Uganda’s parliament has introduced a new bill that, if passed, would make it illegal to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (LGBTQ). This proposed law is seen as a step further than the current ban on same-sex relations in the country. Uganda is known for its deeply conservative and religious values, where anti-LGBTQ sentiment is prevalent. The punishment for same-sex relations in the country can be up to life imprisonment, making it one of over 30 African countries to have such laws.
According to Human Rights Watch, if the bill becomes law, Uganda would be the first African country to criminalize merely identifying as LGBTQ. The bill, introduced as a private lawmaker’s bill, aims to protect the “traditional, heterosexual family” by punishing those who “hold out as a lesbian, gay, transgender, a queer or any other sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female”. The law would also criminalize “promotion” of homosexuality and “abetting” and “conspiring” to engage in same-sex relations.
The proposed law is similar to a 2013 law that criminalized lesbianism and received international condemnation. It was later struck down by a domestic court on procedural grounds. After the new bill was read in parliament, Speaker Anita Among sent it to a committee for scrutiny and public hearings before it is brought back to the House for debate and a vote.
The investigation by a parliamentary committee in January into alleged promotion of homosexuality in schools has already sparked violence and discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community. Activists fear that if the new bill is passed, it will only further exacerbate the persecution of the community in Uganda.
The international community has already expressed concern, with some countries threatening to impose travel bans against those involved in passing the law. However, Speaker Among urged members of parliament to reject such intimidation, stating, “This business of intimidating that ‘you will not go to America’, what is America?” The fate of the proposed bill remains uncertain, with many hoping that it will not become law and that the rights of the LGBTQ community in Uganda will be protected.