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Uganda and the Fight for Gay Rights

LGBTQIA+ rights activists in Uganda are fighting to change the law of the country. One law in particular, recently re-affirmed in May 2023, is the Anti Homosexuality Bill. This Bill has existed in previous forms as far back as 2009. 


The LGBTQIA+ community in Uganda has faced significant persecution in recent years due to the works of President Yoweri Museveni, leader of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) Party. The NRM came to power after the former leader of the country Idi Amin was removed. 


Amin was known internationally for his corruption, human rights abuse, and promoting through nepotism. Museveni and the NRM removed him from power but did not break the mould for setting the basis of good leadership, particularly with the laws surrounding LGBTQIA+ rights.


In fact, Uganda has some very strict laws regarding homosexuality, particularly those who choose to live an openly gay lifestyle. The Anti-Homosexuality Act (2023) is quite draconian, with acts such as the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ being liable for up to two decades in prison. For being a homosexual an employer can terminate that person from their job. The law fully prohibits any act that is even slightly deemed to show a positive light on being gay. 


Museveni’s government has been allowed to push these extremist ideals regarding non-hetero-normative lifestyles due to country having been formerly part of the Commonwealth and formerly part of The British Empire. Uganda, like many countries prior to Western occupation, had its own ideas regarding gender and sexual identity that would not have conformed to the ideas of the time.


Africa, as a continent, has “a rich history of same sex relations that was buried by colonialism” – according to Ken Olende of The Socialist Worker. As Olende notes, Western ideas had a massive impact on the long-term views of ordinary Africans on sex and sexuality. These ideas were imported with Western bigotry and religion and over time have had a knock-on effect that has now led, in the modern day, to Africa being one of the worst places in the world for LGBTQIA+ individuals.


This wasn’t always the case, as Olende has made clear – particularly when arguing against those who claim to be upholding traditional ideas. Traditionally, LGBTQIA+ DID have a place in Africa


‘Pre-colonial Africa was made up of a wide array of different forms of society. Many of them tolerated or celebrated same sex relations of one sort or another. Hundreds of African societies record same-sex sexual activity between men and more than 50 have records of it between women.’


-       The Socialist Worker, 2014


It is not often that we look in the past and find ideas that give hope to a progressive future, but to those fighting in Africa – to those fighting in Uganda – to repeal these bigoted laws, the past gives hope. 


Activists such as Clare Byarugaba, who helped lead the first Ugandan Pride event in 2012, is an advisor for LGBTI issues for East Africa. Byarugaba is a member of Chapter Four Uganda, an organisation that ‘human rights and pro-democracy activists in their efforts to promote open government, defend human rights, strengthen civil society and facilitate the free flow of information and ideas.’


Byarugaba spoke to The Guardian about the fight for LGBTQIA+ advocacy and its importance and relevance within the Ugandan constitution; 


“We are challenging the anti-homosexuality law because it does not pass any constitutional litmus test, and we shall win, because such an abhorrent law whose only aim is to spread hate and institutionalise discrimination and exclusion does not belong on Uganda’s law books and should never have been enacted in the first place.”


It is fair to say that the right to exist and love who you choose should be universal however, it remains to be seen if Uganda will accept this truth. Certainty, it is a worthy fight to take on. Right now, it is uncertain if the laws will change, and what the impact of such changes would. be. Furthermore, what the impact of these potential changes will be is another matter altogether. 


 


We will continue to update you as this story develops, until then we wish the best for Clare and all those in Uganda. 


 


 


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