Uganda's President Explains Why He'll Sign the 'Jail the Gays' Bill After All

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni explains his last minute change of heart (for the worse) over Uganda's controversial 'Jail the Gays' bill. 

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Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni had a last minute change of heart (for the worse) over Uganda's controversial 'Jail the Gays' bill that he is about to sign into law. The bill passed the country's parliament in December, and contains a provision that will make LGBT people in the country criminals just for who they are. After initially indicating that he would not sign the bill, Museveni explained in a statement over the weekend why he'd changed his mind.

In short, it comes down to "science," with an emphasis on the quotation marks. Here's Museveni:

The reason I had not signed the bill is to scientifically answer the question; are there people genetically born homosexual? For me, I had thought that since there were people born albino there could be people born homosexual. But since the medical authorities, the department of genetics of the Medical School from Makerere, say there is no proof yet that people are homosexual by genetics, I told those scientists to put it in writing and they are going to do so. Then I will sign the bill.

Museveni goes on to explain that "I had not concentrated my mind on homosexuality all these years. I thought electricity, roads, were more urgent things." He adds, "Moreover, I had never seen a homosexual." In a way, the president is washing his hands of the issue by deferring his decision to the contents of a document signed by scientists. That document, which is supposed to constitute proof of homosexuality as an "abnormal" behavior, seems to be more or less a series of assertions against LGBT individuals by a handful of Ugandan scientists who seem unfamiliar with the entire body of reputable scientific work on the subject. 

But the Ugandan Observer lays out a second, more likely, reason for Museveni's decision: politics. "Given Uganda’s largely progressive Constitution," Observer editor Richard M Kavuma said, "some of the president’s people may challenge the legislation in court." He added: “That way the president comes out looking good to his anti-gay electorate, while the judges will take the flak from Uganda’s generally Christian conservative population.” Those politics were complicated further by President Obama's strong condemnation of Museveni's decision on Sunday. In a statement, Obama said: 

As we have conveyed to President Museveni, enacting this legislation will complicate our valued relationship with Uganda.  At a time when, tragically, we are seeing an increase in reports of violence and harassment targeting members of the LGBT community from Russia to Nigeria, I salute all those in Uganda and around the world who remain committed to respecting the human rights and fundamental human dignity of all persons.

Politics or no, the well-being of LGBT individuals in Uganda was fragile even before the bill's passage. Gay Ugandans face beatings, harassment, and "corrective rape" in the country. And even when Museveni was disinclined to sign the bill, he explained his opposition to the "jail the gays" measure in basically the most homophobic way imaginable. 

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