For the third time now — 2014 being the first time a version of it was passed — Ugandan lawmakers have passed the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The bill in its 2023 form was first tabled in the country’s parliament on 9 March, and was passed nearly-unanimously (387 out of 389 MPs) on 22 March and expeditiously forwarded to President Yoweri Museveni for signing into law. 

However, on 20 April, Museveni sent back the bill to the House for revision, with requests to amend it so as to make it clear “that what is thought to be criminalised is not the state of one having a deviant proclivity but rather the actions of one acting on that deviancy”, and to include a clause on rehabilitation “of the persons who have in the past been engaged in homosexuality but would like to live normal lives again”; and to remove provisions that impose a duty on citizens to report acts of homosexuality.”

The bill in its original form prohibited any form of same sex conduct, the promotion or recognition of sexual relations between persons of the same sex and called for the death penalty in instances of “aggravated homosexuality” – a broad term used in the legislation to describe sex acts committed against children, persons with disabilities, and “serial offenders”. It also imposed a duty on citizens to report “acts of homosexuality” or face a potential jail term of up to six months.

And so on Tuesday 2 May, the House once again passed the bill after making changes to only four clauses. In the new-not-so-new bill, merely identifying as LGBTQ is not a crime, and the duty to  report homosexual activity is only required where a child or vulnerable persons are involved. In addition, persons who knowingly allow their premises to be used for homosexual acts will be imprisoned for seven years. 

If finally assented into law, this will be one of the harshest anti-gay legislations in the world and will have Uganda’s LGBT community facing dire consequences. After parliament adopted the bill in March, there was anxiety within the LGBTQ community and some have since fled the country

In 2021, Uganda ranked top in Africa for requests forwarded to Rainbow Railroad for asylum for fear of persecution. That year alone, the organisation which works to find safe harbours for LGTBQI+ people facing persecution based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, received a total of 8,506 requests, 1,111 of these coming from Sub-Saharan Africa.

Top 10 Countries Seeking Asylum from Rainbow Railroad in  2021
1. Afghanistan
2. Jamaica
3. Uganda
4. Syria
5. Pakistan
6. Iran
7. Nigeria
8. Lebanon
9. Egypt
10. Iraq

Last August, Uganda’s National Bureau for Non-governmental Organisations halted the operations of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a prominent LGBTQ rights organisation, for purportedly not having officially registered with it. 

In March 2020, security forces and local residents raided the Children of the Sun Foundation (COSF), a shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth. They beat and arrested 23 people including a nurse from the COSF community clinic and the Executive Director of the shelter. Twenty of the residents were detained and charged with flouting the country’s COVID-19 lockdown rules. 

The Sweeping Wave

Uganda’s bill is part of a rising tide of anti-gay sentiment in Africa and other parts of the world. As of April this year, the American Civil Liberties Union had recorded at least 474 anti-LGBTQ laws introduced in a majority of American states. That is more than twice the number of such bills introduced in 2022 (162 anti-LGBTQ bills, 19 of which were signed into law). 

In December last year, Russia passed a bill that criminalises “promotion of non-traditional sexual relations in film, online, advertising and in public” while in 2021, Hungary passed a law that prohibits sharing with minors any content that portrays being gay or transgender.  This wave has been the impetus for similar legislation in Kenya and widespread anti-lgbt crackdown and a number of other countries in Africa.

Following the Kenya Supreme Court’s judgement that the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) had the constitutional right to register as an organisation in Kenya, political leaders (including the President and his Deputy), religious institutions and the wider public have not spared words when expressing their dissatisfaction in the ruling and homosexuality as whole – going as far as framing homosexuality as an existential threat to humanity. 

These anti-gay sentiments finally culminated in the tabling of a motion in the National Assembly by Nyali MP Mohamed Ali seeking to ban speech, publication and distribution of information that promotes same-sex relationships, and The Family Protection Bill fronted by Homa Bay MP Peter Kaluma. The Bill that seeks to “preserve and protect the cultural and family values of the Kenyan people against emerging threats,” legislates for a much broader crackdown on homosexuality. 

Under section 162(a) and (c) of Kenya’s Penal Code it is a felony for any person to have “carnal knowledge of any other person against the order of nature” or to permit “a male person to have carnal knowledge of him or her against the order of nature.” The offence is punishable with 14 years imprisonment.

Currently with the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee for pre-publication scrutiny before being tabled in the National Assembly, calls for prohibition of “homosexuality”, “same sex marriage”, “sex reassignment prescriptions or procedures” and “funding of prohibited activities.”

Further, the bill prescribes imprisonment for a term of not less than five years  for anyone who rents their premises to LGBTQ+ persons, and criminalises anyone who suspects that one has committed the offence of homosexuality and doesn’t report it. 

In addition, anyone who “knowingly produces, markets, advertises, publishes, prints, broadcasts, distributes or causes the production, marketing advertisement, publication, printing, broadcasting or distribution by any means including the use of a computer, information system, the internet, media, technological platform, technological account, electronic device, film, or any other device capable of electronic storage or transmission of any material promoting or encouraging homosexuality” would face criminal charges.

Similarly, the bill prohibits the inclusion of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) topics such as abortion; sex work and prostitution; homosexuality, same sex marriages, sexual orientation and gender identity; transgenderism, homophobia and transphobia, and sexual pleasure and masturbation in pre-primary, primary, and secondary school curricula.

In neighbouring Tanzania, MPs have also hopped onto the bandwagon and are pushing for a new anti-homosexuality law that would impose harsher penalties for same-sex (LGBTQ) relationships. Before then, in February, the country banned a series of books including the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by American author Jeff Kinney and the Sex Education: A Guide to Life claiming that they violate local cultural norms. And last year in September, Tanzania’s Minister of Information, Communication and Information Technology, Nape Nnauye, issued a warning against the dissemination of pro-LGBT content online.

Further west in Burundi, 17 men and seven women were arrested and charged with promoting  ‘homosexual practices’. Under Burundi’s penal code, “sexual relations with a person of the same sex,” are punishable by three months to two years in prison. Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye has also been on record urging the country’s citizens to root out homosexuality. “I ask all Burundians to curse those who indulge in homosexuality because God cannot bear it. They must be banished, treated as pariahs in our country because they bring us the curse,” he said while delivering a speech during the country’s national prayer breakfast on 1 March.

While speaking on the public radio La Voie du Sahel, Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum hinted that plans are underway to introduce an anti-homosexuality law that would confer a death penalty for anyone engaging in same-sex activities.

And in Zambia, four women, members of the NGO Sistah Sistah Foundation, were arrested and charged in March on grounds of giving false information to public officers when applying for permits for a street march. According to police, the permit issued to the organisers was for a march against gender-based violence (GBV). However, the group is said to have incorporated LGBTQ messaging and used it as “a forum for championing homosexuality.” 

Up north in Egypt, human rights organisations and news agencies have recently reported an uptick in attacks against the Egyptian queer community. Queer folks are increasingly being targeted by law enforcement via fake Facebook accounts and dating app profiles so much so that Grindr (a social networking app for gay, bi, trans and queer people) issued a warning to its users to be on the lookout for police run accounts.

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