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Uganda Passes Anti-Gay Bill That Includes Life In Prison

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Uganda Passes Anti-Gay Bill That Includes Life In Prison

Politics & Policy

Uganda Passes Anti-Gay Bill That Includes Life In Prison

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The Ugandan parliament passed two bills in rapid succession before going on Christmas break. One outlaws miniskirts and other, quote, "suggestive" clothing. The other punishes homosexuality with life in prison. NPR's Gregory Warner reports that second bill doesn't just punish acts of sexual expression, it turns people into pariahs.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, its actual name, does not only punish, quote, "repeated acts of homosexuality" with life in prison, it also makes it a crime to promote homosexuality. That might mean simply offering HIV counseling. And it makes it a crime punishable by five years in prison to rent an apartment to an LGBT person and neglect to inform on your tenant to authorities.

JESSICA STERN: I think it's trying to make it impossible for people to actually have private lives.

WARNER: Jessica Stern is executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission based in New York.

STERN: If you're perceived to be LGBT, no one's going to rent to you for fear of their own criminal responsibility. So as I read it, if this law is enacted in its current form, it's basically a homelessness sentence for LGBT Ugandans.

WARNER: The bill was composed with the help of American evangelical leaders with close ties to the authors and promoters of the bill in Uganda. Malika Zouhali-Worrall co-directed the documentary "Call Me Kuchu." Kuchu is a word for queer in Uganda.

MALIKA ZOUHALI-WORRALL: There are these factions of the evangelical community in the U.S. that believe that they've more or less lost the fight against the homosexual agenda, so to speak, which is what one evangelical in our film called it, in the U.S. and, therefore, they're trying to pre-empt it in other countries.

WARNER: When the bill was first introduced in 2009, dubbed the Kill the Gays bill because of its death penalty provision, subsequently removed, it galvanized the LGBT community in Uganda, which mobilized international support and took on a cautious public role in the country. Members of the community launched lawsuits fighting discrimination.

And despite persecution and homophobic attacks, people kept speaking out. They even celebrated Pride Day with a discreet but joyous gathering this summer. Now those well-known activists could be thrown in prison for their work.

JOHN WAMBERE: We've been betrayed. This is not a place we can call home.

WARNER: Activist John Wambere, reached by cellphone, says his community is discussing how to best approach President Yoweri Museveni, who has yet to sign the bill into law. But they're also trying to figure out how to stay safe in a country where mob justice is commonplace. He says, just a few weeks ago, he heard some people on his street talking about him.

WAMBERE: They were like, these are the people when the law passes, we shall deal with them.

WARNER: The bill puts President Museveni in a bind. Western countries have threatened to withhold financial aid if the bill goes through. But the bill has wide public support in the country. Frederick Golooba Mutebi is a columnist for The East African magazine. He says it'll be easier for the president to appease donors by blocking the ban on miniskirts also just passed by parliament.

FREDERICK GOLOOBA MUTEBI: So I think that since he has two things, he may trade one for the other one. And I can see him blocking the law against miniskirts and not the one against homosexuality.

WARNER: Both laws were celebrated today in some Ugandan editorials as Christmas gifts to the country. Gregory Warner, NPR News.

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