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Concern grows over Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Hester Phillips

27 April 2023

Ugandan parliament has passed legislation that will crackdown on LGBT+ rights even further – and it spells trouble for the country’s HIV response

LGBTIQ flags
Credit: iStock / Vladimir Vladimirov

Concern is mounting due to new legislation in Uganda that will crackdown on LGBT+ rights even further and damage the country’s HIV response.

What is this story about?

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which the Ugandan parliament passed on 21 March. The bill will not become law until President Yoweri Museveni gives permission.

Homosexuality is already criminalised in Uganda. But the new law will make punishments for consensual same-sex sex even worse, with LGBT+ people facing life imprisonment. The bill will make it illegal to identify as LGBT+, punishable with up to 10 years in prison. It will also impose six-month jail sentences on people (including healthcare workers) who fail to report on LGBT+ people. And it will make it illegal to ‘recruit, promote or fund’ same-sex ‘activities’.

The bill also contains an offence of ‘aggravated homosexuality’. This covers any situation in which a person’s partner gets a ‘terminal illness’ through homosexual sex, or if a person repeatedly gets caught having same-sex sex. The punishment for this is the death penalty.

Why is this important?

If the bill becomes law, LGBT+ people in Uganda will face an even greater threat of arrest, detention, violence, abuse, persecution and death. Stigma against LGBT+ people will rise.

These things are important in their own right. But they will also make Uganda’s HIV epidemic worse. As the Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+) points out in an open letter to President Museveni, people who are criminalised are more likely to get HIV. LGBT+ people are likely to avoid HIV services for fear of arrest. This means they will be less likely to prevent HIV transmission, test for HIV, be on HIV treatment if they need it or be virally suppressed.

At the same time, organisations and individuals that support LGBT+ people will struggle to provide essential health services because they are worried about penalties.

All these things will increase HIV infections.

What is happening?

Uganda’s Human Rights and Awareness Promotion Forum (HRAPF) reports that violence, violations, abuses and crimes against LGBT+ people have risen since the bill was passed.

Crackdowns are already happening on LGBT+ organisations. HRAPF reports that six people from an LGBT+ support organisation were recently arrested. The evidence used to charge them was lubricants, condoms and PrEP found in the group’s office.

HRAPF also reports an increase in landlords evicting LGBT+ people. This includes an LGBT+ organisation that had been at the same address for almost five years.

The Lancet reports that LGBT+ people are already reducing their contact with services. And some health workers are turning people away due to homophobia or fear of arrest.

GNP+ is warning of far-reaching consequences. Its open letter says: “…once you lose control of this epidemic, you will not have the ability to protect the general population from HIV infection and [that] will severely impact political and economic stability in Uganda.”

International financing for Uganda’s HIV response could also be under threat if the bill becomes law.

What does this mean for HIV services?

The bill’s full impact on Uganda’s HIV response is not yet known. This will depend on whether the bill becomes law and what remains in the bill if it does. It will also depend on how international donors, which fund a lot of Uganda’s HIV response, react.

Donors such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria say they are not planning to cut funding. They say they will work with partners in Uganda to adapt HIV services and strengthen the security of those providing them.

HRAPF is calling for “LGBTQ+ persons, allies and partners to … continue to lobby the state for a positive change in law, as well as maintaining advocacy strategies that counter the disinformation that has fuelled the current wave of homophobia.”

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