U.S. Formally Responds to Uganda's 'Jail The Gays' Law
BY Sunnivie Brydum
March 24 2014 2:20 PM ET
The U.S. will immediately take four concrete steps penalizing the government of Uganda for enacting the Anti-Homosexuality Act, known commonly as the "jail the gays" law.
BuzzFeed reports the Obama administration will redirect millions in funding in an effort to show support for LGBT people and to deter other countries from following suit.
That includes $6.4 million granted to the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, a group that came out in strong support of the Anti-Homosexuality Act and which has historically received millions in U.S. grants to fight HIV and AIDS. The council will still receive $2.3 million to maintain treatment for an estimated 50,000 patients, according to BuzzFeed.
Additionally, approximately $3 million slated to go to Uganda's tourism and biodiversity promotion programs will be redirected to nongovernmental organizations promoting those causes, according to BuzzFeed.
A medical study aimed at identifying populations at risk for contracting HIV and AIDS has also been suspended. It was intended to be carried out at a Ugandan university with funds from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but it has been indefinitely postponed, citing concerns for the safety of the study's researchers and participants. It appears this may be the unspecified cuts to a CDC program first reported by Reuters last week.
Finally, several events scheduled in Uganda later this spring by the U.S. Department of Defense will be relocated, and certain Ugandan military and police officials who had been invited to the U.S. will see those invitations suspended or rescinded.
These actions are the strongest and most direct taken by the Obama administration since Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the U.S. was launching an "internal review" of its relationship with the Ugandan government the day president Yoweri Museveni signed into law the Anti-Homosexuality Act on February 24. Kerry has reportedly spoken with Museveni over the phone and condemned the law, and last week said that he would be sending a team of American scientists and experts to engage the Ugandan president in a discussion on whether sexual orientation is innate. Museveni claimed his support for the law was cemented after he was convinced that gay people are "made, not born" — presumably by a two-page, uncited "scientific report" from a group of antigay Ugandan lawmakers who purported to have medical backgrounds.
The Obama administration's actions follow similar aid cuts and redirections from several European and Scandinavian nations and from the World Bank — which heeded suggestions from LGBT activists in Uganda asking that only targeted aid cuts be made, with funds preferably redirected away from the government to pro-LGBT nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations that support the embattled community and provide life-saving health care services to Ugandans.
Since the law was passed, LGBT Ugandan activists have reported numerous instances of violence and discrimination. Frank Mugisha, a prominent Ugandan activist and executive director of advocacy group Sexual Minorities Uganda, told Michelangelo Signorile last week that he has been made aware of at least 50 Ugandans who have been victims of violence and discrimination.
As passed, the Anti-Homosexuality Act imposes lifetime prison terms on those convicted of "aggravated homosexuality," which the law defines as those who engage in repeated instances of same-sex sexual contact, any such contact where one person is HIV-positive, a minor, mentally disabled, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Anyone charged with the offense must undergo a medical examination — which in practice is usually a forcible anal examination — and HIV test, regardless of the individual's consent.
The law also imposes harsh sentences on those convicted of aiding, abetting, or conspiring to engage in homosexuality — including providing housing, support, or affirmation to an LGBT person or organization. As a result, LGBT Ugandans have been evicted from their homes, with landlords citing the Anti-Homosexuality Act as the primary reason for their eviction.
Additionally, the law declares that any person or organization performing a same-sex marriage is liable to lose their licensure and spend as many as seven years in jail. The law also enumerates the numerous ways in which the "promotion of homosexuality" is forbidden, clamping down on individuals, organizations, and media outlets that discuss LGBT identities, and provides for extradition of Ugandan nationals who violate the law abroad.
Ugandan attorneys, opposition lawmakers, and activists have filed a constitutional challenge to the law, arguing that it violates several fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Ugandan constitution and supposedly protected by international law and conventions on human rights.