Ugandan President Worries Anti-Gay Laws Might Lead To International Trade Boycotts

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni speaking at the United Nations General Assembly last month. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/SETH WENIG
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni speaking at the United Nations General Assembly last month. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/SETH WENIG

After Uganda’s Constitutional Court overturned the country’s infamous new anti-homosexuality law on the technicality that it was improperly passed through Parliament, it looked like President Yoweri Museveni was backing away from trying to pass it again. In a new missive to his constituents last week, Museveni explained some new reservations he has about expanding punishments for homosexuality — simultaneously providing new insight about how he perceives the issue.

When the law came before him earlier this year, Museveni and his officials took umbrage at other countries’ threats to cut aid. Though there was a financial backlash, the Ugandan president still isn’t concerned about foreign aid, noting that “Uganda is growing in spit of the ‘aid’ cuts and in spite of the crisis in South Sudan.” But he is now concerned about trade, and the way consumers who support LGBT rights might boycott products produced in Uganda, scaring away manufacturers — and thus profits and jobs for the country.

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“To carelessly and needlessly open unnecessary wars with such useful customers is irresponsible to say the least,” he wrote. What matters is not what other countries say about homosexuality, Museveni argued, but “deciding what is best for our country in the realm of foreign trade, which is such an important stimulus for growth and transformation that it has no equal.” He explained that the “homosexual lobby” can “intimidate potential buyers from buying from us” — and indeed, that “they have already started.”

Museveni also outlined his understanding of homosexuality, suggesting that “there are three types of homosexuals,” according to his research. The first type he mentions are “homosexuals that recruit under-age children into homosexuality.” There are two problematic assumptions inherent in the “protect the children” line of thinking: that there is a connection between being gay and being a pedophile and that sexual abuse can somehow induce homosexuality — neither of which is supported by any social science. A similar conflation between homosexuality and pedophilia has been found in other predominantly anti-gay countries like Russia. He also offers a second type, which is when people are “lured” into homosexuality for “purely mercenary reasons,” i.e. for purposes of prostitution, conflating sexual orientation with sexual behavior.

But Museveni also describes a third type, those he says are homosexual “out of choice and conviction,” who are neither “coerced” nor “after money.” “They are just attracted to fellow men or women, according to what they say,” he wrote, adding, “Difficult though it is for me to imagine.” He didn’t exactly specify what should or should not be done with this group, but acknowledged that despite the lopsided “science” he received concluding that homosexuality was caused by nurture and not nature, scientists are “still disputing” the question of the nature of homosexuality.

Museveni does not yet seem to be open to the idea that sexual orientations are not chosen nor changeable, but his acknowledgment that people can be gay without criminal intent could be an important step in the right direction for a country that has been chomping at the bit to increase legal persecution against the LGBT community. Perhaps more importantly, he has provided evidence that companies and consumers have an important role to play in creating social change abroad.