US Evangelicals Fuel Oppression of Gay Ugandans
“Americans’ Role Seen in Uganda Anti-Gay Push”
The New York Times reports this week on the revelation that anti-gay legislation proposed last year in Uganda was supported by lectures from visiting American Evangelical Christians. Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 threatens the death penalty for those convicted of engaging in homosexual acts, which has elicited diplomatic uproar from aid donor countries – including the United States – for its appalling violation of human rights. Recent pressure has forced a back-down from capital punishment, but some acts will still be punishable with life imprisonment. Extreme conservatism on issues of sexuality is common within African societies, and various nations prosecute homosexuality as a crime, but this recent legislation makes conditions for gays in Uganda amongst the worst on the continent.
Western missionaries have had an interest in Africa since before colonisation (i.e. Sir David Livingstone of exploration fame), and in recent decades Evangelical Christians have been active in sometimes surprising ways – in the 1980s Evangelicals helped supply and fund some of the worst rebel groups in Africa on the basis that they were ‘anti-Communist’. Under the G.W. Bush administration Evangelicals gained great political influence over American aid finance, using AIDS-related health funding to push an ideological position on family planning that emphasised abstinence and punished nations that educated about contraception or abortion. Uganda’s family-values policies were commended by the Bush administration, and high-profile American Evangelicals like the Reverend Rick Warren, who has compared homosexuality to paedophilia, have toured the nation.
In this case, three American Evangelical Christians arrived in Uganda in March 2009, presenting themselves as ‘experts’ on homosexuality and how to ‘cure’ it. The three were Scott Lively, who has written books about homosexuality, such as ‘7 Steps to Recruit-Proof Your Child’; Caleb Lee Brundidge, who claims to be a ‘former gay man’ who now leads ‘healing seminars’; and Don Schmierer, a missionary from Exodus International, an organisation whose mission focuses on preaching against homosexuality.
These three were guest speakers at a conference surrounding what Ugandan organiser Stephen Langa describes as, “the gay agenda — that whole hidden and dark agenda”. While the Evangelicals now distance themselves from the Ugandan legislation, during the conference they spent days lecturing “thousands of Ugandans, including police officers, teachers and national politicians”, on how to make gay people straight, and how “the gay movement” aims “to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity”. Their lectures certainly helped create an atmosphere conducive to the development of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, in a region already ideologically-dominated by religions both modern and primeval. Scott Lively has also acknowledged meeting with Ugandan lawmakers to discuss the Bill, though he now says he is disappointed that the legislation is so harsh (he had perhaps suggested a lesser punishment?).
Ugandan gay rights activists say they have long had to endure harassment, assaults and death threats; and lesbians have sometimes been targeted for “correctional rape”, with the additional risk of HIV infection. However, following the Bill they are now worried there could be an atmosphere that encourages lynchings in an already violent society, where conservative Christian groups hold enormous influence. While it cannot be said that these modern missionaries are the root cause of Uganda’s reactionary social values, it is pretty obvious that America’s well-funded conservative propaganda machine, and its continuing influence over US government policies, helps to motivate hate crimes both internationally and at home. They also provide funding, training and connections for conservative organisations and figures worldwide, perpetuating the high-level political influence of homophobic demagogues in the developing world. At the very least the three Evangelical representatives helped to intellectually-legitimise proposals that elements in Uganda were preparing to implement, firming-up their support within the Ugandan ‘middle classes’. The US radical-right is clearly a global threat to human rights, peace and democracy, and I’m sure I’ll be writing more about them in the future.