This article was published on November 12th, 2019
The LGBT community in Uganda continues to endure increased hostilities as authorities in the country have made the persecution international news in the latest incident involving more than 125 people that were arrested and charged with possession of drugs. The move was seen as a calculated move on the part of the government to intimidate LGBT members in Uganda, which has been the subject of several exposes covering the plight of those living within its borders.
On November 10, the Kampala bar was raided in the evening, leading to speculation that the location was selected because it is known to be LGBT friendly and a meeting point for many in the LGBT community. According to the publication Kuchu Times, those that were arrested are set to appear before the court in the coming days. Motivated to fight for equality in the country, a Ugandan LGBT activist, Kasha Jacquelin, spoke to OutRight magazine and had this to say about the current state of affairs there:
“The past has shown that it is difficult to prosecute anyone for being LGBT. Using trumped-up drug charges is a new and frightening tactic; one which is really hard to tackle and will make our battle even tougher.”
Uganda has been subject to increased scrutiny over the most recent months as LGBT people living there have been antagonized more, with talk of an Anti-Homosexuality Act possibly being passed in the country. Under the proposed law, the death penalty could be imposed on those engaging in same-sex relations. With an estimated population of about 500,000 LGBT members, at least four people have been murdered in attacks that have been labeled as hate crimes.
Ugandan officials have been fervent in their refusal to acknowledge any LGBT attempts for visibility, with their refusals to officially recognize Pride or any gay-related organizations. Despite the community’s efforts to band together and fight back against persecution, the anti-gay laws in the country- as well as tensions – have only elevated.
There have also been even more attacks on the LGBT community, as a raid executed on November 10 resulted in the arrest of 16 people, charged with trafficking in people and carnal knowledge against the order of nature at the end of October.
The Executive Director of OutRight Action International, Jessica Stern commented on the rumored new law and what the repercussions of it will be:
“The resurfacing of the anti-homosexuality bill in a country which already prescribes life imprisonment for same-sex relations could only have had one intention – to increase hate and stigma against LGBTIQ people, putting them at heightened risk of arbitrary detention and attack. That is exactly what is happening. The growing intensity of arrests, the clear targeting of an LGBTIQ friendly bar, makes it painfully clear that a witch hunt is being mounted against LGBTIQ Ugandans.”
Since British colonial times, same-sex relations have been criminalized in Uganda, with indecent practices and unnatural offenses retained since its independence in the Penal Code. Men participating in “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” can receive up to a maximum of life in prison.
In 2013, the Anti-Homosexuality Act was initially passed by the Ugandan government, dictating the death penalty for same-sex relations. The law, introduced by Parliament member David Bahati, immediately caused international outrage, and many government refused to provide Uganda with financial aid after it was passed. Although the law was signed by President Museveni in the beginning of 2014, it was later annulled by the Constitutional Court of Uganda on procedural grounds later that year.
Not only has the President doubled down on actions against the gay community, but he has been accused of inciting the persecution of LGBT members in Uganda. Now, there are talks to reintroduce the bill, with local activists indicating that the current Minister of Ethics and Integrity of Uganda, Simon Lokodo, spearheading the effort. LGBT people are regularly discriminated against in Uganda, encouraged by the actions and words of political and religious leaders. Furthermore, many of these brutal and violent attacks are carried out by state officials who often perform them knowing they won’t be charged for these overt hate crimes.
Uganda is not the only country currently battling for the rights of LGBT people, as worldwide the community is stripped of basic human rights and subjected to violence that has made headlines globally. Though these struggles have at times come into the spotlight, the everyday plight of people in the LGBT community living with such conditions remains still relatively unknown by those that have the power and influence to effect change.
There has been some forward progress in recent years, however. In 2016, former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi became the first Ugandan presidential candidate to oppose homophobia. And in November 2017, police officers from the Kampala Metropolitan Police Area were ordered to attend an LGBT rights workshop to combat ignorance about the community.