Given her work in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Winnie Byanyima, the UNAIDS Executive Director and wife to Ugandan opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye, is a fearless activist for the LGBTQI community. But Ugandans online are not happy with her views on gays and the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which the country’s president Gen Yoweri Kaguta Tibuhaburwa Museveni recently assented to.
Before the piece of legislation got President Museveni’s much-needed nod, Byanyima met Uganda’s Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka and explained why she thought the law should be thrown in the dustbin. (See Details Here).
Hours after the breaking of the news that President Museveni had finally assented to the Anti-Homosexuality Act, Byanyima’s UNAIDS and other organizations – The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (the Global Fund), and the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) issued a joint statement saying they were “deeply concerned about the harmful impact” of the new law.
In their reaction issued by Peter Sands, the Executive Director of The Global Fund, Byanyima the UNAIDS boss, and Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, as well as Ambassador John Nkengasong, US Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy, US Department of State, the three organizations were of the view that the Act “be reconsidered so that Uganda may continue on its path to ensure equitable access to health services and end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030” otherwise “Uganda’s progress on its HIV response is now in grave jeopardy.”
“The Anti-Homosexuality Act 2023 will obstruct health education and the outreach that can help end AIDS as a public health threat. The stigma and discrimination associated with the passage of the Act has already led to reduced access to prevention as well as treatment services. Trust, confidentiality, and stigma-free engagement are essential for anyone seeking health care. LGBTQI+ people in Uganda increasingly fear for their safety and security, and increasing numbers of people are being discouraged from seeking vital health services for fear of attack, punishment and further marginalization,” Byanyima, Sands and Nkengasong further wrote.
Besides the statement, Byanyima has been seriously engaging with all those who dare challenge the UNAIDS position on homosexuality and AIDS. For example, she fired back at the Ugandan MP and health minister, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng after she assured the country’s homosexuals that they will not be discriminated when it comes to access to HIV/AIDS services.
“The Government of Uganda will ensure that prevention programs for HIV Epidemic control remains accessible to those that need them in a non-discriminatory manner observing principles of confidentiality and equity. Our previous efforts brought down new HIV infections from 100,000 in 2015 to 17,000 in 2022,” noted Aceng.
“Similarly HIV prevalence has declined from 18% to 5.5% now. With 1.3 million people on treatment out of the estimated 1.43 million PLHIV, the country is on course to HIV Epidemic control. Uganda remains committed to ending AIDS as a public health challenge by 2030.”
But Byanyima punched holes in Minister Aceng’s assurances. “How will that happen when the law you have supported will harshly punish people who reach out and deliver peer services to their community members? How will queer people access services when they are hiding from arrests? You have set back the HIV response. Sad.”
She also had to respond to trolls who took the argument to her personal life and family. For example, a one Edson Mwebaze imagined what the reaction of Byanyima’s parents would be – if they were still alive – if they learnt that their daughter is in “support of these abominable behaviours in exchange for financing grants.”
“You don’t know my parents’ names. You don’t know them at all. Leave them alone! Let them rest in peace. To join such an important discussion, you should try to craft an argument. Personal attacks add nothing useful to a public debate. Good luck,” replied Byanyima.
Another troll even described Winnie as ‘a failed mother’ and wondered what the country would be like if she had become Uganda’s First Lady. Besigye, Byanyima’s husband, ran for presidency four times in a row, coming second to Museveni in all – according to official Electoral Commission results.
“Look at the First Lady Uganda would have had. Some people don’t ask serious questions. Was the fundamental principle of US-Uganda relations LGBTQ based? This is not respecting a sovereign state. But yea….your son is a member of such useless groups. Such a failed mother,” a one Wɛ̈n Jɔ̈n, via the @MonykuchWenJcn Twitter handle wrote.
“Do I need a motherhood diploma from you?” came Byanyima’s response.
NOT NEW TO CONTROVERSY
Winnie Byanyima is not new to controversy in conservative Uganda where homosexuality remains frowned upon and gender equality efforts still have a long way to go. And she has always defended her positions that some find disturbing.
For example, Byanyima was criticized by some Ugandans, especially those from Buganda Kingdom, for refusing to kneel before the Kabaka or king. (See Details Here).
Since the news of Museveni assenting to the Anti-Homosexuality Act, we have learnt that US government has cancelled Speaker of Parliament Anita Among’s visa. (See Details Here).
President Joe Biden of the US has also sent a clear warning to Museveni, MPs and Ugandans, indicating what punishments await them over the Anti-Homosexuality Act. (Read Story Here).
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