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Uganda President Yoweri Museveni Will Sign Bill Punishing Gays with Life in Prison

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni (Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

Uganda’s president has announced he will sign a controversial anti-gay bill that will punish people convicted of certain consensual adult sex acts with life imprisonment.

Associated Press reports President Yoweri Museveni announced his decision to governing party lawmakers on Friday. Government spokesman Ofwono Opondo said the president’s decision was based on “medical experts” who counseled him that “homosexuality is not genetic, [but rather] a social behavior.”

Museveni said he would not sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law until after he sought the advice of a ministerial committee comprised of more than a dozen scientists from the Ministry of Health and Makerere University. The names and findings of the committee members are available here, and are also detailed at the end of this article.

Opondo tweeted Friday that National Resistance Movement party lawmakers “welcomed the development as a measure to protect Ugandans from social deviants.”

Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda under colonial-era laws. But under the new law, the ‘crime’ of “aggravated homosexuality”– defined as gay sex acts in which at least one participant is HIV-positive, sex with minors or disabled people, or repeated homosexual ‘offenses’ between consenting adults– is punishable by life imprisonment.

Additionally, anyone who conducts a same-sex marriage faces seven years behind bars.

Museveni, a born-again Christian who has called gays “abnormal” and has called for their “rehabilitation,” was under pressure from lawmakers to sign the bill. US evangelical Christian sects helped draft the draconian measure, which was initially referred to as the “Kill the Gays Bill” because it would have punished certain gay sex acts with execution. The death penalty provision was dropped after widespread international outrage.

LGBT Ugandans are often the victims of homophobic violence in the Central African nation of 36 million people, the vast majority of whom disapprove of homosexuality. Gay Ugandans live in constant fear of attack and now, of being jailed for lengthy periods.

International human rights groups urged Museveni to reject the bill, but Christian lawmakers and clerics, who wield tremendous power, insisted it is necessary to protect Ugandan children from predatory gays, who it is commonly said want to ‘recruit’ them.

Human Rights First expressed its “deep concern” over the bill, saying it “will have severely adverse consequences for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, as well as for other Ugandans.”

“There should be no doubt the Museveni’s latest words on the subject have been influenced by the reaction to similar legislation in Nigeria, Russia and elsewhere,” Robyn Lieberman of Human Rights First told the AP.

“Unless this bill is stopped from becoming law, lives will be destroyed and countless people will be punished for an immutable characteristic,” added Chad Griffin, president of the US-based LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign. Griffin blasted certain US Christian fundamentalists for backing and promoting the anti-gay bill.

“Anti-LGBT Americans advocated for laws further criminalizing LGBT people in Uganda, and it looks like they are now getting their wish,” Griffin told the AP. “Whether it’s Brian Brown advocating for anti-LGBT laws in Russia, or Scott Lively calling for the further criminalization of LGBT people in Uganda, anti-LGBT Americans must stop exporting their hate abroad.”

But there was already plenty of gay hatred among Ugandans.

“We want the government to hang people who promote homosexuality,” said Giles Muhame, editor of the popular newspaper Rolling Stone, which has ‘outed’ suspected gays and repeatedly claims that gays are “after Ugandan children.”

In addition to having the reputation of being one of the most homophobic nations on a notoriously homophobic continent– 38 of Africa’s 54 nations have laws criminalizing gay sex– Uganda also has the dubious distinction of being a world leader in Googling gay pornography.

The members of the ministerial committee advising President Museveni are:

-Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, Director General of Health Services
-Dr. Isaac Ezati, Director of Planning and Development, Ministry of Health
-Dr. Jacinto Amandua, Commissioner of Clinical Services
-Dr. Sheila Ndyanabangi, Head of Mental Health Desk
-Prof. Seggane Musisi, Makerere University, psychiatry
-Assoc. Prof. Eugene Kinyanda, Senior Research Scientist, Medical Research Council
-Dr. David Basangwa, Director, Butabika Hospital
-Dr. Sylvester Onzivua, Senior Pathologist, Mulago Hospital
-Dr. Misaki Wayengera, Makerere University, genetics
-Dr. Paul Bangirana, Makerere University, clinical psychology

Presidential Advisor on Science Dr. Richard Tushemereirwe advised Museveni that homosexuality has serious public health consequences and should not be tolerated.

Among the ministerial committee’s findings:

-There is no definitive gene responsible for homosexuality.
-Homosexuality is not a disease but merely an abnormal behavior which may be learned through experience in life.
-Homosexuality is not an abnormality.
-In every society, there is a small number of people with homosexual tendencies.
-Homosexuality can be influenced by environmental factors such as culture, religion and peer pressure among others.
-The practice needs regulation like any other human behavior especially to protect the vulnerable.
-There is need for further studies to address sexuality in the African context.

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