Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: Late last month, the Central African country Uganda introduced an aggressive new law aimed at gay and transgender Ugandans. The sweeping ban not only outlaws consensual same-sex acts, it also criminalizes simply openly identifying as LGBTQ+. Here's a recent news report from TVC News in Nigeria.
News Anchor: Legislation enjoys broad public support in Uganda, and reaction from civil society has been muted following years of erosion of civic space under Museveni's increasingly authoritarian rule.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: Of course, not all Ugandans support Anti-homosexuality Bill 2023, as the measure is called. Despite the erosion of civil society, there are organized efforts to resist the deadly effects of this legislation.
Dr. Frank Mugisha: My name is Frank Mugisha, a Ugandan LGBTQ activist with Sexual Minorities Uganda.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: Sexual Minorities Uganda is an NGO working to protect and advance human rights for LGBTQ+ Ugandans. I spoke with Dr. Mugisha about this latest attack on human rights and about the long history of aggressive anti-LGBTQ plus legislation on the continent.
Dr. Frank Mugisha: The Ugandan anti-gay legislation has been called the most extreme legislation ever to be introduced in the world. It contains and compels every person who knows an LGBTQ person to report them to the authorities. That includes your doctor, your priest, your landlord, or your neighbor. Even your parents. It also requires landlords not to rent property to anyone who is known as LGBT, but he also criminalizes to life in prison just for simply being a queer person or LGBTQ person. It has a death penalty, a death penalty for aggravated homosexuality, or for any repeated offender.
A person like myself who definitely will break this law because I'm an advocate, but also I express as openly gay, and I also do speak about human rights of LGBTQ persons. That means I will break this law more than once. That would mean I would be sentenced to be executed for breaking the law more than once. This law have been seen as the most extreme legislation ever introduced, and my colleagues are worried, including myself about this legislation.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: I want to be absolutely certain that we don't miss this. There were already right laws on the books about same-sexual acts or sexual practices, but this outlaws identity, right? Is that what you're telling me? That simply being queer-identified or, in this case, is it also against the law to fail to turn in or report someone you know, work with, love, treat who is gay-identified?
Dr. Frank Mugisha: You're correct, Melissa. The laws we had in Uganda only outlawed the same-sex act, but now this new legislation, even as simple as posting on my Facebook and saying I am openly gay, that would be a crime. Also if my family or my friends-- Myself, I'm Catholic. If I go to a priest and confess something around my sexuality, they are supposed to report me to the authority. If they don't do that, then they'll be criminalized.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: You said obviously that you and your colleagues are worried. Talk to me about the specifics of the concerns that you have. Is it about mass arrests? Is it about non-state actors also committing act of violence? What are your concerns?
Dr. Frank Mugisha: Our biggest concern right now is the community, the Ugandan society. Ugandans have been radicalized to hate and fear homosexuals or LGBTQ persons. This has been going on for a very long time. The introduction of the law is the tip of the iceberg, but this has been happening for over about six or eight months. There's been a lot of propaganda and stories, false stories about the LGBT community so we've already been seeing this building up.
Now the fear is that if this law is signed by the president, it has already been passed by parliament, if it is signed by the president, we are worried about massive arrests, mob justice, people being beaten, and people getting arrested. It is already happening, but we fear that it will get worse.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: Especially because of the nature of the death penalty. Can these laws be understood as human rights violations?
Dr. Frank Mugisha: Yes. I will say this before. That, of course, this is persecution and it is very clear the anti-gay groups and the anti-gender groups, by the way, are heavily supported by extreme American evangelicals, are trying to erase the LGBTQ community from Uganda, not only from Uganda but from Africa. We'll say that this could be early-warning signs of genocide because if you are asking our own families, our own friends, our own relatives, our own neighbors to turn against us, they will do the unjust to every LGBTQ person. This is seen as persecution, definitely.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: You just said something that made my blood run cold but certainly seems to be in line with what we know historically, which is that this could be the opening salvo in what becomes genocide. Are there international bodies with the authority to step in to offer some protections?
Dr. Frank Mugisha: Yes. We've been calling on the international community. We've been calling on the United Nations. I am glad that most recently the UN Special Rapporteur, an expert on sexual orientation and gender identity plus other UN Special Rapporteurs came together and issued a statement showing their disbelief but also showing how this law is criminalizing a minority group that is so dangerous for LGBTQ Ugandans.
We call upon other UN bodies to speak strongly against this legislation, but also some of the international governments who work with Ugandans to speak strongly against this legislation and call out our members of parliament to stop this legislation and call it back. Recall it because it's going to marginalize an already vulnerable community.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: Stay right there. We'll have more on Uganda's recent anti-gay laws in just a moment. It's The Takeaway.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: Welcome back to The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. International Human Rights Organizations have condemned the Ugandan government for its repressiveness against the country's LGBTQ+ population. 63 other countries across the world also criminalized consensual same-sex acts, but Uganda's ban has been described as one of the worst. According to the BBC, between 2017 and 2020, nearly 200 people in Uganda were charged with so-called unnatural offenses.
