by Alexander Chang (’23) | October 7, 2022
On August 7, 2022, Ugandan officials shut down the Sexual Minorities Uganda Group (SMUG), claiming that the group had failed to register with the National Bureau for Non-Governmental Organizations. This decision comes at a concerning time, as government crackdowns have led to the ban of over a dozen other civil rights organizations in the African nation in the past year.
However, it’s specifically LGBTQ+ rights that have been brought under the limelight after Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni and other government officials began tightening control on queer communities.
In addition to the severe persecution that sexual minorities already face in the nation, government coalitions spearheaded by Museveni have succeeded in outlawing homosexuality entirely. They have introduced policies that would charge same-sex couples with capital offenses, a policy that was only recently eliminated roster following international condemnation.
These issues are not new to Uganda. Laws banning homosexuality had already shifted from the nation’s time as a British colony, but such severe persecution of sexual minorities only began after the arrival of Christian evangelical groups.
The man leading this homophobic charge is Scott Lively, an American author and leader of the anti-LGBTQ+ group Abiding Truth Ministries. Lively’s efforts to radicalize Americans fell largely on deaf ears, but his efforts abroad have taken root, especially in African nations. Indeed, in 2008, Lively reportedly addressed the entire Ugandan parliament for five hours on his stance on homosexuality.
His efforts did not end there. Multiple recordings and interviews with Lively have revealed shockingly derogatory and untrue assertions about queer communities, such as the notion that LGBTQ+ individuals were “Nazis” and “pedophiles.” It’s no surprise, then, that just a year following his arrival in Uganda, the Ugandan parliament introduced an anti-homosexuality bill in 2009, known colloquially as “Kill the Gays.”
But the rising tide against homosexuality in Uganda is not purely a result of the lone efforts of Scott Lively. American institutions have played a significant role as well. Anti-LGBTQ+ collectives that have been unable to start homophobic movements domestically have exported their material abroad to nations such as Uganda.
The Canyon Ridge Christian Church in Las Vegas, for instance, began lending financial support to Ugandan churches with strong stances against same-sex relationships. Likewise, the U.S. government has also donated close to $40,000 to similar organizations within Uganda.
These efforts have had tangible impacts on countless queer individuals and communities in the region. Hate crimes on LGBTQ+ Ugandans have been on a rise. Most notably, in 2019, two transgender women were brutally beaten outside of a bar. Photos of their injuries were taken, which were then posted on social media.
The international reaction has remained almost entirely static with the exception of a few harsh words from diplomats and world leaders. Until any action is taken, queer communities in Uganda will remain in trepidation about their very safety. A lax international response can only serve as a green light for other governments to follow suit, setting the fight for equality back decades.