Sharp Rise in Homophobia in East Africa Sparks Fear of Violence
World AIDS day Report UNAIDS
UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima (left), has warned that laws criminalising same-sex relationships are exacerbating HIV.

Over the past week, there has been a steep rise in anti-LGBTQ activity organised by  prominent politicians and religious leaders in Kenya and Uganda, which has sparked condemnation by health and human rights activists and fears that this will result in violence.

On Thursday, Kenya’s newly elected evangelical president, William Ruto, said he would not allow “homosexual acts or same-sex marriage” during his term. 

His remarks came after an outcry led by conservative Christian and Muslim groups after last week’s Supreme Court judgement confirming that LGBTQ people had the right of association and that the NGO Board’s decision to bar LGBTQ people from forming recognised groups is discriminatory.

Meanwhile, Ugandan opposition Member of Parliament Asuman Basalirwa tabled a private Member’s Bill in that country’s parliament on Tuesday seeking life in prison for homosexuality.

That same day, Anitah Among, Uganda’s Speaker of Parliament and a prominent member of the ruling party, told religious leaders that “a Bill will be introduced as soon as possible to deal with homosexuality and lesbianism”, and that voting on it would be “by show of hands” not secret ballot.

This followed a national anti-homosexuality protest on 24 February called by the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council.

The Uganda Muslim Supreme Council held a national protest against homosexuality on 24 February.

Fuelling HIV

Ironically, the anti-LGBTQ frenzy coincided with Zero Discrimination Day on 1 March, when UNAIDS highlighted the need to remove laws that criminalise people living with HIV and “key populations”, its term for those most vulnerable to HIV, including LGBTQ people.

“Criminalizing laws chase people away from life-saving treatment. Those need to be removed,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS.

Byanyima added that “at the country level, repealing criminal laws that are driving people away from HIV prevention and treatment is critical.”

Research in sub-Saharan Africa has shown that the prevalence of HIV among gay men and other men who have sex with men was five times higher in countries that criminalise same-sex sexual activity compared to those that do not, and 12 times higher where there were recent prosecutions.


“The current wave of homo-hysteria in Kenya began earlier this year with the death of [gay activist and fashion designer] Edwin Chiloba,” human rights lawyer and Amnesty International Kenya Board member Tabitha Saoyo told Health Policy Watch.

“This was exacerbated by the Supreme Court judgement favouring LGBTQ groups. What we are now currently witnessing is an attack on the judiciary, massive disinformation on the contents of the judgement coupled with intentional fear, hate and panic from religious groups, politicians and public influencers.

“This wave of hate is manifesting through formation of anti-LGBTQ WhatsApp groups, public protests, online threats of rape, death and myriad of other harmful attacks in grassroots communities,” she added.

Thirteen Kenyan human rights organisations and LGBTQ organisations including the Kenya Human Rights Commission and the International Commission of Jurists (Kenya Section) issued a statement on Thursday expressing alarm at the misinformation and disinformation that has followed the Supreme Court ruling.

Noting that the Kenyan Constitution “expressly prohibits incitement to violence, discrimination and vilification of others or incitement to cause harm”, they said that there have been “increasing incidents of malicious online and offline comments, profiling and public demonstrations against persons who identify as intersex, gay, lesbian or non-binary, and the personal details of LGBTQ+ citizens and their family members are being openly shared and intimidated online, violating the right to privacy and human dignity”. 

Evacuation requests

“Citizens are reporting confrontations with landlords and employers. They are increasing requests for evacuation, relocation and psychotherapy, while legal and health services and officers are having to close due to safety concerns, organisations have been responding to no less than 117 homophobic cases in the last month,” they noted. 

Meanwhile, the United Nations Human Rights Office urged the Ugandan parliament to refrain from passing an anti-homosexuality bill, adding that “the  State has a duty to ensure full protection of all people from violence & discrimination, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity”.

HIV targets far off track

In 2021, the UN adopted a Polical Declaration on HIV and AIDS that committed member states to “ensure that less than 10% of countries have punitive legal and policy environments that create barriers to accessing HIV services” by 2025.

However, this goal is far form being realised with 67 of the 134 reporting countries still criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual activity and 20 criminalizing and/or prosecuting  transgender people.

“Criminalisation drives discrimination and structural inequalities. It robs people of the prospect of healthy and fulfilling lives. And it holds back the end of AIDS,” said UNAIDS.

Image Credits: Twitter.

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