I Spoke to the Author of Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill
David Bahati's anti-homosexuality bill – making being gay punishable by death and a bunch of other stuff that sounds like society has regressed by about 200 years – is due to be tabled in Uganda's Parliament any day soon, which is obviously terrible news for gay people in Uganda and human rights, generally.
Clare Byarugaba – co-coordinator of the Civil Society Coalition for Human Rights and Constituional Law (CSHRCL) – is mentally exhausted with the "mind-fuck" of checking parliament's order papers every day, and pessimistic. "Hope for gay rights in Uganda is like expecting corruption in Uganda to end. It will never end. The population is behind the bill and MPs go with the majority."
I recently met up with Morgan, Bad Black and Joseph, friends I made in August while covering the country's first Gay Pride, and they're terrified about the consequences of the bill passing. They have already been chased out of the one room house they all shared in the Bwaise slum because the police believe that they're "recruiting" young people into homosexuality. The issue of "recruitment" is one of the Ugandan government's principal concerns, with David Bahati telling Clare that he believes homosexuality is an addiction and that people, particularly children, are lured into it.
It took David two weeks to get back to me, but the day before I left Uganda, he granted me an interview.
VICE: Hi David. Can you run me through this bill?
David Bahati: The bill basically has four components. The first component is to outlaw homosexuality. The second component is about the emerging issues within homosexuality we've seen over time, including the promotion of it. The bill also concentrates on the inducement of children. There's no law that stops same-sex marriage, so we want to outlaw and prohibit it and see rehabilitation and counselling for the victims of this grave, evil practice.
Has the death penalty been taken out?
Yes. [NB: according to Clare Byarugaba / CSCHRCL the bill that will be tabled still has the death penalty in.]
What evidence has been taken to the Legal Affairs Committee that people are recruiting children into homosexuality?
The committee has considered the bill and passed it and got all the necessary information it needed to make a decision. We have abundant evidence of what is happening in our community – parents and children have come to us. We're in the business of defending the family between man and woman, as the holy scripture and Qur'an dictates.
What research have you based the bill on?
We have enough information about how our society works. Family is between man and woman. Anything beyond that should be outlawed. Most of the research we have is just from life. My mum was with my dad. I know the Bible and the Qur'an are against homosexuality. When an anal organ is used for things it's not supposed to be used for, it's hazardous. I don't need to be taught anything beyond that.
Have you seen the Ugandan Human Rights Commission's (UHRC) position on the bill? It states that most of the provisions violate international human rights standards.
I know this. It adds no value to the process of negotiation. It's actually a waste of time. Of course they have enough resources to splash around, but it takes nothing from the will of the Ugandans to defend the family as between man and woman. They will not be given an inch. Actually, if the law was there, these publications wouldn't be there. That's why we need the law.
What do you think about what Desmond Tutu and other religious leaders have said about the proposed bill?
We read from the same holy books as Desmond Tutu. I don't need to be told by Desmond Tutu about the verses regarding this issue. He's a human being, he can be lost. On this one, he is lost. Very lost indeed.
And what about the claim that the bill is unconstitutional?
What I can tell you is that the representatives of the people of Uganda will make a decision on this matter. We know our constitution very well. There is no new argument – their argument is false. Every society has its rules and that's why the law is there, to protect the norms of society. What would you say to a man who abuses his daughter and they sleep together? If she gives consent would you allow that?
That's a very different thing to homosexuality. The Centre for Health, Human Rights and Development issued a press release saying, "We are gravely concerned that this bill, if passed, would do grievous harm to the health of all Ugandans." Are you concerned about the impact the bill will have on access to essential health care?
They're putting things upside down. The evidence is there. HIV/AIDS is now more prevalent in gay people than in heterosexuals. Why? Because of the facts. Anal organs were not created for what they are using them for. So, stopping them – stopping this practice – is straight away stopping the rate of HIV. We want this behaviour to stop as well as the health hazards and dangers that come with it.
Do you feel the same about homosexuality as you did when you started putting the bill together?
I think the process has changed me. I've been touched by the amount of information I've received from children and parents who come to me every day, from the way I've seen the exploitation of our population. Let me tell you this bold statement: I'm more convinced than I was so many years ago that this evil is real and needs to be fought. But we must say that we don't hate them, we hate the sin in them .
So it's a religious feeling you have?
It's a combination. It's deep-rooted in my faith, in my culture, in my work as a legislator and in my country as a Ugandan.
And what about the effect on aid that the passing of the bill might have?
Uganda is a sovereign state. We are doing this through a democratic process. Aid with the the condition of homosexuality is not welcome in Uganda. There are millions of Americans and Europeans who support Uganda. It would be a mistake for any political leader in the West to attach the condition of homosexuality to aid.
Going against international condemnation of the bill is a very strong statement to make.
If we suppose that homosexuality is a universal human right, then why do you think American people don't allow the practice of same sex marriage? If it is a universal human right, why don't they allow it? They have enough work to do in their countries. Let them sort that out.
But there are LGBT people in Uganda.
Don't remind me that you took me as a slave. Don't remind me that you took our resources to enrich your countries. Don't tell me you're more superior than I am. You have funded us for over 50 years – have you changed anything? These activists are agents of imperialism and we're not going to take it easily. They are agents of colonialism. How can you continue to act like slave masters? The suggestion that Africa can only exist with America's help is wrong. Africa was here before you.
After meeting Bahati I visited Reach Out, a Catholic organisation that aims to curb the spread of HIV infection among less privileged members of society. Clause 14 of the proposed bill – The Offence of Failure to Report Homosexuality – states that any person in authority who fails to report known violations of the law within 24 hours will be subject to a significant fine and up to three years in prison, even when this means turning in their friends, colleagues or family members.
If the bill is passed, the most at risk populations (sex workers, men sleeping with men, truck drivers and fisherfolk) will become even more stigmatised and their access to essential health services made even more difficult. Executive Director Dr Stella Alamo Talisuna told me, "As health workers, we have our own ethical codes, which are so, so old. They bind us to confidentiality. The bill will conflict with these existing codes. Bahati needs to understand the magnitude of the issues. He needs to talk to these groups. But I will continue to provide health care to the most vulnerable populations."
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