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Ugandan activists travel to D.C.

MPs last month passed Anti-Homosexuality Act

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Four LGBTQ and intersex activists from Uganda traveled to D.C. this week (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Kasha

A group of LGBTQ and intersex activists from Uganda traveled to D.C. this week.

Sexual Minorities Uganda Executive Director Frank Mugisha, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders Senior Manager of Organizational Culture and Community Partnerships Quin Mbabazi and Chapter Four Uganda Executive Director Nicholas Opiyo on Monday spoke about the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in D.C. Maria Burnett, senior associate of CSIS’ Africa Program, moderated the panel discussion in which Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights rights, also participated.

Mugisha, Mbabazi, Opiyo and Jacqueline Kasha Nabagesara while in D.C. met officials from the White House, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development and representatives from the Council for Global Equality. The activists also briefed the Congressional Equality Caucus.

Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine, a four-star admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service who is the first openly transgender person confirmed by the U.S. Senate, on Thursday tweeted a picture of her with Mugisha.

“It was such an honor to meet (Frank Mugisha.) His courage gives me strength, but no one should have to be brave just to be their authentic self,” tweeted Levine. “Progress is not real unless it means progress for all.”

The activists came to D.C. less than a month after Ugandan MPs passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

Opiyo notes the measure would impose a “mandatory” death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” and “anybody who is convicted of being engaged in same-sex relations” would face life in prison.

The bill would also punish the “promotion, recruitment and funding” of LGBTQ-specific activities in Uganda with up to 10 years in prison. Any “person who ‘holds out as a lesbian, gay, transgender, a queer or any other sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female'” would also face up to 10 years in prison. Opiyo also noted the measure’s provision that would require Ugandans to report LGBTQ-specific activities to authorities would create “a moral police force.”

Uganda is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations are criminalized.

President Yoweri Museveni in 2014 signed that year’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which imposed a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The law was known as the “Kill the Gays” bill because it previously contained a death penalty provision.

The U.S. subsequently cut aid to Uganda and imposed a travel ban against officials who carried out human rights abuses. Uganda’s Constitutional Court later struck down the 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act on a technicality.

Museveni has said he supports the current bill for which MPs with close ties to anti-LGBTQ American evangelical groups have championed.

“Anti-gay groups and anti-gender groups (are) radicalizing the Ugandan society against the LGBTQ community,” said Mugisha during the CSIS panel. “We’re seeing a lot of hatred. We’re seeing a lot of fear of LGBTQ persons.”

Mugisha noted there has been an increase in violence against LGBTQ and intersex Ugandans over the last year. Uganda’s National Bureau for Non-Government Organizations last August forced Sexual Minorities Uganda to shut down.

“We’re seeing a very systematic, targeted, group that is targeting the LGBTQ community and we’ve seen that Ugandans have sort of been prepared for this legislation,” said Mugisha. 

US ‘has significant concerns about the Anti-Homosexuality Act’

Stern during the CSIS panel reiterated the Biden-Harris administration’s criticisms of the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

“The U.S. has significant concerns about the Anti-Homosexuality Act that the Parliament of Uganda passed on March 21,” said Stern. “If the Anti-Homosexuality Act is signed into law and enacted, it would threaten the human rights of Ugandan citizens, jeopardize progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, deter tourism and investment in Uganda and damage Uganda’s international reputation.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre during her March 22 press briefing reiterated many of the same points that Stern did. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby that day also noted the U.S. provides substantial aid to Uganda through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and other programs.

“If this bill passes as it is now, the work that PEPFAR currently funds would be criminalized,” said Burnett. “We’re talking about people who are implementing U.S.-funded programs who could not do their jobs without potentially running afoul of the law and losing their liberty.”

Stern said the U.S. “continues to raise issues around the Anti-Homosexuality Act with the government of Uganda at all levels” and is “coordinating with diplomatic partners, with the private sector and with human rights organizations directly.” Stern also noted she and her colleagues are in “daily communication” with Mugisha and the other activists who were on the CSIS panel.

