The real purpose of Uganda’s Kill the Gays bill

Timothy Kincaid

February 13th, 2012

As we have noted here many times, homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda. And though the most odious of its several vile clauses would allow for the execution of gay people who have sex twice in their lives, it is unlikely that the primary purpose of this bill was to enact wholesale genocide on gay people. As we have noted, this bill would make it very easy to exact punishment or revenge on political opponents or others whose only connection to homosexuality is an accusation; but that too probably did not motivate the bill.

Rather, I think, this bill shares its purpose with other bills proposed both in Africa and around the world – including the referendums to be on the ballot in North Carolina and Minnesota to ban marriage equality; it is an effort to hold back, or at least delay, a change in social beliefs and values.

Neither Uganda’s Rep. Bahati nor North Carolina’s Sen. Brunstetter want kill gay people, necessarily, or even incarcerate them for the rest of their lives. In fact, neither of these men probably care much at all about ‘the act of homosexuality’; what someone does in their bedroom in secret doesn’t really much interest anyone else. But Bahati and Brunstetter do very much care about what that person – and society around them – believes about homosexuality. Refusing to see homosexuality as vile is the real offense and it is towards that offense that these restrictions are driven. (AFP)

Bahati said the bill was now focused on stopping the promotion of gay rights, and retains a proposal to criminalise public discussion of homosexuality with a heavy prison sentence.

It is not sex that is the crime, it’s disagreeing. The feared act is not using one’s penis in a way that they find objectionable, rather it’s daring to do so without feeling shame or suffering rejection.

Both Bahati and Brunstetter see a future that is coming in which their values are rejected and gay people are treated with the same respect as heterosexual people. And both hope that by acting quickly – before public sentiment turns against them – that they can establish or further entrench official rejection of gay people. While the provisions are dissimilar – imprisonment is not in the same universe as denying marriage rights – the motivation and the purpose are the same. What Rep. Bahati and Sen. Brunstetter want is a world, a society, a culture in which all people agree with them that homosexuality is inherently bad.

Sadly for them, neither of these legislative efforts will hold back the social change that is coming.


February 13th, 2012

It sounds like the motivation is fear of being wrong. But I think it can go more indepth then that, to a bigger motivation: guilt.

Think of it as thus: They’ve created a vile environment that goes against homosexuality, whether it’s out of emotions (“two guys doing it is icky, but two girls going at is is great!”) or under religious reasoning from God’s followers*, some people have been practically been raised under the notion that anyone whom may have an attraction to the same gender, regardless if it’s true, goes so far as to deserve death.

Now, with that in mind, needless to say, blood has been spilled; from executions in Iran, to mass suicides in the US.
Now think about this for a minute: You’ve created a toxic environment, which has gotten many people killed. Now imagine this novel thought: what if you’re wrong about homosexuality? This may seem like an abstract thought…but then as you think about it, you come to a horrible conclusion: if being gay isn’t really any different then being straight, then that means that making such a toxic environment is all for nothing, and several innocent people have been killed; their blood in on your hands.

Of course, it’s just a theory, but I think it’s good food for thought. To admit they were wrong about the way they treated homosexuals, would be dangerously close to admitting they were responsible for their homophobic environment, and any deaths this environment caused.

* Note that, to my knowledge, God, at least in the Bible, never said WHY he found homosexuals and sodomy an “abomination,” his followers do the reasoning for him. Perhaps God’s homophobia is out of personal disgust like his followers?

Lynn David

February 13th, 2012

Yeah, Bahati as much as says it in clause 18 (2). And that is specifically what clause 13 – promotion of homosexuality – is about. But I don’t see how trampling on freedom of speech is ultimately going to help him out. Any opposition to the bill now before its passage, necessarily then becomes illegal after its passage. This is always the way of tyrants.

