What’s Next For Uganda’s Gays?

Last week, a Ugandan court struck down the country’s draconian Anti-Homosexuality Act. Melina Platas Izama gives credit to “the vital role played by concerned citizens and the legal community in Uganda”:

Ten individuals and organizations — including a journalist, professor, doctor, activists and current and former legislators — petitioned the court to repeal the law on the grounds that it was passed illegally, having contravened parliamentary rules of procedure requiring quorum, and that it violated constitutional rights. Their efforts, combined with those of a robust legal team, were integral to the law’s repeal. Their victory demonstrates the power of domestic actors and the courts in promoting social and legal change.

But Uganda might get worse for gays before it gets better:

If we look at attitudes toward homosexuality over time using opinion polls, we find that it can take decades for attitudes to shift. Further, negative attitudes toward homosexuality sometimes increase before they decrease.

In South Korea, for example, one of the countries with the longest record of opinion polling on the topic, opposition to homosexuality, again, as measured by the percentage of respondents who say homosexuality is never justifiable, jumped from 60 percent in 1982 to 90 percent in 1990 before declining again. It’s worth noting that levels of anti-homosexuality sentiment in South Korea in 1990 are nearly the same as those in Uganda today. In South Africa too, anti-homosexual sentiment increased before declining. Meanwhile, in the U.S., opposition has fallen only gradually over time and has yet to dip below 20 percent.

Jay Michaelson fears an anti-gay backlash:

In the case of Uganda, records kept by Sexual Minorities Uganda show that violence against LGBT people has increased tenfold since the passage of the AHA. Add in fiery preaching by anti-gay zealots, often funded by American organizations, and you have a volatile brew ready to explode. Activists worry that this court decision could provide the spark. If the law won’t protect Uganda from Satan, people will have to take up arms themselves.

Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail. There are supportive African (and African-American) clergy calling for coexistence rather than violence. Maybe the Obama administration, instead of merely backpedaling reactively, could support these voices pro-actively as well. Maybe Museveni could call for a period of national reflection. Or maybe, things will continue to get worse.

Previous Dish on the predicament of Uganda’s gays here.

Meanwhile, Some Actual Good News …


Uganda’s Constitutional Court has nullified the notorious Anti-Homosexuality Act, in a move widely viewed as a victory for the country’s gays:

Maria Burnett, a senior researcher in the Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division, said in a written statement that Friday’s decision was a “critical step forward” for LGBT rights. “We are pleased that this law cannot be enforced and entrench further abuses and discrimination.”  Neela Ghoshal, another senior researcher with the HRW, tells Vox that the LGBTI community in East Africa is currently “breathing a huge sigh of relief” because of Friday’s rulings. “That law has cast a shadow over every LGBTI activist and ordinary person’s lives in Uganda and the wider region for the past six months. Now, there’s a sense a space for LGBTI people has opened up.”

Mark Joseph Stern reacts with cautious cheer:

The legal triumph of the ruling was tempered somewhat by the fact that the court did not rule on the merits of the case.

Rather, the judges held that parliament had not reached a quorum when the bill was passed, a technicality that renders the law a nullity. The ruling, then, is obviously problematic, as it implies that if parliament simply re-passes the bill with the requisite quorum, it might be constitutionally valid.

Still, the petitioners who brought the case, including journalist Andrew Mwenda, were celebrating a total victory on Friday, declaring the measure “dead as a door nail.”

But Capehart emphasizes that Uganda remains a difficult place to be gay:

Now that the “anti-homosexuality” law has been tossed, the penalty of 14 years for a first-time offense and life imprisonment for those convicted of “aggravated homosexuality” is gone. So is the threat of arrest for “promoting homosexuality” or not reporting a gay or lesbian person to the authorities. But a colonial-era law that criminalizes gay sex remains on the books. And as Ty Cobb, director of global engagement for Human Rights Campaign, said, “Uganda’s Parliament could seek to once again further enshrine anti-LGBT bigotry into its nation’s law.”

Elias Biryabarema believes the move will probably boost Uganda’s standing in the world, and its economy:

The World Bank and some European donors – Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands – withheld aid or loans worth more than $118 million. Sweden resumed financial support to Uganda this week. Uganda relies on aid to fund about 20 percent of its budget. The Ugandan shilling came under pressure when the law was passed. On Friday, it rose, with banks cutting long dollar positions on expectations of a resumption in aid. …

The United States, Uganda’s biggest donor, [had] called the legislation “atrocious”, likening it to anti-Semitic laws in Nazi Germany and apartheid in South Africa. When it was passed, Washington said it would review relations with Kampala. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is scheduled to travel to the United States next week for a summit of African leaders hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama.

(Photo: Ugandans react to the announcement that the Constitutional Court has overturned anti-gay laws in Kampala on August 1, 2014. By Isaac Kasamani/AFP/Getty Images)