Lawmakers in the east African country of Uganda on Tuesday voted in favor of a proposed law that would criminalize same-sex sexual relations and levy harsh penalties for allies, advocates, and those who do business with members of the LGBTQ+ community.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023 would imprison individuals found to have engaged in same-sex sexual relations with a prison sentence of up to 10 years, and those who attempt to engage in such sex acts with five years in prison. Those found to have engaged in “aggravated homosexuality” (reportedly sex involving minors or impaired individuals, non-consensual sex, or incest) would be subject to the death penalty. The proposed law would also permit authorities to “issue a protection order” for any youth suspected of engaging in same-sex sexual relations.
The bill has been championed by President Yoweri Museveni, who said the law is necessary to protect the country’s culture from corrupt foreign influences. Museveni has ignored constitutional term limits and held power since 1986.
During a state address on Thursday, he described LGBTQ+ folks as “deviations from normal” and called for further research on same-sex sexual attraction, according to the AFP.
“Is it by nature or nurture?” Museveni asked. “We need to answer these questions.”
Museveni has a history of anti-LGBTQ+ language and targeting the LGBTQ+ community. During a 2014 interview with CNN, he called gay people “disgusting” and lauded a commission of scientists he said proved that same-sex sexual attractions were abnormal learned behavior.
“I was regarding it as an inborn problem,” he said at the time. “Genetic distortion – that was my argument. But now our scientists have knocked this one out.”
Activists said the bill was especially dangerous.
“One of the most extreme features of this new bill is that it criminalizes people simply for being who they are as well as further infringing on the rights to privacy, and freedoms of expression and association that are already compromised in Uganda,” Oryem Nyeko, Uganda researcher at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Ugandan politicians should focus on passing laws that protect vulnerable minorities and affirm fundamental rights and stop targeting LGBT people for political capital.”
The AFP reports that conspiracy theories are abounding on social media about corrupt foreign forces that promote queerness. It's contributed to many LGBTQ+ activists going into hiding.
In addition to criminalizing same-sex sexual relations, the proposed bill targets individuals, journalists, activists, organizations, and businesses that support the LGBTQ+ community. The bill calls for a fine of over $26,000 for individuals and organizations found to have "promoted" homosexuality. Gay brothel owners would face up to seven years in jail and landlords renting to LGBTQ+ people would be imprisoned for a maximum of one year.
The proposed bill is similar to a 2014 anti-LGBTQ+ law that called for a life sentence for individuals engaging in same-sex sexual relations. The law was later struck down by the courts. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023 must still be signed into law by Museveni before taking effect.