When people think of development, they often think about material development.
Improving infrastructure, building hospitals and schools, and enhancing the manufacturing sector are all various methods of material development within a state. A less talked about, but equally as important, aspect of development is social development which includes advocating for human rights for those in historically marginalized and excluded groups. Goal 5 of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals is gender equality, a very important goal for states to ensure
they are developing sustainably. While not explicitly outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals, promoting and protecting the rights allocated to members of the LGBTQIA+ community –– queer people –– are extremely important in development. This is why when Uganda’s Parliament passed the “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” on March 21, 2023, human rights advocates from around the globe responded with outrage (Nyeko, 2023). If Ugandan President Yoweri
Museveni signs this bill into law, it will be a massive blow to not only the queer community, but any and all marginalized groups.
According to Kenneth Roth, former Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, “the status of the [queer] community is a good litmus test for the status of human rights. [...] Where the rights of [queer] people are undermined, you can be sure that the rights of other minorities and critical members of civil society will soon also be in jeopardy,” (Roth, 2015). In this same article, Roth (2015) provided a number of statistics regarding queer people and their rights globally. At the time of writing the article, 2.8 billion people worldwide lived in countries where being gay was criminalized compared to only 780 million people worldwide who lived in
countries where same-sex marriages were a legal right (Roth, 2015). The rest of the population on the globe lives in states where queer rights are in a sort of gray-area. For example, being queer may not be illegal in a state, but the right to same-sex marriage might not be enshrined in the state’s constitution. In 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed an “LGBT resolution” which should have promoted queer rights, but a strong opposition has formed globally. One of the strongest state proponents for anti-queer legislation is Uganda.
In 2013, a piece of legislation which received the moniker of the “Kill the Gays Bill”
passed through the Ugandan Parliament and had the support of President Yoweri Museveni. This bill established the death penalty as punishment for homosexuality. It was eventually struck down by the Ugandan High Court but because of a technicality, not because the bill was an egregious attack on human rights (Persecution & Criminalization of LGBTQIA+ Community in Uganda, 2023). This allowed the anti-gay movement in Uganda to continue to build momentum. In 2014, President Museveni commissioned a group of scientists to conduct research to if homosexuality is “learned” behavior or an “abnormality” one has at birth (Persecution & Criminalization of LGBTQIA+ Community in Uganda, 2023). A study this biased has obvious political implications and serves only to ignite tensions amongst community members. In 2019, a bill passed to criminalize gay marriage and sex work. In 2022, the Ugandan Nongovernmental Organization (NGO) Bureau issued a report that chastised various Ugandan NGOs for supporting queer rights. Eventually, the Bureau forced the NGO Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) to shut down because of their “promotion of the normalization of homosexuality” (Persecution & Criminalization of LGBTQIA+ Community in Uganda, 2023). This movement culminated in the “Anti-Homosexuality Act” which passed through Uganda’s Parliament on March 21, 2023 (Nyeko, 2023). President Museveni has 30 days to either approve or reject the bill.
The intent of the Anti-Homosexuality Act is to stop queer activism and to remove the opportunity for queer people to engage socially or politically in Uganda (Nyeko, 2023). There are five main provisions of the bill, all which serve to punish queer people for simply existing. First, the bill criminalizes consensual sex and any form of intimacy between people of the same gender. Second, the bill establishes the punishment of imprisonment for two to five years for those guilty of the “promotion of homosexuality.” Third, the act establishes the punishment of
imprisonment for two years for those guilty of “aiding and abetting homosexuality.” Fourth, the act designates HIV-positive status as an “aggravating factor.” Fifth, the bill criminalizes any and all gender identities and expressions outside of the male-female binary (Persecution & Criminalization of LGBTQIA+ Community in Uganda, 2023). As of April 12, 2023, President Museveni still has not taken any action toward either approving or vetoing the bill which leaves queer activists to look to programs and movements which are trying to help queer rights.
One year prior to the historic LGBT provision in the United Nations Human Rights
Council, the UN Free & Equal (UNFE) campaign was established in 2013 by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Free & Equal: a global campaign to promote equal rights for LGBTI people). This is a global public information campaign with the purpose of promoting equal rights and fair treatment of queer people. In 2019, videos produced by the UNFE campaign were viewed more than 14 million times worldwide. However, this is the extent of the success of the UNFE campaign. To date, only 17 states have signed onto the UNFE
campaign and there has been a severe lack of effort put into reigniting the program since the COVID-19 Pandemic. The website is not updated and some sections are completely dysfunctional. When attempting to access the UNFE page for Uganda, one is faced with a completely blank screen which has not been updated since April 2019 (Country data: Uganda, 2019). It is almost insulting for the UN to show such blatant disregard and lack of care to a program that had so much promise ten years ago.
In Uganda, queer people are the current scapegoat for the problems within the state. President Museveni has been quoted to call queer people “unnatural” and their presence as “a cancer on the nation,” which makes his stance on the position glaringly obvious (Persecution & Criminalization of LGBTQIA+ Community in Uganda, 2023). Roth (2015) said one of the most effective ways to normalize homosexuality is when the younger generation. Being ignorant and bigoted is easy when targeting a stranger but people can change their minds when it comes to
their children being queer (Roth, 2015). While this assessment is true, it is too slow of a solution to ending homophobia and transphobia. It is also extremely ineffective when the act of “coming out” is criminalized with a penalty of life in prison. Making sexual orientation and gender expression illegal will lead to higher suicide rates –– which are already disproportionately high in the queer community –– and numbers of people fleeing the country to seek asylum. Moreover, the erosion of rights will not stop with queer people. Once the queer population is decimated, the next scapegoat will be another marginalized community –– disabled people, women, religious minorities. This cycle is bound to repeat over and over until there is no more “other.”
Country data: Uganda. UN Free & Equal. (2019, June 4). Retrieved April 12, 2023, from https://www.unfe.org/unfe_country_data/uganda/
Nyeko, O. (2023, March 22). Ugandan Parliament passes extreme Anti-LGBT Bill. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2023/03/22/ugandan-parliament-passes-extreme-anti-lgbt-bill
Persecution & Criminalization of LGBTQIA+ Community in Uganda. Center for Constitutional Rights. (2023, March 31). Retrieved April 12, 2023, from https://ccrjustice.org/persecution-criminalization-lgbtqia-community-uganda
Roth, K. (2015, January 23). LGBT: Moving towards equality. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved April 12, 2023, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/01/23/lgbt-moving-towards-equality?gclid=Cj0KCQjwuLShBhC_ARIsAFod4fJP4i_vI9gzXeYuyIuYs6JKuMNRUI9
Un Free & Equal: A global campaign to promote equal rights for LGBTI people. OHCHR. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2023, from https://www.ohchr.org/en/sexual-orientation-and-gender-identity/un-free-equal-global-campaign-promote-equal-rights-lgbti-people