Ugandan anti-gay bill is poised to pass (and what westerners should do about it)

Remember that horrendous Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill we posted about late last year? According to the AP, the bill is once again rearing its ugly head. A Ugandan parliament committee is currently holding hearings on it, and Ugandan lawmakers have indicated the bill could be voted on as early as before Parliament ends its session at the end of the week.

Many advocates, including a blogger on GayUganda and Cary Alan Johnson, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), suggest that the bill is being debated now to divert attention from recent political demonstrations in Uganda that have attracted police crackdowns. Human Rights Watch says security forces killed nine people in the recent marches.

Though the death penalty and life imprisonment were reportedly struck from the bill (due in part to pressure from the international community), as of this writing the provision remains in the bill, according to the Advocate and blogger David Badash. Also according to Badash, Sponsor David Bahati “claimed last week he would ‘concede’ the provision if it would move the bill into law” but “many believe that concession to be a ruse.” Either way, the bill would threaten a penalty (jail time at the minimum) to anyone caught committing the atrocious crime of happening to be gay in Uganda.

Plus it still legitimizes homophobia in the country, and reinforces the idea that being gay is something that warrants punishment. This is a message that is not only intolerant and bigoted, but also deadly in the Ugandan context, as we learned when gay rights activist David Kato was found beaten to death in his home after a Ugandan newspaper published a “hit list” of 100 gay and lesbians, including names, pictures, and home addresses and a headline reading, “Hang Them”.

As infuriating as this all is, it can be hard as an American or western voice to figure out one’s role in this fight.

To be sure, we have a role. After all, we can’t forget that much of this violent anti-gay hostility stems from colonialist and U.S. evangelicals’ influences, as some key players behind the campaign for Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill were U.S. evangelical activists.

But how can we most effectively engage this issue, without repeating patterns of colonialism or western coercion, or legitimizing common conservative Ugandan critiques that homosexuality is a “western concept” and LGBT activism is derived from western influences only?

The answer, I believe, is to derive strategy from Ugandan activists on the ground, and to use this opportunity to make stronger calls for greater human rights protections in general, not just for LGBT Ugandans, as suggested by a blogger on GayUganda.

If you’d like to learn more about eradicating homophobia in Uganda:

  • Click here to read a post on Akimbo with more context on the difficulties gay Ugandans already face.
  • Click here to view the IGLHRC press release on the most recent actions around the bill.

And for some positive news related to rights and sexuality in Uganda, check out the work of Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, a Ugandan lesbian activist who just won the 2011 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. In addition to her work at Feministing, Lori is an Associate Director at Planned Parenthood Global. Lori has previously worked at the United Nations Foundation, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Human Rights Watch, and has written for a host of print and digital properties including Rookie Magazine, The Grio, and the New York Times Magazine. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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