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International Outrage over Uganda’s Anti-Gay Law
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International Outrage over Uganda’s Anti-Gay Law

Critics oppose the African country’s crackdown on homosexuality on both moral and practical grounds.

Happy Wednesday! Norwegian officials said yesterday a beluga whale wearing a Russian-made harness and believed to have come from a Russian military facility was spotted multiple times in recent weeks off the coast of Sweden.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Several drones struck Moscow Tuesday morning in an attack the Kremlin blamed on Ukraine. Ukrainian officials deny responsibility for the barrage, which targeted an upscale neighborhood home to many oligarchs and politicians. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday the Biden administration does “not support attacks inside of Russia.”
  • Ukrainian officials reportedly confronted Chinese envoy Li Hui earlier this month over the number of captured Russian weapons built with Chinese electronics and semiconductors, despite Beijing’s attempts to position itself as a mediator in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. “Ukraine made its point about the importance of China not to allow Chinese components channeling down to Russia,” Vladyslav Vlasiuk, special advisor to the Ukrainian president on sanctions, told Semafor.
  • The United States’ Indo-Pacific Command accused a Chinese pilot of an “unprofessional intercept” after the J-16 the pilot was flying swerved in front of a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft over the South China Sea last week, visibly shaking the U.S. plane as it flew through the fighter aircraft’s wake. The U.S. military called it an “unnecessarily aggressive maneuver,” and part of a pattern of China’s increasingly confrontational behavior in the region.
  • The Treasury Department sanctioned 17 individuals and entities in China and Mexico Tuesday over their role in the production of fentanyl-laced counterfeit pills. The targets of the sanctions are accused of providing pill presses and other equipment used to give the fake pills the trade markings of genuine pharmaceuticals.
  • Turkey’s currency fell to record lows against the U.S. dollar on Tuesday following President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s victory in presidential elections over the weekend. The lira—which has lost more than 7 percent of its value since January—slid more than 1 percent Tuesday in its largest one-day decline since June 2022, closing at around 20.4 lira to a dollar. Economists warn Erdoğan’s insistence on keeping low interest rates despite record-high inflation is destabilizing Turkey’s economy.
  • The Congressional Budget Office estimated Tuesday the debt ceiling agreement between President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy could reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion compared to present projections over the next decade if the bill is enacted in its current form. The House Rules Committee voted 7-6 Tuesday—over the objections of two hardline House Freedom Caucus members, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas and Rep. Ralph Norman of South Carolina—to move the deal to the House floor, where members are set to vote on it later today.
  • The Salt Lake City Tribune reported Tuesday GOP Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah plans to resign from the House as early as this week. Stewart, a six-term congressman who won his last election by more than 30 points, is reportedly stepping down due to his wife’s ongoing health issues. His departure would narrow the already slim five-member GOP majority in the House and trigger a special election in his district.
  • Rep. James Comer of Kentucky—Republican chair of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee—said Tuesday he would pursue contempt of Congress proceedings against FBI Director Christopher Wray. The director refused to comply with a subpoena from the committee seeking records of FBI interviews with confidential sources from June 2020, which included the name “Biden.” Comer alleges the documents could connect Biden to a bribery scheme during his tenure as vice president.
  • Allies of former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie launched a new PAC Tuesday—“Tell It Like It Is,” a variation of the governor’s 2016 campaign slogan—ahead of Christie’s increasingly likely 2024 GOP presidential primary run. Brian Jones, a veteran of both late Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney’s 2012 bid, is leading the effort to boost Christie, joined by several of the governor’s former advisors.

Uganda’s Anti-Gay Law

Activists picket against Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill at the Uganda High Commission in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images via Getty Images)
Activists picket against Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill at the Uganda High Commission in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo by Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has signed an anti-homosexuality law prescribing decades-long prison sentences—and even the death penalty—as punishment for certain types of homosexual activity, parliamentary lawmakers confirmed Monday. All but two of the country’s 389 members of parliament voted for the law, and affected Ugandans are outraged and alarmed—but not necessarily surprised. 

After all, a similar law was passed in 2014 before being overturned on a technicality after international outcry. “When it happened in 2014, I was 20,” Qwin Mbabazi—a Ugandan LGBTQ advocate who works for the United States group GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders—said at a recent event. “Now it’s a decade, I’m 30. And I don’t want to go through this. I don’t want another decade of where we are.”

