Following reduced aid from the United States and other nations, Ugandan officials are claiming its harsh anti-gay bill signed into law in February was never intended to discriminate against gays and lesbians, but instead its sole purpose is to protect the children of Uganda.
On Monday, the Uganda government released a statement on the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which imposes life-time jail sentences for anyone convicted of ‘aggravated homosexuality,’ saying the bill’s purpose is to “stop promotion and exhibition of homosexual practices” and has been “misinterpreted as a piece of legislation intended to punish and discriminate against people of ‘homosexual orientation.'”
The bill has in the past been commonly referred to as the ‘Kill the Gays’ bill in western media as early versions deemed homosexuality an offense punishable by death. Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed the revised version into law in February, and swift action by the US and other western nations to condemn the law quickly followed. The World Bank, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands all joined the US in suspending at least some aid to the government.
The law also bars any gay rights advocacy, offers incentives for citizens to turn in anyone they believe is gay, and makes performing a same-sex marriage an offense which carries a seven-year prison sentence.
The guise of ‘protecting children’ from anti-gay propaganda Uganda is now exploiting is not new, as nations and political leaders across the globe have also used this reasoning to defend their anti-gay legislation and policies. Though Russia technically does not consider homosexuality illegal, it has been key in promoting the argument of criminalizing pro-LGBT demonstrations in order to ‘protect children.’
Last summer, President Validmir Putin signed a nationwide “homosexual propaganda” law, already in effect in many major Russian cities including St. Petersburg, which prohibits the spreading of “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors. The law essentially outlaws any type of pro-LGBT advocacy and is a major blow to Russia’s LGBT community who already face heinous amounts of violence with little to no protection from their government.
“It’s not about imposing some sort of sanctions on homosexuality … It’s about protecting children from such information,” Putin said after he signed the bill into law. “Certain countries…think that there is no need to protect [children] from this…But we are going to provide such protection the way that State Duma [parliamentary] lawmakers have decided. We ask you not to interfere in our governance.”
In June, Russia’s infamous anti-gay law saw its first anniversary and the oppression of Russia’s LGBT community has yet to subside. The Human Rights Campaign released a 15-page report detailing numerous arrests and violent attacks Russia’s LGBT community has had to endure in the year following the laws implementation. The law, which was highly ridiculed during the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, has failed to garner as much international attention since the games came to a close, but it could return to the spotlight when Russia hosts the next World Cup in 2018.
While the Russian Federation is the most prominent of these countries, others have been seeking to follow its example. Earlier this year, the Lithuanian parliament voted on a bill eerily similar to Moscow’s anti-gay propaganda law which would fine anyone guilty of “contempt” of “moral values,” according to Buzzfeed.
Written in retaliation to a Baltic March of Equality in Vilnius in July of 2013, the law would bar any speeches, posters, and any sort of organizing in support of the LGBT community and would impose a fine of around $2,400 to repeat offenders. Lithuania has been a member of the European Union since 2004, and after pressure from EU political leaders, legislators changed the wording of the law which initially prohibited the promotion of “homosexual, bisexual or polygamous relations” to bar the spread of information that instead “denigrates family values.”
Shannon Greenwood is an intern at ThinkProgress.