Uganda’s president has approved a new anti-gay law, which is among the harshest in the world. What does it mean for LGBT+ people in the country?
Today’s episode was written by Phoebe Davis and mixed by Patricia Clarke.
Last week, Uganda’s autocratic president, Yoweri Museveni, passed some of the most restrictive anti-LGBT+ legislation in the world.
Uganda already criminalised homosexuality – but these new laws go significantly further. In some instances, breaking the law is punishable by death.
Campaigners in Uganda say the law has already caused violence against the LGBT+ community in the country. International agencies called it a “devastating” blow to human rights.
Under the new laws, anyone who engages in gay sex could face life in prison. When the charge is “aggravated homosexuality” – which lawmakers say includes sex with a minor, a vulnerable person or where someone is infected with a life-long illness like HIV – the punishment is the death penalty.
Someone convicted multiple times of homosexual acts could also face the death penalty.
Lawmakers claim the legislation is necessary to protect Christian family values and African culture from Western influence.
In response, Joe Biden, the US president, has threatened sanctions and aid cuts if Uganda enforces the law. Uganda is heavily reliant on the United States for funding – 32 per cent of its total health spend comes from Washington.
Museveni told a caucus of his party after Biden’s statement that: “If they [the US] cut aid, we will sit down, and discipline our expenditure. Rearrange our budgets. If they interfere with our trade, we shall trade with others.”
Uganda has a long history of restrictive anti-gay legislation. When Museveni came to power in the 1980s there was some optimism from the West that he would be part of a “new generation” of leaders for Africa.
But since then, Museveni has chipped away at Uganda’s democracy and human rights – particularly for the LGBT+ community.
In 2014, Museveni signed a law that became known as the “Kill the Gays” bill.
Although it was eventually overturned by the country’s Supreme Court, research by Human Rights Watch found there was an increase in discrimination and violence towards LBGT+ people after it was introduced.
Campaigners say the same has happened with this law and it is unlikely an overturning of the new act will happen anytime soon.
Steven Kabuye, a 25 year-old LGBT+ campaigner in Uganda, is currently in hiding for his own safety and receives regular death threats on social media.
“So you find yourself being put in a situation where you feel like you should give up. But then, when I give up – who will have a voice? Who will fight for our rights?
“That is what our government wants to deny us right now. It’s pushing us back to the closet by force,” he said.
Steven told Tortoise that he was contacted by a gay man with HIV who now fears going to the hospital for his life-saving medicine because his doctors know he’s gay.
The US and UN’s flagship HIV/AIDs programmes have said the law puts Uganda’s anti-HIV fight in grave jeopardy.