Anti-gay bill gets standing ovation in Ugandan parliament

Ugandan gays seeking refuge in Kenya

By Jackee Batanda

The last time Ugandan politician David Bahati tried to introduce an anti-homosexuality bill  he was on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show.

This was after Bahati and his proposed law had been roundly denounced by President Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He had called for, among other things, the death penalty for gay adults who have sexual relations with minors of the same gender.

When talking with Rachel Maddow back in 2010, Bahati argued that his bill had been tabled to defend family values and the children of Uganda. But he did say during the course of the interview that he was willing to drop the death penalty clause.

Earlier this week, on February 7, David Bahati re-tabled his original bill in the Ugandan parliament. the legislators greeted his move enthusiastically. As Mercy Nalugo reported in the Daily Monitor, “‘OUR BILL, OUR KIDS’, the legislators shouted in unison as others gave Bahati a standing ovation.”

Speaking to NTV news, a Ugandan TV station, Bahati said the bill focused on “stopping promotion of homosexual behavior, stopping the inducement of our children and stopping the funding of homosexual activities.”

The death penalty, by the way, remains. [EDITOR’S NOTE 2/10: David Bahati told the BBC on February 9 that for procedural reasons, it was the original text that was resubmitted but that it has been agreed that the section calling for the death penalty would be removed when it was discussed by a committee of MPs.]

David Bahati is a Ugandan legislator in the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party. According to American investigative journalist Jeff Sharlet, Bahati is a member of The Family, a U.S.-based Christian evangelical political group with powerful patrons on Capitol Hill.

It was last May that the Ugandan government dropped the bill after the widespread international condemnation. Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda. Bahati, however, has said that this time the parliament will not give in to government or international pressure.

Members of Uganda’s gay community lead a choir during a memorial service for David Kato on his first death anniversary in Kampala January 26, 2012. (REUTERS/Edward Echwalu)

Ugandan gay rights activist, Julian Pepe Onziema speaking to Reuters, said: “We’ve always said it’s not over until it’s over. It’s disappointing that this bill has been revived.”

Late Wednesday, the Minister for Ethics and Integrity, Fr Sam Lokodo issued a press release distancing government from the bill but defended parliament’s decision to debate it. The statement called on the international community to respect “African values.” It pointed to other countries like Saudi Arabia that has equally stringent rules like corporal and capital punishment targeting.

Homosexuality is outlawed in 38 African countries, including Uganda. Last year Nigeria’s House of Representatives passed the first reading of the Same Sex Bill that outlaws gay marriages, bans public displays of affection between couples and outlaws gay rights organizations. In Liberia, the debate on legalization of homosexuality has been highly contentious. For an overview of the status of gays across Africa, read the Agence France Presse analysis in Uganda’s Daily Monitor. 

Writing in the New York Times, last December after being awarded the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Award, activist Frank Mugisha shared the plight of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender) community in Uganda:

 “The right to marry whom we love is far from our minds. Across Africa, the “gay rights” we are fighting for are more stark — the right to life itself. Here, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people suffer brutal attacks, yet cannot report them to the police for fear of additional violence, humiliation, rape or imprisonment at the hands of the authorities. We are expelled from school and denied health care because of our perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. If your boss finds out (or suspects) you are gay, you can be fired immediately.”

Mugisha received death threats after his op-ed in the NYT.

Surprisingly, neighboring Kenya has become the destination of choice for African homosexuals. Refugees fleeing from Somalia, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of Congo are lured by the anonymity Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, offers. A LGBT rights organization documented 67 cases last year, and it keeps growing.

Others, who stay on in their countries, may suffer the fate of David Kato, the Ugandan gay rights activist murdered last year. On the first anniversary of his death, at the end of January, a trailer of the documentary about the lives of the LGBT community in Uganda was released . Call Me Kuchu will be premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival later this month.