Uganda Anti Homosexuality Bill 2023: what is new LGBT+ legislation - does it introduce the death penalty?

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The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023 introduces some of the toughest legislation against people who identify as gay in Africa

Uganda’s president has signed into law one of the toughest pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in Africa, despite condemnation by the international community and human rights activists.

In March, Ugandan lawmakers passed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill - supported by nearly all of its 389 legislators. While the original bill would have meant that people who identify as gay in the country risk life in prison - and even the death penalty in some cases - the version of the Bill signed by President Yoweri Museveni on Monday (29 May) no longer criminalises those who identify as LGBTQ.

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Parliamentary Speaker Anita Among said in a statement that the president had “answered the cries of our people” in signing the Bill. Museveni had said in a recent speech that he supported the Bill, accusing unnamed western nations of “trying to impose their practices on other people”.

As it stands, homosexuality is criminalised in more than 30 of Africa’s 54 countries.

What does this mean for LGBTQ+ people in Uganda?

While same-sex activity was already illegal in Uganda, this new bill introduces a number of new criminal offences. The bill was introduced in February by an opposition lawmaker who said his goal was to punish “promotion, recruitment and funding” related to LGBTQ+ activities.

People hold a banner reading “We are Family” while waving rainbow flags as they take part in the Gay Pride parade in Entebbe, Uganda, on August 8, 2015. (Photo: ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP via Getty Images)People hold a banner reading “We are Family” while waving rainbow flags as they take part in the Gay Pride parade in Entebbe, Uganda, on August 8, 2015. (Photo: ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP via Getty Images)
People hold a banner reading “We are Family” while waving rainbow flags as they take part in the Gay Pride parade in Entebbe, Uganda, on August 8, 2015. (Photo: ISAAC KASAMANI/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

While the original bill would have meant that people who identify as gay in the country risk life in prison - and even the death penalty in some cases - Museveni had returned the Bill to the national assembly in April, asking for changes that would differentiate between identifying as LGBTQ and actually engaging in homosexual acts.

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This was a key concern for campaigners, who had condemned an earlier draft of the legislation as an egregious attack on human rights. However, the new law still prescribes the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality”, which is defined as cases of sexual relations involving people infected with HIV as well as with minors and other categories of vulnerable people.

A suspect convicted of “attempted aggravated homosexuality” can be imprisoned for up to 14 years, according to the legislation.

It also outlaws the “promotion of homosexuality” which could see anyone advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, or donating money on behalf of organisations that do so, facing up to 20 years in prison.

Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda under a colonial-era law criminalising sexual activity “against the order of nature”. The punishment for that offence is life imprisonment.

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The leaders of the UN Aids programme, the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief and the Global Fund have said in a joint statement they “are deeply concerned about the harmful impact” of the legislation on public health and the HIV response.

“Uganda’s progress on its HIV response is now in grave jeopardy,” the statement said. “The Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 will obstruct health education and the outreach that can help end Aids as a public health threat.”

That statement noted that “stigma and discrimination associated with the passage of the Act has already led to reduced access to prevention as well as treatment services” for LGBTQ people.

How have LGBTQ+ activists responded to the bill?

On Twitter, Sarah Kasande, a human rights activist and lawyer based in Kampala, said that the passing of the bill marked “a tragic day in Uganda’s history”.

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In a thread of tweets, she wrote: “@Parliament_Ug has passed legislation that promotes hatred and seeks to strip LGBTIQ individuals of their fundamental rights! The provisions of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill are barbaric, discriminatory and unconstitutional!

“We must reject bigotry and homophobia and build a Uganda that values inclusivity and diversity. It is our collective responsibility to respect and protect the rights and dignity of all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

A Ugandan transgender woman who was recently attacked and currently being sheltered watches a TV screen showing the live broadcast of the session from the Parliament for the anti-gay bill (Photo by STUART TIBAWESWA/AFP via Getty Images)A Ugandan transgender woman who was recently attacked and currently being sheltered watches a TV screen showing the live broadcast of the session from the Parliament for the anti-gay bill (Photo by STUART TIBAWESWA/AFP via Getty Images)
A Ugandan transgender woman who was recently attacked and currently being sheltered watches a TV screen showing the live broadcast of the session from the Parliament for the anti-gay bill (Photo by STUART TIBAWESWA/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

“This is not the end, the Courts of law will have the final say! Uganda’s constitution shields individuals from discrimination or persecution based on their beliefs, values, or identity.”

Kasha Jacqueline, a lesbian activist, also tweeted that “we shall continue to fight this injustice”, but that the “struggle [has] just begun”.

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“Today’s events in Parliament are not just immoral, but a complete assault on humanity. It’s frightening that our MPs’ judgement is clouded by hate & homophobia. Who benefits from this draconian law? It’s a question they’ll likely never answer #AntiHomosexualityBill2023,” gay activist Eric Ndawula tweeted.

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