Anti-Homosexuality Bill signed by president of Uganda

On Oct. 13, 2009, David Bahati, a member of the Parliament of Uganda, introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

On Dec. 17, 2013, the bill was passed in Parliament.

On Feb. 24, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the bill into law.

Despite criticism from President Obama and former President Bill Clinton and warnings that signing the bill would complicate relations between Uganda and the U.S., Museveni refused to budge.

“We have been disappointed for a long time by the conduct of the West,” Museveni told CNN. “Our disappointment is now exacerbated because we are sorry to see that you live the way you live, but we keep quiet about it. Now you say, ‘you must also live like us.’ That’s where we say ‘no.’”

Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s ethics and integrity minister, also deemed Western criticism to be intrusive.

“Will they be comfortable if we come to America and started practicing polygamy?” Lokodo asked CNN. “Homosexuality is strange to us, and polygamy is strange to you. We have divergent views. When they call me wrong, I will call them wrong.”

In Uganda, homosexuality first became punishable by law in the 19th century under British rule and has since remained a criminal offense and a taboo subject.

When the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was passed by Parliament, however, many spoke up.

Seventy-seven clinicians, researchers and academics from 17 different countries and 14 organizations signed an open letter addressed to Museveni, debunking myths about homosexuality and predicting detrimental impacts of the bill on public health and human rights.

Coleen Cunningham, Chief of Pediatric Global Health at Duke University Medical Center, was one of 77 to sign the letter.

“There are many health implications (of passing the bill),” Cunningham told The Guilfordian. “MSM (men who have sex with other men) throughout the world have dramatically increased risk of becoming HIV-infected and would benefit from education to prevent HIV … and enhanced diagnosis and early treatment efforts.

“However, if men are afraid to tell their medical providers that they are gay, then the provider is not able to target the optimal care to the high-risk individual.”

According to UNICEF, in 2011, 7.2 percent of Ugandan adults had HIV. With the passage of the anti-gay bill, fear of arrest, violence and discrimination will lead to medical care being less available to these men, according to the open letter.

The health implications of the anti-gay bill, however, transcend HIV treatment.

“LGBT will likely (have less access to) medical care altogether for fear of being identified as LGBT, and providers may be forced to stop providing medical services to people who identify as LGBT, as the providers can also be arrested under the new law,” said Cunningham.

Ugandan culture presents a history of violence and discrimination against the LGBTQA community.

In 2012, “Call Me Kuchu,” an American documentary, examined the struggles of the LGBTQA community in Uganda. The film focused in part on the murder of David Kato, a prominent LGBTQA rights advocate.

Kato’s death followed the publishing of his name and address along with the names and addresses of 99 other “alleged homosexuals” in Rolling Stone, a Ugandan weekly tabloid.

“Hang them,” said the tabloid’s cover.

After winning a lawsuit against the tabloid, Kato was murdered in broad daylight in 2011.

Giles Muhame, managing editor of Rolling Stone, showed no remorse for publishing the names after Kato’s death.

“I haven’t seen the court’s injunction, but the war against the gays will and must continue,” Muhame told Reuters. “We have to protect our children from this dirty homosexual affront.”

Following Kato’s death three years ago, Kato’s friend Dr. Paul Semugoma, also a prominent LGBTQA rights activist, moved to South Africa with his partner in fear of violence and persecution.

On Feb. 18, the Department of Home Affairs arrested Semugoma upon his arrival to South Africa from a trip to Zimbabwe, claiming that his visa had expired. According to Lavinia Browne, liaison for the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, Semugoma was being held in custody without being served meals or given clean clothing.

Semugoma resisted deportation to Uganda for fear of being persecuted upon his return. According to gay activists in Uganda, Semugoma is on a wanted list in Uganda for his LGBTQA activism

On Feb. 20, the South African government agreed to grant Semugoma a four-year exceptional skills work permit in return for Semugoma dropping his claim for political asylum.

The danger of being LGBTQA in Uganda is high. The price of fighting against that danger? Even higher.

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