“We’re in constant contact with the community because they know how severe this issue is, how high the stakes are, how to push, what messages to use and what consequences the threat of the bill is already having on the community,” said Stern. “LGBTQI human rights defenders and human rights defenders of all stripes in Uganda are some of our greatest partners in this work. We are working with partners to engage at the multilateral level to address this issue.”

Stern also warned the U.S. would reconsider foreign assistance to Uganda if Museveni signs the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

“We are investing the potential impact of the Anti-Homosexuality Act on U.S. foreign assistance,” said Stern. “If this bill is signed into law, it will be an action-forcing event.”

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Africa

South Africa retail giant supports Pride month despite customer backlash

Woolworths South Africa to continue selling LGBTQ-specific merchandize

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Woolworths South Africa has pledged to continue celebrating Pride month despite the backlash it has received from some customers. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Itai)

A South Africa retail giant has vowed to continue celebrating Pride month and LGBTQ and intersex people despite backlash from some customers.

Woolworths South Africa said will continue offering its Pride regalia to its staff and selling merchandize that recognizes the LGBTQ and intersex community. Woolworths South Africa also said it has established a Woolworths Pride (W.Pride) team, citing its values are firmly in favor of kindness and inclusivity. 

“We have established an internal W.Pride task team to give voice to and address issues faced by the LGBTQIA+ community. We have adapted our working wardrobe policy to recognize everyone’s unique preferences to style, cultural or religious needs and gender identity or expression. We have created a range of Pride merchandise and are donating funds to LGBTQIA+ support organizations,” said Woolworths South Africa. “However, we know that there is always more to be done; and we will keep looking for ways to enable, uplift and celebrate the LGTBQIA+ community. Our community guidelines don’t allow for hate speech or discrimination. Our values are firmly in favor of kindness and inclusivity.” 

OUT, an LGBTQ and intersex rights organization that is based in South Africa, commended Woolworths South Africa and criticized the backlash it received from some of its customers.

“Woolworths’ public affirmation of LGBTQIA+ allyship aligns with South Africa’s vision of a society that guarantees equality, safety and dignity for all. It’s also clear that Woolworths recognizes the importance of celebrating diversity in the LGBTQIA+ community, rather than merely tolerating it,” said OUT Human Rights Coordinator Sibonelo Ncanana. “However, the level of hateful discourse we have seen on social media in response to Woolworths’ Pride campaign is disheartening and shameful. We urge the company and other LGBTQIA+ allies within the corporate sector to stand firm against fear and hate. They should remain steadfast in the knowledge that they are on the right side of history and our constitutional values.” 

Activists hope to use Pride to raise awareness of anti-LGBTQ violence, discrimination

Although South Africa is the only African country on the continent that constitutionally recognizes LGBTQ and intersex people, sporadic attacks and hate speech remain common. One of the reasons is South African society remains oriented around cultural and religious beliefs that denounce LGBTQ and intersex people. 

Violence against LGBTQ and intersex South Africans that includes rape, murder and mutilation also remains a problem.

Tankisho Tawanyana, a 34-year-old lesbian woman from Kimberly, last October was raped and killed by three men who later doused her with paraffin and set her on fire. Two women in April 2021 killed  Khulekani Gomazi, a transgender woman from Mpophomeni.

Some LGBTQ and intersex rights organizations have therefore taken it upon themselves to try and ensure South African students are taught to accept people from different gender identities in order to curb attacks based on gender identity.

The Uthingo Network and 23 other civil society organizations have already raised a series of concerns about the ongoing queerphobic bullying and discrimination against queer students in South African schools and called on Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, to hold teachers accountable and create queer-affirming school environments.

“It does not matter who you are or whom you love, everyone has a constitutional right to be themselves. Uthingo Network promotes equal rights for LGBTQI+ South Africans,” said Uthingo Network.

Despite these problems, a number of LGBTQ and intersex rights organizations will host Pride events throughout South Africa in the coming months with the hope of raising awareness and end the discrimination and attacks against the community.

