Comment: Uganda’s LGBT community is in limbo pending a new anti-gay bill

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Tony Kitara writes for PinkNews on why the LGBT community in Uganda is “in limbo”, pending the introduction of a new, even harsher anti-gay bill.

Uganda is a country that is well known amongst the 37 homophobic African countries for its worst attitude towards the LGBT community. I am very sad to say that the future of Uganda’s LGBTI community lies in a limbo following leaked information that the Uganda government now plans to pass a more abominable anti- gay bill in a twisted language following the annulling of the previous anti-gay legislation by the Constitutional Court in August 2014. The history of this Anti- Homosexuality Act/Bill (AHA/B) dates as far back as 2009 as seen in this context.On the 13th of October 2009, Uganda’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT) community was shocked by the tabling of the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009 (AHA) by a Member of Parliament, David Bahati.

Since then, an environment of fear, stigma and shame engulfed the country’s LGBT community. Uganda’s LGBT populace to-date suffers constant fear of social and legal punishment, with different threats of persecution, public outings, and violence constantly rattling under the surface.

Following the tabling of the AHA bill, Uganda received punitive international reaction from Western nations which threatened to cut financial aid and on the 9th of December 2009, the country’s then Ethics and Integrity Minister Nsamba Buturo said that the Ugandan Government would revise the bill to drop the death penalty clause but that Uganda wouldn’t be deterred from passing the bill even though it meant losing international aid and withdrawing from international treaties.

As a result, On the 8th of January 2010, David Bahati again aggrandized that he would not postpone or shelve the AHA bill despite the President himself finding it too harsh and the then State Minister for Investment asserting that the Uganda Government would ask Mr Bahati to drop it. When parliament adjourned in May of 2011 without voting on the AHA bill, David Bahati was more than determined and so stated that he intended to re-table the bill in the new parliament.

In November 2012, the Ugandan Government became aggressively concerned to pass the bill under the pretext that this was to uphold, preserve and maintain the traditional, socio-cultural concept of marriage between a man and a woman as well as protecting children and the future of Uganda from homosexual lifestyles by most importantly, prohibiting its promotion. The Speaker of Uganda’s parliament, Rebecca Kadaga in fact had promised Ugandans that she would pass the bill as a Christmas gift to them.

Despite the ever mounting pressure from the international community and various rights groups, Uganda’s parliament passed the Anti- Homosexuality Bill on the 20thof December 2013 with the death penalty proposal dropped in favour of life imprisonment.

The AHA bill which was then signed into law by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni on the 24th of February 2014 had him say that homosexuals should be jailed for life, outlawed the promotion of homosexuality and appealed to Ugandans to denounce gays to the authorities.

Although very popular domestically, this bill was branded draconian and “abominable” by rights groups all over the world. Notably, members of the African LGBTI, Out & Proud Diamond Group, Peter Tatchell Foundation and their allies organized a series of peaceful protests which put so much pressure on the Ugandan Government to strike it down.

On the 1st of August 2014, Uganda’s constitutional court overturned the said Anti-Homosexuality law that was labelled draconian and ridiculous by rights groups across the globe, saying it was wrongly passed by parliament.

Following the decision of the Constitutional Court to strike down the AHA Act 2014, Members of Uganda’s Parliament reaffirmed their commitment to retable and pass the Anti-Homosexuality Act which was said to have been passed without the required quorum. The legislators led by MP David Bahati vowed to speed up the re-tabling of the Bill before Parliament and so signed a petition calling for its return.

David Bahati was quoted saying “What is at stake is the future of our country and the foundation of the state. We shall not get tired as we defend the future of our children,”“The petitioners warned that homosexuality threatens the lives of hundreds of youth and children who are being recruited or promoted into this life style.”

A Government official who spoke to the BBC on condition of anonymity recently said that the Ugandan Government was behind the curtains, planning a new anti- gay bill dubbed as; The Prohibition of Promotion of Unnatural Sexual Practices Bill which is a streamlined version of the annulled Anti-Homosexuality Act- What a twist in language!

Frank Mugisha a gay rights activist told the Guardian that according to the draft, anyone convicted of “promoting” homosexuality would be liable to seven years in prison. “We have confirmed that the draft comes from the cabinet. Their plan is to present it to parliament as soon as possible, before the end of the year.

Much as the Government has not come out to comment on the proposed draft of the bill, rumour has it that it could be passed before the end of this year more less the same time the annulled bill was passed last year. Homosexuality is a taboo and illegal in 37 out of the 52 African countries but as members of a gay rights group with the aim to challenge homophobia, Out & Proud Diamond Group-African LGBTI, we are welcoming the news with regret and promise to keep the fight even though the rumoured bill directly affects us as in this regard, we are seen as promoters, exhibitors of “un natural sex practices”.

Tony Kitara is a member of African LGBTI- Out & Proud Diamond Group residing in the United Kingdom.