NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Gay, bisexual and transgender people in Uganda have been targeted for arrest and extortion, lost homes and jobs and denied health care since anti-gay legislation came into force earlier this year, according to rights groups.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which was signed into law in February by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, sets life in prison as the punishment for some sexual acts between consenting adults of the same sex, and criminalises the promotion of homosexual behaviour.
"The Anti-Homosexuality Act is creating homelessness and joblessness, restricting life-saving HIV work, and bloating the pockets of corrupt police officers who extort money from victims of arrest," said Neela Ghoshal, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
"Repealing this law is imperative to ensure Ugandans can live without fear of violence and harassment."
Rights groups Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International conducted a series of interviews in towns across Uganda and found an increasing number of LGBT Ugandans being arbitrarily arrested or evicted from their homes and losing their jobs, as well as having limited access to vital health care such as HIV treatments.
The report said that at least 17 people accused of homosexual conduct have been arrested since the bill passed in parliament in December 2013, compared to a total of 23 arrests reported between 2007 and 2011 by a Ugandan group that tracks such cases.
However, lawyers interviewed by the rights groups said that most of those arrested were later released without charge.
Three transgender people accused the police of sexually assaulting them while in custody, while one HIV-positive woman claims she was denied life-saving antiretroviral medicines (ART), the report said.
There also have been reports of men forced to undertake anal examinations, a discredited procedure used to get “proof” of homosexual activity.
Among the most feared repercussions of the bill is the curtailing of LGBT people’s access to health services and HIV prevention despite a pledge by the health minister that LGBT people would not be discriminated against.
According to the research, in April police raided the Makerere University Walter Reed Project, a U.S.-funded HIV research and treatment center that serves the LGBT community.
In many cases, patient confidentiality has reportedly been violated.
"The doctor asked me, ‘But are you a woman or a man?’ I said, ‘That doesn’t matter, but what I can tell you is I’m a trans man’," a transgender man told the rights groups.
"He said ‘What’s a trans man? You know we don’t offer services to gay people here. I can even call the police and report you...You’re not even supposed to be in the country’."
The man was forced to buy the doctor’s silence with a bribe and left the clinic.
As a result of increasing fear and pressure on the community, many LGBT Ugandans have fled the country, the report said.