More than a dozen people gathered outside the Ugandan embassy in Northwest D.C. on Saturday to protest the African country’s so-called “Kill the Gays” bill that would impose the death penalty upon anyone convicted of repeated same-sex sexual acts.
Members of the Maryland Light Brigade, which placed illuminated signs in support of last month’s referendum that upheld the state’s same-sex marriage law on interstate overpasses, organized the protest. They held lighted black panels along the sidewalk in front of the 16th Street, N.W., compound that read “Reject Ugandan Homophobia.”
Several motorists honked their horns in support of the protesters as they drove past the embassy.
“Those lawmakers are better than what they’re doing,” D.C. resident Moses Shaba, who is originally from Uganda, told the Washington Blade. “They are absolutely better than what they’re doing. I am so surprised to see that they are going on with this bill and the kind of articles and provisions that are in that bill because in the long run when this bill if it’s passed they will see their friends, their kids, their daughters, their brothers all going to jail. That’s how bad it is.”
Shaba and other protesters also sought to highlight the role they feel Scott Lively and other American evangelicals have played in exploiting homophobic attitudes in the East African country before Parliamentarian David Bahati introduced the bill in 2009. Sexual Minorities Uganda, an LGBT advocacy group, accused Lively of violating international law when he allegedly conspired with the country’s political and religious leaders to further promote these sentiments in a lawsuit it filed in a Massachusetts federal court in March.
“Normally I might say that I wouldn’t push my way into a foreign country’s internal affairs, but one of the big problems here is there’s a lot of American support for this bill,” Charles Butler said. He specifically referred to the Foundation, the group also known as the Family that organizes the annual National Prayer Breakfast, as one organization to which Bahati and other anti-gay Ugandan lawmakers and religious leaders have ties. “I just feel that it’s our responsibility to fight the Americans who are trying to export homophobia to Africa.”
Advocates expect Ugandan parliamentarians could potentially vote on the “Kill the Gays” bill before the legislative session ends on Dec. 14. The Associated Press and other media outlets have reported Bahati has removed the death penalty provision from his measure, but activists and even the U.S. State Department officials have questioned these reports.
Both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have spoken out against the Anti-Homosexuality Bill — they also condemned Ugandan LGBT activist David Kato’s 2011 murder. Clinton also honored SMUG Executive Director Frank Mugisha and other Ugandan human rights advocates at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, the country’s capital, in August.
The White House and British Prime Minister David Cameron have also suggested the allocation of international aid should hinge upon a country’s record on LGBT rights.
Back in D.C., Maryland resident Deb Friedman described the “Kill the Gays” bill as “a horrific policy.”
“It’s taking the whole human community a step backwards,” she told the Blade. “I happen to be a lesbian. Even if I wasn’t I would consider it worth of protesting. Whether or not it’s going to do any good in terms of the government of Uganda and who they listen to, but I feel you have to stand out no matter what the outcome or the results are. You can’t just let it happen and not take a stand.”
Rockville resident Steve Brooks, who continues to advocate on behalf of LGBT activists in Zimbabwe in southern Africa, agreed.
“Our brothers and sisters in Africa are facing the prospect of losing their lives and their livelihoods so i’m out here to support them,” he said.