Hate march: Ugandan Pastor Martin Ssempa, centre, leads supporters of the new anti-gay penalties. *Newscom photo
Hate march: Ugandan Pastor Martin Ssempa, centre, leads supporters of the new anti-gay penalties. *Newscom photo

NFL prospect Michael Sam broke new ground in American Football by announcing publicly that he was gay.

The decision sparked a new wave of debate on the subject of homosexuality in the US and specifically homosexuality in the macho world of American sport.

Sam, a defensive lineman from the University of Missouri, could become the first openly gay player in the NFL later this year. But while the US tackles a new chapter in the debate, some African countries cling to a zero-tolerance approach to homosexuality.

Just last week Uganda passed new laws toughening penalties for gay people.
Simon Jones reports.

What do the new laws state?

Homosexual acts are already illegal in Uganda. The new bill toughens penalties for gay people but without a clause criminalizing those who do not report them. It includes life sentences for gay sex and same-sex marriage, but a proposed sentence of up to 14 years for first-time offenders has been removed. The new law allows life imprisonment as the penalty for acts of “aggravated homosexuality” and also criminalizes the “promotion” of homosexuality”, where activists encourage others to come out. Earlier drafts of the bill made it a crime not to report gay people — in effect making it impossible to live as openly gay, but this clause has been removed. The bill originally proposed the death penalty for some homosexual acts, but that was later removed amid international criticism.

Who has brought them in?

Uganda’s leader, Yoweri Museveni, signed the new anti-gay bill last week. Government officials clapped after Mr Museveni signed the bill at a news conference. The sponsor of the bill, MP David Bahati, has insisted homosexuality was a “behaviour that can be learned and can be unlearned”.

What has Mr Museveni said about the move?

The President has said he is standing up to Western social imperialism.

Mr Museveni had said: “I encourage the US government to help us by working with our scientists to study whether, indeed, there are people who are born homosexual. When that is proved, we can review this legislation. Outsiders cannot dictate to us. This is our country. I advise friends from the west not to make this an issue, because if they do, the more they will lose.”

What has been the response from within Uganda?

Pepe Julian Onziema, a prominent Uganda gay activist, said he was disappointed that President Museveni signed the bill without speaking with Ugandan homosexuals. “The president is making this decision because he has never met an openly gay person. That disappoints me,” he said, explaining that some members of Uganda’s gay community had repeatedly tried and failed to meet with the President.

What about other African countries?

In January, Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan signed into law a bill criminalizing same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership of LGBT rights groups.

Last week Gambian president Yahya Jammeh declared: “We will fight these vermins called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively.”

What has been the response from abroad?

The move has prompted widespread anger from across the Western world.

President Obama described it as “more than an affront, and a danger to, Uganda’s gay community. It will be a step backwards for all Ugandans.” He warned it could “complicate” Washington’s relations with Uganda, which receives a reported $400m (£240m) in annual aid from the US. The South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu said at the weekend that the law recalled attempts by Nazi and apartheid regimes to “legislate against love”.

Amnesty International called the bill a “horrific expansion of state-sanctioned homophobia”.

A coalition of UK gay rights groups and charities has called on the Foreign Office to withdraw its high commissioner to Kampala in protest. n

Sources: BBC, Guardian, Telegraph