New Uganda bill terrifies LGBTQ community

Frank Mugisha, a gay rights activist and executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), receives hundreds of requests for help daily.

“People want my intervention,” he said. “I get so many WhatsApp messages. ‘I want food’; ‘I can’t work any more’; ‘People know I’m LGBTQ and I can’t go back’; ‘I’m worried’; ‘I need housing’; ‘People are calling’; ‘I’m being blackmailed;’ ‘I’m being trailed.’… It’s overwhelming.”

In the last week, these pleas have become increasingly desperate.

There has always been hostility towards sexual minorities in Uganda and, indeed, in parts of East Africa, a deeply conservative region.

But things have worsened after Uganda’s parliament passed one of the world’s strictest anti-homosexuality legislation on March 21, to sentence anyone found guilty of same-sex relations to life imprisonment – if signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni.

The new bill imposes the death penalty in cases of “aggravated homosexuality,” defined as sexual relations with someone below the age of 14 or above the age of 75, and for repeat offenders.

Activists and journalists are seemingly being targeted as well; individuals found guilty of “promoting” homosexuality could spend 20 years in prison. Friends, family and neighbours are required by law to report anyone they suspect is gay to the police, or suffer a six-month jail term, while landlords are forbidden from renting to LGBTQ people.

The bill was passed by an overwhelming majority, as parliamentarians applauded and sang the national anthem, with all but two of the 389 politicians present voting in favour of it.

One of them, Fox Odoi-Oywelowo, presented a minority report condemning the legislation, amid boos and taunts from his colleagues.

“If anybody still thinks that you can pass a law to lay a legal basis for hatred – which is what homophobia is – then I can’t support you,” he told Al Jazeera from his office in Uganda’s parliament building. “Many of the clauses of the bill were, to put it mildly, repugnant.”

But opposing this law did not come without a price for Odoi-Oywelowo.

“There were people who called me to tell me that they will stone me,” he said. “There were those who called me to tell me that they will hang my children.”


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