Thursday, September 28, 2023

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Uganda’s ultimate evil finds its way into queer lives ahead of PRIDE Month!

By: Isuru Parakrama

World (LNW): It was no secret that Uganda finds same-sex relations illegal, as in more than thirty other countries of the African region behind their so called “sanctity of the family”, but Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni brings his nation’s state-sponsored queerphobia into a whole new level by signing one of the world’s toughest anti-queer laws, including the death penalty for what it calls “aggravated homosexuality.”

Beyond being jaw-dropped, it drives Uganda’s public outcry for equality into a shriek of horror, as the new law was declared days ahead of the PRIDE month, whilst critics and human rights activists from all over the world condemn it to be one of the most “unscientific” and “inhuman” ones to date.

Museveni’s new law stipulates capital punishment for “serial offenders” against the law and transmission of a terminal medical condition like HIV through gay sex, whilst decreeing a twenty-year serving period for what it calls the “promotion of homosexuality.”

Needless to mention that the Ugandan President’s move risks sanctions from aid donors and would probably attract Western condemnation. US President Joe Biden already condemned the move calling it “a tragic violation” of human rights and asserted that Washington would evaluate the implications of the law “on all aspects” of US engagement with the African country, and the British Government has also condemned the law, calling it “appalling” and “deeply discriminatory”.

Museveni’s approach is wrong on all accounts!

Signing the law, the Ugandan President called homosexuality a “deviation from normal” and urged lawmakers to resist “imperialist” pressure, whilst Parliamentary speaker Anita Among welcomed the move by saying that they have always stood strong “to defend their culture, values and aspirations.” But the United Nations unravelled a bigger crisis repressed under the prejudice and ignorance of the Ugandan lawmakers that the African country’s progress in tackling HIV is in “grave jeopardy” in its validation of criminalising key populations associated with HIV, among whom are gay and bisexual men and transgender persons.

Uganda’s existing laws can imprison one up to 10 years maximum for “intentionally transmitting HIV,” but the law does not apply when the person who contracted the infection was aware of their sexual partner’s HIV status. Nonetheless, the new law makes no distinction between what is intentional and what is not and contains no exception based on awareness of HIV status.

Museveni’s most unscientific approach towards people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, gender expressions and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) by demonising terminal medical conditions such as HIV discourages an increasing number of people from seeking health services in their fear of being attacked or punished, especially in the backdrop where not only can HIV be virally supressed into an “undetectable” level equivalent to being sexually “untransmittable,” but also be prevented from being contracted via successful medication such as Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), health professionals warned. According to Global Fund, as of 2021, 89 per cent of people living with HIV in Uganda knew their status, more than 92 per cent of them were receiving antiretroviral treatment (ART), and 95 per cent of those on treatment were virally suppressed, in the country’s manoeuvring for the 90:90:90 target, but the new law may simply reverse-gear the delicate process of HIV prevention.

In 1990, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declassified homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, which is the least of concerns of a majority of Ugandan lawmakers in their strong stance backed by the homophobic Head of State that it is “unnatural”. But the resemblance of their attitude towards people of diverse sexual identities inherited by the British colonists with those of homophobic tendencies in other former British colonies such as Sri Lanka is so uncanny, that even the logic of “protecting the culture and battling against imperialist powers” reminisces some of the publicly disowned Sri Lankan politicians who are grappling to regain popularity.

Museveni’s approach is wrong on all accounts. Why? The Ugandan Head of State simply forgets the examples set by African states like South Africa, Botswana and the Seychelles, which shed their own shackles of colonial era laws by decriminalising consensual same-sex sexual relationships through the valuation of the concept of ‘Ubuntu’ – or African humanism. The prejudice set by the Ugandan lawmakers in the name of culture wilfully avoids the true African values that recognise humanity, and the aforementioned African states embracing their cultural roots seem to negate Museveni’s argument. Homosexuality is not what is deemed “imperialist”; homophobia is.

As of March 2023, 62 member states of the United Nations still criminalise consensual same-sex relationships in law, with two states criminalising such conduct in practice, a report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association (ILGA) said. The Penal Codes of many African states (similar to those in many Asian countries) were influenced by the once infamous Indian Penal Code formulated by Lord Macaulay in 1860 reflecting Great Britain’s 16th century Buggery Act. The “buggery”, or “sodomy” laws introduced by the British during the colonial era aimed the so called “need to protect British soldiers from being led astray by the toxic and overly erotic oriental culture” of Asia and the Middle East.

How Africa and Asia repay the British

The colonists themselves had decriminalised same-sex acts between men in 1965 in their own territories following the recommendations of the Wolfenden Committee, which formulated the “Wolfenden Report of 1957.” In April 2018, former British Prime Minister Theresa May publicly apologised over Britain’s role in introducing such harmful laws to its former colonies and for their legacy of discrimination, violence and even death. May also called upon the Commonwealth States who still value such punitive laws to immediately decriminalise same-sex relationships.

Notwithstanding what the colonists had left as remains of their cruelty, the former colonies seem to passionately embrace them as their own, and with the scenario in which a Japanese court ruling not legally recognising same-sex unions unconstitutional and an African Head of State decreeing capital punishment for queer individuals happen on the same date, the upcoming PRIDE month may not be as glamorous as it once was for the LGBTIQ community, and activists around the world may need to act at the double to adulterate this disparity between two corners of the world.

Photo: AP

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