How to stop Uganda’s anti-gay bill

In the past, I've begged my government to increase its support to military efforts in northern Uganda. It hasn't helped. Now, I think we have a chance to do something good with that money: cut it off, and don't give it back until the country's anti-gay bill is dead.

A s someone who’s lived in Uganda and supports both gay rights and free speech, I’m outraged by Ugandan MP David Bahati’s proposed anti-homosexuality bill, which would not only provide harsher penalties — including death in some cases — for gay and lesbian sex but would also criminalize distributing information about homosexuality:

5. Promotion of homosexuality
(1) Any person who…

(a) Participates in production, trafficking, procuring, marketing, broadcasting, disseminating, publishing homosexual materials;

(e)Uses electronic devices which include internet, films, mobile phone and
(f) Who acts as an accomplice or attempts to legitimize or in any way abets homosexuality and related practices

Commits an offense and on conviction is liable to a fine of five thousand currency points or imprisonment of at least five years or both.

Demonstrator at August 2007 anti-gay rally in Kampala.  Photo taken by the author.

Demonstrator at August 2007 anti-gay rally in Kampala. Photo taken by the author.

On Monday, Andrew Sullivan of The Atlantic posted a link to an article by James Kirchick, who argues that the US should withhold HIV/AIDS support funding to Uganda unless the bill is withdrawn:

From 2004 through 2008, Uganda received a total of $1.2 billion in PEPFAR money, and this year it is receiving $285 million more. Clearly, the United States has a great deal of leverage over the Ugandan government, and the American taxpayer should not be expected to fund a regime that targets a vulnerable minority for attack — an attack that will only render the vast amount of money that we have donated moot.

Irresponsible and reprehensible behavior on the part of Ugandan officials should lead to a serious re-evaluation of U.S. policy and an ultimatum for the Ugandan government: It must desist in its promotion of deadly homophobia or say goodbye to the hundreds of millions of dollars it has received due to the generosity and goodwill of the American people.

Kirchick makes some good points in his article: the Ugandan government consistently blames the gay population for the spread of HIV but is intent on making it impossible for men who have sex with men to receive much-needed HIV-related education, counseling and health care without the fear of jail time. Withholding PEPFAR funding would spark a popular outcry, forcing the government to change its mind.

Still, I’m not convinced. Kirchick acknowledges that protests by human rights groups so far “have only made the government more defiant.” As sad as it is, I think anti-gay sentiment is so deeply embedded in the current administration and so often blamed on Western influence that withholding US aid may have the same effect. I see Bahati digging in his heels, claiming America wants to further corrupt Ugandan society by not only supporting homosexuality but by helping spread HIV, and I see the majority of the country agreeing with him, even as more Ugandans die of AIDS-related illnesses.

Instead of cutting off critical support for Ugandans living with HIV, I think the US should start withholding military aid. I’ve written before about how poorly executed and ineffective Uganda’s attempts to defeat the Lord’s Resistance Army have been. Cutting military aid won’t make this any worse, and popular opinion of the government’s efforts in this area is so low already that I don’t think citizens will buy an argument that blames the United States. I also believe the government is more likely to respond to a loss in military support than they would be to a loss in HIV aid.

Adapted from a post originally published on Jackfruity

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2 Responses to “How to stop Uganda’s anti-gay bill” Subscribe

  1. Matthew December 9, 2009 at 3:28 AM #

    The problem with cutting HIV/AIDS support to Uganda is that you aren’t sending the right kind of message. The bill also makes it a capital offense to have HIV/AIDS or promote prevention of the disease. By cutting the funding to these programs in Uganda, you are telling the Ugandan people that their bill is justified. “Why would you need aid for prevention of the disease if you’re just going to kill anyone who comes to the clinic with it?” This bill goes beyond our political beliefs here in America. Whether you support or oppose gay marriage, you certainly can’t wish to see them dead. Whether you understand or ignore the severity of HIV, you don’t want to see those affected by it sentenced to death.
    We have to do something; this is a genocide. We will not stand by and allow this to occur in a ‘democracy.’ We may not agree, but we all deserve to live.

  2. Ouma Samuel April 4, 2011 at 7:08 AM #

    I believe homosexuality can be treated by therapy. We have so many cases in the nearby same sex boarding school in Uganda and have tried my best to talk to the boys! Urgent psychiatric attention can also help adult gays to become normal! America needs a serious christian revival in order to save so many souls! Whenever it comes to gay issues or Israel, Americans act like fools!

    yours,

    Ouma Samuel

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