Ugandan vote on death penalty for gays deferred

The Ugandan parliament adjourned on 13 May, leaving homophobic legislation undebated. However, independent MP David Bahati pledged to re-introduce the bill after the elections.

LGBT rights organisation AllOut call the lack of progression on the bill a “victory”, congratulating the signers of its 1.4 million strong petition which has put enough international public pressure on the Ugandan president to ensure the bill’s deferral.

But the bill itself and the attacks against LGBT activists in Uganda in the wake of the bill are still terrifying.

Although Bahati proposed withdrawing the clause that would make “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by hanging, no evidence of the amended bill has been produced. Ugandans could be charged with “aggravated homosexuality” if they have sex with someone of the same gender and are HIV positive, a “serial offender”, are in “a position of authority” over their partner, or if their partner (“victim”) is under the age of 18.

The bill adds to existing colonial legislation making same-sex sexual acts punishable by life imprisonment, and requires all members of the public to report “acts of homosexuality” within 24 hours or face seven years in jail. Anyone who “aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage of acts of homosexuality” will face up to seven years. Everyone from LGBT activists and HIV counsellors to landlords is liable for persecution.

The bill was brought before the Ugandan parliament in March 2009 after the US evangelical Family Life Network held a seminar in Kampala to “Expose the truth behind homosexuality and the homosexual agenda”. Speakers included Scott Lively, president of Defend the Family International and author of “The Pink Swastika”, and Don Schmierer and Caleb Lee Brundidge, both involved in “homosexual recovery groups”.

The religious right in Uganda is also influential in HIV campaigns which advocate abstinence over condom use.

Homophobia is widespread in Uganda, but the seminar succeeded in further stirring homophobic hysteria from parents now convinced that LGBT students and teachers are out to “recruit” their children.

Ugandan legislation makes “promotion of homosexuality” a crime; this has been taken up by the tabloid press. In January Rolling Stone newspaper published the names and photographs of several LGBT people under the headline “Hang Them”.

After the “outing”, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) activist David Kato received death threats and was eventually beaten to death in his home.

SMUG commented: “We call on religious leaders, political leaders and media houses to stop demonizing sexual minorities in Uganda since doing so creates a climate of violence.” Director of SMUG Frank Mugisha described the situation for LGBT people in Uganda: “The average gay person is always harassed, bashed, thrown out of school, thrown out of home.”

So long as this bill and the homophobia behind it are up for debate, violence and prejudice towards LGBT people in Uganda will remain high.

Keep up the international pressure: solidarity with LGBT and human rights activists, kill this bill!

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