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New anti-gay Ugandan bill even broader than previous act

Leaked draft targets funding, ‘promotion’ of ‘unnatural’ sex acts, and trans people

Ugandan human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo confirms that the draft of the new anti-gay legislation leaked to activists is real. Credit:

Ugandan human rights activists say they’ve obtained a leaked draft of a parliamentary bill entitled “The Prohibition of Promotion of Unnatural Sexual Practices Bill, 2014.” The document, dated Oct 29, 2014, proposes to penalize “unnatural” sexual acts and the “promotion” and funding of such acts with prison terms ranging from seven to 15 years. For the first time, sex with trans people is also criminalized.

Jay, a Ugandan trans activist who requested his full name be withheld for safety reasons, says activists obtained the leaked document on Nov 5 through Ugandan human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo.

“I have people whom I know in very high circles in government,” Opiyo told Xtra in a Skype interview. “One of them was a member of a committee that was started by the ruling NRM [National Resistance Movement] party. A member of that committee was the one who gave me a copy of the bill. I ran my check with the people who formed the committee, who also confirmed to me the committee had indeed drafted the bill.”

Uganda’s erstwhile Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA), signed into effect on Feb 24 by President Yoweri Museveni, was struck down in court on Aug 1 on a technicality of insufficient quorum during the parliamentary vote. LGBT activists have expected a reprise of the legislation ever since.

Among the activities penalized in the new draft are the production of publications “likely to facilitate engaging in unnatural sexual practices,” leasing premises to people who engage in “unnatural sexual practices,” and facilitating overseas employment or training of an individual “with the intention of introducing that person to unnatural sexual practices.”

The leaked document identifies “unnatural sexual practices” as sex between people of the same sex, sex with animals, anal sex and any sex whatsoever involving trans people.

“I think this is even worse than [the previous bill],” says Beyonce Karungi, founder of Transgender Equality Uganda, based in Kampala. “I’m transitioning, I’m a transsexual, and then they talk about me? I’m worried. I’m afraid for my life.”

“For the first time the bill mentions transgender people,” Opiyo observes. “Secondly, it now expressly provides for the outlawing of funding for activities that promote ‘unnatural sexual practices.’ So this is the AHA being reintroduced, and a lot more and a lot worse than what it was before.”

“For organizations it will be very complicated,” Karungi says. “I’m thinking accessing funds will also be a problem. Public health will be a problem, freedom of expression, [using] public transport. Life will be very complicated for LGBTI people.”

Many Ugandan activists view this latest draft as another bid for political control on the part of Museveni’s party. “Elections are coming in 2016,” Karungi says. “The president is going to use [this issue] because fundamentalists are telling him, ‘If you want to come back into power, you have to.’”

“As far as I know, whenever there are political issues, [the NRM] always use the gay bill as a scapegoat,” Jay writes in an online interview with Xtra.

Opiyo agrees. “The political lives of many members of parliament depend on this issue. They know this law is very popular and can get them back to parliament. So as usual, members of parliament are hell-bent on harping on this one single matter.”

It is not known exactly when the draft may be tabled in the Ugandan parliament.

“I am quite sure that the [NRM] party caucus is now involved in organizing a national delegates’ conference that will take place in December,” Opiyo says. “It would be unlikely that NRM would discuss this matter before then. So my sense is that at the earliest would be either at the end of this year or very early next year.”