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Homophobia and Tyranny

NEW YORK – President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda has just signed a new law introducing harsher penalties for homosexual acts, including life imprisonment in some circumstances. A Nigerian law that took effect in January punishes homosexual acts in that country with 14-year prison sentences.

The fresh wave of anti-gay legislation in Nigeria and Uganda (according to Amnesty International, homosexuality is illegal in 38 of 54 African countries) follows the recent embrace of official repression of homosexuality elsewhere. Last year, Russia enacted a law banning “gay propaganda.” And, in January, India’s parliament refused to consider abolishing an 1861 law, passed under British colonial rule, that mandates ten-year prison sentences for homosexual acts. Egypt, too, has seen a crackdown on homosexuals.

What explains this slew of repressive measures?

Supporters of such legislation – including advocates in the United States of a recently proposed Arizona law that would have permitted business owners to refuse service to gays on religious grounds – argue that it reflects an organic popular backlash against a threat to “traditional” values. But legal history shows just how duplicitous this global rash of legislation really is – and whose purposes it really serves.