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Anti-homosexuality legislation and what it means

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Picture: Abubaker Lubowa/REUTERS/Taken January 16, 2022 – Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni at his farm Gomba district. Museveni has enacted the law, the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which among other things, increases the already-criminalised life sentence for consensual same-sex between consenting adults and adds the death penalty for what is known as ‘aggravated homosexuality’, the writer says.

By Siyanda Magayana

The Ugandan president has enacted a law that makes it even more illegal for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI+) people to be who they identify as. The Anti-Homosexuality Act, among other things, increases the already-criminalised life sentence for consensual same-sex between consenting adults and adds the death penalty for what is known as “aggravated homosexuality”.

It also criminalises activities that supposedly support homosexuality and homosexuals, and carries a potential 20-year prison term. The act also explicitly states that it aims “to protect the traditional family” in Uganda, a traditional African nation, which criminalises and forbids same-sex couples, parents, and other individuals from starting families and having children.

This conveys the notion that African LGBTQ+ persons, specifically in Uganda, have no place in the families, communities, and other parts of society to which they belong. It also merely challenges LGBTQ+ Africans’ African identities as it erases their existence in the country altogether. Therefore, as activists, decision-makers, researchers, and residents of all parts of Africa, we should think about what this means for LGBT people in our communities. We should think about the impact of this law on LGBTQ+ people’s feelings of agency, right to life, right to make their own decisions, and sense of belonging.

Dangers of equating homosexual “acts” to sexual abuse

The anti-homosexuality legislation in Uganda mentions “… protecting children and youth who are made vulnerable to sexual abuse through homosexuality and related acts”. A statement such as this one is factually incorrect and is based on a misconception, implying that homosexuality and/or homosexual people are largely the perpetrators of sexual abuse and violence because of their acts. This viewpoint is flawed and misleading because sexual abuse can occur in any context, regardless of sexual orientation. For instance, some studies have revealed that many sexual offenders in our societies appear to identify as heterosexual.

One other research study found that no offenders were classified as homosexual and that more than three-quarters (78 percent) of offenders were solely heterosexual in their relationships. Similarly, other studies argue that a child’s risk of being molested by his or her relative’s heterosexual partner is over 100 times greater than by someone who may be identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, while another recent analysis finds that there is no evidence to suggest that individuals with same-sex attraction are more likely to abuse children than heterosexual persons.

Therefore, equating and pinning of homosexuality to sexual abuse is a deeply problematic and false narrative that can have severe consequences for LGBTQ+ individuals. It is important to recognise that being homosexual or engaging in same-sex relationships does not in itself make individuals more likely to be perpetrators or victims of sexual abuse.

This view perpetuates harmful stereotypes and misconceptions about sexual orientation, which can further fuel discrimination and violence against LGBTQ+ individuals in our communities. It also contributes to the stigmatisation and marginalisation of LGBTQ+ individuals, creating an environment where LGBTQ+ individuals are at higher risk of experiencing violence, discrimination, and social exclusion. By falsely portraying homosexuality as a form of abuse, these narratives further entrench homophobia and reinforce negative attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community in the African Continent.

Anti-homosexuality legislation and similar legislation in other countries often use the language of protecting children and combating sexual abuse to justify their discriminatory policies. By linking homosexuality to sexual abuse, proponents of such legislations aim to demonise and criminalise same-sex relationships, portraying them as inherently harmful or predatory. However, it is important to understand that homosexuality is not synonymous with sexual abuse. Sexual orientation is a natural and fundamental aspect of human diversity, and being gay, lesbian, or bisexual or other does not imply any wrongdoing or harm. Consensual same-sex relationships are no different from consensual opposite-sex relationships in terms of the rights and dignity they deserve.

Picture: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency (ANA)/Taken March 31, 2023 – Protesters march from the Cape Peninsula University of Technology to Parliament, South Africa. The protest actions in Cape Town and Pretoria is against the anti-homosexuality legislation passed by Uganda’s Parliament which is now awaiting the signature of President Yoweri Museveni.

Impact of laws on LGBTQ+ persons in and beyond Uganda

The impact of this legislation on LGBTQ+ individuals in African communities, not just in Uganda, is significant. The legislation fuels existing prejudices and stigmatisation against LGBTQ+ individuals, leading to increased discrimination, violence, and harassment. For instance, many LGBTQ+ individuals are already faced with heightened risks to their safety and well-being, including corrective rape, physical attacks, social ostracism, and even the threat of mob violence in both our rural and urban areas.

Such law has broader implications that go far beyond the borders and communities of Uganda. This law will set a precedent for other African countries that were already hostile towards LGBTQ+ rights, reinforcing a negative environment for LGBTQ+ individuals across the continent. Anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments and laws are prevalent in various African nations, and therefore, Uganda’s law to criminalise homosexuality contributes to a regional climate of homophobia and discrimination.

More than anything, the law further silences and erases the voices and existence of LGBTQ+ bodies in African communities and increases the justification of and vulnerability to corrective rape and killings. Many will be displaced, killed, excluded, and erased from our communities.

Siyanda Magayana, Senior Officer: Gender Equality and Anti-Discrimination Office, Unit for Institutional Change and Social Justice, University of the Free State