Uganda’s 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill
On May 2, the Ugandan parliament passed a modified version of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, a violent law that criminalizes the humanity of LGBTQ+ Ugandans. The Bill was first approved by parliament in March 2023. President Yoweri Museveni asked for revisions to the Bill, and Museveni now has 30 days to sign the legislation into law, return it to parliament for another revision, or veto it and inform the parliamentary speaker.
The original and revised bills were both passed almost unanimously by the MPs, adding to the gravity of what Volker Türk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights described as a “shocking and discriminatory” law.
The 519 unites with global allies to condemn this violent and oppressive Bill. Everyone deserves the freedom to live authentically in safety.
Same-gender relations are already illegal in Uganda, and this Bill comes in a series of recent legislative attacks to deepen the criminalization of queer Ugandans. The Bill harkens back to the devastating 2014 anti-gay bill that drew widespread international criticism and was later nullified by Uganda’s constitutional court on procedural grounds.
The current Bill legislates imprisonment of Ugandans for being who they are. It criminalizes love and bans “undesirable” Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) supporting LGBTQ+ communities. It cruelly restricts access to safe, life-saving healthcare services and will permit revocation of operating permits and possible arrest and prosecution for organizations “promoting homosexuality” which includes providing services to LGBTQ+ communities. The current Bill retains most of the harshest measures of legislation adopted in March. Those include:
- Homosexual acts warranting a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, attempted homosexual acts warranting 10 years of imprisonment;
- “Promoting“ homosexuality risks 10 years of imprisonment;
- People convicted of homosexuality or attempted homosexuality cannot be employed in childcare facilities even after release;
- Knowingly renting premises to people who wish to engage in homosexual acts on such a premise is liable to imprisonment for 10 years;
- “Purporting to contract a same-sex marriage“, as well as for knowingly attending a purported same-gender marriage ceremony risks imprisonment for 10 years, and
- Failing to report a witnessed homosexual act risks imprisonment for 6 months.
Patterns and Impact of Legislated Hate and Violence Against LGBTQ+ Communities Across the World
Governments across the globe, NGO’s and major corporations have condemned the Bill. If passed into law, the legislation may be nullified by the courts finding procedural flaws or unconstitutionality of the provisions as was found in 2014. While the Bill may be reversed in courts, the damage and harm against LGBTQ+ Ugandans is already underway.
Human Rights Watch research found that after the 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act was passed, LGBTQ+ people in Uganda faced, “reduced access to health services and HIV prevention information, faced discriminatory evictions by landlords, or were fired from their jobs on the basis of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.” Already facing disproportionate rates of poverty and criminalization, five months after the 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act came into existence saw LGBTQ+ communities experiencing increased rates of arbitrary arrests, police abuse, extortion, employment loss and homelessness.
Homosexuality is criminalized in almost 70 countries worldwide. The 519 condemns all state criminalization of LGBTQ+ lives, and the Ugandan Bill represents what The UN’s human rights commissioner says is “among the worst of its kind in the world,” while UNAIDS says the legislation “threatens public health” because it hurts efforts to fight HIV.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill is also tied to historic and current momentum of anti-LGBTQ+ hateful rhetoric and legislation with global influences and colonial roots linked to actions of white supremacists and nationalists that exist in North America and globally. For example, also in the last week, Florida state legislators passed a series of Bills that discriminate and restrict the life and liberty of LGBTQ+ communities. Equality Florida calls the series of Bills the “slate of hate” that directly harms the LGBTQ+ community. Egregiously, the Gender Affirming Care Ban, prohibits youth from receiving gender affirming treatments with state authority to apprehend a child if a youth is undergoing treatments. Another Bill restricts teachers and students using pronouns of their choice, bathrooms of choice, and education on sex and gender. Erin Reed, a legislative analyst monitoring anti-LGBTQ+ laws recently reported that there is a significant uptick in anti-trans legislation and that they are currently tracking 515 anti-trans Bills across the United States.
With a rise of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric across the globe matched with legislative violence such as the Anti-Homophobia Bill, LGBTQ+ lives are at risk. We must show solidarity with our LGBTQ+ communities across the world as they fight back and flee violence.
What Can You Do
For Ugandans facing increased criminalization, The 519 joined members of the Dignity Network Canada and scores of other civil society organizations in a call to support LGBTQ+ Ugandans and are amplifying messages from partners in Uganda, including the following demands:
- We ask for Canadian multinational corporations and trade organizations to speak out publicly and urge President Museveni to abstain from signing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.
- We ask the Canadian Government to impose visa bans on human rights violators promoting the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda, including Ugandan Members of Parliament supporting the bill.
- We ask the Canadian Government to provide flexible funding to support LGBTQ+ organizations on the ground defending human rights in Uganda. Canada should create an emergency action fund to allow civil society the nimbleness to respond to these crackdowns and crisis situations in real time.
- We ask the Canadian Government to create flexible visas and humanitarian programs for at-risk LGBTQ+ Ugandans and human rights defenders who may need urgent pathways to safety.
- We ask the Canadian Government to hold the Ugandan government to account in multilateral spaces for their responsibility to uphold human rights.
We ask for your support in amplifying these demands and call on our Canadian partners across government, the private sector, and civil society to urgently implement them. Here is a template letter you can use to send your MP, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Parliamentary Secretary asking what the Canadian government is doing to place diplomatic pressure on President Museveni to stop this violent Bill from coming into force.
On April 2, The 519 joined equity-seeking organizations across Ontario in protest against extreme anti-LGBTQ+ laws in Uganda. Not only do these laws criminalize same-gender relationships — they make it a crime to even identify as a member of LGBTQ+ communities. The 519 wholly condemns these laws, and we support all LGBTQ+ Ugandans.
Queer and trans Ugandans matter. They deserve love, happiness, safety, and the freedom to live authentically. They shouldn’t have to live in fear of discrimination, arrest, violence, and death.
Speakers at the protest included Karlene Williams-Clarke, The 519 Director of Operations; Doreen Kajumba, Director of The Centre for Social Justice Initiatives; and Dennis Wamala, a human rights activist.
We are an Army of Lovers, and we will continue to shut down hate together. We are in solidarity with 2SLGBTQ+ people in Uganda and everywhere.
Special thanks to videographer Nkoyooyo Kezaala Brian.