Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has approved a law making it illegal to be gay. But what is happening in Uganda is not happening by chance. It is a result of the ongoing mobilization of the so-called anti-gender movement, writes Levi Karvonen, international communicator at RFSL. Photo: Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office/Anete Lusina. Source: Flickr/Pexels.


Uganda is just the beginning of the LGBTQI resistance's mobilization

One of the harshest anti-LGBTQ bills the world has seen in a long time has now passed in Uganda. This is part of a global anti-gender movement, which is growing stronger across the African continent. At the same time that the anti-gender movement mobilizes politicians and legislators against human rights, they receive publicly funded aid from countries in the global north. This is written by Levi Karvonen, international communicator at RFSL.

While more and more countries are decriminalizing homosexuality, Uganda has gone in the opposite direction. The new law, the Anti Homosexuality Bill 2023, is comprehensive and will bring serious consequences for LGBTQ people in Uganda. One of the most serious clauses means that death penalty becomes a possible penalty for same-sex sex, for example for people who have previously been convicted of it. Since the law also makes it punishable by up to seven years in prison for landlords who knowingly rent out their premises to LGBTQI people, there is a great risk that homelessness will increase among LGBTQI people in Uganda. This, in turn, makes them even more vulnerable to violence and persecution. It has already arrived reports from the country of LGBTQ people being evicted.

The law also specifically targets LGBTQ organizations and activists. With the new law, "promoting" homosexuality has become a criminal offense and can lead to up to 20 years in prison. The wording is deliberately vague. It will be difficult to even inform about the existence of LGBTQI people, let alone carry out advocacy work for LGBTQI people's human rights in the country.

However, what is happening in Uganda is not happening by chance, but is a result of the ongoing mobilization of the so-called anti-gender movement. It consists of a range of different actors, from the extreme right to conservative Christians and even some feminists, who oppose everything from equality, abortion and sex education to the rights of LGBTQI people. A report from the abortion rights organization IPAS shows how organizations from the US are actively working to strengthen resistance to the rights of LGBTQI people in Africa, including by holding training sessions for African legislators. Because even though Uganda has received the most media attention for the new law, this mobilization is not something that only happens within the country's borders.

RFSL's partner organization East Africa Trans Health & Advocacy Network is based in East Africa, and have seen that opposition to LGBTQI people is mobilizing in several countries across the continent. Kenya, Senegal, Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia and Burkina Faso are just a few examples of countries where we now see organized opposition to the rights of LGBTQI people, and active attempts to limit them. A worrying trend is also that the mobilization against the rights of LGBTQI people is also growing in countries where LGBTQI people were not previously criminalized, for example in Mali.

However, it has also emerged that the anti-gender movement in Africa has not only been influenced by actors in the Global North. According to a report by The Institute for Journalism and Social Change public development aid from a number of different countries, including Sweden, has financed several organizations which, among other things, have actively lobbied for the LGBTI-hostile law in Uganda. Since the disclosure that Swedish aid money has gone to support parts of the anti-gender movement in Uganda, Sida has stopped support to the organizations concerned. However, this is only a first step.

RFSL wants to see clear political responsibility to ensure better safety procedures and anti-discrimination policy in the use of publicly funded aid to prevent similar situations in the future. It is also necessary that the review of the aid is improved, especially in the regions where there is a mobilization to criminalize LGBTQI people. The Swedish government and other governments in the global north also need to actively distance themselves from and counteract the anti-gender movement's influence and threats to human rights in their respective countries.


RFSL, the National Federation for the Rights of Homosexuals, Bisexuals, Transgenders, Queers and Intersex Persons, is a non-profit organization founded in 1950. RFSL works for an equal world where the human rights of all LGBTQI people are respected and no one is left out.

RFSL currently carries out extensive international work. The organization has partnerships with LGBTQI organizations in East Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia, influences in the UN for LGBTQI people's rights and works to strengthen the capacity of LGBTQI activists and organizations by, among other things, organizing trainings for activists.

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