This week the Ugandan parliament is expected to begin debating the draconian and barbaric Anti-Homosexuality Bill, also known as the "kill the gays" bill. The proposed legislation -- partly inspired and unabashedly endorsed by several prominent American evangelicals -- would incarcerate LGBT people, sometimes for life; punish same-sex Ugandan couples marrying abroad with lifetime prison sentences when they return home; outlaw all advocacy on behalf of LGBT people, including the provision of medical care, lodging and basic services; and require citizens to report to the police any LGBT people they know. (Failing to do so would constitute "aiding and abetting homosexuality," a crime that would carry a 7-year jail sentence.) And despite claims to the contrary made in a BBC News report released last week, LGBT activists in Uganda confirmed yesterday in an international press briefing organized by All Out that the bill still prescribes the death penalty for cases of so-called "aggravated homosexuality." Speaker Rebecca Kadaga has promised to pass the Anti-Homosexuality Bill as a "Christmas gift" to the Ugandan people, who she claims are demanding it.
I wrote earlier this month about the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' refusal to publicly denounce this outrageous bill, which their colleagues in Uganda are supporting. But while I've sadly come to expect silence and inaction on LGBT human rights issues from the Roman Catholic hierarchy, I'm disturbed by the official silence on this bill that's coming from a very unlikely place: the Obama administration.
Let me be clear: I am in no way suggesting that the current administration is anti-gay. To the contrary, President Obama is the most outspokenly pro-LGBT president in American history, and his administration's lengthy list of first-term accomplishments reflects his support of our community. In previous years the administration has also made its position on Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill abundantly clear: President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton both condemned it at the 2010 National Prayer Breakfast, and last year a State Department spokesperson called the bill "odious." Also last year Clinton delivered a landmark address to the United Nations on LGBT rights in recognition of International Human Rights Day; she famously declared that "gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights."
But during this latest iteration of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, when it appears closer to passage than ever before, the White House and the State Department have so far declined to make any further comment about the legislation. The State Department sent a top official to meet with Ugandan leaders over the weekend and ask them to "look very carefully" at the "kill the gays" bill, but as of this writing the State Department has not outlined any potential consequences for Uganda should it pass. And in a daily briefing Monday, a department spokeswoman refused to answer reporters' questions about whether the United States would join nations like Sweden and the United Kingdom in cutting off Uganda's foreign aid in the event that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill becomes law. (American aid to Uganda currently amounts to nearly half a billion dollars.)
Mr. President and Madam Secretary: Your demonstrated commitment to advancing equality at home and professed support for the worldwide spread of LGBT rights is commendable, but it's time to put a little foreign policy muscle behind your encouraging words. When thousands of LGBT Ugandans face the very real threat of death or life imprisonment for the "crime" of simply being who they are, silence is not an option. You must speak out again about this reprehensible bill and publicly urge Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to make good on his 2009 promise to veto it if it should ever reach his desk. You should also seriously consider reducing or even eliminating foreign aid payments to Uganda if that nation chooses to embrace genocide, and encouraging prominent NGOs like the Clinton Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to do the same. After all, if the bill passes and American assistance continues to flow into Uganda uninterrupted, it will send a message to Uganda and other anti-gay countries across the globe that American statements of support for LGBT human rights abroad are totally toothless -- mere words.
The whole world is watching. Millions of LGBT people across the globe count on the United States to stand up and speak out for our imperiled siblings in Uganda. And LGBT Ugandans look to you because their very lives hang in the balance.