Timothy Kincaid

February 13th, 2012


good food for thought. I think that the consequences of what they’ve done has been, for many, a deterrent to rethinking the issue or reconsidering their position. For someone who identifies with being godly or holy, recognizing that you have contributed to horror can be a threat to their very sense of self.

I do have one request: as you continue contributing, please select a screen name of some sort. And welcome to the conversation.


February 13th, 2012

These musings about underlying motivations are all very interesting, but wouldn’t it be a better use of the BTB platform to discuss what our response should be? It is pretty clear that the Ugandan gays are in no position to defend themselves; they need help. Why aren’t our orgs issuing a clear demand to Obama that he live up to the human rights policy recently announced by Sec. of State Clinton?

If the bill passes, US aid should end. Period. In fact, there should be a series of escalating military, economic, and diplomatic sanctions instituted at intervals following passage of the bill. These should include: a recall of US military advisors, cessation of military aid, cessation of economic aid, cessation of all aid to NGOs operating in Uganda, a travel advisory issued by the Dept. of State, recall of the US ambassador, and expulsion of the Ugandan ambassador. Ideally, these measures would be coordinated with the UK and other nations providing aid to Uganda. Uganda is a sovereign nation and if it wants to kill its gay citizens, it can do so. But we don’t have to subsidize it.

Obama can take all of these steps on his own. So why aren’t we pushing him to do so? Why didn’t anyone at that fancy $1.4 million fundraiser think to mention this a few nights ago?

Jim Burroway

February 13th, 2012

Why aren’t our orgs issuing a clear demand to Obama that he live up to the human rights policy recently announced by Sec. of State Clinton?

I think you have the timeline wrong. the White House announced the policy as the result of a presidential directive, and Clinton followed up with her speech later that day in Geneva.


February 14th, 2012

@Jim: You have correctly described the timeline for the development of the policy.

What I am saying is that we now have to demand that Obama actually execute the policy – put it into practice – in the context of Uganda. If he doesn’t apply it in this stark case, then the “policy” will be judged as nothing more than a statement of principles and aspirations. Every country considering anti-gay policies would then be able to discount the loss of American aid as a potential consequence.

Obviously, Obama would have to weigh our demand against other competing interests in Uganda. But it is disturbing that our organizations haven’t even asked. We expect him to prioritize the human rights of gay Ugandans over other interests, but at the same time gay organizations like HRC don’t care enough to mention it. If HRC won’t bring it up, then the gay blogosphere should.


February 14th, 2012

Doesn’t the bill have to become law in Uganda before the U.S. can take any of the diplomatic actions you have appropriately described? Perhaps I am mistaken, but I thought this draconian bill was actually NOT supported by the Ugandan government, rather that their internal legislative process (like ours) required Bahati be given his opportunity to advocate and lobby for its passage, nonetheless. I am not trying to insulate myself or seem dispassionate about the horror of its substance. But I was under the impression this guy was no different than the posturing homophobic hate-peddlers in the U.S. who bask in the glory of their press coverage (in other words: a politician) and that it was unlikely this bill would ever become law precisely because of the consequences for Uganda vis a vis U.S. retaliation?

Reed Boyer

February 14th, 2012

“In fact, neither of these men probably care much at all about ‘the act of homosexuality’; what someone does in their bedroom in secret doesn’t really much interest anyone else.”

Not sure whether it is a fact, or a probability, but my supposition is that they both care – obsessively.


February 15th, 2012

The US does not have to wait to take action involving its own aid commitments and/or its diplomatic relationship with Uganda. That having been said, I think the idea is not that gay orgs should demand that the US implement these measures now, but rather that the US should communicate clearly that these sanctions will follow passage of the bill. And if the bill passes, the sanctions should be implemented in a punctuated, escalating manner.

Right now, we have no commitment from the US to do anything in particular if this bill passes. And there won’t be a commitment unless we start asking for one. BTW, one person has made the request. Unfortunately, she’s a fugitive in hiding in Uganda. Maybe HRC can put down its cocktails and amplify her demand.

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