Homosexual sex has been illegal in Uganda since the days of British colonial rule. No one’s been convicted under the statute since independence in 1962, but the rule provides license for routine repression—arrests and invasive examinations, beatings, and public targeting by Uganda’s newspapers and media outlets. Teacher David Kato—who described himself as Uganda’s first openly gay man—went into hiding and was found bludgeoned to death in 2011 after being listed as gay in a tabloid.

Some aspects of the law—such as the death penalty for same-sex intercourse with children—are severe but closer to international norms outlawing rape and sexual abuse. And after Museveni returned the bill for reconsideration, lawmakers removed provisions that would have made LGBTQ identity punishable and penalized Ugandans who didn’t report homosexual activities.

But the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” also applies to consensual same-sex intercourse among consenting adults if one of them has HIV—while heterosexual intercourse between HIV-positive adults remains legal. Meanwhile, someone who “knowingly promotes homosexuality” could spend 20 years in jail, and organizations convicted of encouraging it could receive a 10-year ban. Uganda’s government already opposes many LGBTQ advocacy and healthcare groups—in January, a leaked report showed 22 non-governmental organizations were under investigation for allegedly promoting homosexuality in the country.

A number of international aid groups have decried the law on both moral and practical grounds, arguing it will discourage Ugandans from seeking HIV care for fear of being targeted, and could lead to bans on organizations providing such care. “The stigma and discrimination associated with the passage of the Act has already led to reduced access to prevention as well as treatment services,” warned leaders of global public health groups including PEPFAR, the United States’ President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

The United States spends about $1 billion annually on various programs in Uganda—including PEPFAR—and President Biden said in a statement the White House would consider sanctions, visa restrictions, and other service limitations in response to the move. “I have directed my National Security Council to evaluate the implications of this law on all aspects of U.S. engagement with Uganda,” he said, calling for the law’s repeal. “The enactment of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act is a tragic violation of universal human rights—one that is not worthy of the Ugandan people, and one that jeopardizes the prospects of critical economic growth for the entire country.” 

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas also came out swinging against the measure in recent days. “This Uganda law is horrific,” he tweeted. “Civilized nations should join together in condemning this human rights abuse.” His stance received plenty of criticism on the right—including from former Trump attorney Jenna Ellis—but Cruz doubled down: “You or I may or may not agree with their choices, but consenting adults should not go to jail for what they do in their own bedrooms.”

Such international criticism, however, could backfire, as Ugandan supporters of the law have cast themselves as resisting ideological coercion by foreigners. “The Western countries should stop wasting the time of humanity by trying to impose their practices on other people,” Museveni said in March

But Western opposition doesn’t seem to have damaged the measure’s popularity. “As the parliament of Uganda, we have answered the cries of our people,” said speaker Anita Anne Among. “We have legislated to protect the sanctity of family.” Religious leaders—including Church of Uganda Archbishop Samuel Kazimba—have also declared support for the law. “Affirming countries have shown us the negative consequences [of accepting homosexuality],” Kazimba said in a statement. “We thank the President for not surrendering to their threats and for protecting Uganda from their paths of self-destruction.”

Uganda may be the most recent African nation to adopt new restrictions on homosexualactivity, but it’s far from the only one considering them. More than half of Africa’s 54 nations already ban same-sex activity, according to a tally by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association. Ghana is debating a bill that would ban advocating for homosexuality, among other measures, and Kenyan lawmakers are considering one as well. Kenyan lawmaker George Kaluma congratulated Uganda on its new law and declared “Kenya is following you in this endeavor to save humanity” before railing against the U.S. for considering withdrawing aid. 

Political motivations for the crackdowns vary, though lawmakers often cite religious beliefs and the need to protect African cultures. “Overall, whether it’s a person or a party, it’s an attempt to score easy political points and distract from more pressing problems—maybe poverty or COVID, or corruption or so on—by scapegoating a very vulnerable minority,” argued Stephen Brown, a professor at the University of Ottawa who has studied foreign aid and homosexuality in Africa.

But opposition to gay rights isn’t monolithic on the African continent. South Africa legalized same-sex marriage in 2006, and Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Lesotho, and Seychelles have decriminalized same-sex relationships in the last decade. A 2022 poll of African youth found support for doing more to boost gay rights ranged from 83 percent in South Africa to 9 percent in Malawi.

