KAMPALA (Reuters) - Uganda’s parliament on Thursday took up a bill that would criminalise identifying as LGBTQ, with lawmakers saying the current ban on same-sex relations does not go far enough.
Anti-LGBTQ sentiment is deeply entrenched in the highly conservative and religious East African nation, with same-sex relations punishable by up to life in prison.
More than 30 African countries ban same-sex relations, but Uganda’s law, if passed, would appear to be the first to criminalise merely identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ), according to Human Rights Watch.
The proposed Ugandan law was introduced as a private lawmaker’s bill and aims to allow the country to fight “threats to the traditional, heterosexual family”, according to a copy seen by Reuters.
It punishes with up to 10 years in prison any person who “holds out as a lesbian, gay, transgender, a queer or any other sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female”.
It also criminalises the “promotion” of homosexuality and “abetting” and “conspiring” to engage in same-sex relations.
The law is similar in some ways to a law passed in 2013 that stiffened some penalties and criminalised lesbianism. It drew widespread international condemnation before it was struck down by a domestic court on procedural grounds.
“One of the most extreme features of this new bill is that it criminalizes people simply for being who they are as well as further infringing on the rights to privacy, and freedoms of expression and association that are already compromised in Uganda,” said Oryem Nyeko, Uganda researcher at Human Rights Watch.
After the new bill was read in parliament, Speaker Anita Among sent it to a committee for scrutiny and public hearings before it is brought back to the House for debate and a vote.
Among urged members of parliament to reject intimidation, referencing reported threats by some Western countries to impose travel bans against those involved in passing the law.
“This business of intimidating that ‘you will not go to America’, what is America?” she said.
An investigation by a parliamentary committee ordered in January into reports of alleged promotion of homosexuality in schools has already sparked a wave of discrimination and violence against members of the LGBTQ community, activists say.
Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by George Obulutsa, Hereward Holland and Shounak Dasgupta