The president of Uganda ignored pleas from governments and human-rights and advocacy organizations worldwide that he rethink his announced decision to sign a law imposing severe prison sentences on Ugandans who engage in homosexual behavior. He signed the law on February 24.
APA was one of the organizations that tried to convince Uganda President Yoweri Museveni to reject the law. “APA is deeply disappointed that the president of Uganda signed a law imposing harsh prison terms on people who engage in same-sex activity,” CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., told Psychiatric News.
In a February letter to Museveni, Levin and APA President Jeffrey Lieberman, M.D., emphasized that “criminalizing homosexuality will only lead to public unrest and violence against those who pose no harm to society and cannot change who they are.”
APA provided a detailed summary of scientific research showing that sexuality is the result of a complex interplay of genetics, certain hormones, and environment factors, pointing out that “there is no scientific evidence that either homosexuality or heterosexuality is a free-will choice.” The letter states that in light of the scientific evidence on the roots of sexuality, “punishing [homosexuals] with prison terms will not change their orientation or lessen the incidence of homosexuality in Ugandan society.”
Despite this information, and protests from a long list of government officials and advocacy groups from multiple countries, Museveni signed the law.
Kenneth Ashley, M.D., president of the Association of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatrists, told Psychiatric News that the law “will mean the dismantling of Uganda’s LGBT support systems and social networks. The isolation and psychosocial stressors will likely result in increased symptoms of anxiety and depression. It will also be a barrier to health care, as the law has been interpreted by some to mean that even health care providers are included as ‘a person who aids, abets, counsels, or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality, commits an offense, and is liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for seven years.’ It also seems likely that there will be a number of LGBT people who will be forced to undergo ‘rehabilitation,’ while others may seek it out as a way to remain in Uganda.”
On March 11, a group of Ugandan human-rights organizations and advocates filed a formal legal challenge to the law, saying that it violates the country’s constitutional right to equality and privacy and illegally discriminates against people with HIV disease and disabilities, according to a report in the Washington Blade. The coalition’s petition to a Ugandan court states that the law “amounts to institutionalized promotion of a culture of hatred and constitutes a contravention of the right to dignity.”
Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with Museveni soon after the law was signed, expressing the U.S. government’s “deep disappointment” in the decision to enact the law. Kerry noted that the Obama administration is reviewing its relationship with Uganda. The State Department said that Kerry “raised U.S. concerns that this discriminatory law poses a threat to the safety and security of Uganda’s LGBT community, and urged President Museveni to ensure the safety and protection of all Ugandan citizens. ■