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Ugandan Parliament Revisits ’Death to Gays’ Bill

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Oct 27, 2011

Lawmakers in Uganda are preparing to revisit a controversial bill, first proposed two years ago, which would prescribe the death penalty for gays in certain cases and impose steep penalties on others who do not report gays to the authorities.

The so-called "Death to Gays" bill was first advanced by Ugandan MP David Bahati in October of 2009, shortly after several anti-gay American evangelicals visited Uganda and told crowds that gays corrupt youths.

The conference was put together by the Ugandan group the Family Life Network, which purports to uphold "traditional family values." The speakers included anti-gay writer and missionary Scott Lively--author of a book that purports to tell parents how to "gay-proof" their offspring--and Don Schmierer, a board member of Exodus international, an organization dedicated to the idea that gays can be "cured" through prayer and counseling.

A third speaker was also in attendance: Caleb Lee Brundidge, who claims once to have been gay, but now to be heterosexual. Mr. Brundage heads seminars focused on "healing" gays (that is, attempting to turn them straight).

The views set out by the Americans ranged from highly dubious claims that gays can be "converted" to heterosexuality to wild, undefined assertions that a "gay agenda" was at work "to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity," as well as stereotype-based pronouncements that gay men prey on teenaged boys.

Bahati has ties to anti-gay American evangelicals, subsequent news stories revealed.

In the two years since Bahati first introduced the "Death to Gays" bill, life for Uganda's LGBT population has become considerably harder as the social climate has become significantly more homophobic. A Ugandan newspaper went so far as to publish the names, photos, and addresses of 100 Ugandans the paper claimed were gay and lesbian, with the accompanying headline screaming, "HANG THEM!"

One of the men listed by the newspaper was murdered on Jan. 26. LGBT equality advocate David Kato was killed in his home by a man wielding a hammer. The man later claimed that Kato had failed to pay him for gay sex.

International outrage followed the bill's first introduction, and Uganda's president sought to have Bahati take the bill off the table, to no avail. Since then, the bill has intermittently been brought up for renewed consideration, and parts of the bill have reportedly been incorporated into other proposed laws--as means, critics suggest, of implementing the bill's anti-gay measures piecemeal and below the radar of international watchdogs.

Now, reported Bloomberg Businessweek on Oct. 25, Uganda's parliament is set to debate the bill anew.

"The legislation will be sent to the relevant session committee for consideration, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga told lawmakers today in a televised debate from the capital, Kampala," the article said.

In the two years since the bill first provoked a global uproar, its anti-gay provisions have not been softened. Indeed, a new provision criminalizing marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples has been proposed, the article said.

The bill prescribes the death penalty for gay men who have sex with other men repeatedly. It also calls for death in cases where HIV positive men engage in gay sex--but makes no such provision for HIV positive men who infect women.

The bill also requires that anyone knowing about sexual relationships between persons of the same gender must report them to the police or else face years of hard labor for not turning them in.

The measure's anti-gay provisions stand as an emblem for the anti-gay animus that marks many African nations. In Malawi, two men who celebrated an engagement to one another were arrested, forced to endure a months-long confinement in prison, and then sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for having offended the country's "decency laws." Their sentence was commuted in the face of heavy international pressure, but the traumatic experience sent one of the men fleeing out of the relationship.

A regional governor in Ghana vowed to eradicate gays, saying that he would use the nation's police force to round up and "get rid of" the area's GLBT population.

In South Africa--the only nation in the world where the rights of LGBTs are enshrined in the constitution--anti-gay animus is so overwhelming that lesbians are routinely subjected to "corrective rape" and murdered.

But there are bright spots. The Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai, has recently changed his mind about gays and said that rights and protections for LGBTs should be written into a new constitution for the country, the BBC reported on Oct. 24.

It was only last year that Tsvangirai had lent his support to Zimbabwe's notoriously anti-gay President Robert Mugabe in denouncing sexual minorities, the BBC noted.

Mugabe is known for having stoked anti-gay sentiment in a speech in which he denigrated gays as being lower "than pigs and dogs," but Tsivangirai told the BBC that if he were to succeed Mugabe as president he would stand up for equality.

"It's a very controversial subject in my part of the world," Tsivangirai acknowledged. "My attitude is that I hope the constitution will come out with freedom of sexual orientation, for as long as it does not interfere with anybody."

Tsivangirai, who is running against Mugabe for next year's election, added, "To me, it's a human right."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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