And Ugandan activists haven’t given up. The country’s Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum—in addition to individual activists—has already filed an appeal opposing the law, arguing it violates the country’s constitution. “Despite our concerted efforts to stop the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, the President has today legalized state-sponsored homophobia and transphobia by signing this bill into law,” Frank Mugisha of Sexual Minorities Uganda said Monday. “We now look forward to the legal challenge in court, and the law being repealed.”

Worth Your Time

  • How’s the GOP doing in one of the country’s swingiest swing states? David Siders traveled to Wisconsin to see how Republicans in the party’s birthplace are faring ahead of the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee next year. “For Timothy Bachleitner, a Republican Party leader in this small Wisconsin city, his party’s collapse in a spring election for state Supreme Court was demoralizing enough,” Siders writes for Politico. “But what really hurt was when a Mack truck rolled through Ripon not long after, wrenched up a building revered as the sentimental birthplace of the GOP, and plunked it down on a commercial corridor a little more than a mile away. The Little White Schoolhouse, where a group of Whigs, Free Soilers and Democrats met to form a new, anti-slavery party in 1854, had been moved several times before, and the building’s owner, the Ripon Chamber of Commerce, said the new location would make it easier to accommodate visitors when Republicans hold their national convention in Milwaukee next year. Whatever the logic, this piece of GOP history now sits across from a vape shop, near a car dealership, a Culver’s restaurant and a sewage treatment plant. For Bachleitner it seemed evocative—not so much of the party’s history as, at least in Wisconsin, its decline. ‘It kind of looks like a circus show now,’ he said. ‘You might as well put the world’s largest yarn ball next to it, or cheese curd.’” 
  • On Tortoise Media’s “Slow Newscast,” Ian Birrell tells the stories of three children from Mariupol who were part of a group of 31 Ukrainian kids abducted by Russians and transported to Moscow during the war. “Exactly how many children have been taken in this way isn’t yet known,” the show notes. “Estimates vary from 20,000 to as many as 200,000, maybe even higher. But what is clear is that this is part of a grand plan by the Russian authorities to wipe out a nation and its future—with terrifying echoes of the Soviet Union under Stalin.”

Presented Without Comment

Axios: “‘The Republican conference has been torn asunder,’ Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) declared at a House Freedom Caucus press conference Tuesday afternoon.”

Also Presented Without Comment

Politico: “Joni Ernst sees WMDs as the secret to expanding the Republican Party’s appeal.

No, she doesn’t mean that kind of weapon: ‘Women. Millennials. And Dudes with beards and tattoos. WMDs,’ the Iowa senator explained in an interview.”

Also Also Presented Without Comment

Ex-Rep. Justin Amash: “This is an amazing double self-own. McCarthy blasts Republican majorities for raising the debt ceiling without cuts while he was GOP majority leader, and DeSantis War Room uses McCarthy‘s quote to take a shot at Trump for a debt ceiling increase DeSantis voted for.”

Toeing the Company Line

  • What’s it like on the ground in Kyiv more than a year into Russia’s invasion? Why does Trump call Ron DeSantis “Rob”? Does Vivek Ramaswamy have the juice? Jonah was joined by Kevin, Andrew, and Audrey to discuss all that and more on last night’s Dispatch Live (🔒). Members who missed the conversation can catch a rerun—either video or audio-only—by clicking here
  • In the newsletters: Sarah argues (🔒) “ultra-concerned” Republicans are the GOP swing voters who could carry DeSantis to victory, Haley digs into McCarthy’s efforts to win over the House Freedom Caucus on his debt ceiling deal, and Nick contends (🔒) the deal had everything to do with politics and nothing to do with good economic policy.
  • On the podcast: David Bahnsen joins Jonah on the Remnant to talk all things economics while Sarah and David discuss Ken Paxton’s impeachment and the Supreme Court’s ruling on the definition of a “wetland” on the latest Advisory Opinions.
  • On the site: Gregg Girvan and Grant Rigney of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity offer a cost-benefit analysis of two new Alzheimer’s drugs. Plus, Jonah casts doubt on the efficacy of “Bud Lighting,” or boycotting corporations that promote “woke” causes.

Let Us Know

What, if anything, should be the U.S. government’s policy response to Uganda’s new anti-homosexuality law?

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.