Uganda’s new anti-homosexuality legislation is abhorrent. It imposes draconian penalties for repeat offences of homosexuality, so-called ‘aggravated’ homosexuality, same-sex marriage, attempting to commit homosexuality and for the loosely defined ‘promotion’ of homosexuality. This is nothing short of a great leap backward – not just for Uganda but for gay rights across Africa. I believe it marks a growing state-backed homophobic trend across the continent, one we cannot and should not ignore.
From Day 1 in my role as Africa minister at the Department for International Development (DFID), strengthening the department’s LGBT rights strategy has been one of my top priorities. I instructed every DFID country office in Africa to report back to me with details of their respective LGBT rights strategies, with proposals for doing more. The approach DFID has taken has been led by local gay campaigners in each country and, up until recently, they have asked that we take a subtle approach, raising our concerns only in private with their respective politicians. So, respecting their wishes, that is what I have done in African counties I’ve visited – raised my concerns behind closed doors with the Governments and privately met with local LGBT groups.
But this approach clearly didn’t work in Uganda. It failed to prevent new anti-gay legislation, and I fear it won’t deter similar legislation in other parts of Africa.
I will continue to do everything in my power to promote gay rights and equality – both at home and abroad. I’ve also invited Stonewall and the Kaleidoscope Trust to meet with me early next week to discuss how they and their international networks can help. We need to work closely together, jointly where possible, in defending and promoting human rights everywhere.
Because that is what this debate is about – not Western imperialism or Western impositions on African cultures, but the universal values of tolerance, love and mutual respect.
* Lynne Featherstone is a minister at the Home Office and blogs at www.lynnefeatherstone.org.