A Ugandan LGBTQ+ activist has been murdered as the African nation denies reports it is reintroducing its repealed “Kill the Gays” law.
According to multiple reports, Brian Wasswa was killed in his home in the eastern Ugandan city of Jinja — a two-hour drive from the capital of Kampala — on October 4. Wasswa was bludgeoned to death with a garden hoe and was discovered lying unconscious in a pool of his own blood.
Although he initially survived the ordeal, Wasswa was unresponsive to treatment and died before he could be transferred to a hospital where he could get the care he needed.
In a press release, Human Rights Watch claims Wasswa was gay and gender nonconforming*. He worked as a paralegal for the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, which offers resources and support to marginalized communities communities in Uganda, and as a peer educator for the AIDS Support Organization.
The latter work was particularly impactful, as an estimated 13 percent of gay and bisexual men in Uganda are living with HIV.
“Wasswa was social, well-loved, and committed to counseling young people living with HIV about the importance of adhering to treatment,” a colleague told Human Rights Watch, although the statement is not a direct quote.
The brutal murder took place just days before news reports alleged that Uganda is considering a plan to revamp legislation mandating the death penalty for homosexuality, which was declared “null and void” by the country’s constitutional court in 2014 due to what observers termed a “legal technicality.”
While homosexuality remains illegal, Ethics and Integrity Minister Simon Lokodo told Reuters last Thursday that the “current penal law is limited.” Currently, same-sex activity is punishable with a sentence of up to seven years in jail.
After personally shutting down LGBTQ+ Pride events in recent years, Lokodo said further action is necessary to stop the spread of homosexuality in Uganda. He claimed that a new piece of legislation would be introduced in the country’s parliament within the next few weeks and claimed President Yoweri Museveni is in favor of the bill.
“Homosexuality is not natural to Ugandans,” he said, “but there has been a massive recruitment by gay people in schools, and especially among the youth, where they are promoting the falsehood that people are born like that.”
However, Museveni’s administration denies any such proposal is in the works.
“There are no plans by the government to introduce a law like that,” a spokesperson told Reuters on Monday. “We have the penal code that already handles issues of unnatural sexual behavior so there is no law coming up.”
But as international groups like European Union, Global Fund, and World Bank pledge to continue monitoring the situation in Uganda, human rights advocates are calling the country to investigate Wasswa’s murder. In a statement, Human Rights Watch Researcher Oryem Nyeko said the “government should be making it crystal clear that violence is never acceptable, regardless of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”
“Instead, a government minister charged with ethics and integrity is threatening to have gay people killed at the hands of the state,” Nyeko continued.
However, this isn’t the first time that Uganda has made headlines in recent weeks for its treatment of LGBTQ+ citizens. As Out reported earlier this month, Security Minister Elly Tumwine linked LGBTQ+ people to terrorist groups and claimed they want to “break the established order” and create anarchy.
* Although Wasswa sometimes discussed the feeling he might be transgender, advocacy groups have used masculine pronouns to describe his gender.