Ultra-right in U.S. exports anti-gay hate to Uganda
Julius Malema, the president of the South African party Economic Freedom Fighters, speaks during a picket against Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill at the Ugandan High Commission in Pretoria, South Africa, Tuesday, April 4, 2023. Uganda's legislature last week passed the anti-LGBTQ law. | Themba Hadebe / AP

On May 2, Uganda’s parliament passed one of the world’s strictest anti-LGBTQ bills. The Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2023 includes long jail terms and the death penalty for those caught engaging in “aggravated homosexuality” and other so-called offenses.

Contrary to what much of the media is saying, anti-LGBTQ laws are not something that are necessarily ingrained parts of the culture of former colonial countries like Uganda and other East African nations. Such laws were brought not just to African countries but to places including India, Malaysia and Singapore by British colonialists. The anti-gay laws just repealed in Singapore, for example, were introduced there by the British when they were in control.

Apparently, right wing extremists in the West have picked up now where the colonialists left off as they have become major purveyors of hate around the world.

The anti LGBTQ legislation in Uganda now heads back to President Yoweri Museveni—who has gone on record saying that homosexuality is a “danger to procreation of [the] human race”—to either sign, veto, or return it again to parliament for further amendments. This recent anti-gay bill is years in the making in Uganda, and has direct ties to the criminalization of the LGBTQ community here in the United States and around the world.

This table shows the amounts of money poured into Africa by a number of right-wing Evangelical organizations from the U.S. from 2007 to 2018. Millions more have flooded in over the past five years. | via OpenDemocracy

An earlier version of the bill was approved in March of this year that sought to punish individuals for simply identifying as LGBTQ. While this latest iteration of the bill no longer includes punishment for that, it does include other harsh persecutions.

Some of the main parts of the legislation are the following:

  • Those who are found guilty of so-called “aggravated homosexuality,” which is categorized by same-sex intercourse involving someone who is HIV positive or under the age of 18, can receive the death penalty.
  • Minors under the age of 18 who are found guilty of homosexuality can be imprisoned for a maximum of three years.
  • Individuals can be sentenced to life imprisonment if they are convicted of engaging in acts of homosexuality.
  • “Promotion” of homosexuality is an offense punishable by imprisonment of up to 20 years.
  • It is illegal to knowingly rent premises to people who wish to engage in homosexual acts on such premises, under the penalty of imprisonment for up to 7 years.
  • Those who are convicted of attempted homosexuality, can be imprisoned for up to 10 years.

Back in 2014 the Ugandan government passed a similar bill with the same name, which its Supreme Court eventually annulled. This retraction came after pushback from around the world, including then President Barack Obama who condemned the act and threatened economic sanctions on the country. Despite that annulment, homosexual acts remained illegal in Uganda. This is, unfortunately, not an abnormal sentiment on the continent of Africa, as homosexuality is criminalized in more than 30 of Africa’s 54 countries.

After the vote in Parliament on May 2, Speaker Anita Among gave a speech urging lawmakers to hold their ground despite international criticism. After claiming that they needed to “protect Ugandans, let’s protect our values, our virtues,” Among asserted that “the Western world will not come and rule Uganda.”

Museveni held similar sentiments as the Ugandan president praised Parliament for the bill, stating that Western nations were “trying to impose their practices [of LGBTQ acceptance] on other people.”

Yet, it would appear that Among, Museveni, and others who think similarly are misconstruing history (and current reality), as anti-homosexual legislation is very much an idea fostered by right wingers in the West, particularly by some of the very groups that those in the Ugandan government seek assistance from.

Writer Leah Buckle gives a thorough analysis of the history of gender fluidity and sexuality in Africa in a 2020 essay entitled “African Sexuality and the Legacy of Imported Homophobia.” In it, Buckle explains:

“For centuries, across the African continent there was a completely different attitude towards sexual and gender identities. Many African countries did not see gender as a binary in the way that their European colonizer did, nor did they correlate anatomy to gender identity. In no African country prior to colonization do we see any persecution of LGBT individuals because of their sexuality, nor any anti-LGBT laws.”

