Uganda LGBT Pride Parade Police

“We need to coexist, we’re not criminals,” Uganda’s LGBTQI+ people plead  

(Last Updated On: 8 January 2024)

Uganda | Mwine Justin, not his real name, says he has been confined to his home outside Kampala since August 2023. 

“I have rarely been in public spaces since the Law came into effect and further limited my travel in August when some unknown people started following my movements. I am happy to be gay, but it’s hell out there,” he said.

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which came into effect in May 2023, has fostered fear and uncertainty among LGBTQI+ people in the country. The Law is currently before the Constitutional Court pending a ruling after a group of human rights activists and MP Fox Odoi filed a petition to have it revoked in June 2023.

“I have big hopes the Court will annul the Law. I’m a Ugandan who loves my LGBTQI+ people and anybody generally, irrespective of their beliefs and culture,” Justin said. “None of us is illegal. Coexistence will be appreciated.”

The 35-year-old said that because he’s not known by many to be gay, he still feels relatively safe. “I laugh a lot, and people love me for that. I don’t know what would happen if they knew the ‘real me’.”

Nakwac Phiona, a 41-year-old lesbian in Uganda, agrees that LGBTQI+ people and the rest of the population need to co-exist. “Uganda is our country, and I am calling for those promoting hate against us, including the church, to listen to us. We are human beings. If you cut my skin, it will ooze blood,” she said.

“The Law is meant to separate us from our loved ones and to see us as criminals. We don’t commit crimes,” Phiona added.

Activists say the Anti-Homosexuality Act infringes on the fundamental human rights of LGBTQI+ people and contradicts constitutionally guaranteed protections, including the rights to privacy and freedom from discrimination. 

Article 21 of the Constitution of Uganda “prohibits gender discrimination and enshrines the principles of equality before the Law regardless of sex, race, color, ethnicity, religion or social-economic standing”.

Human Rights Watch added that the Law “breaks commitments” made by the government as a signatory to a number of international human rights agreements.

High-profile representatives from the U.S., E.U., and other Ugandan allies have called for the Law to be repealed.

Despite these calls and protests by human rights activists, President Museveni, prominent clergy, and some Members of Parliament led by Speaker Anita Among have publicly defended the contested Law.

We don’t need pressure from anyone to know how to solve the problems of our society,” said Museveni soon after he signed the Bill into Law.

Why do activists want the Law repealed? 

One of the Law’s main clauses mandates heavy penalties for people who engage in same-sex sexual activity and those who “promote” homosexuality. 

Lgbtqi+
One of the marches of solidarity with Ugandan LGBTQI+ communities. Courtesy photo.

According to the Law, anyone who commits “aggravated homosexuality” faces the death penalty. This charge applies to someone who has sexual intercourse with a person older than 75 or younger than 18 regardless of consent.

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Former Makerere University Chancellor [his name left for privacy] is urging the Constitutional Court to repeal the Anti-Homosexuality Law. He applauded a group of human rights activists who went to the Court soon after President Museveni assented to the Law last year.

“Uganda is a young country and needs support, and this Law is going to stop that,” he said. In August 2023, the World Bank announced a halt in new lending to Uganda after determining that the Anti-Homosexuality Law contradicts its institutional values. 

Whereas leaders at mainstream churches have backed the Law and thanked the government for enacting it, a priest from a top Pentecostal church outside Kampala who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fears of being hunted said, “It’s unfair to subject the people of God to fears for believing in what is right for them.”

“Nations grow differently, and one way is to accept people who do different things,” the priest added. “Homosexuality is not a crime, and those who believe in it are not criminals. What do we need to do? Let’s coexist in peace, love God and one another.”

“I’ll always be there to speak for the most vulnerable, the most threatened, and God is by my side,” he added.

Human rights activist James William Mugeni has been confronting Uganda’s government over what he calls “the unwanted law.” 

“As a country, we have wasted taxpayer’s money and wasted time on moral issues that ought to be a matter for churches or faith-based organizations,” Mugeni told tndNews. “The whole issue against LGBTQI+ people is baseless. It is a litmus test for so-called faiths or churches in Uganda. The institutions that need serious evaluation are the churches. No one should give attention to the church beyond asking it to pray for people because generally, it has failed.”

Speaking about the need for coexistence, West Budama MP Fox Odoi, who has vocally opposed the Law, said briefly, “It’s why we are in Court.” Before it became Law in 2023, Odoi warned that the Bill could criminalize people merely for how they look and dress.

What does the Constitution say? 

Chapter Four of Uganda’s Constitution embodies the rights that are to be respected by all authorities, the state and individuals. Article 45 vividly states: “The notion of human rights goes beyond the violations that we see currently. As the world evolves, new violations come up that may not necessarily be provided for by the Constitution. The essence of this Article is to curb any future violations to avoid instances where the lack of express protection of certain human rights is used as an excuse to commit gross violations of human rights.”

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