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Ugandan Parliament Acts to Legalize Hate Against the LGBTI Community

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On Tuesday, Feb. 7, hours before the Ninth Circuit ruled "Prop 8" unconstitutional in the state of California, raucous cheers rang out in the Ugandan Parliament as legislators reintroduced a controversial bill that would in effect legislate hate against the Ugandan lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community.

The proposed bill, known as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHB), would compel families, doctors, and counselors to report on all those suspected of being members of the LGBTI community, and would impose criminal sanctions, possibly even the death penalty, for those who fail to turn in their fellow citizens. Combined with other proposed legislation before the Parliament, like portions of the HIV/AIDS Prevention Control Bill, the AHB would also hinder Uganda's HIV-prevention efforts, contributing to the alarming rise in HIV infection rates.

This poses a serious threat to the rights and freedoms of all Ugandans and is a clear violation of international law. It denies LGBTI citizens their rights to health care, education, and work. It creates an atmosphere of hate, intolerance, and fear. It criminalizes the actions of civil society organizations and individual citizens who work to defend the legal rights of their fellow Ugandans. And it puts the imprimatur of the law behind discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This is a blatant suppression of the rights of all Ugandans and an attempt to curtail the freedoms of speech and assembly of a vibrant civil society in Uganda.

The bill's supporters claim to be acting in the name of protecting Ugandan children -- playing on the common prejudice that equates homosexuality with pedophilia. In fact, the bill places children squarely in harm's way. The bill calls on Ugandan families to betray trust and turn in their siblings and children. The bill would have doctors break confidentiality and deny care to Ugandans. In fact, this bill would disrupt Ugandan families, increase the HIV prevalence in the country, and set a frightening precedent for the silencing of rights advocacy of any group deemed undesirable by politicians.

Moreover, the bill's possible passage into law is not the only threat to Ugandans. The reintroduction of the bill imminently threatens the safety of the LGBTI community and the safety of anyone assumed to be LGBTI. Vigilante violence and hate speech amplified by sensationalist media and homophobic rhetoric by religious leaders is all too real today in Uganda. Across the country, LGBTI people already face physical attacks and rape, extortion by neighbors, and arbitrary arrest by police.

If we support the human and civil rights of our LGBTI citizens in the United States, we must also vigorously advocate against the passage of this bill and act to stop state-sanctioned homophobia from taking root in any country. If we support human rights, we cannot ignore legalized brutality against any group of our global community.