With all the natural disasters occurring recently -- earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornadoes -- it's easy to miss the man-made disaster about to occur in Uganda. But it will destroy countless lives. And unlike the natural disasters we can do something to stop it.
Before the end of the week the Ugandan Parliament is set to pass a number of laws against gays and lesbians so draconian that the entire population of that country will feel the effects. The so-called "Kill the Gays" bill, proposed by legislator David Bahati, may come to a vote tomorrow. Every indication is that it will pass and move to President Yoweri Museveni for his signature.
In it, those who are "repeat offenders" of having sexual intimacy with a person of the same sex will be sentenced to death, as will anyone with HIV who engages in sexual activity with a member of the same sex. Those who harbor or assist gays and lesbians will be subject to imprisonment. Even those who know someone to be gay or lesbian who don't report them to the authorities will face a prison sentence.
Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, a retired Anglican Bishop (and courageous heterosexual ally), is a hero in this fight against injustice. He is risking his own life and that of his family in publicly standing up and opposing this proposed law. Just this week, Bishop Christopher courageously appealed to the parliament to stop this heinous bill from becoming law.
But his words are apt not to be heeded. Anti-gay organizations in Uganda, fueled by American evangelicals who have been operating in the country for some years, told lawmakers that gay men were recruiting their school children for sex and that a Western "gay agenda" had the destruction of the Ugandan family as its goal.
But this law would have far-reaching effects on the whole population and not just its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, citizens. One of the problems with AIDS in Uganda and elsewhere is that people don't know their HIV status, and they may be spreading the virus to everyone in their sexual network.
This proposed law will make everyone more afraid to be tested for fear of being labeled "homosexual," and imprisonment would come along with that label. Such a move puts the fight against HIV in a more precarious position for everyone in Uganda -- not just gays and lesbians.
The American -- and indeed, worldwide -- LGBT community and its allies voiced their outrage when the "Kill the Gays" bill was first proposed last year. It represented a maturing of our community, thinking far beyond the bounds of our own civil rights and social comfort and instead beginning to care deeply about the lives of LGBT people beyond our national borders.
It's time to do so again.
For starters, each of us--and our straight allies -- should sign a petition online sponsored by All Out, a new global LGBT campaign organization. Encouragingly, nearly a half million people have already signed this petition in just a few days. The campaign is also asking people around the world to call their world leaders now, asking them to loudly and publicly condemn Uganda's LGBT death penalty law. Please click here to make that call, it will only take a minute and can have a huge impact.
Ugandan lawmakers and government leaders need to know that the world is watching, and that passage of such a bill will have political, diplomatic, and financial repercussions. Signing this petition is not all that needs to be done. But it's a start. And it's something you can do to help.
This bill is not just a dark cloud looming on the horizon. It is here. And the time to stop it is now.