Buckle goes on to describe when LGBTQ legislation began to be enforced, and that enforcement coincides with Christian attitudes and British rule. Buckle writes that, “Colonization and the spread of fundamentalist Christian attitudes from the British meant that much of Africa lost its previous cultural attitude towards sexual orientation… Homophobia was legally enforced by colonial administrators and Christian missionaries. In 1910, Christians made up about 9 percent of the population of sub-Saharan Africa; by 2010, the figure had leapt to 63 percent. Anti-LGBT laws were not only written into constitutions, but also into the minds of many African people, and after the passing of several generations, this has become dogma.”

Under British rule homosexuality became illegal in Uganda in 1902. It would appear that Among and Museveni are very much making decisions with Western ideals in mind. Yet, this connection is more recent than just the early 1900s.

Currently, in the U.S., 13 states—Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah—have passed laws or policies restricting or completely banning gender-affirming care for youth. According to GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute, more than 500 pieces of anti-LGBTQ legislation have been introduced in state legislatures across the U.S. so far in 2023. This includes Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ever dangerously expanding “Don’t Say Gay,” bill.

It would appear that there is a concerted effort by right-wing Republican conservatives to wage a cultural war with fascist tactics, that seek to pass extremely oppressive legislation, that not only delegitimize ideas but human beings that are counter to their ideological views. And not only are they attempting to do so in the U.S., but they are funding initiatives abroad to do the same. This is where the direct connection to Africa, and Uganda in particular, comes into play.

According to an exclusive 2020 report by Lydia Namubiru and Khatondi Soita Wepukhulu at openDemocracy, more than 20 U.S. conservative Christian groups known for being anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice have spent at least $54 million in Africa since 2007. The report noted that the Fellowship Foundation, a “secretive U.S. religious group” whose Ugandan associate, David Bahati, wrote Uganda’s infamous “Kill the Gays” bill, was the biggest spender in Africa. More than 20 million dollars was reportedly sent by the group between 2008 and 2018 to Uganda alone.

As noted by news commentator Rachel Maddow on one of her recent nightly broadcasts, Ugandan officials have close ties with an Arizona agency called Family Watch International. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)  has designated the agency as a hate group, describing them as working “ within the United Nations and with countries around the world to further anti-LGBT and anti-choice stances.” SPLC also describes the founder Sharon Slater as someone that promotes anti-LGBTQ pseudoscience, including the idea that so-called “conversion therapy” can eliminate homosexuality.

Anti-sodomy laws in many countries throughout Africa and Asia are legacies of British colonialism. Here, Queen Elizabeth II is seen reviewing troops during a visit to Uganda. | Public Domain

Family Watch International, according to Maddow, was one of the key organizers of a large conference in Uganda that hosted a large number of lawmakers and officials.

On April 3, Janet K. Museveni—wife of president Museveni—tweeted out a group picture of herself, Slater, and others, with the caption: “I recently had the honor of meeting with Ms. Sharon Slater, President of Family Watch International, & her team. They attended the first African Regional Inter-Parliamentary Conference in Uganda, focusing on global challenges that threaten African families & values.”

It should be noted that in April it was reported that president Museveni wanted an amendment added to the Anti-Homosexuality Act for “psychologically disoriented LGBTIQ+ people to be rehabilitated,” in other words, conversion therapy. Which sounds very similar to what Slater reportedly advocates for.

This effort to export hate around the world will no doubt have dire consequences on the marginalized communities affected by such laws. Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, Frank Mugisha, noted in a recent interview that the language in the Ugandan legislation is “similar to what we’re seeing in the U.S. and other countries from extreme anti-gay groups and evangelicals.” The activist asserted that the bill could “risk genocide for the LGBTQ+ community” if it is signed.

Activists and advocates for the LGBTQ community continue to condemn the bill and other anti-gay legislation around the world. Yet, in connecting this struggle to the larger assault on the rights of humans across the planet, it is clear that it will take a unified movement of all those who support civil rights to combat this growing onslaught of far-right extremists ideologies.

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Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.