A popular LGBT rights group called Sexual Minorities Uganda (Smug) was banned on August 6 by Ugandan authorities. The officials shut down the rights group citing legal issues with the group’s registration.
Smug is a group of activists that has been championing the rights of sexual minorities in Uganda since 2004. Its network focuses on research and youth issues. Since its inception, it is providing health services to the sexual minorities of Uganda. It also encourages the community to come out of the closet and live openly. Many of the group’s members face hatred and violence for their activism. According to the group, a woman member was once stoned nearly to death for her campaigning.
A civil servant of the country’s NGO regulatory authority said that the group was operating “without a valid NGO permit”. But the members of Smug believe that the prevalent homophobia is behind such a move. They have termed it a clear “witch hunt”. Their arguments seem strong as it is on record that the same reason was given to the pro-democracy groups when their registrations were being canceled by the same authority.
Smug criticizes the anti-gay rhetoric used to gather electoral support during elections. Its director, Frank Mugisha, said, “The politicians are using the LGBT community as a scapegoat to gain support and win votes and it is fuelling homophobia.”
Halting its operations brings dismay to the members of the LGBT community and progressives around the country.
Homophobia in Uganda
Homosexuality is a taboo in various African countries. Uganda is home to a highly conservative and religious society where same-sex relations are considered evil. As a result, the gay community faces persecution. In 2013, a bill titled “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” was introduced in the parliament. The bill handed out a death sentence to anyone found engaged in a same-sex relationship. However, the supreme court intervened and it was taken down. Last year, the Ugandan parliament once again passed a similar bill called “Sexual Offenses Bill” to ban homosexuality. Under the proposed bill, one could get life imprisonment. Many consider the new law a coated version of the 2013 bill.
The Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni refused to give presidential assent to the proposal. However, he is no exception. He is also against the community. In 2016, he openly called gay people “disgusting” in a CNN interview. He considers homosexuality, not a personal trait but a symbol of “social imperialism” of the West.
Before 2010, there were newspapers in Uganda openly inciting violence against gay men. Some of the headlines read “Hang them”.
The transgendered community is also persecuted. There is no such law against transgenders, but they are also criminalized frequently under the ‘false representation’ claim.
With the ongoing persecution and selective penalization, the future of the Ugandan LGBT community seems uncertain. The authorities are receiving international condemnation for their anti-gay stance. Nonetheless, various sections of society, including the legislature and church, are still determined to penalize those committing what they call “unnatural offenses”. They are not alone as they have mass public support as motivation.
Muhammad Abdul Basit