Monday, December 24, 2012

A Christmas Gift… or Not: Reflections on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill and Its Implications

A Christmas Gift… or Not: Reflections on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill and Its Implications

By Alina Oswald

Holiday seasons offer a way for us to make and send wishes, and hope they come true. This holiday season is no different. But some wishes will not come true. Not this Christmas anyway. And that’s a good thing for many of us. Let me explains…

Not long ago, Uganda’s Speaker of parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, promised to pass the infamous anti-gay bill as a “Christmas gift” to its proponents. In its earlier version, the “kill the gays” bill called for punishment of members of the LGBT community with life imprisonment or death sentence. International uproar contributed to help the death penalty part of the bill to be dropped. Yet, this was not necessarily a good thing, because it made the bill potentially easier to be passed. (Some other sources maintain that the death penalty is still on the table.)

While Uganda and the world were waiting for some decision to be made this Christmas, fortunately, Ugandan Parliament went home for the holidays, thus postponing voting on the bill until the beginning of 2013.

Yet, homosexuality remains illegal in Uganda. Recently, BBC News Africa posted an article in which they quoted the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, saying that gay individuals should not be killed, but also that homosexuality should not be promoted.

While still hoping for a resolution, let’s go back in time and examine how this “anti-gay” bill came to be…

Years ago, almost a decade ago, Uganda made the headlines with its ABC AIDS prevention program: Abstinence, Be faithful, and wear a Condom. This Ugandan AIDS initiative was praised around the country and the world. The results were phenomenal and many more countries were encouraged to follow Ugandan’s example.

This year Uganda made the headlines yet again. It wasn’t necessarily to praise the country’s AIDS initiative—actually its once successful ABC AIDS prevention program has lately been reduced to AB. While using a Condom became of lesser importance and, thus, less emphasized, the number of new infections in Uganda were on the rise again. As a matter of fact, Uganda and Chad are the only African countries to experience this kind of AIDS statistics. But this year, Uganda made the news because of its views on homosexual rights.

It all started in 2005, when Juliet Victor Mukasa and her partner were attacked and harassed, strip searched and detained by the police. But rather than being quiet, they took the police to court. Three years later they had a court victory.

This behavior shocked the entire country. Ugandans were used to the LGBT community living silently on the sidelines. Mukasa’s court victory has inspired other members of the LGBT community to speak up and defend their rights. That up-rise sent a shock-wave throughout Uganda and the entire world.

The following year, in 2009, American evangelists came to Uganda. They cited the court order, saying that the LGBT community was trying to get their rights and liberties, like in the States. As a result, Ugandan authorities cracked down on the LGBT community in that country. To this day, the court victory is rarely mentioned, but many believe that the court order was pivotal in terms of what went on in the summer of this year, when it held the first Pride event.

Uganda has always been a source of inspiration many Ugandan artists, including Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine, an award-winning artist creating in the realms of photography and film, performing arts and television. He has appeared in Blood Diamond, Heroes and Law & Order. He also plays a chef in Treme.

Mwine is the creator, producer and performer of two outstanding one-man shows inspired by Uganda: one is Biro, inspired by the AIDS pandemic touching a member of Mwine’s family; the second one is A Missionary Position, inspired by the latest happenings related to the fight for equal rights in Uganda.

Mwine explains that A Missionary Position is a multimedia piece, like Biro. But, while in Biro a lot of multimedia was still photos, in A Missionary Position, the multimedia is mainly video. A Missionary Position captures the soul of the vibrant, courageous Ugandan LGBT community through four characters representing each subgroup of the community, inspired by real lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals: a (closeted bisexual) brigadier, a transgender sex worker from Kampala (Ugandan’s capital), a gay priest, and a lesbian activist, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, founder of Freedom and Roam Uganda and organizer of Uganda’s first Pride parade.


A Missionary Position BBC feature from Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine on Vimeo.
BBC World Service radio feature including video and stills from the REDCAT premiere in Los Angeles.

