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Uganda’s most prominent LGBTQ activist says newly upheld anti-gay law will prompt violence

Frank Mugisha said he is bracing for violence in the East African nation after its constitutional court upheld an anti-gay law that includes the death penalty.
Ugandan LGBTQ activist Frank Mugisha.
Ugandan LGBTQ activist Frank Mugisha in Kampala, Uganda, on March 30, 2023.Abubaker Lubowa / Reuters

Uganda’s most prominent LGBTQ activist condemned a constitutional court’s decision Wednesday to uphold an anti-gay law that permits the death penalty in certain cases.  

Speaking with NBC News from New York City, Frank Mugisha called the ruling a form of “state-sanctioned homophobia” and said he is bracing for violence in the East African nation.

“This ruling intensifies violations towards the LGBT community,” Mugisha said. “It is like the judges have told Ugandans: ‘Go and get violent towards the LGBTQ community.’”

The African Equality Foundation
Ugandans around the world have protested the anti-gay legislation.Mark Kerrison / In Pictures via Getty Images file

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the legislation into law last year, drawing condemnation from LGBTQ activists from around the world. Conversely, the law has broad support among the country’s population.  

The law allows the death penalty in cases of “aggravated homosexuality,” which it defines as cases of same-sex relations involving a minor and other categories of vulnerable people, or when one of the individuals has HIV. A suspect convicted of “attempted aggravated homosexuality” can be imprisoned for up to 14 years, and the offense of “attempted homosexuality” is punishable by up to 10 years.

Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda under a colonial-era law criminalizing sexual activity “against the order of nature.” The punishment for that offense remains life imprisonment.

More than 60 countries — mostly in Africa and the Mideast — have criminalized homosexuality, according to Human Rights Watch, but Uganda’s anti-gay law is considered one of the harshest. 

The Biden administration sanctioned the Ugandan government and restricted visas of Uganda officials following the law’s passage last year. Uganda’s government then accused the United States of pushing an “LGBT agenda.”

Mugisha said the U.S. needs to do more.

“The U.S. government has got a very good relationship with Uganda,” Mugisha said. “I think there are so many bilateral relationships that they can engage in. It could be behind the scenes advocacy, it could be public advocacy, but they should engage more.”

Uganda's deputy chief justice and head of the court Buteera, with other five judges, delivers a judgment on the consolidated petitions challenging the constitutionality of the Anti-Homosexuality Act.
Ugandan officials deliver a judgment on the consolidated petitions challenging the constitutionality of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in Kampala on Wednesday.Badru Katumba / AFP - Getty Images

Mugisha said he is worried about going back to his home country and facing what he described as “violence that would come from the state.” 

“I am petrified,” he said. “If the judges can give such a ruling, that means there is no protection for any LGBTQ person in Uganda, and I’m not immune to that.”

“Uganda is ground zero for homophobia,” he added.

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