‘This bill will put me to death’
LGBTQIA+ activist Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera explains Uganda’s new anti-gay law
Only have a minute to read this newsletter? Here it is in brief:
- 🇺🇬 The Ugandan parliament has passed a bill that would impose harsh sentences on people who identify as gay or trans.
- 🏳️🌈 Activist Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera has been campaigning for LGBTQIA+ rights in her country for decades.
- ❗ She explains the context behind the bill, and how the community is fighting back.
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The parliament of Uganda has passed one of the world’s most extreme anti-LGBTQIA+ laws. The 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Bill criminalises the mere fact of identifying as gay or trans, imposing life imprisonment or even the death penalty on members of the community.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk has condemned the bill, urging President Yoweri Museveni not to sign it into law. If he does so, opponents have vowed they will challenge the legislation on constitutional grounds. Previous anti-LGBTQIA+ laws have been successfully struck down by the courts. These earlier laws in Uganda (and homophobic movements in other African countries) were found to be linked to funding and advocacy from right-wing evangelist groups in the US.
The legislation was introduced amid a widespread anti-gay moral panic linking homosexuality to child abuse, and the bill as written frequently confuses the two. As hostility towards queer people has grown over the past year, civil society groups such as Sexual Minorities Uganda, which advocated for the rights of LGBTQIA+ Ugandans, have been shut down by authorities, and shelters for homeless youth have been raided.
Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera is a founder of Uganda’s LGBTQIA+ rights movement. Since the 1990s, Nabagesera has campaigned for the decriminalisation of homosexuality and equal rights for queer Ugandans, facing repeated death threats for her activism. She is the founder of Bombastic magazine, which counters homophobia and transphobia in the country’s media by publishing positive stories of LGBTQIA+ people.
Nabagesera spoke to the Impact newsletter via email about the consequences of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, and the battle ahead for LGBTQIA+ Ugandans. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Megan Clement: How does the Anti-Homosexuality Bill target the LGBTQIA+ community in Uganda?
There is [the crime of] “aggravated homosexuality”, which carries the death penalty. This is for any consenting adult that continuously engages in same-sex relations. For instance, I am married and I have marital duties — this bill will put me to death, for they term me a “serial offender”. Running organisations to provide services, information, advocacy is prohibited and would lead to 20 years in prison. Our loved ones now are tasked with reporting us to the authorities and if they fail, they are also imprisoned.
Megan Clement: What is the context behind the passing of the bill ?
Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera: The unfortunate context is [the idea] that we are recruiting children into homosexuality. These unfounded allegations have caused a panic within society — of course everyone would want to protect their children. These unfounded allegations, together with “morality” and “African values”, are the very vague arguments behind the hysteria of passing another harsh law that will affect not only consenting adults but also their allies, families and civil society.
Megan Clement: Is it likely that the bill will receive President Yoweri Museveni’s assent?
Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera: It is very likely, but he might send it back to parliament for revision. We suspect he might request the removal of the death penalty. He will assent to it because he needs the popularity to strengthen his grip on power.