A group of leading global scientists and academics have signed an open letter urging Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to veto a hardline bill criminalizing homosexuality in the country.
The bill outlaws identifying as LGBTQ+, and suggests life sentences for convicted homosexuals as well as the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality,” a sweeping term covering various sexual acts including sex with people with mental or physical disabilities or sex with children.
The Anti Homosexuality Bill 2023, which was passed by Ugandan lawmakers in March, is set to be either signed into law or vetoed by the president on Thursday.
Before the bill was passed almost unanimously last month, President Museveni called on scientists to establish whether homosexuality was natural or learned. Museveni has previously called homosexuals “deviations from normal.”
In their open letter, the group of scientists state: “We cannot say this enough: homosexuality is a normal and natural variation of human sexuality. The science on this subject is crystal clear and we call on you [Museveni] in the strongest possible terms to veto the bill in the name of science.
“We cannot think of one major scientific organization – from the World Health Organization to the World Health Assembly and beyond – which would argue against the idea homosexuality is not normal and natural,” the letter continues.
The letter has been signed by 15 leading scientists around the world, from countries including South Africa, the United States, Canada, the UK, Kenya, and Australia.
The scientists write that genetics play a role in homosexuality, and that the practice cannot be caught like a “common cold.” Nor can homosexuality be indoctrinated, they say: “Exposure to rainbow flags will not make a child gay.”
“Sexual orientation is not limited to any specific region. It is not confined by borders drawn on a map. It needs no passport to travel. Indeed, there’s clear evidence for same sex relationships in Africa dating back hundreds of years,” the letter adds.
Ugandan authorities did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
Same-sex relations are already illegal in Uganda and warrant a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Under the Anti Homosexuality Bill 2023, it would be a crime to even identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. Those identifying as LGBTQ+ would face up to 20 years in jail.
Alongside the letter, Professor Glenda Gray, President and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council said: “Despite the rhetoric, homosexuality is not a pernicious western import. If anything, it´s state-sponsored homophobia that´s un-African and against the principles of Ubuntu, not homosexuality.”
Dean Hamer, Scientist Emeritus at the US National Institutes of Health, stated: “Homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is a natural variation of the human condition, deeply ingrained and observed in every society and culture worldwide across history. Attempts to eradicate same-sex desire will not only fail, but will reflect poorly on your reputation and the standing of your nation.”
Andrew Legon, Senior Campaigner at Avaaz, added: “President Museveni said he wanted a scientific opinion before making a decision on the anti-homosexuality bill, and now he has it. It’s time for the President to shelve this bill for good - not only because it’s unscientific, but because it’s completely counter to the universal human rights embodied in the Ugandan constitution.”