In the year 2014, The Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2014 (which was called Kill the Gays Bill) was struck down by the parliament of Uganda as unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court and it also received a lot of flak from international spaces. Following up on this, in May 2021, sex work and same-sex sexual activity was criminalised, and of recently, a new bill called The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2023 was passed by the parliament that criminalizes queer identifying individuals with up to life-imprisonment and death penalty as punishment for committing offences. It further bans the promotion of homosexuality as well.
The final bill is yet to be published but the discussion points included the following pointers (culminated by BBC News) which also codifies brutal punishments of life imprisonment and death penalty:
1. A person who is convicted of grooming or trafficking children for purposes of engaging them in homosexual activities faces life in prison.
2. Individuals or institutions which support or fund LGBT rights’ activities or organisations, or publish, broadcast and distribute pro-gay media material and literature, also face prosecution and imprisonment.
3. Media groups, journalists and publishers face prosecution and imprisonment for publishing, broadcasting, distribution of any content that advocates for gay rights or “promotes homosexuality”.
4. Death penalty for what is described as “aggravated homosexuality”, that is sexual abuse of a child, a person with disability or vulnerable people, or in cases where a victim of homosexual assault is infected with a life-long illness.
5. Property owners also face risk of being jailed if their premises are used as a “brothel” for homosexual acts or any other sexual minorities rights’ activities.
The bill follows the The Anti Homosexuality Bill, 2022 which considers homosexuality as a creeping evil against the order of nature that threatens the stability and survival of family, and brings up the “concern” that children are being lured into it. It provides for protection of such children as well where the magistrate can pass a protection order. The offenses of “homosexuality” includes touching another person with the intention of committing homosexuality, or holding out as a gay, lesbian, queer, trans or any other gender identity other than the male-female binary.
The punishment for committing the offense of “aggravated homosexuality” is ten years imprisonment (in the previous edition of the bill) with mandatory checking for their HIV (Human Immuno Virus) status. Even the attempt to commit homosexuality and/ or aggravated homosexuality will be considered a felony, punishable by two years and ten years of imprisonment respectively. “Aggravated Homosexuality” includes committing homosexuality on someone who is below 18 years of age, simply being HIV positive (the bill uses the term offender), if a parent/guardian commits homosexuality against their child/ward, being a serial offender, committing homosexuality against a disabled person, administer drug to someone to commit homosexuality, and committing homosexuality over someone where one exerts any form of control.
The bill notoriously defines (section 5) victims of “homosexuality” which is a vicious tool that can be utilized by homophobic people to attack and criminalize queer people by filing a case against them on the grounds of attempting to commit homosexuality. It also provides for protection, assistance, and payment to the victims of homosexuality with consent of a victim not being a defense which points to sheer attack on ways of living, being, and surviving for queer people. Further, revealing the identity of the “victim” is also codified as a crime with punishment and liability to pay fine.
Perhaps, the most shocking aspect of the bill is criminalisation of those who are aiding or abetting (even conspiring) homosexuality, which puts every supportive friend/family, ally, organizations working on queer rights, and communities that are support spaces for queer people in grave danger, with the aim of their extinction. Further criminalization is also instituted for procuring homosexuality by threats, detention with the intent to commit homosexuality, brothels, same-sex marriage, and promotion of homosexuality whether by an individual or an organisation (whose registration will be cancelled) and whether be in media form or in any other form. It also completely sever any representation of homosexuality in the media as well.
Volker Turk, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the bill as it is inherently discriminatory towards the lgbtq+ community in Uganda. Even though homosexuality has been present in the country in pre-colonial times, it is widely believed that homosexuality is a post-colonial or a western trend. The troubling notion is that this year a record-high criminalizing bills towards the queer and trans community have been presented all over the world.
This is not just an anti-homosexuality bill but also a bill that provides protection to queerphobic people in the society and allows them legibility and state support to crack down queer people. The bill should not exist and its language presents homosexuality as a severe crime which is a threat to so-called “normal” heterosexual people who form heterosexual families. It is also troubling that we do not outrage over criminalisation of homosexuality in under developed country, or one whose population doesn’t represent the gay white, able-bodied, upper caste and upper class cis gays and lesbians.
One needs to ask where are all the corporates, those who promote pink-capitalism, and those who work on diversity and inclusion? Where are those who claim they’re all about inclusion during pride month when queer people are being driven out to their extinction forcefully? Where are the allies when queerphobic people are presented with legal protection to aid in convicting people from the LGBTQIA+ community for simply being themselves?
The bill is an attempt at genocide by stripping away citizenship, any involvement in the economy, and sustenance through community along with taking away the ways of being, loving, and caring for queer people. While the bill portrays where we draw the lines of morality, desire, family and community in conservative spaces like Uganda; the international reception, engagement, and outrage deals with how even the notion of inclusivity and protection is limited to a certain specific section of people of the queer community.
To further read about state sponsored homophobia, check out ILGA’s report on State-Sponsored Homophobia here.