The latest action by the U.S. against Uganda strongly responds to the Anti-Gay Act established by President Yoweri Museveni in February, condemning anyone even suspected of gay activity. The law makes homosexual acts illegal and sets lengthy – sometimes lifetime – prison sentences for anyone alleged to even promote homosexual relations. The decision followed a presidential-ordered scientific investigation that “determined” that homosexuality is not genetic.
The recent U.S. action, led by the State Department, stands in support of gays and lesbians in Uganda and worldwide. In addition, a bill introduced by Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, presents a global strategy for coordinating efforts towards this goal.
The U.S. calls Uganda’s legal action four months ago among the most brutal and unacceptable against the LGBT community. In response, the U.S. government is placing sanctions against any Ugandan involved in human rights abuses against gays, banning them from entering the U.S. In addition, funds would be cut for a number of Ugandan programs.
In an act of solidarity for LGBT people in Africa, internationally acclaimed Kenyan author, Binyavanga Wainaina, came out publicly as a gay man this past January. Because he is admired and respected, he has given hope to gay and lesbian people across the African continent, and has broken stereotypes worldwide.
According to UK Nigerian co-leader of the group Justice for Gay Africans, Godwyns Onwuchekwa, Africans want sovereignty. Therefore, the significance of reduced aid is minimized if it means loss of autonomy and pride. That is, the financial benefit is not enough incentive for them to change governmental decisions. Moreover, the existence of strong fundamentalist Christian and Islamic beliefs in Uganda means that there is solid support for that country’s Anti-Gay Act.
Despite general acceptance within Uganda of that country’s anti-gay law, the U.S. is fiercely opposing it. The latest is that U.S. Senator Ed Markey has introduced an International Human Rights Defense Act that would condemn discrimination and violence against the LGBT community. The Defense Act, announced on June 13th, would direct the U.S. Department of State to prevent and respond to such actions. It would make effort towards equality a foreign policy priority and develop a global strategy to accomplish those goals. Moreover, it would establish a position in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor for coordination of that effort.
Being gay, lesbian or transgender – or, even being suspected of promoting homosexuality – is punishable in over 75 countries worldwide, with penalties ranging from jail time to the death sentence. Across the African continent, there is increasing hostility towards LGBT people despite threats by the West to cut aid as a consequence. In Africa much of the anti-gay sentiment has been stirred up by U.S. Christian evangelicals as well as by Islamist courts. The interpretation is, “Gays are not fit to live because the Bible says so.”
As a result of the lack of safety for gays, lesbians, and transgender people in so many countries, those who can, have fled, seeking asylum. They often must leave behind everything, including their families and financial assets. There has been LGBT community support, but still awareness needs to be raised, as many in “safe” countries do not realize the perils or the ramifications of leaving without refugee status.
Moreover, LGBT who flee are often not recognized by their new government as validly seeking asylum because they do not have documentation and their homosexuality is questioned. Their new country may not acknowledge the danger they would be in, should be forced to return home. Often, the result of deportation is torture, imprisonment, and death.
The LGBT Asylum Support Task Force in Massachusetts gives assistance to many of these men and women, but their resources are limited by funds and volunteers. More support is needed for these individuals, coming from nations where homosexuality is prohibited.
The U.S. government’s latest action demonstrates that it will not tolerate anti-gay laws in Uganda or elsewhere where homosexuals are condemned. The International Human Rights Defense Act seeks to defend human rights for the LGBT community internationally. As proclaimed by advocates of the U.S. Defense Act, it is in the best interest of the world to protect the democratic freedom and human rights of all minorities, including LGBT people.
Opinion by Fern Remedi-Brown
Previous articles published by the author on Uganda and its anti-gay policies:
Uganda Newspaper Identifies Gays
Uganda and South Africa History of Freedom Compared
Uganda Vice President Challenges President in Anti-Gay Law
Previous articles published by the author about LGBT asylum:
England and Wales Now Open to Gay Marriage
LGBT Asylum Support Task Force
Help for Gays in Detention Seeking International Asylum
Boston Pride Still Not Safe
BBC News US & Canada
Ed Markey, United States Senator for Massachusetts
Pride Source/Between the Lines
New America Media: Stories from the Diaspora