Written, performed, directed and shot by Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine
Direction and dramaturgy by Emily Hoffman
Video Design by Carole Kim
Lighting design by Tiffany Willams
Production still photos by Steven Gunther
Hair and make up by Wamuhu Waweru

President Yoweri Museveni also appears, indirectly, in A Missionary Position. “I’ve used newsreel of Museveni speaking about the anti-gay bill,” Mwine explains. “I don’t know if the president has mentioned anything about the play,” Mwine adds. “If this issue is such an [important] issue and still grabs the headlines, if [A Missionary Position] echoes some of the voices in the LGBT community, it would be great if [Museveni] could hear the stories from these people, his fellow countrymen who are proud standing up, are patriotic and fight for their own rights.”

Where does this leave us, Ugandans or not? Should we wait patiently until Uganda’s “anti-gay” bill is voted on? And if it does become the law, how would it affect other African countries and how would it affect the rest of the world, including the United States?

While trying to find the answers, let’s not forget that it wasn’t too long ago that homosexuality was illegal in the western world, too. How many still remember that feeling?

As always, thanks for stopping by. I wish you all Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year, and leave you with one note on Alan Turing. I came over his name while researching material for this post.

Some may remember Alan Turing was a mathematician who helped decode German encrypted signals during World War II. Some say that England's victory over Germany in WWII is, due, in part, to Turing's work. In 1952, when homosexuality was still illegal in the UK, Turing was prosecuted for having consensual sex with another man. He underwent a chemical castration procedure in exchange to avoid imprisonment. Two years later, in 1954, two weeks shy of his forty-second birthday, he killed himself. Only this year Alan Turing was posthumously pardoned.

Warm and joyful holidays!

Alina Oswald
Journeys Through Darkness: A Biography of AIDS
with images by award-winning photographer Kurt Weston


  1. Hi Alina,

    Two quick comments. 1) The death penalty is not actually removed, just rumored to have been recommended by The Legal and Parliamentary Committee. The Bill can't be changed until it is debated by the Ugandan Parliament. The death penalty has been falsely rumored to have been removed before. 2) Parliament will be back from their recess February 4, 2013.

    Also, Scott Lively - one of those American Evangelicals who lead the 'Gay Agenda' workshop in 2009 - will have opening arguments in the crimes against humanity lawsuit brought by Sexual Minorities Uganda with the Center for Constitutional Rights on Feb. 7th in Springfield MA Federal Court for anyone who might be able to attend in support. Lots of good information on the Bill and the court case here: http://

    Cathy Kristofferson

  2. I noticed that your article while trying to pain the "Kill the Gays Bill" picture, allows the reader to think American Evangelicals played a minor role. You say that they were there citing the Order and speaking about Gays having equality and rights. But they said a lot more that you fail to mention. They said a lot more and what they told were outright lies. They said that Gays were recruiting children were pedophiles, that gays had been responsible for the holocaust and more. Also the Kill part is not out of the Bill until the Bill received a formal new draft through a second parliamentary reading which as yet to happen. Thank you, Melanie Nathan,

  3. Hi Cathy,

    Thanks for your comment! I actually ended up on the page you mention above a few months ago when researching an article for a magazine. Great site and info indeed! Appreciate you bringing to my (and our) attention important dates coming up in the New Year. Information I got through legit sites (as you noticed, I link to sites from where I get stats, numbers, etc) had slightly different dates. From my interviews with other Ugandans, I can understand why rumors do travel faster (they always do, don't they...) and they get picked up by well-known sites posting on these sorts of events.

    Again, thanks for bringing it to my attention. I made a few changes to my post (thanks to you), and I'll be following how it all unfolds and post more later.

    Thanks and Happy Holidays! Hope you'll visit soon,

    Alina Oswald

  4. Hi Melanie,

    WOW! I thought and hoped that this post will bring in comments and start discussions and, hopefully, a dialog. Thanks for your comment. Now, to make a few things clear... In my post, or at least in part of it, I simply retold what other Ugandans told me. Maybe they used a milder choice of words (then yours) to describe the situation. That doesn't mean that you are wrong, but they are not wrong, either. In addition, my post was not intended to be about the Evangelicals, but to bring attention to the so-called "anti-gay" bill that still needs to be voted on. I hope you agree with me that the (also so-called) "Christmas gift" didn't happen. Let's hope that this "gift" will never happen, on Christmas day or any other day.

    Thanks again!

    Alina Oswald