Lynne Featherstone MP writes…A great leap backwards for gay rights

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 was the MP for Hornsey and Wood Green from 2005 to 2015, and served as a minister in both the Home Office and Department for International Development. She is now a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords and blogs at

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  • I cannot agree more. Too long have we let ourselves get boxed into the position of treating LGBT rights as if it were somehow a special case, something strange and exotic that foreigners just wouldn’t understand. We’ve been so busy apologising to crooks and tyrants for fear of seeming “imperialistic” that we’ve lost sight of the millions of individuals who have been and will be tormented and crucified for the crime of being born the way they are. Politicians must understand that these are not special ‘Western’ values, and that we can no more tolerate repression against LGBT people than we tolerate repression against people because of their race. The same remedies should be sought against Uganda and countries with like laws as were sought against Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa — they should be treated as pariah states and sanctioned for it. How politicians and countries respond to this will reveal a great deal about whether they give anything more than lip service to human rights.

  • Stuart Mitchell 28th Feb '14 - 6:49pm

    “The same remedies should be sought against Uganda and countries with like laws as were sought against Rhodesia and apartheid-era South Africa — they should be treated as pariah states and sanctioned for it.”

    I’d agree with that. But sadly, such countries are more likely to be treated in the same way as those countries which have long practised gender-based discrimination i.e. allowed to get away with it. I never understood why we didn’t treat, say, Saudi Arabia the same way we treated South Africa.

  • I agree with Stuart. There’s no place in the 21st century for denying women the vote and other basic rights. Of course, the real reason Saudi Arabia gets away with these and other abuses is its control over world oil. Politicians are not sufficiently idealistic to do something on principle when they know the opposition and voters will punish them severely for an inevitable jump in petrol prices.

  • Andrew Colman 1st Mar '14 - 7:43am

    I don’t think the Ugandan people or government should be blamed for this, Religious facists from America have been stirring up hate see Uganda is a lovely people and a government keen on protecting its environment and R&D
    The religous facists spreading hate about homosexuals are not Christians, they are terrorists..

  • What about the LGBT campaign in Uganda was subtle? From the very visible protests by activists throughout the Western world the to the very public, very loud condemnation of the bill (now law) from Western leaders like Cameron and Obama, this was arguably the ONE human rights issue that the West actually spoke up publicly about. What other human rights issue has the UK threatened to cut aid over? In short, where’s the evidence of this subtly?

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