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Uganda Passes Bill to Criminalize Citizens Who Identify as LGBTQ with Death Penalty

News & Opinion | International News

LGBT Pride celebration in Entebbe, Uganda, in 2014.(Rebecca Vassie / Associated Press)

Earlier this week the Ugandan parliament passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would ban citizens from identifying as LGBTQ+ in the country. The bill which has been deemed “one of the world's most anti-gay laws” includes new provisions to the countries previously enacted 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act, which already criminalized homosexual sex with life imprisonment.

Merely identifying as gay or a part of the LGBTQ+ community would be illegal for the first time. If signed into law by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni the bill would require friends, family and members of the community to report individuals in same-sex relationships and those who are gay to the authorities.

The bill could also impose the death penalty in certain cases. The legislation would officially make "aggravated homosexuality" and "attempted homosexuality" an offense with a sentence up to 20 years in prison and the death penalty.

“A person who commits the offence of aggravated homosexuality and is liable, on conviction to suffer death,” reads the bill presented by Robina Rwakoojo, the chairperson for legal and parliamentary affairs.

"Aggravated homosexuality" is a term in the bill that describes sex acts committed without consent or under duress, against children, people with mental or physical disabilities, by a “serial offender,” or involving incest.

"There is a lot of blackmail. People are receiving calls that 'if you don't give me money, I will report that you are gay,'" a Ugandan activist told BBC following the passing of the bill.

Ugandan legislators debated the anti-gay bill in Parliament in the capital, Kampala, on Tuesday. It passed by a vote of 387 to 2.Credit...Abubaker Lubowa/Reuters

The vote which took place Tuesday night was carried out by 389 representatives with only two voting against the legislation. Fox Odoi-Oywelowo and Paul Kwizera Bucyana, opposed the new legislation.

“The bill is ill-conceived, it contains provisions that are unconstitutional, reverses the gains registered in the fight against gender-based violence and criminalizes individuals instead of conduct that contravenes all known legal norms,” said Odoi-Oywelowo.

Other language included in the bill includes attacks on any person who “holds out as a lesbian, gay, transgender, a queer, or any other sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female.”

Ugandan lawmaker Asuman Basalirwa introduced the Anti Homosexuality Bill 2023 to parliament in February, saying it aimed to “protect our church culture; the legal, religious and traditional family values of Ugandans from the acts that are likely to promote sexual promiscuity in this country."

On Tuesday during a debate of the Anti-Homosexuality bill in Kampala, Uganda, Ugandan parliament member John Musira was pictured dawning a gown with antigay rhetoric written on it.

Ugandan parliament member John Musira dressed in an antigay gown during debate of the Anti-Homosexuality bill in Kampala, Uganda, on March 21, 2023 [Abubaker Lubowa/Reuters]

Several politicians, LGBTQ+ organizations, and world leaders have spoken out against the legislation.

At a press briefing held on Wednesday White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, the first Black and openly gay woman to hold the position, warned members of Uganda’s parliament that sanctions restricting them from doing business with the US could be placed on those responsible for passing the law.

“We're certainly watching this really closely and we would have to take a look at whether or not there might be repercussions that we would have to take, perhaps in an economic way, should this law actually get passed and enacted,” Jean-Pierre said.

Jean-Pierre continued saying, “And that would be really unfortunate because so much of the economic assistance that we provide Uganda is health assistance, and largely through [the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief].”

Volker Türk, the United High Commissioner for Human Rights, urged Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni not to sign the bill before its passing on Tuesday.

In a statement released by his office, Turk said, “The passing of this discriminatory bill – probably among the worst of its kind in the world – is a deeply troubling development,”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke out against the bill saying it would “undermine fundamental human rights of all Ugandans and could reverse gains in the fight against HIV/AIDS.”

African Rainbow Family, a UK-based charity aimed at helping LGBTQ+ Africans seeking refuge in the UK, condemned the bill describing it as “assault” and “persecution” of Uganda’s LGBTQ community.

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