Impact of Anti-Homosexuality Act filtering through to HE
“We transgender women are the face of the LGBTQI+ [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex and more] community because, while others can move freely without being identified, we are easily labelled due to the way we dress and talk as well as our mannerisms – and we are easy targets,” said Nakato, an advocate for the LGBTI community and a team leader with an advocacy organisation in Uganda.
Nakato is concerned about the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2023 that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed into law on 29 May. While Uganda has passed anti-LGBTIQ+ legislation in the past few decades, the last act is among the harshest of the anti-LGBTIQ+ laws in the world.
While Museveni has been attacked by some on social media platforms, he also has support in some academic circles.
Pan-Africanist Kenyan law scholar Professor Patrick Lumumba said in an interview with the SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation) recently that he opposed LGBTIQ with “every ounce in my life”.
“I, personally, have supported Museveni on this law. This is an issue on which we all have different views. The regime of rights, which we are asked to follow, is one which was imposed in 1948 [when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in Paris]. No country in Africa was present.
“We must ask ourselves don’t we have rights that are unique to the African? When the white man came here and imposed laws on us at the time there was something called ‘sex against the order of nature’. Has nature changed now?”
Safety and stigma
In the meantime the enacted law, according to Nakato, will affect her community’s safety, exacerbate stigma and make it more difficult for transgender individuals like her to earn a living in any area of work, but also hinder them from attaining higher education, as she did.
Among its provisions, it mandates that people report knowledge of real or perceived LGBTIQ+ people to the police. It also criminalises the “promotion of homosexuality”, meaning any individual or organisation providing healthcare and other services to LGBTIQ+ individuals could have their permits revoked, can be evicted from offices, and could possible even be arrested and prosecuted for the crime of promoting homosexuality.
Yet, Nakato explains that, as a sex worker, her income enabled her to pay for her education at university, which her mother, the only family member who loves and accepts her, could not afford.
After working as a sex worker for several years and completing a bachelor degree at university, Nakato worries about people like herself who are now based at higher institutions of learning. She has friends who have been affected by the law in many ways.
Evidence is emerging that the effect of the act is being felt.
A report from the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, or HRAPF, discussing cases of violence or the violations of human rights based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression for the period 21 March 2023, when the bill was first passed by parliament, to 30 May 2023, when it came into force, indicates a clear increase in the number of cases of violence or violations compared to the same period in 2022.
The report, published on 19 June, says HRAPF received and handled 141 cases involving LGBTIQ+ or suspected LGBTIQ+ persons. Of these, 91 cases (64.5%) involved violence and-or violations targeting the victims purely or partly on the basis of their presumed sexuality and gender identity and affected a total of 159 persons.
A total of 48 cases included acts of violence and threats of violence against LGBTIQ+ persons, 28 were cases of evictions, and 15 were cases of arrests.
Reports have surfaced of academic institutions that work within the country that are reconsidering their expenditure.
Louise Ivers, the executive director of the Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Global Health in the United States, wrote in an e-mail to Vox that the organisation planned to redirect the millions it spends on its Uganda programme away from governmental to nongovernmental institutions.
That means shifting funds from a public university in south-west Uganda – which trains nurses and supports community health work programmes – to non-governmental organisations working on humanitarian efforts and education aimed at reducing LGBTQ discrimination in Uganda.
“In many ways just ‘pulling out’ is easy but, instead, we are trying to take a careful approach that will both serve the poorest patients (a priority to us as clinicians), while also following through on our values,” Ivers wrote.
This has triggered the fear that more funds coming from external sources and going towards higher education may be redirected.
A ‘pyramid of hate’
Dr Catherine Kyobutungi, the executive director of the African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) in Kenya, during a Twitter conference on the act, said all forms of violence are an expression of what a society accepts.
She explained that society accepts small things in small proportions progressively. “Those small things that are accepted in terms of hate and violence and discrimination, in the end, [become] the apex of this pyramid. You end up with murder, and violence and rape and genocide. So, all of us have a responsibility, and many people have said that this law is not just about gay people,” she explained.
“So when you think about homosexuality, people are going to get killed in this country. Somebody will say: I don’t hate gay people. I hate the sin. But you create an environment that is so toxic, where people think that gay people are nothing, that you can abuse them, that you can dehumanise them, that you can threaten them without consequence,” said Kyobutungi.
Nakato is worried about cases of evictions from accommodation – especially of students in higher institutions. These can happen without notice.
The HRAPF report cites 28 incidents of evictions recorded, affecting 66 persons. The evictions are mostly orchestrated by property owners as well as local council leaders, in some cases.
“The landlords were directly responsible for the majority of the evictions – 20, involving 23 individuals and one organisation,” says the report.
“In the majority of these cases, the landlords cited the Anti-Homosexuality Act as the reason while, in many cases, the landlords did not feel the need to provide reasons, or simply insisted that they did not wish to be associated with homosexuals or with homosexual money,” says the HRAPF report.
“I hear these narratives of ‘we hate the sin’ but not the sinner. There's a pyramid of hate. There’s a pyramid of violence. Genocide happens because the majority of society dehumanises and normalises violence against certain individuals,” Kyobutungi reiterated.
There are reports of other African countries such as Ghana, Burundi and Tanzania persecuting LGBTQI+ persons and activists.
“I think that, in whatever way we can, we should be supporting communities that are fighting for their lives ... This could be in academia. I think we need to have more studies to really showcase the risks and the dangers of such laws as the Anti-Homosexuality Act, but [we must] also really provide methods in which communities can continuously access services and I think these tools are available,” said Richard Lusimbo, the founder and director general of the Uganda Key Populations Consortium, or UKPC, during a webinar organised by the Harvard Global Health Institute.
Kyobutungi is concerned: “People are trying to colonise Mars, there are versions of ChatGPT every day. There’s data out there that people are doing amazing things. And we’re here, stuck on to colonial impositions on our culture, and we’re willing to have our fellow Africans murdered because of that. It’s ridiculous.”