KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — A prominent leader of Uganda’s LGBTQ community said Thursday he was worried about becoming “homeless,” describing anguished calls by others like him who are concerned for their safety after the passing of a harsh new anti-gay bill.
“I am worried about being evicted,” said Frank Mugisha, head of the banned LGBTQ support group Sexual Minorities Uganda. “I am worried about being evicted from the place where I live, because I don’t own property. I could become homeless.”
The legislation “would make it impossible to me to live in this country and work here,” he said.
Mugisha spoke to The Associated Press amid growing pressure from the United Nations, the United States and others who are urging President Yoweri Museveni to block the legislation passed by lawmakers on Tuesday.
The bill prescribes the death penalty for the offense of “aggravated homosexuality” and life imprisonment for “homosexuality.” Aggravated homosexuality is defined as cases of sex relations involving those infected with HIV as well as minors and other categories of vulnerable people. Jail terms of up to 20 years are proposed for those who advocate or promote the rights of LGBTQ people.
A suspect convicted of “attempted aggravated homosexuality” can be jailed for 14 years and the offense of “attempted homosexuality” is punishable by up to 10 years, according to the bill.
It remains unclear when Museveni will notify the legislature about his intentions regarding the bill. He sometimes takes his time before signing bills into law. He has condemned homosexuality over the years and recently accused unnamed Western nations of “trying to impose their practices on other people.”
The bill was introduced last month by an opposition lawmaker who said his goal was to punish the “promotion, recruitment and funding” of LGBTQ activities in this East African country where homosexuals are widely disparaged. Only two of 389 legislators present during the voting session opposed the bill, including one taunted during plenary debate by his colleagues as “a homosexualist” after he presented a dissenting view.
International concern is rising over the legislation.
Washington has “grave concerns” about the bill, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday, adding that it would hamper tourism and economic investment in Uganda.
U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said if the law were enacted Washington would “have to take a look” at imposing economic sanctions on Uganda. He noted that this would be “really unfortunate” since most U.S. aid is in the form of health assistance, especially AIDS-related assistance.
The U.N. AIDS agency also warns that the legislation “threatens public health” because it would hurt efforts to fight HIV.
Anti-gay sentiment in Uganda has grown in recent weeks amid press reports alleging sodomy in boarding schools, including a prestigious one for boys where a parent accused a teacher of abusing her son. The recent decision of the Church of England to bless civil marriages of same-sex couples also has inflamed many, including some who see homosexuality as imported from abroad.
Cases of alleged sexual abuse of minors have put more pressure on the LGBTQ community, said Mugisha, the openly gay leader whose organization was shut down by authorities last year.
“Ugandans have been radicalized,” he said. “Even those who were sympathetic are no longer sympathetic because they worry about children.”
He said he was getting calls from members of his community who are worried about where to seek medical services and even where to rent.
“Many people are concerned about getting outed,” he said. “The question is: ‘What is going to happen to them?’”
Homosexuality is criminalized in more than 30 of Africa’s 54 countries.
In Uganda, a deeply conservative Christian country, same-sex relations are already criminalized under a colonial-era law banning sex acts “against the order of nature.”
But civilian authorities for years have urged a more sweeping bill targeting homosexuals after one enacted in 2014 was nullified on procedural grounds by a panel of judges amid intense international pressure.