Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill: Prologue

Researching over the months, I have come across several reports prior to 2009 that seem to be prologue to the introduction of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. I am going to start with a few articles and gradually add more. Feel free to suggest links.

The year 2007 seems to be a critical point where some of the current figures (e.g., Nsaba Buturo, Martin Ssempa) initiated public conversation regarding new or tougher laws.

On August 21, 2007, The BBC reported on a rally against homosexuality in 2007.

Hundreds of Ugandans have taken part an anti-gay rally in the capital to demand the government uphold a ban on gay sex.

The Interfaith Rainbow Coalition Against Homosexuality said the rally at a sports stadium in Kampala showed how much Ugandans deplored homosexuality.

Spokesman Pastor Martin Sempa said that Uganda was under “great external pressure to relax its laws” ahead of November’s Commonwealth summit.

In Uganda, homosexuality carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

We are telling them that Africans find homosexuality reprehensible
Pastor Martin Sempa

Pastor Sempa told the BBC’s Focus on Africa that homosexuals were using the summit to try and “shame, force, coerce, intimidate Uganda into changing our laws”.

“We are telling them that Africans find homosexuality reprehensible. Leave us alone.”

The gay community is estimated by activists to number 500,000 in Uganda where they face much discrimination.

Gay activists held a news conference last week but many were afraid to show their faces and wore masks.

They say they are forced to live double lives for fear of harassment and brutality.

Uganda’s government rejected their call for recognition and equal rights.

This PlusNews August 24 report is an account of the same general series of events.

NAIROBI, 24 August 2007 (PlusNews) – The Ugandan government’s hostility towards the gay community leaves them out of health programmes, putting them at greater risk of HIV, the New York-based lobby group, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned this week.

“In a climate where silence about sexuality is enforced by state action, the health of all Ugandans is at risk amid the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” HRW said in a letter to President Yoweri Museveni on 23 August. “We urge you to ensure the full integration of issues of sexual orientation and gender identity into nationwide HIV prevention and care programmes.”

Homosexual acts, or “carnal knowledge against the order of nature”, carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment in Ugandan law. President Museveni’s government supports this law, and he has repeatedly claimed that homosexuality “does not exist” in Uganda.

The HRW letter arrived after a week in which a gay rights group, Sexual Minorities Groups in Uganda (SMUG), agitated for their rights in the capital, Kampala, demanding the decriminalisation of homosexuality, while religious groups held a rally denouncing same-sex relationships.

SMUG held a press conference with the theme, “Let us live in peace”, on 16 August, where it called for the same rights for gays as all Ugandan citizens enjoy. “To successfully stop HIV/AIDS, we must treat every person with the dignity and attention they deserve,” said SMUG spokesman Laurence Misedah. Many press conference participants wore masks for fear of prosecution.

At the anti-gay rally on 17 August, government officials, cultural leaders and religious leaders from the Christian and Muslim faiths joined hands to condemn homosexuality.

“The rally had a double message: we have noticed that homosexual agents and activists are infiltrating Uganda, and this was a protest against them and a message to the world that we do not want homosexuals and homosexuality in Uganda,” Pastor Martin Ssempa, one of the rally’s organisers, told IRIN/PlusNews. “Secondly, it was in support of our government and their laws against the practice of homosexuality.”

Including gays in HIV programmes

“Homosexuals should absolutely not be included in Uganda’s HIV/AIDS framework. It is a crime, and when you are trying to stamp out a crime you don’t include it in your programmes,” Ssempa said. “For instance, the solution to stopping HIV transmission through rape is not to provide the rapists with condoms, but to stop rape itself.”

The Ugandan government makes no provision for men who have sex with men, or women who have sex with women, in its HIV programmes. “This is because homosexuality and lesbianism are criminal offences under Ugandan law,” James Kigozi, spokesman for the Uganda AIDS Commission, told IRIN/PlusNews. “But we don’t discriminate when they go to health centres. We do not ask their orientation, nor do we refuse them services.”

However, staff at medical centres stigmatised gay people once they revealed their orientation, Dr Paul Ssemugoma, a local doctor, told the SMUG press conference.

According to Beatrice Were, an HIV-positive Ugandan AIDS activist, “Their exclusion from services is not direct, but due to the denial by culture, and public condemnation by politicians and religious leaders, the moral drive against them is reinforced.”

She told IRIN/PlusNews that marginalisation was allowing HIV to spread widely in the gay community. “They seem to be mainly youth and mainly poor, as they have been rejected by their families and kicked out of school, so they lack skills to seek employment competitively, and we know how well HIV thrives amidst poverty.”

Were said many people in the gay community were bisexual and having sex with the general population, so “their problem is a problem for all society.”

A recent survey by a Kenya-based research organisation, The Steadman Group, found that more than 90 percent of Ugandans were against homosexuality, while only four percent were in favour of legalising it. Activists estimate that there are about 500,000 practising homosexuals in Uganda.

Here is an Australian News report:

Uganda’s gay community demands equality

Correspondents Report – Sunday, 26 August , 2007

Reporter: Andrew Geoghegan

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Homosexuality has long been taboo in most African cultures – in some it’s even punishable by death.

