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Uganda: Setback for anti-gay group, but also for AIDS fight

Uganda remains a hot spot in the battles against AIDS and for justice for LGBTI people.  Three examples in recent days:
Cut in U.S. aid hobbles anti-gay religious council

 Inter-Religious Council leaders congratulate President Museveni during a celebration of the signing of the harsh Anti-Homosexuality Act. (Photo courtesy of The Observer)
Inter-Religious Council leaders congratulate President Museveni during a celebration of the signing of the harsh Anti-Homosexuality Act. (Photo courtesy of The Observer)

The anti-gay Inter-Religious Council of Uganda has laid off all its staff after losing its $34.5 million worth of funding from the United States, The Observer of Uganda reported.
Effective Aug. 1, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) replaced the anti-gay group  as a contractor for HIV / AIDS services in Uganda.
Starting this month, the work will be done by a private health, infrastructure and environmental services firm.
The Inter-Religious Council, which includes Christian and Muslim leaders,  was one of the major backers of the harsh Anti-Homosexuality Act, which was passed last December and overturned by the country’s Constitutional Court last month. The council organized a celebration after President Yoweri Museveni signed the bill.
Catholic archbishop: ‘Don’t harm gays; they’re people too’
John Baptist Odama, the Roman Catholic archbishop based in Gulu in northern Uganda, urged people to shun violence against LGBTI people, which has surged since the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
His words, quoted in the Daily Monitor of Uganda, did not break new ground, but did emphasize tolerance rather than opposition to homosexuality:

Archbishop John Baptist Odama (Photo courtesy of author-me.com)
Archbishop John Baptist Odama (Photo courtesy of author-me.com)

“Let us learn to love God’s human creatures. It is not that I am advocating for homosexual practice in the country, but we should not take laws into our hands to harm and hate the homosexuals because we all have weaknesses,’ he has said.
‘The country has been struggling to have a law to criminalizes homosexuality.
“However, the struggle has been frustrated by the Constitutional Courts. People should not take the laws into their hands and harm homosexuals, since they are also human beings though with different sexual feelings.”

President signs HIV bill despite warnings that it will boost AIDS
President Museveni has signed the HIV Prevention and Management Bill, despite warnings from public health experts that it will interfere with efforts to persuade people to get tested for HIV.
In particular, the bill would make it a crime punishable by 10 years in prison to “wilfully and intentionally” infect someone with  HIV — a charge that could be brought against any HIV-positive person who has unprotected sexual relations, but only if that person knows he or she is HIV-positive.
Experts see that provision as a disincentive to HIV testing, because people who haven’t been tested can’t be accused of violating the law.
In Uganda, the HIV infection rate has been on the rise in recent years. It is currently about 6.5 percent overall, but 12.4 percent to 32.9 percent for men who have sex with men.
For the full text of the law, see the BuzzFeed article “Ugandan President Signs Law Criminalizing HIV Transmission.”

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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