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Uganda to jail people who identify as LGBTQ in one of world's most anti-gay laws

Kenyan gays and lesbians and others supporting their cause wear masks to preserve their anonymity as they stage a rare protest against Uganda's tough stance against homosexuality and in solidarity with their counterparts there, outside the Uganda High Commission in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2014.
Ben Curtis
/
AP
Kenyan gays and lesbians and others supporting their cause wear masks to preserve their anonymity as they stage a rare protest against Uganda's tough stance against homosexuality and in solidarity with their counterparts there, outside the Uganda High Commission in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2014.

Updated March 22, 2023 at 4:58 PM ET

LAGOS, Nigeria — Uganda's parliament has passed some of the most sweeping anti-LGBTQ legislation in the world. Same-sex acts were already unlawful in Uganda, but on Tuesday night, lawmakers voted to ban identifying as LGBTQ+, or the so-called promotion of gay identity.

In a packed chamber, lawmakers overwhelmingly voted in favor of legislation called the anti-homosexuality bill, with only two of the nearly 400 representatives voting against it.

"Congratulations," said Speaker Anita Among. "Whatever we are doing, we are doing it for the people of Uganda."

Same-sex acts have been criminal in Uganda under British colonial-era laws, but this new legislation goes much further. So-called aggravated homosexuality, which includes sex with someone who has HIV could incur the death penalty. The law would also punish anyone who identifies as gay or queer, and potentially people or rights groups seen to promote or support LGBTQ identity.

The legislation has drawn strong criticism from activists and civil rights organisations within the country.

Ugandan LGBTQ activist Richard Lusimbo told NPR "the LGBTQI community has basically been told, you can't raise your head, you can't be seen, you can't be heard"

But for Lusimbo, like many, this legislation is the result of pressure both from within and outside the country. "From the very start, this whole bill coming into Uganda was because of, for example, American evangelicals who would come to Uganda. And what's happening in Uganda is not just in isolation"

Homosexuality is criminalized in more than 30 of Africa's 54 countries.

International condemnation has been swift.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted that the bill "would undermine fundamental human rights of all Ugandans." He added, "We urge the Ugandan Government to strongly reconsider the implementation of this legislation."

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Washington is "watching this real closely," and did not rule out possible economic "repercussions" if the legislation is implemented.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk called it a "deeply troubling development."

"If signed into law by the president, it will render lesbian, gay and bisexual people in Uganda criminals simply for existing, for being who they are," he said. "It could provide carte blanche for the systematic violation of nearly all of their human rights and serve to incite people against each other."

Uganda passed a previous anti-homosexuality law in 2014 but the courts struck it down on procedural grounds, following outrage in Uganda and from international donors.

Human Rights Watch called the new legislation a "more egregious version."

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has spoken in support of the legislation, is expected to sign it into law.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Emmanuel Akinwotu