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Africa

African advocacy groups condemn Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

South African organizations criticize government’s silence

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(Photo by NASA)

LGBTQ and intersex rights groups across Africa have condemned the signing of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that calls for the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”

Mpho Buntse, a spokesperson for Access Chapter 2, a South African LGBTQ and intersex advocacy organization, said it was very worrisome the South African government did not condemn the law, even though the country is the only one on the continent that fully upholds LGBTQ and intersex rights.

“It has really been apparent that South Africa would rather protect its diplomatic relations rather than impose on the sovereignty of a country like Uganda. However, we are not dealing with an issue of economic or financial diplomacy, but we are dealing with a human rights crisis. We are dealing with a situation where we could see potential violence being subjected to the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda, but not only to the LGBTQ+ community but the rest of the Ugandan population stands to be affected by this law because even if you don’t identify as LGBTQ+ you will be compelled to report to the state those that you know that identify as LGBTQ+,” said Buntse. “So we find it really problematic that we choose to be just spectators when we could or potentially have played an active role from the start of this.”

Buntse noted Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act on Monday, was in South Africa in late February.

“We didn’t seize the opportunity to play an active role, so South Africa is always on a missed opportunity where we are now seeing a country to be a spectator instead of being an ally of the LGBTQ+ community,” added Buntse.

Bruce Walker of Pretoria Pride, another South African advocacy group, said he was not surprised by the government’s stance.

“They are showing their true colors,” said Walker. “The governing party is full of homophobes. It’s written in the constitution, the rights for the LGBTQI+ community, but they never support the LGBTQI+ community. They flatly ignore it. You either support and respect our constitution or not but as it stands they do not. They are far too scared to take a stand.” 

Gays And Lesbians of Zimbabwe also condemned the law, saying it violates human rights.

“This law blatantly violates the human rights of LGBTQ individuals in Uganda including the right to privacy, freedom from discrimination and the right to equal protection under the law We stand shoulder to shoulder with the Ugandan LGBTQ community through this difficult time,” said GALZ in a statement. “We call on the Ugandan leadership to engage in constructive dialogue, and to work towards solutions that are inclusive and respectful to all individuals.”

Lesbians, Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana, like GALZ, also condemned the law and expressed solidarity with LGBTQ and intersex Ugandans.

“It’s a great disappointed to have the president assent the Anti-Homosexuality Bill,” said LEGABIBO. “To all LGBTIQ+ identifying persons in Uganda, we stand in solidarity with you.”

East Africa Trans Health and Advocacy Network also castigated the law. EATHAN, like LEGABIBO and GALZ, said it will continue to stand up for LGBTQ and intersex rights in Uganda.

“Sad day for LGBTIQ Ugandans. We stand with our trans, intersex and nonbinary Ugandans and the entire LGBTIQ community. We must keep fighting and have the law declared unconstitutional,” said EATHAN.

We Are All Ghana, a Ghanaian LGBTQ and intersex rights group, in its reaction said the community in Uganda and across Africa should not be silenced.

“As we stand in solidarity with the Ugandan queer community, let us remind ourselves as the Ghanaian LGBTQ+ community and Africans as a whole that we must not allow ourselves to be bullied into silence. our rights are as human as anyone else’s,” said We Are All Ghana.

Shemerirwe Agnes, executive director of Africa Queer Network, a Uganda-based advocacy group, said there was nothing anyone or any particular organization could have done to dissuade Museveni from signing the bill.

“We are being attacked and killed since that bill was passed because the society and the police thought that just because that bill was passed it was now law so one would think that just because it’s now law then it’s now going to be implemented,” said Agnes. “It was implemented even before it was signed into law there is nothing we can do now because President Museveni doesn’t listen to anyone.”

U.S. President Joe Biden is among those who have also condemned the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The White House has announced it will “evaluate” the law’s implications and how it may impact U.S. aid to Uganda. Advocacy groups, meanwhile, have challenged the Anti-Homosexuality Act in the Ugandan Constitutional Court.

Daniel Itai is the Washington Blade’s Africa Correspondent.

