January 18, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
Uganda president to reportedly reject ‘fascist’ anti-gay bill

Yoweri Museveni, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

The RFK Center on Saturday said Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni will ‘reject’ the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill. (Photo by the U.K. Department for International Development; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Saturday reportedly said he will reject a “fascist” bill his country’s Parliament approved last month that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights said in a press release that Museveni made the comments during a meeting with RFK Center President Kerry Kennedy and two of her organization’s staffers — Santiago A. Canton and Wade McMullen — in Entebbe, Uganda. The group said Archbishop Desmond Tutu also took part in the meeting via telephone.

McMullen told the Washington Blade the meeting was “never contentious” even though participants “often disagreed with the president’s position and assessment of the issues.”

“He was willing to listen carefully to all our points, and was very candid in his answers,” said McMullen.

McMullen added Tutu’s participation was “very impactful.”

“I welcome President Museveni’s decision to reject this hateful bill,” said Tutu in the RFK Center press release. “It is time for our African brothers and sisters to move past the antiquated notion that someone could be a criminal for who they love.”

The RFK Center’s press release noted Museveni “promised” the organization during a meeting last March that he would not sign “any bill that discriminates against any individual.” The organization said Museveni also pledged to introduce a new measure “aimed at protecting minors from being coerced into sexual activity.”

“I am pleased that President Museveni has upheld his promise to reject any piece of discriminatory legislation,” said Kennedy. “While we are concerned with plans to move forward with a new bill, we urge the president to ensure it will not discriminate against LGBTI people nor imperil the legitimate work of human rights defenders in the country.”

Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, said on Saturday he welcomes Museveni’s comments.

“We have a clear position that the president [won’t] sign the bill in its current format,” Mugisha told the Blade. “He is willing to dialogue.”

The meeting took place a day after a Ugandan newspaper reported Museveni has blocked the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill because Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga allowed a vote on the measure without the required number of lawmakers needed for quorum. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill that would also criminalize the promotion of homosexuality originally contained a provision that would have imposed the death penalty on anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

“A homosexual is somebody who is abnormal because the normal person was created to be attracted to the opposite sex in order to procreate and perpetuate the human race,” said Museveni in a Dec. 28 letter to Kadaga of which the Blade obtained a copy.

The Obama administration, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Havi Pillay and Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen are among those who criticized the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill on Dec. 20. Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, announced after Ugandan lawmakers approved the measure that his company would not do business in the country.

The Center for Constitutional Rights in March 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against Scott Lively on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda that accuses the evangelical Christian of exploiting anti-gay attitudes in the East African country and encouraging lawmakers to approve the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. U.S. District Judge Michael A. Posner of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts last August ruled the group’s lawsuit can move forward.

The meeting between Museveni, RFK Center staffers and Tutu also took place a day after the Blade reported U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and four other lawmakers — U.S. Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.) and Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) — will travel to Uganda next week.

A source who is familiar with the trip said the delegation is scheduled to meet with Museveni on Jan. 23 while they are in the East African country. The source told the Blade the lawmakers have thus far rejected Ugandan LGBT rights advocates’ requests to meet with them while they are in Uganda.

Inhofe’s spokesperson, Donelle Harder, on Friday denied reports the delegation will meet with Museveni while in the country.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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