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‘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.

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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.

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Megan Clement: What have the recent attacks on civil society groups such as Sexual Minorities Uganda meant for queer communities?

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera: It’s very disheartening to see that our network is closed, and after the passage of the bill we are more worried that now they are coming for all the other network organisations and our allies. This is going to derail the services that we have been providing, especially in health. Uganda is a country that discriminates against its own people and organisations like ours, which have been able to help in the fights against HIV/AIDS by making LGBTIQ people feel comfortable to talk openly about their sexual activities without fear so that they can get the best services, which they deserve. This is going to affect not only the LGBTIQ community but the country as a whole.

Megan Clement: How are communities fighting back?

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera: We are calling on our members to keep a low profile and avoid compromising situations. We are meeting with our legal teams … on how to legally defend ourselves and fight the bill in the courts of law should it become an act.

Megan Clement: Are there any other consequences of the bill that you would like to draw attention to?

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera: The issue of children. How are they going to criminalise a child who may just be experimenting? A child cannot consent and we already have laws to protect children. If [parliamentarians] feel they are not strong enough, they should strengthen them instead of bringing up a whole new bill in the name of protecting children, yet in a real sense they are trampling on consenting adults’ private lives.

Megan Clement: What is the best way people outside Uganda can support the LGBTQIA+ community at this time?

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera: Connect with people who are fighting the bill so that you know what strategy is relevant at a particular time, don’t insinuate to know better and end up doing more harm. Share and sign petitions, go to demonstrations if called upon. Write to your representatives and ask them to speak up. Hold your governments accountable with what your taxes are funding in Uganda.

Megan Clement: What keeps you going in your activism during difficult times like this? Does anything give you hope?

Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera: I draw on the civil rights movements that have been where we are today. It gives me hope knowing we shall one day overcome.

How you can help

✍️ Sign this petition calling on President Museveni not to sign the bill into law.

💰 Donate to this emergency fundraiser for LGBTQIA+ Ugandans.

Save the date

Join us on April 13th at 12.30pm CET for a live discussion on the pros and cons of feminist foreign policy, with guests Rosebell Kagumire, Kirthi Jayakumar and Déborah Rouach.

Register here

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