January 17, 2012 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Ugandan official says ‘kill the gays’ bill ‘not being reconsidered’

Uganda’s ambassador to the United States blasted the head of the United Negro College Fund for sending him an “incendiary” letter last week asking him to discuss an anti-homosexuality bill introduced in the Uganda Parliament in his scheduled speech at a Martin Luther King Day event sponsored by the Fund.

Ambassador Perezi K. Kamunanwire responded to that letter by withdrawing as keynote speaker at the King Day event, held Monday morning in Greenbelt, Md. In his own letter, he said United Negro College Fund president and CEO, Michael L. Lomax, “blindsided and startled” him with Lomax’s Jan. 12 letter raising the issue of the anti-homosexuality bill.

In addition, Kamunanwire claims in the letter that the Ugandan Parliament is not planning to reconsider a bill that would impose the death penalty for homosexual acts.

The ambassador, a former college professor who has taught at U.S. universities, said in his letter that he had been invited to speak on education-related issues at the King Day event.

Lomax said in his letter to Kamunanwire that he raised the issue of reports of anti-gay persecution in Uganda after receiving an inquiry from the Washington Blade and others asking why his organization invited a Ugandan official to speak at a King Day commemoration.

“Following a brief telephone conversation with Dr. Lomax in which I expressed concern that changing the topic would distract from our shared commitment to honor Dr. King’s legacy and advance the discussion of education equality, it was clear from his discourteous and insulting tone that I was no longer welcome,” Kamunanwire said in a Jan. 15 letter to William F. Stasior, chairman of the board of directors of the United Negro College Fund.

Kamunanwire sent a copy of his letter to Stasior to the Blade along with an email message expressing concern about the Blade’s story reporting he had withdrawn abruptly as a speaker for the King Day event. The Blade story cited a press release from the United Negro College Fund announcing Kamunanwire’s withdrawal as speaker.

“My staff at the Embassy of the Republic of Uganda, and members of the Ugandan American community, brought your article to my attention,” he said in his email to the Blade. “In an effort to clarify my decision to withdraw as keynote speaker from the UNCF’s 29th Anniversary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast fundraiser, I am sharing a letter which was sent to the chair of the UNCF board,” he said.

“This will be my only statement on the matter, as I withdrew my name so as not to distract from the importance of the King holiday and education equality,” he said. “It is my hope that the Washington Blade will report this matter fairly.”

Lomax and a spokesperson for the United Negro College Fund didn’t immediately respond to calls from the Blade seeking their response to Kamunanwire’s criticism of Lomax.

In his Jan. 12 letter to Kamunanwire, Lomax said, “We are dismayed at present polices in Uganda (and in many other African nations) criminalizing sexual orientation, and we view with alarm the draconian penalties, including the death penalty, that the Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill would impose if passed.”

Kamunanwire replied in his letter to UNCF board chair Stasior that Lomax’s assumptions that Uganda’s existing laws and policies result in anti-gay persecution were false.

“It is important to note that Uganda does not have such policies,” he said, adding that the bill in question was introduced by a single member of the Uganda Parliament and was never officially debated or passed.

“[A]nd contrary to popular belief, it is not being reconsidered,” Kamunanwire said in his letter. “This has been explained to the U.S. government, Department of State, and several other concerned parties to their satisfaction,” he said.

The New York Times and international human rights activists reported in October that the Uganda Parliament voted to reopen a debate on the anti-homosexuality bill, which was first introduced in 2009. Some of the activists cited a report by Uganda’s Daily Mail newspaper as saying that Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga confirmed that the bill had been sent to several committees for consideration last October and could be brought to a vote.

A spokesperson for the State Department couldn’t be reached for comment early Monday to verify Kamunanwire’s assertion that U.S. officials were satisfied that the anti-homosexuality bill was not being taken up again. President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton expressed concern last year over reports of anti-gay persecution in Uganda following the murder of a prominent Ugandan gay rights activist in the activist’s home.

“As is the case with several members of the British Commonwealth, the outdated anti-sodomy laws in the Ugandan penal code were inherited from our British colonizers,” Kamunanwire said in his letter, in referring to existing law in Uganda.

“Quite similarly, there are dormant anti-sodomy laws on the books in fourteen U.S. states, including Virginia where the UNCF makes its home,” he said.

Kamunanwire was referring to a decision by legislatures in some states to leave their sodomy laws on the books following the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence vs. Texas, which overturned state sodomy laws that criminalized sodomy between consenting adults in private. Legal experts have said the state sodomy laws remaining on the books cannot be enforced under the Supreme Court ruling.

 

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

7 Comments
  • Thank Mr. Ambassador for standing your ground. You represented our country well by not pandering to the gay lobby. I am Ugandan, have lived in Uganda all my life and have never seen a gay person harassed. We have gay bars where they freely meet and hook up. Why should we always have to explain ourselves all the time. The West is being taken for a ride by unscrupulous Africans wishing to remain there by saying they are gay. I usually laugh when straight people turn out to be gay and in fear of ‘persecution’ when their visas expire.

    • If that is the case then why not do away with the existing laws in Uganda that can potentially see homosexuals jailed for many years? Why have laws on the books that are not enforced, or can be arbitrarily enforced against homosexuals by corrupt officials?

  • As an SGL African American, I found the ambassador’s raising of the fact that it was the British who put the anti-sodomy laws in place as showing his own knowledge of Uganda’s colonial history. I’ll concede that.

    The issue, then, is for the ambassador to also learn or explain how such laws, where enforced and however installed, do not help the citizens of the country beyond giving them a scapegoat for pervasive ills.

    Not everything that was brought by the British to Africa was good or beneficial, and I don’t consider the British state, with its history, to be the best arbiter of morality or law. I personally wish that the British government would apologize for its role in the spread of such laws and the resulting damage done to societies.

    I also hope that more Ugandans begin to realize this as well, not to say that there aren’t already.

  • As for the dormant sodomy laws on the books in several US states, it’s time for the gay equality federation organizations and gay activists in general to push for removing these dormant sodomy laws from the books of whatever states that still have dormant sodomy laws. The 2003 SCOTUS decision in Lawrence vs. Texas striking down US sodomy laws rendered these sodomy laws impotent. However, since they are still lying dormant on the books of several states, sometimes the various Frothy Mixes living in those states behave as if their states’ sodomy laws are in force and enforceable when in reality they are just dormant in their areas. There are those antigay nutballs whose belief springs eternal that these archaic sodomy laws should be revived. (even if that flies in the face of and contradicts the 2003 SCOTUS decision striking these sodomy laws down throughout the parts of the US where these laws were in effect up to the time of that SCOTUS decision). And so that individual states can’t get illegally attempt to revive their sodomy laws, it’s high time as late as 2012 for a push by pro-gay activists gay and straight alike….. in all those states with dormant sodomy laws on the books… to purge those dormant sodomy laws ONCE AND FOR ALL from the books whereever they exist. This is a new year in a new century and time for this country to update itself and to free itself of its anti-gay past same as countries here and there on different continents are doing as the years go by.

  • Remove laws that are used to harass detain people because of being gays need to protect all people regardless of their sexuality.we want the government to throw away the anti gay bill and remove all laws that criminalize gays

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