On not shaking hands – Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Law


This morning, I heard that the President of Uganda has signed into law the anti-gay law that there has been such a huge amount of discussion about.

The law itself has become iconic. It is almost the definitive answer to what draconian anti-gay legislation looks like. The Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Law brings in terrible punishments for those who are gay in Uganda. It also criminalizes those who don’t report those who are gay to the authorities. This then has an obviously detrimental effect on those who are trying to work against HIV infection – those who know of men having sex with men are supposed to report them. The bill has exacerbated hatred of gay people in that land.

Furthermore, the bill asserts that Uganda has jurisdiction on Ugandans abroad suggesting that they could seek extradition for punishment back in Uganda if they commit “homosexual offences” whilst abroad. Yes – that’s right – that could criminalize people who live in Scotland. It could criminalize people attending my congregation.

There are a number of people in the Scottish Episcopal Church who have links with Uganda – the Primus, the Most Rev David Chillingworth is one. Gill Young in my own congregation is another. They are the most obvious people who need to be given all our support and encouragement to speak out against this bill whenever they are talking about overseas relations between the churches, international aid and homosexuality generally. The Primus in particular made a visit to Uganda recently which some of us in the church believed to be unwise and attended a service which was addressed by President Museveni himself. However, it was supported by the rest of our bishops so they each share some responsibility for his actions.

The question for those who go to Uganda and meet with church leaders and politicians there which needs to be asked is whether they have met and greeted those who have blood on their hands. I know no-one involved in any aid agency, NGO, equality organisation nor in the wider gay communities who do not believe that this law will lead to further direct violence against gay people in the region.

The hand that signed the bill this morning belongs to President Musoveni. The bill has terrible consequences for gay people in Uganda and stretches its reach to people here in the city of Glasgow.

This summer, the eyes of the world will be on the city of Glasgow as we welcome sports people from around the world for the Commonwealth Games. It is very clear to me that politicians (and church people t00 – for the churches muscle in on these sports fixtures just like many organisations and businesses do) must not be seen to shake hands with any Ugandan official. In particular, it must be made clear in this city that President Musoveni and other officials of the Ugandan government are not welcome here. That must apply to local council leaders as well as Scottish and UK government ministers. It would be particularly sickening to see SNP leaders welcoming the official representatives of a foreign government which is attempting to criminalize Ugandans living in Scotland just weeks before the Independence Vote.

Ugandan athletes should be warmly welcomed in Glasgow this summer. They should be greeted with welcoming banners in all the colours of the rainbow.

Ugandan government officials should be met with a refusal on behalf of all people of goodwill to shake hands.

That’s a language that is well understood internationally and particularly well understood in Africa.


  1. chigozie iwueke says

    Welcome development it is unchristain n unscriptual.

  2. Robin says

    > It would be particularly sickening to see SNP leaders welcoming the official representatives of a foreign government which is attempting to criminalize Ugandans living in Scotland just weeks before the Independence Vote.

    Sickening, yes. But why *particularly* so? Would it not be just as sickening to see leaders of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, the parties which form the Westminster government (the writ of which also runs in Scotland), welcoming the official representatives of the Ugandan government? Or leaders of the Labour Party, which will be campaigning to form the next governments in both Holyrood and Westminster? Or leaders of the ‘Better Together’ campaign, who will be trying to persuade Scots to remain within the UK and would also give an unfortunate message to the Scottish electorate by welcoming the official represtentatives of the Ugandan government?

  3. You are right in the sense that it would be sickening to see any UK politicians doing this.

    Why, *particularly so* for the SNP – well, the SNP are particularly trying to persuade us that foreign policy should be determined entirely within Scotland.

    But I take your point – it applies to everyone.

  4. I expect the Episcopal Bishops have a duty to the Christians in Uganda and I don’t think we have a right to censure them for fulfilling their obligations, especially as we are not privy to all that they do and say.
    I also think that the people of Scotland being appalled at these malevolent laws can be taken as read.

    • I think that taking such things as read makes a foolish and potentially dangerous assumption. I also think that there is a moral imperative to be publicly as well as privately appalled at these laws, just as there is a moral imperative to be publicly as well as privately supportive of progressive ones.

      • Sometimes you have to know when to stop punching and it’s not so that you can pick up a stick with Uganda written on it and start swinging it around your head at the Scottish people represented by their government
        when they have just passed a law legalising same sex marriage.
        Contact is important, if Michelangelo did not put his chisel his hammer and himself in contact with an intransigent rock then we wouldn’t now have the statue of David.
        If I was a campaigner for gay rights then I would want to meet those in public office from Uganda and attempt to explain to them why they are wrong.
        Snubbing only adds ignorance to ignorance and (Diplomatically) should never be the first response but the last resort.

        • Oh, you’ve not been watching the international attempts over the last few months to get the government of Uganda to think again then, Jimmy?

          I think we have reached the last resort.

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