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Uganda made shockwaves around the world after the country’s parliament passed a new anti-gay law that criminalizes identifying as LGBTQ+ with the possibility of 10 years to life imprisonment. The new law also forces friends and family members to report gay people or face imprisonment themselves.
Some Ugandans have already reported being extorted for money under threat of being reported as gay.
On Tuesday, March 21, the Ugandan parliament faced condemnation from the U.S. government, the United Nations, and other countries after passing one of the most restrictive anti-gay laws in the world, the 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill. LGBTQ+ Ugandans have long faced prosecution and killings in the fiercely anti-gay nation, CBS News reported.
Same-sex relations had already been criminalized in the country for years. The new law takes it even further by requiring people to report anyone they believe might be gay to the authorities. It also lumps in LGBTQ+ persons with child sexual predators. It includes a provision that brings the death penalty to those accused of grooming children for same-sex acts, which the bill calls “aggravated homosexuality.”
“No one should be attacked, imprisoned, or killed simply because of who they are, or who they love,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said following the bill’s passage in the parliament. The U.S. has threatened to introduce sanctions on Uganda if President Yoweri Museveni signs the bill into law, according to Today News Africa.
While Ugandans and even some Black Americans praise the bill as standing up to “Western influence”, the history of anti-gay laws in Africa actually begins with European colonization. It’s spearheaded today by White U.S. missionaries, who often lobby African countries to pass anti-gay laws.
History of homosexuality in Africa
During the colonial era, European nations introduced laws in Africa that criminalized sex acts “against the order of nature.” Prior to European influence, African cultures have included at least one openly gay king and recognition of different genders and sexual orientations.
Bisi Alimi is a publicly gay Nigerian man living in exile after facing death threats. He teaches about “Pre- and post-colonial sexual orientation and sexual identity in Africa” at Berlin’s Humboldt University.
In a 2015 article in the Guardian, Alimi describes the acceptance of different genders and sexualities found in African cultures prior to colonization.
“While many Africans say that homosexuality is un-African, African culture is no stranger to homosexual behaviours and acts,” he wrote.
As a member of the Yoruba tribe, Alimi notes that his culture has long had a word for gay people, adofuro. He adds that the northern Nigeria region yan daudu refers to “effeminate men who are considered to be wives to men.’ Alimi notes that these terms didn’t have negative connotations before colonialism, they simply described different types of people.
“In the Buganda Kingdom, part of modern-day Uganda, King Mwanga II was openly gay and faced no hate from his subjects until white men brought the Christian church and its condemnation,” Alimi wrote.
Uganda anti-gay law criminalizes people, organizations
Meanwhile, Uganda’s new anti-gay law expands categories of offenders.
According to the BBC, individuals and institutions that support or fund LGBTQ+ rights’ activities or that broadcast, publish, or distribute pro-gay media face prosecution and imprisonment. Even journalists and media groups face prosecution and imprisonment for publishing anything the government considers to be advocating for gay rights.
“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,” said Oryem Nyeko, Uganda researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“Ugandan politicians should focus on passing laws that protect vulnerable minorities and affirm fundamental rights and stop targeting LGBT people for political capital,” Nyeko added.
The Ugandan president, who has called gay people “deviants,” is expected to sign the bill into law.