‘I wish I could tell you I am shocked, but I’m not. I am tired’: Uganda’s Parliament passes tough anti-LGBTQ bill


(LONDON) — In the days after Ugandan Parliament passed one of the world’s harshest anti-LGBTQ bills, members of the country’s LGBTQ community who spoke to ABC News said they were worried about their personal liberties and safety.

“There are no words to describe the feeling of being persecuted by everyone around you, just for being yourself, for being who you are,” Atuhaire, a Kampala-based member of Uganda’s LGBTQ community told ABC News, using only their first name to protect their personal safety.

Atuhaire added, “When we leave work every day our colleagues know they have a safe place to go home to. We no longer have even that luxury. As we speak, I am facing eviction.”

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023 — which was passed on Tuesday evening after several readings and hours of debate — proposed tough penalties against Uganda’s LGBTQ+ community, who have been on the end of increasing discrimination and violence.

The sweeping legislation would criminalize “the offence of homosexuality,” meaning anyone who identifies as LGBTQ or “any other sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female” may be subject to imprisonment of up to 10 years if convicted.

The bill would also outlaw the promotion of homosexuality,” meaning anyone advocating for LGBTQ rights or anyone who provides funding to organizations that do faces the threat of imprisonment or a fine not exceeding 1 billion Ugandan shillings, or about $265,900.

The bill touches on landlords and property owners too. They face the threat of prosecution through penalties or imprisonment if their premises are found to be used for “homosexual acts.”

“This country will stand firm, and once it is passed, I can tell you madam speaker, we are going to reinforce the law enforcement officers to make sure that homosexuals have no space in Uganda,” said Musa Ecwery, a lawmaker from Uganda’s Amuria District, speaking in parliament.

Parliamentary Speaker Anita Annet announced the passing, saying, “The Ayes have it.” She was met with cheers and applause in the packed parliamentary chamber. The bill was supported by 283 of 389 legislators.

“This house will continue to pass laws that recognize, protect and safeguard the sovereignty, morals and cultures of this country,” Annet said.

If the bill passes into law through assent by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, anyone caught engaging same-sex sexual activity could face life imprisonment, as would anyone convicted of grooming or trafficking children for the purpose of “homosexual activities.”

“Aggravated homosexuality,” a broad term encapsulating perpetrators who are HIV positive, among other categories, would also could carry a life sentence for those convicted.

In a statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said the bill’s passing was “deeply disturbing” and threatened to erode gains made over the years.

“The passing of this discriminatory bill — probably among the worst in the world,” Türk said, adding, “Let us be clear: this is not about ‘values.’ Promoting violence and discrimination against people for who they are and who they love is wrong and any disingenuous attempts to justify this on the basis of ‘values’ should be called out and condemned.”

The bill was introduced in early March 2023 by Asuman Basalirwa, a lawmaker who said homosexuality was a “human wrong” that threatened traditional family values and the continuation of humanity.

“The vitriol and we receive daily on social media has always been vicious, but nothing like the last few months,” Grace, an LGBTQ+ activist, told ABC News in a phone interview. “Especially following the Anglican church debacle and comments form the president calling us deviants and so on and so forth, the list goes on — this is the climate for us in Uganda.”

“I wish I could tell you I’m shocked, but I’m not. I am tired,” Grace said. “But the beauty of our community and what I love is no matter what bill, intimidation or what have you, or what circumstance, we will not be erased or silenced. We will keep speaking up for our rights.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the bill “undermine[s] fundamental human rights” of Ugandans and could “reverse gains in the fight against HIV/AIDS.” He called on Museveni to veto the bill.

In a White House press briefing, National Security Council coordinator John Kirby and Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre condemned the bill, saying the East African nation may face repercussions — “perhaps in an economic way” — should the law be enacted.

“We’ll have to take a look. No decisions. We’re watching this very, very closely,” Kirby said

The U.S. currently provides Uganda with an annual assistance budget exceeding $950 million as well as health assistance through PEPFAR.

Museveni, the president, has said the West has “weird cultures” and has vowed not to bend to western pressure.

“Western countries should stop wasting the time of humanity by trying to impose their practices on other people,” he said in an address earlier this month.

Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda, as in over 30 of Africa’s 54 countries. Human rights advocates said they planned to challenge the bill in court if it’s signed into law.

“The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke about how pernicious and ghastly it is that people are penalized and killed simply and solely on the basis of their sexual orientation and called on us to all oppose this injustice,” Türk said. “I would like to renew his plea today.”

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.