Just over a month ago, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni famously signed a harsh anti-gay bill into law, effectively outlawing same-sex activity in his country and prompting three Western nations to freeze their foreign aid to Uganda, with several more expected to follow suit.
Joining the majority of African countries – and (too) many others around the world – Uganda’s decision to ban homosexuality presents a critical dilemma for the international community: How can we reconcile the country’s unacceptable human rights violations with its dire need for development assistance? Can we make a diplomatic statement without comprising the health and economic condition of Uganda’s most vulnerable people? As one might expect, this nuanced challenge does not have a black and white solution; rather it falls into what I would call a newly minted “g(r)ay area of global development.”
Coming amid a flurry of recent stories linking LGBT rights and global development – from Russia’s anti-gay law that drew attentionduring the Sochi Olympics to World Vision USA’s decision to continue its discrimination against people in same-sex marriages – this latest anti-gay position reflects a trend among developing countries, especially those in Africa. According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, 38 African nations criminalize homosexuality, four of which have death penalty punishments built into their laws. Reprehensible in principle as they are inhumane in severity, these laws bring with them far-reaching implications about the continent’s overall development, perhaps most notably in their public health outcomes.