Interview with David Bahati: Ugandan lawmaker defends Rolling Stone outing campaign, says bill will be considered

Last Friday (11/12), I interviewed David Bahati, the Ugandan Parliamentarian who authored the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (a bill that would lead to a death sentence for HIV positive gays, and life in prison for others). During the interview, Mr. Bahati defended the Rolling Stone’s “Hang Them” campaign. He also laid out a schedule for what he believes will be the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. 

I asked Mr. Bahati if he thought the court was correct in their ruling to stop the campaign or if the paper should be allowed to continue.

Well I think if we really had passed this bill, it [the Rolling Stone campaign] would have been very helpful to law enforcement of these people; , it would have been a great source for law enforcement.

I may not agree with every word they wrote, but I think if the group of young people who are concerned about what is happening in their country, that they are concerned by the damage being done by homosexuality in this country. It has been a very underground movement and we have come now and say no, this must have a stop.

Over the past month, the Rolling Stone released photos of suspected gays until a Ugandan court stopped the practice. A Ugandan newspaper, The Observer confirmed one attack on a lesbian couple linked to the outing campaign. The first issue of the campaign carried the title, “Hang Them” referring to the homosexuals named in the paper.

Bahati also claimed that action on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is imminent, saying that the Parliamentary committee responsible for the bill will place it on their agenda before the end of this Parliamentary session.  

“The last time I talked to the chairman,” Bahati said referring to the chairman of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee, “what he assured us is that he is going to work on this for sure.” Bahati added that the timing is unclear. “But if it will come up before recess, I am not certain.” The Parliament is slated to recess for nominations on November 25. Bahati told me that there were other bills in committee that would need action before his could be considered.

Contradicting reports that the bill had been shelved, Mr. Bahati sounded confident. “What I know for sure is that the bill will be debated in the lifetime of this Parliament.” Uganda’s Parliamentary session expires on May 20. Bahati added that the people of Uganda and the international community want to see a resolution to the matter, saying

…the people of Uganda want this to get out of the way. The international community would want to see where this is going and we need to stop the promotion of homosexuality in our country…. We need to clear this and start taking actions on some of these things that are taking place.

I asked Mr. Bahati if the gays or suspected gays outed in the Rolling Stone would be arrested when the bill passes. He replied

It depends on the provisions which pass, it depends on the activities, but they will if they are involved in homosexuality, they will. If they are involved in promotion, they will. 

Clearly, anyone who speaks about homosexuality in some other manner besides negatively might be in some difficulty if the AHB passes. One would not need to be gay, or even “involved in homosexuality” to be arrested. Foreign nations might need to open their doors for asylum.

Bahati said that he might be open to a recommendation from the committee to remove the death penalty, but did not want to speculate on other changes, saying

At the stage, before the committee starts its work, cause now the bill is the bill of the house, it is now the document of parliament, as the sponsor of the bill, I will wait for the committee to make some adjustments and then they will be consulting with me to know whether I am comfortalble with what they are suggesting. But I think there is one thing that comes out clearly, There has been an outcry on the punishment of death, that is something that one would be willing to, if there uis an amendment that one would be willing to accept that and move on.

Mr. Bahati sounded a confident tone about the AHB. He expresses strong belief that there is time to get the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee to have public hearings and write a favorable report. He says he has been assured of this by the committee chair. He believes then that the second reading would take place and then as is often the case in the Ugandan parliament, the third reading would take place the same day.

The election season has begun there and the Parliament recesses on November 25. Bahati was not sure when the Parliament would be called back but it is possible that a session could be convened sometime before the February 18 Polling Day. According to Bahati, the schedule is at least somewhat at the discretion of the Speaker. It does seem that there will be time to move it, either now or after the elections.

Those opposed to the bill and concerned about the safety of GLB people as well as health and mental health personnel, missionaries, NGOs, human rights workers need to carefully consider their positions and make their voices heard.