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Africa

Ugandan president signs Anti-Homosexuality Act

Law calls for death penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality’

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Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (Photo courtesy of the U.S. State Department)

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Monday signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act into law.

MPs in March approved the Anti-Homosexuality Act, but Museveni on April 20 sent it back to Parliament for additional consideration.

Lawmakers earlier this month once again approved the measure without provisions that would have required Ugandans to “report acts of homosexuality” and would have not criminalized LGBTQ people simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The second version of the Anti-Homosexuality Act that MPs passed calls for the death penalty for anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality.” 

“As the Parliament of Uganda, we have answered the cries of our people. We have legislated to protect the sanctity of family as per Article 31 of the Constitution of Uganda,” said Ugandan Parliament Speaker Anita Among in a statement after Museveni signed the bill. “We have stood strong to defend our culture and aspirations of our people as per objectives 19 and 24 of national objectives and directive principles of state policy.”

Jacqueline Kasha Nabagesara, a Ugandan LGBTQ and intersex activist, described Museveni’s decision to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Act as a “dark day for human rights of LGBTQIA+ and allies.”

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson in a statement condemned the law.

“This new law to restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ Ugandans is by far the most horrific display of bigotry we have seen in recent memory in Uganda, and in all of Africa,” said Robinson. “The Ugandan Parliament should be ashamed of themselves for considering this draconian law that erases the internationally recognized rights of LGBTQ+ Ugandans, and President Museveni should be condemned for not using the full power of his position to stop it. We at the Human Rights Campaign stand in solidarity with human rights defenders and the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda.”

The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, UNAIDS and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in a joint statement said they “are deeply concerned about the harmful impact of the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 on the health of its citizens and its impact on the AIDS response that has been so successful up to now.”

“Uganda’s progress on its HIV response is now in grave jeopardy,” reads the statement. “The Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 will obstruct health education and the outreach that can help end AIDS as a public health threat. The stigma and discrimination associated with the passage of the act has already led to reduced access to prevention as well as treatment services. Trust, confidentiality and stigma-free engagement are essential for anyone seeking health care. LGBTQI+ people in Uganda increasingly fear for their safety and security, and increasing numbers of people are being discouraged from seeking vital health services for fear of attack, punishment and further marginalization.”

Museveni, with the support of anti-LGBTQ evangelicals from the U.S., in 2014 signed a version of the Anti-Homosexuality Act that imposed a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The law was known as the “Kill the Gays” bill because it previously contained a death penalty provision.

The U.S. subsequently cut aid to Uganda and imposed a travel ban against officials who carried out human rights abuses. Uganda’s Constitutional Court later struck down the 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act on a technicality.

The U.S. last month postponed a meeting on the PEPFAR’s work in Uganda in order to assess the potential impact the Anti-Homosexuality Act will have on it. Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights, and other American officials have said the Biden-Harris administration is considering “the potential impact of the Anti-Homosexuality Act on U.S. foreign assistance.” 

“The United States is deeply troubled by Uganda’s passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, a law that undermines the human rights, prosperity and welfare of all Ugandans,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement. “Uganda’s failure to safeguard the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is part of a broader degradation of human rights protections that puts Ugandan citizens at risk and damages the country’s reputation as a destination for investment, development, tourism and refugees.”

Blinken said the U.S. “urges the government of Uganda to refrain from implementing laws that undermine human rights.”

“In the context of the serious concerns conveyed by President Biden, I am announcing today that the Department of State will develop mechanisms to support the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals in Uganda and to promote accountability for Ugandan officials and other individuals responsible for, or complicit in, abusing their human rights,” added Blinken. “I have also directed the department to update our travel guidance to American citizens and to U.S. businesses as well as to consider deploying existing visa restrictions tools against Ugandan officials and other individuals for abuse of universal human rights, including the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”

Nabagesera and Sexual Minorities Uganda Executive Director Frank Mugisha are among those who challenged the Anti-Homosexuality Act in the Ugandan Constitutional Court after Museveni signed it.

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