But now, in Uganda, the gay and lesbian community is fighting the prejudice and demanding equality.

And as our Africa Correspondent Andrew Geoghegan reports, that has infuriated several religious leaders.

PROTESTER: Together we are going to strike!

(sound of Ugandans chanting anti-gay slogans)

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Hundreds of Ugandans chant anti-gay slogans at a rally in the country’s capital, Kampala.

(Sound of Ugandans chanting anti-gay slogans)

Those taking part are concerned that Uganda’s strict opposition to homosexuality is being undermined.

JOSEPH SERWADDA: This is against the law of this country. It’s against the law of God, the law of nature, and we don’t want these people to practice it legally in this country. So we have called upon Government not to legalise their existence.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Pastor Joseph Serwadda is from the Victory Christian Centre.

JOSEPH SERWADDA: If they want to practice whatever they want to do, they can do it in hiding, they can do it without being legalised.

These are habits that have been important into our nation from the West. God did not create Adam and Steve, God created Adam and Eve.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Those caught practising homosexuality in Uganda face a maximum sentence of life in prison, and in some African countries the penalties are even harsher.

In Nigeria, 18 men are awaiting trial for alleged sodomy, and they could be sentenced to death under local Sharia law.

JULIET VICTOR MUKASA: On a daily basis, gays and lesbians are suffering so many horrible things, of hate crimes. You know, families have thrown people out. We have lesbians and gay men sleeping on the streets of Kampala because they have nowhere to stay. Relatives have organised for lesbians to be raped. I have gone through this myself.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Gay activist Juliet Victor Mukasa is the Chairperson of Sexual Minorities Uganda. She estimates there are half a million gay and lesbian people in Uganda, and she’s organised a campaign demanding that they receive recognition and equal rights.

JULIET VICTOR MUKASA: Please let us live in peace. Just let us live in peace. Let us have our right to privacy, let us have our right to education, our right to life, to health, you know, access to treatment. HIV and AIDS, lesbians and gays, all sexual minorities have been excluded from the national AIDS policy, and there’s just death, we’re just dying off, of HIV and AIDS.

MARTIN SEMPA: One of the most effective way of spreading HIV/ AIDS is homosexuality.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Pastor Martin Sempa is the spokesman for the Interfaith Rainbow Coalition Against Homosexuality.

MARTIN SEMPA: In times of fighting for our survival, we cannot allow homosexuality to grow up in our country, because it means the end of civilisation.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Pastor Sempa claims that the gay community is using the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Uganda to force a change to the country’s laws.

MARTIN SEMPA: We recognise that in the light of Commonwealth Heads of States coming to Uganda, a lot of homosexuals are flying into Uganda, trying to use this highlight on Uganda to shame, force, coerce, intimidate Uganda into changing our laws.

We are telling them that Africans find homosexuality absolutely reprehensible, leave us alone.

ANDREW GEOGHEGAN: Being left alone is exactly what Juliet Victor Mukasa yearns for.

JULIET VICTOR MUKASA: I’ve been staying on the streets, and on the streets I have faced sexual abuse. In the church, I have been abused by the very people who claim they’re men and women of God. I have been stripped naked in a church, in the name of healing me from lesbianism and chasing the male spirit that has dominated my life.

You know, everything is horrible, and we cannot stand it anymore.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Gay activist Juliet Victor Mukasa, Chairperson of the Sexual Minorities Uganda group, ending that report from Andrew Geoghegan.

Here is a 2007 op-ed from Martin Ssempa:

Homosexuality is against our culture

I strongly suggest that you refrain from attempting to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries. However, if you cannot resist the urge to do so, I suggest that you at least get your facts straight. 

We are committed to providing counselling and treatment to all people who suffer with sexual addictions as well as homosexual struggles. As stated above, we have many in our midst who have experienced redemption and change. We promise help for everybody struggling with homosexual feelings “for those who are willing, there is healing”. 

One final point that I find very upsetting and completely unjustified is your lecturing us on reducing the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Uganda has been a leader in reducing the rate of infection, and we have done it almost entirely by stressing abstinence before marriage and fidelity after marriage. To suggest that we are not doing a good job with our young people is simply not supported by the facts. To also suggest that because our HIV/AIDS prevention programmes do not cater specifically for homosexuals is to suggest that not only should we condone their sexual behaviour, but that they have some special right to engage in risky behaviour that actually spreads this disease. 

 

           Tuesday, 4th September, 2007

 
Martin Sempa

As homosexuals in Uganda demand recognition, many religious leaders have come out to criticise the act. Pastor Martin Sempa, one of the anti-gay activists, recently wrote to the Director of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Programme at the Human Rights Watch, Scott Long. Below is his letter… 

———————————Dear Mr. Long,

Your August 23 letter to President Museveni and press release complaining about Uganda’s laws and policies regarding homosexuals contains flawed logic, numerous errors and misrepresentations. In addition, it shows an unacceptable lack of respect for Uganda’s culture and values.

