Legislating Hatred: Anti-Gay Sentiment in Uganda

By Xie, Nancy | Harvard International Review, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

Legislating Hatred: Anti-Gay Sentiment in Uganda


Xie, Nancy, Harvard International Review


If Stosh Mugisha, a Ugandan lesbian activist, lived in New York or San Francisco, she could march in a gay pride parade. She could find an LGBT support group, a stable job, and go on to live a normal life with her partner. But this is not the case in Kampala, where homosexuals live in a state of constant of fear. Every day, Mugisha lives like a fugitive, constantly facing insults, blackmails, and violence. She has even been coerced into "correctional rape" to "cure" her of homosexuality, causing her to contract HIV. And now, pending a much-debated anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda's parliament, Mugisha may be sentenced to life in prison or even the death penalty for having sexual intercourse with another female. Hundreds of thousands of gays and lesbians now face the same fate as Mugisha. More than anything, Uganda's homophobia is a result of deep-rooted domestic cultural issues and foreign evangelist pressure, both of which the government has been unable to address properly.

Homophobia is far from a novelty in Africa. In fact, 37 African countries have long-standing laws on the books that incriminate same-sex relationships and marriage. For many countries, these outdated laws have been but a vestige of the colonial times, introduced by their European subjugators during the height of imperialism. Others, such as Kenya, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, have retained and continued to perpetuate anti-homosexuality laws. In Kenya, violators are punished by not only the police, but also by their own neighbors and community. A gay couple that attempted to hold a wedding recently was nearly stoned to death. In northern Nigeria and Malawi, homosexuals are beaten and immediately arrested upon discovery.

Uganda's proposed law goes even further, as life imprisonment would be the minimum sentence for homosexual behavior. Those who have repeated homosexual intercourse, have sex with a minor, or are found to be HIV-positive will receive the death penalty. The law-has triggered both international criticism and spirited domestic protests. On March 1,2010, Ugandan gay rights activists delivered a petition signed by more than 500,000 people to their speaker of parliament in an effort to halt the anti-homosexuality bill.

Yet these efforts appear rather feeble in the big picture, overshadowed by long-existing barriers in the traditional community. Listed by the United Nations as a "Least Developed Country," Uganda currently ranks 154 out of 177 on the UN Human Development Index. The country's widespread poverty severely limits the information and knowledge that its citizens can obtain, contributing to fundamental misunderstandings about homosexuality. Some politicians promote the notion that people can undergo psychotherapy to change their sexual orientation, while many still believe that homosexuality is a mental, or even physical, disease that will contaminate their community. …

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