 2010, with the support of our office, Rev Kiyimba organized a “Standing on the Side of Love” conference to protest the bill. More than 200 LGBT Ugandans, including representatives from the UU-UNO gathered in Kampala to strategize and organize a response to the anti-homosexuality bill that was about to be voted on by the Ugandan parliament. The conference showed that religion does not need to be an enemy to the cause of LGBT concerns. Attendees likened this event to the first official Pride gathering in Uganda. The conference set the groundwork for the historic first Pride parade in Uganda that followed in August 2012. The Ugandan Pride parade was a huge success, bringing out hundreds of proud LGBT Ugandans, and becoming a symbol of a vibrant but vulnerable community facing huge obstacles.
Our United Nations office continues to be the leading faith voice standing up for LGBT Uganda awareness at the UN. Since 2010 we have hosted the LGBT/SOGI Human Rights Consultation at the UN, where Ugandan LGBT Activists like Bishop Christopher Senyonjo and Frank Mugisha have been featured. This year the UU-UNO plans to highlight the spread of homophobia in Africa when we present at the NGO Committee on Human Rights on January 30th and at our annual UN Spring Seminar in April. Click here for more information on the spring seminar.
What you can do
Frank Mugisha, the Executive Director of SMUG, the Ugandan LGBT rights group founded by slain advocate David Kato, has called on world-wide allies to support the local efforts in Uganda to defeat this bill. SMUG has joined a coalition of 51 Ugandan civil society organizations, including human rights, feminist, HIV focused, LGBT, media and refugee groups dedicated to preventing anti-gay legislation in Uganda. In their call to action they remind observers in other countries that
“We are confident that responses from local activists in Uganda will advance our agenda much more effectively as we have noticed that international pressure and threats have only yielded negative backlash from the local institutions and different state actors. While we appreciate efforts to show solidarity, the LGBT community is weary of being used by the Ugandan state players to debate their sovereignty issues with the International Community.”
The local activist coalition is called Ugandan Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law. Its website can be found at www.ugandans4rights.org
There are also 3 major petitions that are being used to help mount the pressure to stop this bill:
- The Groundswell Petition from people of faith and faith leaders: click here to sign the Groundswell petition
- Avaaz has an international online petition with almost 1 million signatures: click here to sign Avaaz’s petition
- Get Equal’s Petition to Untied States Senate members of “The Family” — Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), and Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) — to publicly denounce this bill and to ask Ugandan Members of Parliament who are members of “The Family” to kill the bill. These senators of “The Family” have, in the past, encouraged homophobia in Uganda, and continue to prevent the US from applying sanctions against countries with homophobic laws: click here to sign GetEQUAL’s petition
There will also be multiple peaceful demonstrations in front of the Uganda UN Mission at 336 East 45th Street. The first Protest will take place Friday November 30th. The protest, titled “Uganda: The World Is Watching,” is being organized by the AEB Project, a grassroots LGBT civil rights network based in the U.S., in consultation with Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG). Click here to view the Facebook page.
The UU-UNO is supportive of this action and we will continue to collaborate with other organizations demanding that Uganda stop this dangerous and oppressive bill. Further Protest actions will be posted.
For Tax Deductible Donations that support local Ugandan efforts, we ask that you make a contribution to the UU-UNO LGBT Uganda Fund: Click here to go to the Uganda Fund page.
Finally when all else fails, we believe in the power of prayer and shared mindfulness. In your services, prayers, meditations and thoughts, please think of the Ugandan LGBT community:
May we one day live in a world where all are protected, valued and loved regardless of orientation or gender identity. We ask the spirit of life to guide all people away from hatred, fear and violence, and instead turn our hearts to see the goodness and dignity in every soul.