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Uganda mulls new anti-LGBTQ bill

Alex Gitta in Kampala
March 6, 2023

Uganda's new anti-gay bill, which proposes punishing people who support or fund homosexuality, has widespread backing from lawmakers. But rights activists say the bill is a diversion from real issues affecting citizens.

A man with a rainbow flag
Rainbow flags are seldom be seen in Uganda — this one is held by a refugee who has fled to KenyaImage: Brian Inganga/AP Photo/picture alliance

Ugandan lawmakers are hopeful that a new law designed to tighten restrictions on gay rights and activities will soon become a reality.

A controversial anti-gay bill has already been introduced to parliament by a leading lawmaker that, if passed into law, would punish the "promotion, recruitment and funding" of LGBTQ activities.

Even before the bill is debated, most lawmakers have told DW that they intend giving their support.

'Crime against morality'

Lawmaker Asuman Basalirwa led the process of drafting the bill after earlier legislation was annulled by Uganda's Constitutional Court in 2014.

The court had ruled that the law — which sought to impose life imprisonment for homosexual relations — had been passed without the required number of members of parliament.

Homosexuality remains illegal in Uganda, though, with the Penal Code Act still categorizing it as a crime against morality.

Basalirwa said due process will be followed with regards to the new bill. He said it already has the needed backing of his colleagues from across the political divide.

A man wears a sticker reading 'Some Ugandans are gay. Get over it!' during Pride celebrations in Entebbe, Uganda
LGBTQ Ugandans fear their predicament could get even worseImage: Rebecca Vassie/AP Photo/picture alliance

Anti-LGBTQ bill has religious support

Before the bill was even introduced to parliament, various groups including religious and cultural leaders had already asked for a more stringent law.

"If it means bringing back that law, we are in support of that law banning the LGBT practice in Uganda," Sheikh Shaban Mubaje, Uganda's grand mufti, told DW.

The church of Uganda has also threatened to break away from the Anglican Church after Britain recently consecrated a gay bishop.

The speaker of Uganda's parliament, Anita Annet Among, said when the time comes for the bill to be voted on, MPs will have to demonstrate their support or otherwise by a show of hands.

Among said Ugandans must see who is supporting homosexuality or not.

"We will bring a bill on anti-homosexuality, and I want to request the religious leaders that this time round be there to see who is who," she said.

In January this year, Among directed parliament's Education Committee to investigate schools suspected of encouraging LGBTQ rights.

Man carrying banner reading 'Proud to be gay, Ugandan and religious' at London Pride
Uganda has strict anti-gay legislation, but there have been no prosecutions for consensual same-sex acts in the country in recent yearsImage: Bela Varadi/aal.photo/IMAGO

African vs. European values

Homophobia is rife in Uganda, where President Yoweri Museveni has called gay people "disgusting" in media interviews.

"We have been telling them [the West] that please this problem of homosexuality is not something that we should normalize and celebrate," Museveni said.

The Ugandan president said those backing gay rights lack respect for African norms and values.

"The Europeans, they don't listen, they don't respect other people's views, they want to turn the abnormal into normal," he said.

The new bill is proposing punishment for people who support or fund homosexuality.

'Bill is a diversion'

Frank Mugisha, executive director of leading gay rights organization Sexual Minorities Uganda, described the ongoing debate over homosexuality a "diversion" from the real issues that affect Ugandans. 

"Community members are living in fear," Mugisha said.

"Homosexual acts are already illegal, and a new law would mean more harassment and discrimination against people who are already vulnerable."

But since independence from Britain in 1962, there has never been a conviction for consensual same-sex activity in Uganda.

Edited by: Keith Walker