Uganda Considers Criminalizing Forms Of Gay Sex

Homosexuality is Uganda has been criminalized since the introduction of Christianity, but a new government bill has gained international condemnation for intending to introduce the death sentence to all HIV-positive gay people who have sex with minors or with those who have a disability. Host Michel Martin talks to David Kato, Advocacy Investigation Officer at Sexual Minorities Uganda about the daily lives of gay people in Uganda and what will the introduction of this bill mean for them and for their safety.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Now we turn to the subject of gay rights in Africa, and I should mention that there may be some explicit discussion of sexual behavior. What drew our attention was a rally in Uganda late last month that drew hundreds of protesters after the government announced it is drafting a new bill that will punish those who distribute literature or fund organizations associated with the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community. Having consensual sex with a same-sex partner is already a crime in the East African country, but the new bill also would impose the death sentence on gay people who have sex and are HIV positive or have relations with a partner who has a disability or is under the age of 18.

Joining me to talk about all this is David Kato. He's advocacy investigation officer at Sexual Minorities Uganda. That's a coalition of human rights organizations that support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex also known as LGBTI people in Uganda. And he joins us now from Kampala. Thank you so much for joining us.

Mr. DAVID KATO (Advocacy Investigation Officer, Sexual Minorities Uganda): You're welcome.

MARTIN: David, before we look at the proposed bill what is the current law say about homosexual activity? Are homosexual relationships specifically against the law in Uganda now?

Mr. KATO: The Ugandan constitution has what you call the sodomy laws. There is nothing like consenting. So long as there's relationship between a man and a man, a woman and a woman, it's illegal.

MARTIN: But as a matter of law, homosexuality has been illegal for how long?

Mr. KATO: It has been illegal since the Bible came in because when the Bible came in. Look, I would say that the Bible brought in more homophobia than any other thing.

MARTIN: How did this new proposed bill come about? What sparked it in your view?

Mr. KATO: In my view, it's the religious rites. These were from America. They came here and saying that if they leave homosexuals to be around, they are spoiling what they called the traditional marriage. So they came up saying that we gay people were recruiting children into homosexuality. So they started lobbying the parliament, lobbying all the societies, they put up a task force. So from that time, they pushed hate into everyone to be against anything to do with LGBTI community.

MARTIN: Why do you think this new measure is being introduced now?

Mr. KATO: You know, if I take you backwards. It is like this is a wastage of the taxpayers money because this law has always been there, as common knowledge. What they're just doing now is to make it more harsh on people and you see that is being unconstitutional, anyone promoting homosexuality is being criminalized now. If a teacher knows that children, the student is gay or lesbian, he doesn't report within 24 hours, the teacher is also going to be convicted.

MARTIN: So the new bill would not just enhance penalties for homosexual relationships, it would also create a push to report people for being gay or lesbian.

Mr. KATO: Yes.

MARTIN: How do you function, by the way, as an openly gay man, if you don't mind my asking? How do you manage it?

Mr. KATO: Despite of the hostile environment, we manage. What we do, we have civil societies non-governmentals that have the same aims and goals, liberating the (unintelligible) groups. So we work hand in hand with the international, regional and non-governmentals here to see that you can survive in this environment.

MARTIN: What is your biggest concern about this new law, if it were to go into effect?

Mr. KATO: Oh, my worries, the first one is that within 24 hours, (unintelligible), if it passes, to surround all of us that are out and put us in prison. Then another issue is that the people who have been trying to liberate in the grass roots, in the villages, (unintelligible) going on. That's my worry (unintelligible).

MARTIN: You're worried that gay and lesbian people will be even more threatened than they are now, but what about also HIV/AIDS? Are you worried about the ability to openly educate people about HIV/AIDS if people are worried about talking about their sexuality?

Mr. KATO: We've been fighting to (unintelligible) government plans to involve (unintelligible) people into their programs of HIV. We have been fighting to see that we're involved in it. So the HIV people, if they are being now trying to go out to expose themselves to the - to get medical assistance, now they're going to go back into the closet and hide. So that means that HIV is going to spread more if they go get back into that closet. They do no talk about it, we are going to go back into the dark, and the AIDS is going to spread more.

MARTIN: David Kato holds the title Advocacy Investigation Officer at Sexual Minorities Uganda. That's a coalition of human rights organizations supporting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex people in Uganda, and he joined us from Kampala. Thank you again, David.

Mr. KATO: You're welcome

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