Friday, December 11, 2009

Uganda's Anti-Gay Bill: Inspired by the U.S.

From Time magazine online comes this story about institutionalized homophobia in Uganda.

The late-November afternoon sun bore down on the park in downtown Kampala, and all along the benches, Ugandan office workers took their siestas. There could have been no less likely setting for criminal conspiracies to topple an East African state. Still, the doctor's voice dropped a notch when an office worker in a brown suit settled in close by. The medic shifted a battered fedora over his eyes. "I am the gay doctor," the physician whispered to me, making sure nobody around heard. He talked about the gay and lesbian couples who go to his office to avoid ridicule in public hospitals. "They know they can trust me, and trust is a big issue," he said. "There is the stigma of being gay, but also the stigma of being [HIV] positive. They are such hidden communities. Nobody wants to deal with their problems."

In a matter of weeks, the Ugandan doctor's admission to TIME could land him in jail and his patients on death row. An anti-homosexuality bill now before Uganda's Parliament would include some of the harshest anti-gay regulations in the world. If the bill becomes law, the doctor, who asked that his name not be published, could be prosecuted for "aiding and abetting homosexuality." In one version of the bill, his sexually active HIV-positive patients could be found guilty of practicing acts of "aggravated homosexuality," a capital crime, according to the bill.

Thanks to a clause in the would-be law that punishes "failure to disclose the offense," anybody who heard the doctor's conversation could be locked up for failing to turn him in to the police. Even a reporter scribbling the doctor's words could be found to have "promoted homosexuality," an act punishable by five to seven years in prison. And were any of the Ugandans in the park to sleep with someone of the same sex in another country, the law would mandate their extradition to Uganda for prosecution. Only terrorists and traitors are currently subject to extraterritorial jurisdiction under Ugandan law. Even murderers don't face that kind of judicial reach.

(Update: Reports out of Kampala late Wednesday indicate that the death penalty may be dropped from the final version of the bill, which may come to a vote as early as two weeks from now.)

"You may think that this bill targets only homosexual individuals," said Sylvia Tamale, dean of law at Uganda's Makerere University, speaking at a public dialogue on the bill in November. "If passed into law, it will stifle the space of civil society. The bill also undermines the role of the media to report freely. We are all potential victims of this bill."

The bill has an American genesis of sorts, inspired to a large extent by the visits of U.S. evangelicals who are involved with a movement that promotes Christianity's role in getting homosexuals to become "ex-gays" through prayer and faith. Ugandan supporters of the bill appear to be particularly impressed by the ideas of Scott Lively, a California conservative preacher who has written a book, The Pink Swastika, about what he calls the links between Nazism and a gay agenda for world domination, which, by itself, would have raised the anti-colonial sensitivities of Ugandan society. Says the Rev. Kapya Kaoma, an Episcopalian priest from Zambia who authored a recent report on anti-gay politics in Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya: "The U.S. culture wars have been exported to Africa."

To continue reading this article, click here.

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