Uganda's New Anti-Homosexuality Law Was Inspired by American Activists

On Friday, the Ugandan parliament approved a bill that will punish "aggravated homosexuality" in the country with life imprisonment. 

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On Friday, the Ugandan parliament approved a bill that will punish "aggravated homosexuality" with life imprisonment. The new measure comes after years of debate over the measure that was introduced to "protect" Ugandan children from "recruitment" by Western LGBT individuals. Homosexuality is already illegal in the deeply Christian country, but Ugandan lawmakers were largely inspired to strengthen the punishment for being gay thanks to a campaign by a handful of American evangelical activists.

Although the bill has been considered in Parliament several times since its first introduction in 2009, today's vote seemed to happen with little warning. That's why there are some questions out there about what, exactly, it contains, at least until the final text is publicly available. The bill, widely known as the Ugandan "kill the gays" bill, originally included a provision that would make repeated instances of homosexual acts punishable by death. Member of Parliament David Bahati said on Friday that the death penalty provision would be scrapped from the final version sent to President Yoweri Museveni, and most reports indicate that the death penalty sentence was reduced to life imprisonment. Museveni has to approve the bill for it to become law. The president has said that he doesn't think Uganda should kill gay people, but "we cannot accept promotion of homosexuality as if it is a good thing."

There's also a question of quorum: the country's prime minister opposed the vote, arguing that not enough MPs were present, according to the BBC. Assuming the vote stands, at least one Ugandan lawmaker has already promised to challenge it in court.

Based on earlier versions of the bill, it looks like the measure also contains a provision that could imprison Ugandans who fail to report homosexual activity by others, and a provision banning the "promotion" of homosexuality, similar to Russia's new anti-gay "propaganda" measure. (In Russia, it's believed that merely stating your are gay or support gay people could be grounds for "promotion.")

"I am glad the parliament has voted against evil," Bahati said to the AFP of the successful passage of his bill. Many believe that the new law will lead to increased harassment and violence against the country's LGBT population, which is already seen more than its share.

Although the bill prompted widespread international condemnation, including from President Obama, the American influence on its contents is well-documented. A three-day series of talks in the country by a group of American anti-homosexual activists in 2009 is seen as a catalyst for the measure. The talks addressed an audience of influential Ugandans, including lawmakers, on the Western "gay agenda," including the (obviously false) notion that gay activists abroad were targeting Africa for "recruitment." All three Americans involved have denied that their intention was to produce the "kill the gays bill," although one of the three, Scott Lively,  has acknowledged discussing the bill with the Ugandan lawmakers. In a March 2009 post on his visit to the country, Lively noted that one Ugandan referred to his campaign as "a nuclear bomb against the "gay" agenda in Uganda." The other two Americans were Caleb Lee Brundidge and Exodus International board member Don Schmierer.

According to Jeff Sharlet, who reported extensively on the bill's American roots, Bahati has also cited the anti-homosexuality message of Pastor Rick Warren as an influence. Warren, along with John Ashcroft and Senator Jim Inhofe, have been frequent visitors to the country's annual, American-style National Prayer Breakfasts. However, Warren, Inhofe, and Ashcroft have all since condemned the bill.

Source: Gay Uganda

Lively's work in Uganda to spread the idea of a Western gay conspiracy resulted in an American lawsuit, charging that Lively's message promotes human rights abuses in Uganda. Anti-gay sentiment is already widespread in the conservative country. In 2010, Rolling Stone (the Ugandan paper, not the American rock magazine) published a list of homosexuals living in the country, including their names, photos and addresses. "Hang Them," the cover said of the individuals on the list. One of the two men pictured on the magazine cover is gay activist David Kato. He was murdered in 2011, although Ugandan police have said that they have no evidence to prove his death was a result of his LGBT activism in the country. Many other Ugandans targeted in the article went into hiding. Other LGBT individuals in the country have been subject to beatings, harassment, and "corrective rape"  over the years.

The bill isn't the only restrictive measure passed through Parliament this week. Yesterday, Uganda passed a bill that will ban miniskirts along with most clothing deemed too revealing of particular parts of the body. The bill also bans any acts intended to "corrupt morals."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.