Homosexuality is already a crime in Uganda, but a bill introduced to parliament last year would seriously up the ante. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill would legislate new criminal offenses and step up the punishment for existing ones. "Aggravated homosexuality," an offense that includes everything from statutory rape to being a "serial offender" of gay acts, for example, would become a crime punishable by death. Gay men who test positive for HIV could be executed as well. Human rights groups have condemned the legislation, which comes up for consideration in the Ugandan legislature early next year. But regardless of whether the law passes, anti-gay vigilantes aren't relying on the government to do all the persecuting. A local tabloid published a list of known homosexuals earlier this year and called on readers to "hang them," NPR reported. Four of the men on the list were attacked shortly thereafter. [Update: On January 26, David Kato, a leading Ugandan gay rights advocate whose photo was featured on the cover of the newspaper, was beaten to death in Kampala.]
Among the many disturbing aspects of the homophobic tide sweeping Uganda is that many analysts believe it has its origins in the United States' own culture wars. As conservative Christian missionaries have flocked to the East African country to evangelize, they've often brought with them strong views about homosexuality, which seem to have caught on. The bill's sponsor is a member of "The Family," a Christian fundamentalist political and religious organization with ties to powerful members of the American evangelical movement.