Ahead of Uganda’s presidential election tomorrow, several candidates have campaigned against LGBTI people and equal rights.
“As an attorney and Uganda human rights activist, America’s elections thrill me. It is breathtaking to witness democracy in full roar, as candidates vie for the nation’s highest office,” Nicholas Opiyo, who is also the founder and leader of the human rights organization Chapter Four Uganda, wrote in an op-ed piece in The New York Times. “Our eight candidates for the presidency are fiercely vying, too. But their ferocity is different; it may put at risk the lives of many Ugandans — our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and transgender-intersex people.”
While a recent poll found that 92 percent of Ugandans think “homosexuality is inconsistent with Ugandan culture and religion,” the candidates have used this dislike and fear as part of their campaign platforms. For example, Joseph Mabirizi, one of the candidates, recently accused one of his rivals of supporting gays.
Meanwhile, the Uganda Registration Bureau, which registers all civil society organizations in the country, has taken advantage of a new rule that prohibits organizations that work against the “dignity of the people of Uganda.” It recently refused the application from Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG).
It’s not just the Ugandan government oppressing LGBTI Ugandans. Americans, Opiyo wrote, have a critical role to play in helping push back against the hatred. Unfortunately, American religious groups and individuals such as Scott Lively have often been at the forefront of efforts to promote anti-LGBTI legislation such as the notorious Anti-Homosexuality Act that was enacted in Uganda in 2014 and struck down by the courts later that year, which now threatens to return again. Lively is currently facing a lawsuit in the U.S. for his role in promoting that legislation.
While struggles remain, we have seen progress in the past decade.
“Despite the draconian political climate and new legal threats, however, there are also some ripples of hope, dignity and survival,” he explained. “The rights of LGBTI persons are now at least a subject of public discussion, no longer just whispers. The debate occupies mainstream political discourse and conversations throughout Uganda. However hostile the public, it at least is acknowledging that we have Ugandans with different sexual orientations in our midst.”
As Ugandans head to the polls this week, HRC stands with Opiyo, Chapter Four Uganda, SMUG and all LGBTI Ugandans who are defending human rights and dignity for all people.