An Anti-Gay Ugandan Minister Is Now President of the U.N. General Assembly

Expanding the LGBTQ Conversation
June 12 2014 6:16 PM

Sam Kutesa, Supporter of Uganda’s Anti-Gay Law, Elected President of U.N General Assembly

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Ugandan Minister Sam Kutesa sits at the anti-corruption court in Kampala.

Photo by STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

In a controversial move on Wednesday, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously elected Uganda’s foreign minister Sam Kutesa as the president for its 69th session, which will begin in September. According to the Associated Press, the position is “largely ceremonial but prestigious” and “rotates annually by region”; Kutesa garnered the uncontested nomination of his region’s African Union Executive Council after Cameroonian Foreign Minister Pierre Moukoko was withdrawn as a candidate. Critics of the choice, including many LGBTQ and human rights activists, are concerned that honoring Kutesa and, by extension, Uganada in such a way will send the wrong message with regard to the country’s recently imposed anti-gay legislation.

The AP has more background on Kutesa’s sketchy political history:

A wealthy businessman and longtime member of parliament, Kutesa is widely seen by critics to have benefited from his close ties with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, an increasingly authoritarian leader who has held power for nearly three decades. Kutesa's daughter is married to Museveni's son.

Kutesa, 65, was ousted as a junior investment minister by Ugandan lawmakers over charges he abused his office. Since 1999, he has been implicated in at least two more scandals including bribery allegations involving foreign companies seeking oil contracts in Uganda.
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Kutesa has so far denied charges of corruption. As for gay rights, he is on the record as saying that “we shall not accept promotion and exhibition, because we think that is wrong for our young people and it offends our culture.” In response to the growing backlash against his promotion, Kuetsa has claimed that he is not “homophobic,” but his history on the issue leaves little room for misinterpretation. Carol J. Williams of the L.A. Times writes:

Kutesa also defended Museveni's introduction of an anti-gay law last year that imposes life sentences to those convicted of "aggravated homosexuality," a charge applied to same-sex couples openly living together. Those who promote gay rights or help homosexuals evade detection can also face up to seven years in prison under the law.

Opponents of the decision in the U.S. have started a petition calling on the Obama administration to revoke Kutesa’s visa, which would make him unable to attend any meetings in New York. While there are surely myriad diplomatic angles to such a decision, it does not seem an inappropriate action to take against the representative of a country who has made terrorizing LGBTQ citizens official state policy.

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.