Uganda’s anti-gay bill would see me killed if I return

No matter what happens with this abhorrent bill, we will not be silenced until equal rights are universally enshrined in law and upheld by everyone, writes Arthur Kayima

Sunday 21 May 2023 15:10 BST
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<p>President Museveni’s passing of this bill will have deadly consequences</p>

President Museveni’s passing of this bill will have deadly consequences

When I arrived in England, I knew it was safe for me to finally come out.

Struggling with your sexuality is a big deal, especially when you’re in a homophobic country like my own. But finally, I was here, having left everything behind: the extreme religion that abhors homosexuality, the culture that believes that homosexuality is a curse, friends that would only be around you as long as you pretended to be a straight man, and my family that consider homosexuality to be a disgrace.

Family, friends, culture, and religion are very important – until they are against who you are. If they are against you, you need to choose yourself over them, and that’s exactly what I did – for my own survival.

Uganda is a very gifted land in a lot of ways. It is a country of unique natural beauty and soulful music; I was a proud Ugandan until the day the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHB23) returned to parliament. I became one of the faces associated with LGBT+ community, as calls of “Gays Must Die” echoed from all corners of the country and Ugandan society.

There was nothing I could do about it, nothing could soothe the pain, but my skin thickened by necessity. Strangely, all my fears turned into fierceness, and now that I have escaped to safety, I have an obligation to speak out on behalf of my community back home. Moreover, I owe it to all those worldwide facing discrimination and violence because of their sexuality.

President Museveni’s passing of this bill will have deadly consequences: 20 years in prison for “promoting” homosexuality, the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality,” and seven years in prison for anyone using their premises for homosexual acts, are just some of the provisions in a bill that has already emboldened homophobes to commit hate crimes.

As well as an assault on our human rights, the bill is a serious public health threat that would decimate the HIV response. My community back home would be pushed to the shadows of society and fear – afraid of accessing services for fear of being reported.

The solidarity myself and my community have felt is immense; on 25 April a global day of action against the bill took place, with actions in New York City, Washington DCNew DelhiLondon and elsewhere. Despite this solidarity being called for by my community in Uganda, Museveni tries to spin this solidarity as imperialism; anything to excuse or justify his attack on our human rights.

Whilst activists have our back, I am saddened that businesses have not been as vocal against the bill as they were to similar legislation in 2014. UK-Uganda trade stands at £478m over the last year and from their workforce to their supply chain, big business has obligations to ensure gay lives are protected and should be putting their economic investment on the table as leverage. British and global consumers have a right to know, particularly as we enter Pride month, if their choice of petrol, bank or other product or service is masquerading as an ally or standing with us.

Moreover, it is vital that countries worldwide stand for human rights and use all diplomatic and economic pressure to demand Museveni shelve this bill for good. They have a responsibility, not just under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but due to their part in this: the British Empire introduced criminalising laws to Uganda and US evangelicals are funding anti-gay groups and legislation across the continent of Africa.

My community would love to contribute to the real issues Uganda faces: ongoing poverty, lack of job opportunities, poor infrastructure, poor health, domestic violence and corruption. Rather than tackling these issues together, Museveni’s government wants to attack us as a distraction from his own failings.

No matter what happens with this abhorrent bill, we will not be silenced until equal rights are universally enshrined in law and upheld by everyone.

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