John M. Becker

Uganda Round-Up: Visas, Scientific Distortions, Aid Cuts

Filed By John M. Becker | February 27, 2014 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Frank Mugisha, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera, Patrick Leahy, scientific distortions, Uganda, Uganda anti-gay law, Yoweri Museveni

There's been a ton of Uganda-related news as the world responds in shock and horror to the passage of the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Here are four items you may have missed that are worth noting:

1.) Ugandan Scientists: Museveni Misrepresented Our Research to Justify Law

Thumbnail image for Uganda.jpgLast month, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni told parliamentarians he wouldn't sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill unless scientists could prove that homosexuality is a choice. Conveniently, a panel of "experts" appointed by Museveni's Health Ministry told him that homosexuality was "behavioral, not genetic" (in stark contrast to the clear consensus of the mainstream medical and mental health communities); he leaned heavily on this "research" as justification for signing the act into law.

But now some scientists on that panel are accusing Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) party of distorting their findings for their own anti-LGBT political purposes. Science reports:

"They misquoted our report," says Paul Bangirana, a clinical psychologist at Makerere University in Kampala. "The report does not state anywhere that homosexuality is not genetic, and we did not say that it could be unlearnt." Two other committee members have now resigned to protest the use of their report to justify the harsh legislation, which mandates life imprisonment for "aggravated homosexuality," such as sexual acts with a minor, and prison terms of 7 to 14 years for attempted and actual homosexual acts, respectively...

The 11-member committee, including officials from the Ministry of Health, scientists at Makerere University, and other medical researchers, was charged with reviewing scientific evidence about the causes of homosexuality. The first draft of the report concluded that "there is no definitive gene responsible for homosexuality"; that homosexuality is not a disease nor abnormal; that being gay can be influenced by environmental factors such as culture and peer pressure; and that both homosexual and heterosexual behavior need "regulation" to "protect the vulnerable."

Dean Hamer, a geneticist emeritus at the National Institutes of Health who discovered the first evidence that homosexuality probably has some genetic basis, says "what's fascinating about the Ugandan report is that it gets so much right about the science of sexual orientation." The committee's report even referred to a recent, genome-wide study confirming Hamer's original findings.

But things began to go wrong for the Ugandan scientists when they presented their findings to Museveni, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, and more than 200 NRM members of Parliament at a 14 February NRM meeting. Shortly afterward, NRM put out a press release, signed by NRM spokeswoman Evelyn Anite, summarizing the scientific committee's findings and declaring that Museveni would now sign the bill "since the question of whether one can be born a homosexual or not had been answered"--supposedly in the negative.

Anite denies that she did anything wrong, and when Science writer Michael Balter attempted to question her further on the subject, she asked whether he was a "homo."


More Uganda news after the jump.

2.) American Taxpayer Dollars Funding Uganda's Anti-LGBT Crusade?

Mariah Blake of Mother Jones discovered that millions of dollars from American taxpayers are flowing to Museveni's Ministry of Health -- the very body that organized the rubber-stamp panel of "scientists" mentioned above, through grants from the Centers for Disease Control.

The Ministry of Health staffer who convened the committee behind the report, Jane Aceng, also runs the ministry's program to fight HIV. Since 2012, that initiative has received more than $5 million in funding from the CDC, which supports HIV programs in many African countries. Although HIV rates among gay Ugandan men are far higher than among the general population (as is the case in many countries), the program doesn't include a strategy for treatment or prevention among gays and lesbians.

Last year, after gay rights activists launched their own clinic to fill the gap in services and the international community applied pressure, the Ministry of Health announced it would introduce programs for gay men and sex workers. But these programs have yet to materialize. According Health GAP, a global organization devoted to combating HIV, the lack of services for gay men and other vulnerable groups is one key reason Uganda--?which had made great strides in fighting HIV--?has seen a spike in new cases over the last eight years, even as new infection rates in other African countries continue to fall.

3.) U.S. Ambassador Threatens to Block Anti-LGBT Ugandans' Travel to USA

From J. Lester Feder at BuzzFeed:

The U.S. ambassador to Uganda has warned that Ugandans found to be propagating anti-gay sentiment might be banned from entering the United States, days after the country signed a broad new anti-LGBT law.

In an interview with the BBC World Service on Wednesday, Ambassador Scott DeLisi responded to a question about articles published by the Red Pepper newspaper under the headline "Uganda's Top 200 Homos Named."

"We as a government ... are appalled by the course that the Red Pepper has chosen," DeLisi said. "What they do within their society I may not be able to control, but I can tell you they will not be welcome in the United States of America.... Visas can be denied for people who incite violence, people who propagate hate, who have used political violence. There are many bases on which we can deny a visa. And I can tell you that we will be examining all of these issues as we move forward."

4.) Senator Leahy Backs Critical Review of U.S. Aid to Uganda

Senator Patrick Leahy, an outspoken LGBT ally from the progressive state of Vermont, indicated this week that he supports a reevaluation of America's relationship with Uganda in the aftermath of the Anti-Homosexuality Law. Agence France-Presse reports:

"I am deeply concerned by the decision of President (Yoweri) Museveni of Uganda to sign into law the anti-homosexuality bill," Senator Patrick Leahy, the most senior member of the chamber and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.

"Much of US assistance to Uganda is for the people of Uganda, including those in the Ugandan LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community whose human rights are being so tragically violated," he added.

"But we need to closely review all U.S. assistance to Uganda, including through the World Bank and other multilateral organizations."

Washington is among Uganda's largest international donors.

Prominent Ugandan LGBT activists are divided on the wisdom of aid cuts. Frank Mugisha tweeted this week that he does not support them, writing: "We can't afford to create new victims. We should go after the crazy politicians! Not innocent Ugandans."

But Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesera disagreed. She wrote on Twitter: "ISOLATE UG so no other country attempts this" and "its ordinary Ugs that showed support for this.U shud hv seen the bull roastings in town these r our neighbors.CUT [aid] NOW."

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