The ‘Anti-Homosexuality Act’ 2023 was enacted in Uganda in May 2023 to prohibit any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex; to prohibit the promotion or recognition of sexual relations between persons of the same sex. Punishments range from fines or years in prison to the death penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality’ which includes sexual activity with minors, family members, people with disabilities or people over 75.
Since its introduction to the Parliament of Uganda, reports show an increase in gender-based violence, intimidation, and hate crime towards the LGBT+ community. Confusion about the Act among the public is legitimising vigilante and acts of mob violence against, and even killing of, ‘known’ or alleged homosexuals.
Wales has many enduring community links with Uganda with partnership working on projects supporting healthcare, education, livelihoods and fair trade, climate change and the environment. Hub Cymru Africa asked Tom Twongyeirwe Jr., a leading human rights defender in Uganda, to tell us how Wales could stand in solidarity with LGBT+ people in Uganda.
Julian Rosser, Senior Development Support Manager at Hub Cymru Africa
In recent years, the global conversation surrounding LGBTQ+ rights has gained momentum, bringing to light the unique challenges faced by these communities in various parts of the world. Uganda, like many other nations, grapples with creating an inclusive environment for its LGBTQ+ citizens. After the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 (the Act), the environment has become a lot more hostile as the Act even prescribes the death sentence for ‘aggravated homosexuality’. In fact, this is one of the world’s harshest laws against the LGBTQ+ community.
In this article, we explore the various avenues through which the people of Wales and their government can lend their support to the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda, recognizing the significance of cross-border collaboration in fostering understanding, empathy, and positive change.
A huge factor in discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community is the ignorance that consumes the people in Uganda including the would-be agents of change like religious leaders. For example, policy and culturally fuelled discrimination against LGBTQ+ people hide under the cover of “religious values”. Being a religiously diverse country, with 98% of the population identifying as religious, religion is consistently being used as a justification for hate and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in Uganda.
The Universal Coalition of Affirming Africans Uganda (UCAA-UG), the organisation I co-founded and for which I currently work as the National Coordinator, is primarily focused on confronting religious based discrimination through awareness creation, advocacy, and thought-provoking dialogues. For example, in 2022, we ran the “This is my story, I am still human!” campaign. Learn more about our work on our website: ucaaug.org.
In the face of the Act, Uganda’s LGBTQ+ movement and its allies are working hard to get the law overturned through a challenge in the constitutional court, members of UCAA-UG, including religious leaders, have filed a petition against the Act to counter-balance the voices of anti-gay religious leaders who are supporting the Act.
We still have a long way to go and, in this journey, both financial and in-kind resources are pivotal. One way people of Wales can support the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda especially now, is to support our petition against the Act and through emergency responses for the LGBTQ+ community members who are being affected by the passing of the Act. We are facing overwhelming emergency cases in the LGBTQ+ community; members who have been physically attacked, arrested, evicted from their rented accommodation and teenagers kicked out of their homes by their families. The support needed is in terms of temporary relocation, basic needs, legal representation, medical care, and psychosocial support as there is a new emergency of mental health crisis within the LGBTQ+ community. For any support, people can donate here or contact the National Coordinator at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Furthermore, to contribute to the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights in Uganda, people in Wales can support the Human Rights Promotion Forum (HRAPF), a leading organisation that supports legal matters of the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda. You can donate to HRAPF here.
Directly supporting local LGBTQ+ organisations in Uganda, can have a profound impact. These organisations, including my own, operate on limited resources and face unique challenges that limit the work of fostering inclusion of LGBTQ+ people. Programs and areas of support would include; scholarships, particularly for LGBTQ+ individuals, resource sharing and capacity building and exchange programs between Wales and Uganda. These together can create a sense of shared purpose and strength in facing the monster that is homophobia.
Notably, political leaders and policy makers have an upper hand in shaping the legal narrative of the land. The use of their powers can determine the fate of all citizens of Uganda including the LGBTQ+ community. In this case, this Act is causing unbearable damages in the lives of LGBTQ+ people. The governments of Wales and the UK can have diplomatic engagements with the government of Uganda on developing and implementing inclusive policies. Not to mention, people of Wales and the UK are entitled to hold the government of Uganda accountable as bodies like UKAID provide support to different sectors of the Ugandan government. This should support all Ugandans without discriminating against a particular group of people.
In the context of humanitarian efforts, it is also very important to note that the current environment is very unsafe for LGBTQ+ persons. Supporting LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers from Uganda is a critical endeavour that individuals in Wales can actively engage in. Welsh Government, individuals and organisations can support those who have sought refuge due to persecution based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and human rights advocacy. For any further discussions regarding this, you can reach me through email@example.com.
Finally, acknowledging and addressing the impact of colonial legacies is crucial in the context of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments in Uganda. For example, the Penal Code Act in the constitution of Uganda, which was made by the British colonialists, criminalizes same sex relations. This has been a basis of the laws that are now targeting the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda. It’s important to recognize how colonial-era laws and attitudes have played a role in shaping anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments. Many African countries, including Uganda, inherited, and retained colonial-era legislation criminalizing same-sex relationships. Hence, exploring the impact of colonialism on cultural narratives surrounding gender and sexuality is paramount. Colonizers often imposed rigid norms that did not align with pre-existing African cultures, contributing to the stigmatization of non-heteronormative identities. By understanding the historical roots of discriminatory attitudes and advocating for decolonization in discussions around LGBTQ+ rights, people of Wales and their government can contribute to dismantling systemic barriers and fostering a more inclusive society. For example, through holding the UK accountable and urging them to correct the colonial time screw-ups and support efforts to nullify discriminatory laws in Uganda.
The support from the people of Wales to the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda can be a beacon of hope and a catalyst for positive change. By addressing the multifaceted challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda, individuals in Wales have the power to make a meaningful impact.
Tom Twongyeirwe Jr.
Tom Twongyeirwe Junior is the co-founder and the National Coordinator of the Universal Coalition of Affirming Africans Uganda (UCAA-UG), the first national coalition of Ugandan religious leaders dedicated to using a faith-based approach to advance the inclusion of oppressed groups, including LGBTQ+ people. Since its founding in 2017, UCAA-UG has through its creative and innovative programs worked to combine Religion and LGBTQ+ persons, create mutual understanding and also break the taboos in the society. Under Tom’s leadership, the organisation has grown in size up to more than 65 members and 200 partners and allies from different sectors like the health sector.
Tom is an exceptional leader who in July 2023 featured in New York times among six young leaders who are causing a positive change on the continent of Africa. He is a 2023 Obama Leader, a Global Peace Ambassador and a Human Rights Campaign’s global innovator of the year 2019. Tom is also a Rotarian and an Assistant Youth Services Director at the Rotary Club of Kampala Sunshine. For a period of one year (2021/2022), He was also a Diversity and Inclusion placement at St James and Emmanuel Parish in Manchester, UK.
Tom is a distinguished Human Rights Defender who also possesses a level two certificate in counselling from the Workers Education Association (WEA) in UK and is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Laws (honours) at the Open University in UK. He envisages a Uganda that is transformed and all-inclusive where all people can live and love without fear of being discriminated against.