Legislation that would make homosexual relationships punishable by death has re-emerged in Uganda’s political discourse for the first time since it’s nullification five years ago. International outcry against the “Kill the Gays” bill came in response to Uganda’s Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo’s public remarks last Thursday. In a press conference, the Minister stated that the government would expand the existing penal codes against consensual same-sex acts to include the so-called “recruitment” of same-sex behaviour, as well as implement the death penalty for those who commit “grave [homosexual] acts”.
As of yet, it is unclear whether or not Lokodo’s remarks are indicative of any real upcoming changes in parliament. While some MPs have offered enthusiastic support for the re-introduction of the bill, President Yoweri Museveni’s spokesman suggested that there was no intention to reintroduce the infamous bill, claiming that existing legislation sufficiently “handles issues of unnatural sexual behaviour”.
Though 34 countries on the African continent have laws against homosexuality, Uganda currently has some of the harshest laws against lesbian, gay, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) citizens. Specifically, in 2013 the Ugandan parliament passed legislation mandating a life-sentence in prison for anyone caught engaging in consensual homosexual behaviour. These existing penal codes were initially enforced by British colonial rule. Those who are not formally convicted under these anti-LGBTQ laws are often subject to workplace discrimination, blackmail, housing eviction, arbitrary arrest, and other forms of harassment.
Though the initial “Kill the Gays” law failed to come into full effect in 2014, the country has long been mired by hate crimes targeted at its LGBTQ population. Most recently, Lokodo’s words echo the murder of a prominent queer, gender non-conforming activist, Brian Wassawa on October 5th. In addition to his work as a paralegal for the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, Wassawa conducted vital HIV prevention services to the marginalized LGBTQ community in Uganda. Wassawa was in his home when he was beaten and killed. He is the fourth LGBTQ activist to be murdered in the past three months.
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