Uganda's president signs anti-gay bill into law that calls for death penalty in some cases

The anti-LGBTQ legislation is one of the harshest in the world.

May 29, 2023, 7:23 AM

LONDON -- Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed one of the world's harshest anti-LGBTQ bills into law on Monday.

The Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023, which was introduced in Uganda's Parliament in early March, calls for the death penalty for "aggravated homosexuality," which is defined as cases of same-sex relations involving people who are HIV positive as well as with minors and other categories of vulnerable people. Anyone else who engages in gay sex could face life imprisonment if convicted, while anyone caught trying to have same-sex relations could face up to 10 years in prison.

Ugandan Parliament Speaker Anita Annet Among was the first to announce on Twitter that the president had signed the bill into law, saying Museveni had "answered the cries of our people."

"I thank His Excellency, the president, for his steadfast action in the interest of Uganda," Among tweeted. "With a lot of humility, I thank my colleagues the Members of Parliament for withstanding all the pressure from bullies and doomsday conspiracy theorists in the interest of our country."

In this March 21, 2023, file photo, Ugandan MP John Musila wears clothes with an anti-LGBTQ message as he enters the Parliament to vote on a harsh new anti-gay bill.
Ronald Kabuubi/AP, FILE

An earlier draft of the legislation also criminalized "the offence of homosexuality," meaning anyone who identifies as LGBTQ or "any other sexual or gender identity that is contrary to the binary categories of male and female" may be subject to imprisonment of up to 10 years if convicted. Lawmakers passed that version of the bill in late March after several readings and hours of debate. The proposed legislation was then sent to the president, who subsequently returned the bill to Parliament in April, asking for changes that would differentiate between identifying as LGBTQ and actually engaging in homosexual acts amid outcries from human rights groups and Western governments. Lawmakers passed an amended version of the bill in early May that does not criminalize those who identify as LGBTQ.

Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda, as in over 30 of Africa's 54 countries. It was first criminalized in the East African nation under colonial laws, but there had never been a conviction for consensual same-sex sexual activity since independence from Britain in 1962.

Human rights advocates had said they plan to challenge the legislation in court if it's signed into law.

In this April 4, 2023, file photo, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema speaks during their picket against Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill at the Ugandan High Commission in Pretoria, South Africa.
Themba Hadebe/AP, FILE

Prior to the bill's signing, members of Uganda's LGBTQ community reported being on the end of increasing discrimination and violence. Many said they are worried about their personal liberties and safety.

"There are no words to describe the feeling of being persecuted by everyone around you, just for being yourself, for being who you are," Atuhaire, a Kampala-based member of Uganda's LGBTQ community, told ABC News in March, using only their first name to protect their personal safety.

"The vitriol and we receive daily on social media has always been vicious, but nothing like the last few months," Grace, a Ugandan LGBTQ activist, also told ABC News in March.

ABC News' Emma Ogao contributed to this report.

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