First you talked about our church, Makerere Community Church, as a recipient of PEPFAR HIV/AIDS funding. The fact is that Makerere Community Church has never received funding. And even if we did in the future, getting donor funding in no way obliges us to change our laws and values as a people. We are a proud African race whose faith, values and cultures have been handed down for many generations.

You also state that we burned condoms to discourage people from using them in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The truth is that condoms failed us massively. What you are talking about was a batch of more than 40 million Ngabo condoms, which were found to be faulty and defective and had to be recalled and destroyed.

As you are aware, just recently the South African government recalled millions of condoms because they too were faulty. We encourage you to deal in facts, not opinions or speculations.

What you characterise as “harassment” of homosexuals or “threatening statements” by high government officials is in reality nothing more than the enforcement of the laws of our country prohibiting homosexual activity.

These laws reflect our culture and the sentiments of the vast majority of our people. As a sovereign nation, we not only have the right, but also the obligation to enact laws that are supported by the vast majority of our people and reflect our culture and these values.

Last week, Steadman and associates carried out a research which showed that an overwhelming majority of Ugandans, 95%, find homosexuality morally repugnant and absolutely unacceptable to our culture. Democratic principle of governance mandates our government to make laws consistent with the values and aspirations of our people.

These laws are also necessary to protect innocent people, including the youth, who may be tempted to engage in risky sexual behaviour and who are sometimes the victims of these acts. We have far too many instances of innocent people who have been victims of homosexual abuse.

A case in point is Benjamin Buloba who was sodomised and bled to death on October 15, 2004. Post mortem indicated much trauma to his rectum and he is reported having died, trying to put toilet paper in his rectum. It would be irresponsible of us to repeal these laws, if for no other reason than to try to protect people from this kind of activity and to vigorously prosecute and punish those who commit these crimes.

Even more troubling is the implication in your letter that because your organisation disagrees with these laws, we should somehow simply ignore them and not enforce them. To criticise our government officials and even our President because they have spoken out in support of the enforcement of our duly passed laws is completely unacceptable. Ugandans decide Ugandan laws and policies, not special interest outside NGOs.

Your letter also asserts that homosexuals are entitled to certain “rights” and that these “rights” are being violated by the enforcement of our laws. We reject this assertion as it is obviously based on the false assumption that homosexual individuals are somehow “born that way” and that homosexuality is innate and immutable and therefore are entitled to special rights. I know from my own experience that homosexuality is not innate and immutable.

In my own congregation, there are a number of people who have reoriented from homosexuality to heterosexuality.

As I know you are aware, there is a great deal of psychological research that proves conclusively that sexual reorientation is possible for many people. I suggest that you visit the Website of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (www.narth.org) to review this literature.

I can certainly understand why organisations like yours want people to think that homosexuality is fixed, like race, and cannot be changed, because you know that would make people more sympathetic to your “sexual rights” agenda which conflicts with the strong family values of Uganda.

However, the Ugandan people will not be fooled. Ugandans who struggle with same- sex attraction have the same civil rights as all other Ugandans. I believe strongly that they should be treated as everyone else, with equal dignity and respect.

However, that does not mean that we are willing, nor are we obligated in any way, to give these individuals special “rights” based on the “concerns” of your organisation. This is especially true because to do so would only encourage and reinforce a behaviour which has been confirmed by medical and social science data to be not only unhealthy for individuals, but also for society.

Ssempa said in this editorial that he did not receive PEPFAR funding. However, according to this letter from USAID, his Campus Alliance to Wipe Out AIDS was a subpartner to the Uganda Youth Forum and was subsidized for abstinence based publications. World Magazine identifies a 2004 grant as being $40,000 which came as a subpartner to Population Services International, according to the PEPFAR website. Children’s AIDS Fund reveived 131,666 in Fiscal Year 2007 for work in Uganda. CAWA was one of the subpartners, receiving $50,000 to publish (pg 20) and distribute the newsletter, The Prime Timer. Altogether, groups controlled by Ssempa received at least $90,000 from PEPFAR, according to government records. It is baffling why Ssempa would say otherwise.

The BBC reported on a rally against homosexuality in 2007.

Hundreds of Ugandans have taken part an anti-gay rally in the capital to demand the government uphold a ban on gay sex.

The Interfaith Rainbow Coalition Against Homosexuality said the rally at a sports stadium in Kampala showed how much Ugandans deplored homosexuality.

Spokesman Pastor Martin Sempa said that Uganda was under “great external pressure to relax its laws” ahead of November’s Commonwealth summit.

In Uganda, homosexuality carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

We are telling them that Africans find homosexuality reprehensible
Pastor Martin Sempa

Pastor Sempa told the BBC’s Focus on Africa that homosexuals were using the summit to try and “shame, force, coerce, intimidate Uganda into changing our laws”.

“We are telling them that Africans find homosexuality reprehensible. Leave us alone.”

The gay community is estimated by activists to number 500,000 in Uganda where they face much discrimination.

Gay activists held a news conference last week but many were afraid to show their faces and wore masks.

They say they are forced to live double lives for fear of harassment and brutality.

Uganda’s government rejected their call for recognition and equal rights.

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