Uganda President Yoweri Museveni’s announcement this weekend that he would sign the country’s new anti-homosexuality law may have seemed all the more puzzling in light of his assertion in late December that his decision on the legislation would be guided by science. That plan, and the conclusion it would point to, seemed to settle the question enough to prompt major media outlets, in the United States, England and Uganda to report that Museveni had rejected the bill. While that hadn’t happened, it seemed all the more inevitable after scores of scientists from around the world, including Uganda, stepped up to the plate and in an open letter to the Ugandan President answered his questions on homosexuality and elucidated the tragic public health consequences of institutionalized discrimination. The letter was signed by many who had lent their expertise to tackling the country’s HIV epidemic, whose support has continued for decades. Signers included former Ugandan Vice President, physician and now United Nations Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, Dr. Speciosa Wandira Kazibwe. The letter appeared as a full page newspaper ad and landed on the President’s desk. And in the meantime, as mob violence against gay men broke out in Abuja, in the wake of Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan’s signature on a new anti-gay law there, the consequences of state-endorsed human rights abuses were playing out. So how did Museveni come to the conclusion that signing the bill would be a good thing?
Museveni’s decision to sign Uganda’s homosexuality bill was based on the input of a Ministerial Committee of scientists, which, according to the press release linked to in this Uganda New Vision report included among its conclusions that “Homosexuality can be influenced by environmental factors e.g. culture, religion and peer pressure among others,” and that “The practice needs regulation like any other human behavior especially to protect the vulnerable.” With the added assurance from his science advisor that “homosexuality has serious Public Health consequences and should therefore not be tolerated,” according to the press release, Museveni said his work was done and that the scientists’ conclusions would be a historical document, supplying the “basis for signing the bill.”
According to this report from the Uganda Independent, the scientists’ input was critical because, Museveni told members of his political party, “I had never seen a homosexual.”
Word has it the committee of scientists that reached conclusions running counter to those of researchers, physicians and scholars worldwide whose input and assistance Uganda has accepted for years relied on a list of references that included papers from the American Psychiatric Association dating back to 1974, and a 1957 piece on the “The adjustment of the male overt homosexual.” We will just have to wait and see, if the report is, in fact the basis for the law.