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Uganda lawmakers passed some of the harshest anti-gay legislation in the world

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The White House says it has grave concerns and may consider economic penalties for Uganda over extreme actions against people in the LGBTQ+ community. Lawmakers in the East African country have passed a bill to criminalize identifying as LGBTQ+ with penalties that include life imprisonment or even the death penalty. NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Loud cheers and celebration for the packed chamber of Uganda's Parliament. An overwhelming majority passed among the toughest anti-gay laws in the world late on Tuesday night, and ruling party MPs like Musa Ecweru echoed the sentiments of many in the chamber.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MUSA ECWERU: In our country, we will have our morals. We'll protect our children.

AKINWOTU: Same-sex acts were already criminal in Uganda under British colonial-era laws, but rhetoric by political and religious leaders has seen queer identity increasingly framed as a threat to family, with many spurious reports of young people being indoctrinated by gay ideology. And on the streets of the capital, Kampala, many like Abdu Mukasa support stronger measures.

ABDU MUKASA: God created man and woman, and we cannot accept one sex to go on the same sex.

AKINWOTU: If signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni, same-sex relations would remain punishable with up to life imprisonment. So-called aggravated homosexuality, which includes sex with someone who has HIV, could incur the death penalty. The law would also punish anyone who even identifies as gay or queer and, potentially, people or rights groups seen to promote or support LGBTQ+ identity.

RICHARD LUSIMBO: The LGBTQI community has basically been told, you can't raise your head. You can't be seen. You can't be heard.

AKINWOTU: Richard Lusimbo is a Ugandan activist and says the legislation is a result of pressure, both from within and outside of the country.

LUSIMBO: From the very start, this whole bill coming into Uganda was because of the, for example, American evangelicals who would come to Uganda. And what's happening in Uganda is not just an isolation.

AKINWOTU: A similar bill was struck down by the courts in 2014 on procedural grounds. This time, Museveni is again expected to adopt the law, and again, a legal challenge is likely to determine its fate.

Emmanuel Akinwotu, NPR News, Lagos.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOULAR ORDER'S "REPOSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.