Uganda is considering a cruel law to ban LGBTQ identification

Uganda’s parliament is trying to toughen its stance on queer people by passing a bill that would criminalize identification as LGBTQ+.

The current ban on same-sex relationships, which is punishable by up to life imprisonment in the East African country, does not go far enough for the legislature.

Uganda’s strong religious and conservative roots mean there are deeply anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments in the country.

In 2013, the Ugandan parliament tried to re-criminalize homosexuality with a law. However, the following year it was struck down by the Supreme Court, which ruled that the law was wrongly passed and violated the country’s constitution.

Revelers take part in the Gay Pride March in Entebbe, Uganda in 2015 to celebrate a year after the law was repealed in 2013. (ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP via Getty Images)

The Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2023 includes a ban on touching another person “with intent to commit the act of homosexuality,” and individuals found guilty of the “offence of homosexuality” face up to 10 years in prison.

The same punishment is possible for simply identifying as lesbian, gay, trans, queer, or “any other sexual or gender identity that contradicts the binary categories of male and female,” according to Human Rights Watch.

Reuters reported that Ugandan Parliament Speaker Anita Among urged MPs to reject intimidation, citing reports that some western countries were threatening to impose travel bans on those involved in passing the law.

After the bill had its first reading in Parliament, it has now been brought to a committee where there will be public hearings before returning to Parliament for debate and voting.

Oryem Nyeko, a Uganda researcher at Human Rights Watch, said criminalizing people “just for being who they are” and violating the right to privacy and freedom of expression are “one of the most extreme features” of the bill.

Members of Uganda’s LGBTQ+ community appear in court in 2019 after being arrested at a gay-friendly bar and charged with “general harassment”. (ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP via Getty Images)

“Uganda politicians should focus on passing legislation that protects vulnerable minorities and upholds fundamental rights, and stop targeting LGBT people for political capital,” he said.

“What the government is attempting should ring alarm bells among civil society groups in Uganda and in the international community, as it signals increased repression and the suppression of opposition voices and civil society groups across the board.”

The Peter Tatchell Foundation organized a protest opposite Westminster Abbey on March 13 to protest the proposed legislation.

The date marks Commonwealth Day and the protest will take place “when Commonwealth leaders and King Charles arrive for the annual Commonwealth Day service,” said Peter Tatchell.

Uganda is a member of the Commonwealth.

Describing the bill as one of the most comprehensive and draconian homophobic laws ever contemplated by any regime in the world, Tatchell added: “It would ban almost every aspect of LGBT+ existence.”

He found that it violated Sections Two and Four of the Commonwealth Charter, Article 21 of the Constitution of Uganda and Articles Two and Three of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

Ugandan activist Abbey Kiwanuka of African LGBTI group Out & Proud said they were fighting the law.

“Contrary to what the proponents of this bill claim, no one is recruiting anyone for homosexuality,” Kiwanuka said.

African Equality Foundation founder Edwin Sesange called on Commonwealth leaders to “speak up and hold countries like Uganda accountable and respect basic human rights”.

He added: “There is no peaceful common future in the Commonwealth if LGBT people are persecuted.”

Reuters reported by activists that there had already been a new wave of discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ+ community in the country this year after a parliamentary committee investigated reports of alleged promotion of homosexuality in schools.

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Adam Bradshaw

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