independent

Friday 18 April 2014

Uganda gays 'will still get care'

Pepe Julian Onziema says he and other homosexuals have been discriminated against when seeking healthcare (AP Photo/Stephen Wandera, File)

Uganda's health minister has said gay people will not be discriminated against by medical workers despite the strengthening of criminal penalties against homosexuals.

Ruhakana Rugunda said a clause which would have required medical workers to report homosexuals to police was removed from new laws that impose strong sentences for gay sex.

"We are saying that as far as health is concerned, they are at liberty," he said. "They should give full disclosure to their nurses. We do not discriminate against patients on the basis of sexual orientation.

"That's why we are encouraging gay Ugandans to take advantage of the health systems."

But Pepe Julian Onziema, a prominent activist who is one of the few openly gay Ugandans, said he and other homosexuals have experienced prejudice when seeking health care.

"I once went to a clinic where I stayed in the queue (line) for hours and people who came after me were being served," he said. "You stand in the queue and they ignore you. And you hear them saying, 'That is a gay person. We can't serve him. We shall not serve him.'"

The new law has already spread fear among gay Ugandans and many are actively trying to flee the country, he said.

Inflaming anti-gay sentiment in the country, a Ugandan tabloid newspaper published a list of what it called the country's "200 top homosexuals" on Tuesday, saying it wanted to expose gays and their sympathisers "in salutation to the new-anti-gay law".

That list included many people who previously had not identified themselves as gay, endangering their jobs and lives, Onziema said.

Uganda's new anti-gay law prescribes life imprisonment for those convicted of engaging in gay sex. It also creates the offences of "conspiracy to commit homosexuality" and "aiding and abetting homosexuality", both of which are punishable by seven years behind bars. Those convicted of "promoting homosexuality" face similar punishment.

There have been no physical attacks on gays since the law came into force on Monday, but Onziema said he was trying to confirm a report that two "suspected gay men" walking hand in hand were attacked on Tuesday in a Kampala suburb.

Although the new anti-gay measure is popular among many of Uganda's 34 million people, it has been widely condemned around the world. Rights groups say it is draconian and unnecessary in a country where homosexuality was already criminalised under a colonial-era law.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is demanding a revision or repeal of Uganda's anti-gay law, warning that it could fuel prejudice and encourage harassment against gays. US President Barack Obama's administration has warned that it could cut aid to Uganda over the new law.

But those who support the law in Uganda say such a tough measure was needed to deter the West from promoting homosexuality in Africa. In signing the bill, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni shrugged off Western criticism as interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country.

Some Ugandan lawyers and activists have said they will challenge the law in court as impossible to implement and illegitimate in a country whose constitution bars discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Press Association

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