Pressure Mounts on Corporations as Uganda Nears Vote on Anti-Gay Bill

A vote on Uganda’s dangerous and deplorable “Anti-Homosexuality Bill” is looming, with the Speaker of the Parliament promising its passage, as “a Christmas gift,” prior to the chamber’s December 15 holiday recess. Originally introduced in 2009, the controversial measure has also been dubbed the “Kill the Gays” Bill as it includes the possibility of a death sentence for "aggravated homosexuality." Life in prison is the punishment for the “offence of homosexuality,” which includes merely touching someone of the same-sex “with the intention of committing the act.” A vote could occur at any time up from now until the last day of the legislative session on December 15, five days after International Human Rights Day on December 10.

There has been mounting pressure on the Ugandan Parliament to reject the bill, which would also introduce harsh prison sentences to those support gays and lesbians. International donors have threatened to cut off aid to the impoverished African nation, and Western leaders have not minced words when condemning the legislation.

Pressure has also shifted to include banks that operate subsidiaries in Uganda, including both Citibank and Barclays, which have both supported protections for LGBT employees in the past. A petition that has garnered over half a million supporters asks the banks to publicly condemn the bill, which would “send a loud message to Ugandan legislators that criminalizing homosexuality with lifetime prison sentences and the death penalty won’t be supported by major international businesses.” Opponents of the proposed "Kill the Gays" Bill have also launced a petition against soft-drink bottler Pepsi, which has been named as one of the largest bottling companies in Uganda. 

A spokesperson for Barclays recently divulged that they “are engaging at appropriate levels of the Ugandan Government to express our views” about the bill, but stopped short of fully condemning its passage. An official at Citibank said “While the laws and cultural norms in some countries where Citi operates differ from commonly accepted global standards for human rights, Citi supports equality without regard for, among other personal characteristics, race, gender, gender identity or expression, disability, age, nationality, or sexual orientation.”

Frank Mugisha, who has been Uganda’s most visible gay rights advocate since the death of David Kato last year, has been travelling outside of his home country and raising international awareness about the likely passage of the bill, which could potentially put 500,000 Ugandans behind bars for “violations.” Mugisha, the Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), received the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award last year for his activism in the movement. In addition to an op-ed in the New York Times, Mugisha also recently appeared on MSNBC with Thomas Roberts to discuss the increasingly dire situation in Uganda. “The chances [the bill] will pass are very high,” he said, in which case he would definitely be subject to “either life in prison or sentenced to death.” 

International Human Rights Day is this Monday, December 10 and GLAAD urges all supporters to sign the petition in a show of solidarity with the Ugandan LGBT community and urge the banks to publicly denounce the bill.