The White House on Sunday issued a statement from President Obama saying he is “deeply disappointed” in the decision of Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni to sign a recently passed bill leveling harsh penalties on Ugandan’s LGBT community.
“As a country and a people, the United States has consistently stood for the protection of fundamental freedoms and universal human rights,” Obama said. “We believe that people everywhere should be treated equally, with dignity and respect, and that they should have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential, no matter who they are or whom they love.”
“That is why I am so deeply disappointed that Uganda will shortly enact legislation that would criminalize homosexuality,” the statement continues. “The Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda, once law, will be more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda. It will be a step backward for all Ugandans and reflect poorly on Uganda’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its people. It also will mark a serious setback for all those around the world who share a commitment to freedom, justice and equal rights.”
The strongly worded statement comes days after Museveni agreed to sign the controversial bill, which offers life in prison as punishment for homosexual behavior. The bill also bans all advocacy on behalf of gay rights, provides incentives for citizens to turn in associates of theirs who are gay, and declares that performing a same-sex marriage carries a sentence of seven years. The Ugandan leader had previously seemed hesitant to approve the bill, arguing in letters to members of Parliament after its passage that homosexuality was a biological “abnormality” that shouldn’t be criminalized and promising Western human rights activists that he would reject the bill.
“As we have conveyed to President Museveni, enacting this legislation will complicate our valued relationship with Uganda,” Obama warned. Currently the United States cooperates with Uganda in a number of areas related to security, including aiding Ugandan forces in pursuit of Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony. The United States has also been helping fund Uganda’s efforts in Somalia against local terrorist group al-Shabaab.
“At a time when, tragically, we are seeing an increase in reports of violence and harassment targeting members of the LGBT community from Russia to Nigeria, I salute all those in Uganda and around the world who remain committed to respecting the human rights and fundamental human dignity of all persons,” the president concluded.
The words coming directly from the White House will likely have a large impact, marking a continuation of the unprecedented focus Obama and his administration have placed on advocating for gay rights globally over the last five years. “These dangers are not gay issues. This is a human rights issue,” the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in 2010 of efforts to boost State Department funding for activists promoting gay rights in Africa. The next year, Obama issued a presidential memorandum ordering executive agencies to prioritize international initiatives to advance gay rights around the world.