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OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT: Do something about Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Dear President Obama,

I am writing on behalf of American Jewish World Service (AJWS) and its more than one hundred thousand supporters in the United States to urge you to use the persuasive powers of your office to demand that the President of Uganda, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, oppose the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill. This is an urgent matter, as the bill may come up for a vote in Uganda’s parliament in the coming days.

As you know, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, first introduced in 2009, seeks to strengthen existing penalties in Ugandan law against homosexuality. It also seeks to persecute lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and undermine human rights and civil society in Uganda generally. Among the bill’s many cruel and unconscionable provisions, a person who fails to report within 24 hours the identity of anyone perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender—or who supports the human rights of sexual minorities—would be subject to three years’ imprisonment.

The bill also criminalizes the “promotion of homosexuality,” which includes providing funds to organizations that serve LGBT people. In addition to striking even more fear into the lives of LGBT people and their friends and allies in Uganda, this measure would severely threaten the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS, and would make organizations’ efforts to stem HIV in the long term nearly impossible. Moreover, this provision would impede the work of many Ugandan and international organizations, including American Jewish World Service, that support the well being of all Ugandans.

The proposed legislation remains one of the most abhorrent manifestations of a worldwide escalation of violence and human rights violations against sexual minorities. Moreover, it seeks to suppress the growth and progress of Uganda’s robust civil society by undermining the right to assembly and self-expression for many groups, including those not focused on LGBT rights.

AJWS and our supporters strongly believe that the issues at stake represent a grave threat to LGBT people in Uganda and to human rights, at large. Whenever basic human rights such as equal treatment under the law and the rights to safety, assembly, association, expression and privacy are denied, we are compelled to speak out. Based on our great nation’s commitment to the right of every individual to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—and our shared commitment to human rights for all people around the world—we urge you to act. Like you, we are Americans dedicated to upholding our nation’s values and what you have articulated as our sense of fair play. Your administration's clear opposition to this legislation when it was first introduced three years ago was critical, and we thank you for the unparalleled commitment you have made to defending LGBT rights worldwide.

Finally, we — as Jews — are also compelled to act by the teachings of our own ethical tradition and the lessons of the most tragic chapter of Jewish history. Unfortunately, we know from our history that the stripping away of human rights from specific minorities is often a precursor to the diminution of rights in general and, in some cases, to the targeted destruction of oppressed people. As Americans and as American Jews, we implore you, Mr. President, to urge President Museveni to oppose Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The future of LGBT Ugandans — and of a world in which human rights are upheld rather than destroyed — depends on you.


Ruth W. Messinger
President of American Jewish World Service