Last August, as part of an increasingly repressive effort, the Ugandan government ordered the NGO, Sexual Minorities Uganda, to cease operations. I'm still with Frank Mugisha who's the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda.
Dr. Frank Mugisha: Yes. It's good you bring that up because we've seen a backlash happen in the United States as well where we are seeing many anti-gay legislations trying to be introduced, but not as extreme as the ones we are seeing in Africa and in Uganda. Of course, we've seen other countries around the world, and that is why this should be seen as a global problem, not only an African problem. Coming back home to Africa, right now there are many countries that already criminalize homosexuality who are trying to introduce new legislation. There's already one in Ghana.
In my neighboring country, Kenya, the anti-gay groups are trying to ask for a new legislation. In Malawi, recently we saw arrests happening in Burundi and Somaliland, and Ethiopia. This is moving throughout Africa. Like I mentioned earlier, the American Christian extreme evangelicals, the fundamentalists, they cannot do this in the West anymore so now they're bringing this in Africa because no one is paying attention, no one is listening to them and giving them the much-needed attention in the West. They're coming to Africa and spreading their ideologies of hatred.
We saw this happen in 2009 when the Ugandan anti-gay legislation was first introduced that had the death penalty then as well. This was supported by American evangelicals like Scott Lively, who is well known to be anti-gay. I know many Americans might not know him, but in Uganda, he is so famous and other Evangelicals around the world. We're seeing that this time it is increasingly getting in more anti-gay and anti-gender groups. Just this weekend in my country, here in Uganda, there was a conference that invited other legislators from Africa.
This conference was called the African Family Values Conference. The entire agenda for this conference has been around homosexuality. In fact, it has been an anti-gay conference that had members of Parliament, had special guests from the UK, from the United States, from other countries around the world, and many other anti-gay activists from Africa were in Uganda this weekend. This is spreading out throughout the whole of Africa.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: This is a anti-gay Western imperialism?
Dr. Frank Mugisha: Definitely, I've said it many times that homophobia is being exported to Africa. It is anti-gay imperialists.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: As you make this point about homophobia and anti-queer violence being exported, it must call, I think, to mind for all of us, the legislative efforts in American states to ban teaching that is supportive or even any level of awareness of queer identity. The anti-trans identity and medical bans. Are these legislative efforts in American states making it easier for other world democracies to pursue these anti-queer policy agendas without even raising an international eyebrow?
Dr. Frank Mugisha: Whenever there's backlash or negative legislation internationally, it definitely affects us the queer people in the global South because then our politicians use that to say even the countries that support homosexuality or the countries where homosexuality is accepted, they don't accept this or they don't accept trans people for example. They keep naming the legislations that are coming up. This weaponizes them to say that as Africans we embrace that and will definitely support everything anti-gay or anti-trans that we can borrow from the Western countries.
That also empowers the Western anti-gay groups and anti-gender groups to then come and use some of those similar policies in Africa. For instance, if you look at the language being used in the anti-gay legislations in Africa, most of that language is not African language. It doesn't resonate with the ordinary African. Most of that language is Western. In Africa, we have Ubuntu, which means togetherness, so we don't separate values and cultural values in any way as Africans.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: Talk to me about the refugee crisis that this also contains as you talk about genocide, as you talk about the Western imperial influence. What does this mean for Ugandans who, to save their own lives, may have to flee?
Dr. Frank Mugisha: For many of the LGBTQ persons in Uganda right now, they are already reaching out to myself and my other colleagues asking for support on how they can leave the country. They are worried and scared. They are thinking of many pathways. Some of them are reading up stuff on the internet on how do you flee the country. Many queer Ugandans can't afford to leave the country.
The refugee crisis that this law creates for many other countries, it also creates an internal issue for the Ugandan government itself because Uganda is going to end up with internally displaced persons who have been chased out of their homes, who have been chased out of employment, who have been chased out of school, who will have nowhere to stay. I don't understand what Uganda is going to do with this kind of queer people who are going to be in the country who can't leave. Many countries around the world should also be worried about the refugee crisis that this law is going to create for them.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: For those of you who are doing this work, who are even just trying to be alive at this moment, is their hope?
Dr. Frank Mugisha: Thank you so much, Melissa, and for many people who are listening, the Ugandan queer community is very resilient. We have gone through some of the most challenging times for any queer community around the world with many, many times our parliament trying to introduce or introducing extreme anti-gay legislations but also radicalizing our own fellow citizens against us.
We still fight through, so we are determined to fight through this because we also fear not only that we have to do this, but we know we have a lot of support and solidarity around the world. We believe we will be successful at some point.
Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry: Frank Mugisha, Director of the Sexual Minorities of Uganda. Thank you so much for your work, for your courage, and for joining us today on The Takeaway.
Dr. Frank Mugisha: Thank you so much, Melissa, for having me. I appreciate all the support. Thank you.
Editor’s Note: We’d like to make a correction. Above it states that Uganda is in Central Africa, but it is considered a part of East Africa.
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