Uganda’s Anti-LGBTQ Bill: A New Wave of Homophobia, a Remnant of Colonialism, or Both?

Uganda’s Anti-LGBTQ Bill: A New Wave of Homophobia, a Remnant of Colonialism, or Both?

Sierra Paulsen

On March 21st, Uganda passed sweeping legislation to further criminalize the LGBTQ community.[1] In a near unanimous 387 to 2 vote, Uganda’s Parliament approved the bill, which outlaws identifying as LGBTQ and bans “promoting and abetting homosexuality” and “conspiracy to engage in homosexuality.”[2] While Uganda is no stranger to homophobic rhetoric and already has laws in place to ban same-sex relationships, the most recent law takes penalties to new heights, imposing the death penalty on anyone who engages in “aggravated homosexuality” and life in prison for same-sex relations.[3]

On the floor of Parliament before the anti-gay bill passed, Parliamentary Speaker Anita Among expressed gratitude for Western “promoters of homosexuality” due to the “social and economic development” they have brought to Uganda.[4] Simultaneously, she expressed disdain towards these “promoters” for “killing morals” in the East-African nation.[5] In the months preceding passage of the bill, conspiracy theories accusing Western forces of bringing pro-gay rhetoric into the country spread on social media.[6] While these conspiracies might capture a slice of the story, they don’t offer a complete picture of why and how Uganda has steadily become one of the most intolerant nations in the world when it comes to LGBTQ rights.

Values and structures introduced through colonialism become deeply ingrained in cultures and societies. Through neo-colonial maintenance, these values and structures can endure, and even thrive. This is what evidence suggests has occurred in many African nations, including Uganda.[7] In the wake of European colonial laws which imposed the death penalty for same-sex sex, Western–in particular, US–evangelical movements have imported religious, anti-gay rhetoric into Uganda, where it has taken hold of society.[8] Take American Evangelical Scott Lively, for example. In the early 2000s, he participated in a series of speaking events in Uganda alongside other American Evangelicals.[9] Lively and others even spoke before the Ugandan Parliament on the “dangers of homosexuality.”[10] Shortly thereafter, Uganda’s 2009 “Kill the Gays” bill was introduced to Parliament.[11]

As a whole, conservative Christian groups have left their imprint on Ugandan value structures through their network of bible schools, universities, churches, and television networks.[12] US Christian radio networks contribute to “high rates of homophobia” in Uganda, where 96 percent of the population opposes same-sex relationships.[13] Further, by perpetuating the idea that homosexuality is a “Western import,” American Evangelicals are able to present themselves as false allies to the promotion of African culture and traditions.[14] They can make their desired impact without facing the political and social backlash they have in the US, and without facing value judgments about the neo-colonial elements of their ideology.[15]

But the idea that homosexuality is morally wrong and violates African culture is in many ways disproven by history.[16] Historical evidence from precolonial Africa shows that people displayed their diverse sexual orientations and were not legally punished for it.[17] Colonization was the first time “state-sanctioned homophobia” in the form of religious laws began to take hold in Uganda and other African nations.[18] Today, Western Evangelicals capitalize on the important role of religion in Ugandan society to spread religious propaganda that equates homosexuality with pedophilia and other harms.[19] Ugandan politicians are then “able to justify violations of sexual rights by appealing to local beliefs.”[20] This creates entrenched cultural values that–while appearing traditional–are actually rooted in Western colonial history and power dynamics.

On its face, Uganda’s new bill violates domestic constitutional law providing for equality and non-discrimination.[21] It also violates several key provisions of international human rights treaties which Uganda is bound to respect. Notably, the bill’s imposition of the death penalty for certain acts would constitute arbitrary killing under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.[22]

The severe international human rights violations at stake make Uganda a dangerous place to live and work for LGBTQ rights advocates.[23] In fall of 2022, the Ugandan government shutdown a prominent LGBTQ rights group, Sexual Minorities Uganda.[24] Despite his public condemnation for LGBTQ rights, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni recently declined to sign the anti-homosexuality bill into law, saying that it could be improved before passage.[25] Still, lawyers fighting on behalf of LGBTQ rights in Uganda will likely bring court challenges to prevent any version of the bill from taking effect.[26]

For advocates who want to publicly challenge the notion that homophobia is rooted in African culture, bringing a claim before the African Court of Human and People’s Rights, citing a violation of the African Charter’s non-discrimination clause,[27] and referencing the African Commission’s resolution 275 which “request[s] governments to protect LGBT people or sexual minorities…from violence” might prove to be a powerful tactic.[28] Ultimately, while advocates continue their tireless work to prevent LGBTQ rights from being eroded even further, it does not appear that Ugandan lawmakers will adopt a more tolerant approach towards the LGBTQ community any time soon.


[1] Uganda: Turk urges President not to sign shocking anti-homosexuality bill, OHCHR (Mar. 22, 2023),

[2] Uganda’s new anti-homosexuality law bans identification of LGBTQ, Al Jazeera (Mar. 22, 2023),; Ugandan MP’s pass bill imposing death penalty for homosexuality, Guardian (Mar. 21, 2023),

[3] Id.

[4] Samuel Okiror, Uganda MP’s revive hardline anti-LGBTQ bill, calling homosexuality a ‘cancer’, Guardian (Mar. 1, 2023),

[5] Id.

[6] Uganda’s new anti-homosexuality law bans identification of LGBTQ, supra note 2.

[7] Caleb Okereke, How U.S. Evangelicals Helped Homophobia Flourish in Africa, Foreign Pol’y (Mar. 19, 2023),

[8] Id.

[9] Id.; Amar Wahab, “Homosexuality/Homophobia Is Un-African”?: Un-Mapping Transnational Discourses in the Context of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill/Act, 63(5) J. of Homosexuality, 685-718 (2016).

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Hyeon-Jae Seo, Origins and Consequences of Uganda’s Brutal Homophobia, 38(3) Harv. Int’l Rev. 44, 47 (2017).

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id. at 46.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Uganda: Turk urges President not to sign shocking anti-homosexuality bill, supra note 1.

[22] Uganda: UN experts condemn egregious anti-LGBT legislation, OHCHR (Mar. 29, 2023),

[23] Leo Sands, Uganda LGBT Rights: Government Shuts Down Key Advocacy Group, BBC (Aug. 7, 2022),

[24] Id.

[25] Uganda’s President Museveni refuses to sign anti-LGBTQ bill, Al Jazeera (Apr. 20, 2023),

[26] Uganda’s LGBTQ community is ‘in shock’ over new measure, gay activist says, NBC News (Mar. 23, 2023),

[27] Dr. Ayodele Sogunro, Resolution 275 and the realisation of LGBTIQ+ rights in Africa, African Legal Stud. Blog (June 24, 2022),

[28] LGBT activists disappointed at Uganda’s new anti-gay law, Africanews (Mar. 22, 2023),