Uganda Are Trying to Pass a Law That Sentences Homosexuals to Death

By Ryan Bassil

Photo by Rachel Adams

Unless you've been wildly misled by holy books or are just a dick who doesn't like people different to you because they're weird and that's scary, being gay is pretty much the smallest deal in the world. Like when Frankie Muniz last starred in a movie, or that time you tripped on a paving stone in 2007. In Uganda, however, being gay is kind of a big issue. As in a kiss your boyfriend in public and you'll both be sentenced to death kind of issue. 

The country's government is currently trying to pass a bill that will sentence homosexuals to life imprisonment or, potentially, death. Those aiding and abetting the gay community (including people giving HIV tests) will be sentenced to seven years imprisonment and members of the public who don’t report a known homosexual within 24 hours will spend three years locked up. Because normal people who love each other, people who save lives and people who are kind to others are generally evil and deserve to be incarcerated. 

Last year, Rolling Stone – not THE Rolling Stone, thankfully, but a Ugandan newspaper of the same name – published one article exposing the faces of 100 gay men and another condemning them as terrorists. I tried contacting Giles Muhome, Managing Editor of Rolling Stone, but he apparently didn’t have five minutes at any point within the next month to talk to me. It must be busy work being a full time douche-bag. Instead, I spoke to filmmakers Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, who have just produced Call Me Kuchu, a documentary that follows a group of gay activists in Uganda. 

VICE: Hey guys, I just watched the film – it’s pretty heavy. What’s the situation like in Uganda at the moment?
Malika Zouhali-Worrall: The bill has been reintroduced into Uganda's parliament. It’s kind of been sitting in committee, really. There’ll be months where we don’t hear about it and other months where it’ll pop up again.

What are the president's thoughts on the bill?
We get the impression that the president isn’t that keen on passing the bill and sometimes it feels like a game of political football. It seems like members of his party will bring it up just to piss him off. Also, it feels like there's ulterior motives for pushing it other than imprisoning gay people.

What do you think those motives are?
There are various political reasons that aren’t to do with the ideology of the bill. There are definitely people like David Bahati, who wrote the bill, and Pastor Martin Ssempa, who strongly believe in it. But sometimes it seems as though it’s brought up for inter-personal or other political reasons in the party that are unrelated.

The film suggests that the homophobia came from American pastors who visited Uganda. Would you say there's any truth in that?
Katherine Fairfax Wright: It’s difficult to pinpoint where the homophobia comes from. But I would argue that American evangelical have largely fuelled their extreme vitriol. Not just homophobia, but hanging and stuff.
Malika: There’s one American evangelical in particular called Scott Lively. A number of activists and investigative journalists really strongly believe that he had a large hand in framing and inspiring the language in the anti-homosexuality bill to the extent that he’s had a lawsuit filed against him in American court.

I tried contacting Giles and all he said was, “The Ugandan Parliament, which is independent from any interference, will decide on the bill. Like in any other democracy, the legislators represent the will of the people. So we shall go with what the August House decides.” Do you think he’s going back on his original homophobic views?
Katy: Giles' words had a high reach, so all anti-gay rhetoric he was publishing got to a lot of people. But I never felt his homophobia was as deeply rooted as some of the religious folks. The pastors that don’t believe in homosexuality are doing it because it’s the way that they’re reading the Bible.

So you can kind of understand why they might have a problem with it. But, with Giles, I don’t feel as though it’s because of his reading of the Bible. I feel like it’s because it was convenient. He latched on to something that he thought would sell and get him lots of publicity.

Then there was a big backlash, right?
Yeah, and his paper went out of print. His 180 isn’t surprising to me because as soon as it’s cool to be writing about something else, that’s what he’d be writing about.

So he was just doing it to get sales?
Malika: Yeah, he’s definitely an opportunist.

What did his paper do to create publicity?
They sought out every fear tactic they could. First, they told people that gay people were recruiting their children by raping them in schools, which isn't too dissimilar to the rhetoric used in the US in the 60s. Giles' next stop was to accuse gay people of being behind terrorist attacks. In order to get public support for the bill, you have to tell people that these homosexuals are committing crimes that are bad enough for them to be put to death or imprisoned for life.

Is there any kind of privacy law in Uganda?
Katy: That’s ultimately what was decided in the court case you see in the film. The reason they brought the injunction was because of the manner in which the newspaper had infringed on peoples' right to privacy, which was probably a great victory for the Kuchu community. They’re utilising whatever elements of Ugandan society they can and the court has proved to be one of those.

Have Rolling Stone published any more controversial issues since the injunction?
Malika: No, Rolling Stone hasn’t published any more controversial stuff since the court case and I think it's actually ceased to exist. The court case made it clear that there was something strange about Rolling Stone, in that its main mission was to out LGBT people. And once that become impossible it stopped publishing.

Has there been any violence towards activists recently?
No. Stuff continues to happen on a daily basis – people are harassed and detained by the police and sacked from their jobs. But overall, it’s safe to say that the activist community is getting stronger and their position in society is getting better. They held their first ever Gay Pride in August. It was a very small event but a really big deal for them.

Cool, that’s good to hear. Thanks guys!

Keep up to date with the Call Me Kuchu documentary at callmekuchu.co.uk.

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanbassil

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