“Let us all be one family that Stands for Justice, Equality and Peace”

On Monday, 1st March,  a group of activists and civil society organisations in Uganda presented a petition signed by 450,000 people from across the world opposing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The Petition was presented to Edward Sekandi, the Ugandan Speaker of Parliament and called for Parliament to “enact laws that will protect people and not humiliate or kill them”. It pointed out that the Bill is unconstitutional because it encourages discrimination against Ugandan LGBTI people both at home and abroad.

One of the those presenting the Petition, Kasha Jacqueline of FARUGANDA was shocked by the response of the Speaker who is supposed to be independent.

“[The] Speaker of Parliament insists that the Bill shall not be withdrawn,”We might reduce the punishments, but it cannot be go out the way it is, it has to go through procedures and also the MP who tabled it is the only one who can withdraw it” he said . So guessing that they are insisting on just “softening” it. I cannot believe this.”

By stating the Bill shall not be withdrawn, the Speaker, who is supposed to be independent and not give opinions, is clearly showing his support for the Bill. The Bill will now go back to Parliament for a second reading and then on to the Legal and Parliamentary Committee where there will be an open discussion with the public which will include lawyers acting for the activists and civil society organisations. This will be a further opportunity to challenge the legality of the proposed Bill and to put further pressure on Parliament to abandon it altogether. It will then return to Parliament for a third and final reading and a vote.

There are signs of withdrawal of at least some aspects of the Bill, particularly the death penalty, though even if that is dropped the Bill in any form is still a violation of all national, continental and international Human Rights treaties and legislation to which Uganda is a signatory.

I think the speaker and the government have put themselves into a corner now and they are panicking. They thought it would be a political game in their favor but it turns out now they are between a rock and sand. They have to amuse the voters and at the same time they need funds to run the country. Now they must be thinking what a blunder they made, that’s why even Bahati and Ssempa are silent…… Kasha Jacqueline

However the voices of hate are still being heard in old and new places such as this comment by in the Ugandan Observer

I personally feel gays or homos have a mental problem. I’ve even failed to imagine how they do their thing. I often pray that this debate should come to an end because the more we talk about it the more silly arguments in favour of it will always be raised by the Mwendas and Nagendas of this world as our children are listening.

Human rights activists like the (Dr. Sylvia) Tamales should know that rights are a creation of man and you cannot have rights where there is no life, a [situational] trend the gays are heading to…….
But when all is said and done, [I submit that] gays should suffer death not only by hanging but also by stoning at a public marketplace. The alternative for them is to seek medical attention; a mad person cannot claim the right to be mad. I will end by saying: Bravo Bahati, bravo Dr. Buturo!

At particular risk if the Bill is passed, in any form, are the frontline defenders like Kasha, Frank Mugisha of SMUG and Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo who has long been a ray of hope and light in the Ugandan church. [The Bishop took part in the Sexuality and Social Justice Portrait and Testimonies project at the 2007 WSF – listen here] Last week a ground-breaking exhibition, Proudly African & Transgender, by South African artist and activist for social justice, opened at Amnesty International in Amsterdam [See here for portraits and testimonies]. The exhibition is extremely pertinent to the Bill as three  of the Transgender activists — Victor Mukasa, Salango and Nikki Mawanda and Julius who identifies as Transgender and Intersex, are also Ugandans who are highly visible and have consistently put their lives on the line. The fact that transgender people are targeted to the same degree as gay and lesbians in this Bill means they too would be amongst the first to be arrested by the government. Victor Mukasa highlights the point that transgender people are what society perceives as the obvious homosexual even if they do not identify that way simply because they are visible and clearly transgressing with gender.

My experience as a transgender person in Uganda is not a sweet story. In short, a transgender person in Uganda is constantly surrounded with ridicule, mockery and abuse. For most Ugandans, any person that expresses “him/herself” as the opposite sex is a homosexual and so this exposes transgender people to all the mistreatment that they would love to give to a homosexual. All transgender people are seen as the obvious homosexuals. Therefore, on top of all the transphobia, there is homophobia even if you are not gay. For the case of Uganda, you can imagine the level.

The implications of the Bill and the denial that MSM (men who have sex with men) exist in Uganda are also preventing access to HIV/AIDs information and treatment. NGOs who support LGBTI groups and HIV/AIDS organisations are also at risk from losing their NGO status within the country because of the association of HIV/AIDS with gay men. People live in fear of being identified as being gay so they do not want to be tested or be seen to be attending clinics and groups which provide support. The bill is creating an environment of fear and hostility in Uganda which ultimately will permeate the lives of everyone. The government and religious institutions are playing a game of political Russian roulette by presenting the Bill as being directed at LGBTI people and driving a campaign of hate. At some point soon, I hope Ugandans will wake up to the fact that that a Bill which refuses the human rights of LGBTI people ultimately rejects the rights of all Ugandans whatever the gender identity, sexuality or sexual preference.

Sign the petition to oppose Uganda’s anti-gay law

Petition the Prime Minister to pressure the Malawian government to free Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga who have been imprisoned for a same sex marriage – Sign the petition here.

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