On May 2, The Call, a U.S. evangelical ministry led by Lou Engle, together with its Ugandan affiliate, will host a religious gathering at a stadium in Uganda's capital Kampala. Among other things, the event aims to rally participants around anti-gay sentiments by urging them to "fight vices eating away at our society", and specifically mentions homosexuality as a societal evil. This comes as Uganda's Parliament continues to debate an anti-homosexuality bill that is one of the most severe discriminatory measures ever proposed. Though homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, there have been reports that this much harsher bill emerged in part as a result of the anti-gay campaigning conducted in recent years by some U.S.-based evangelical groups with an anti-gay message similar to that of The Call. The May 2 event has the potential to inflame intolerance and worsen the situation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) Ugandans, who have, in recent months, suffered from increased instances of public harassment and targeted violent attacks.
The anti-gay rhetoric expected at the event runs counter to the overwhelming worldwide condemnation -- by governments and private actors alike -- of the extreme anti-gay measures that have been the subject of wide discussion in Uganda. Earlier this month in the United States for example, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed S. Resolution 409, a measure condemning the anti-homosexuality bill proposed by the Ugandan Parliament. The Ugandan bill includes provisions to broaden the criminalization of homosexuality by introducing the death penalty for those who have previous convictions, are HIV-positive, or engage in same sex acts with people under the age of 18. If the Ugandan bill were to pass, it would drastically impair efforts by local and international NGOs, media as well as health professionals to protect the human rights of LGBTI individuals in Uganda.
The Senate resolution condemning the Ugandan bill points out that "such laws undermine our commitment to combating HIV/AIDS globally by stigmatizing and criminalizing vulnerable communities." In addition, it sends a strong signal from Washington, DC to the Uganda leaders and makes clear that the U.S. will not support Ugandan efforts to violate the human rights of LGBTI people.
Despite this important step by the Foreign Relations Committee and other proactive steps taken by the U.S. government and other domestic and local actors to defeat the bill, LGBTI Ugandans continue to face a hostile environment. Members of the LGBTI community and their supporters have been illegally detained, interrogated, and beaten, forcing them into hiding. As reported by Ugandan LGBT advocate Julius Kaggwa, "LGBT_ Ugandans endure verbal insults, physical and sexual harassment, arbitrary arrests and torture, and humiliating publicity. They are victims of correctional rape and other sexual abuse, blackmail, and arbitrary detention, and are denied health care, housing, education and other social services on account of their sexual orientation. Since the introduction of this bill in October 2009, there have been reports of death threats against LGBTI individuals and police have raided the offices of human rights activists." (Watch Julius speak about the situation on the ground by visiting http://www.youtube.com/user/HumanRightsFirstOrg#p/a/u/0/-F8nwHg77GE.)
The Ugandan authorities have a responsibility to respond to acts of violence and direct incitement to violence and the United States has a role to play in ensuring that happens. The Obama Administration and Congress should continue to speak out against the anti-homosexuality bill, to raise awareness of its dangers and to work to protect the human rights of all Ugandan citizens. It is important for U.S. officials to document the human rights violations, including acts of targeted violence, against LGBT persons and to press for the Ugandan authorities to hold the perpetrators accountable. The coming weeks are sure to be a volatile time in Uganda, and it will be more important than ever that the U.S. government closely monitor and urge action by the Ugandan authorities to violent acts of hatred and other human rights abuses there.
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