Uganda + U.S Evangelism


(Yasmina Martin)–The Ugandan government to various news sources, the Ugandan government is set to pass the infamous anti-homosexuality bill before the end of this year despite considerable international protest. In fact, the speaker of the parliament Rebbecca Kadaga insisted that Ugandans were “demanding” the bill, with some Christian clerics asking for it to be passed “as a Christmas gift.”

The bill was first introduced by David Bahati in 2009 and caused uproar from LGBTQ activists worldwide. The Ugandan Parliamentarian argued that rich Western homosexuals were “recruiting” poor Ugandan children, offering them money and promises of a better future. The bill, coined as the “Kill the Gays” bill by Rachel Maddow, places same-sex relationships into two categories punishable under law: Aggravated Homosexuality and Offense of Homosexuality.

 ‘Aggravated homosexuality’ is defined to include homosexual acts committed by a person who is HIV-positive, is a parent or authority figure, or who administers intoxicating substances, homosexual acts committed on minors or people with disabilities, and repeat offenders. The penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality’ is death if the offender is found guilty.

‘The offence of homosexuality’ is defined to include same-sex sexual acts, involvement in a same-sex marriage, or an attempt to commit aggravated homosexuality. For the ‘offense of homosexuality’ the offender will receive life imprisonment.” (source)

Although homosexuality is already illegal under Uganda penal code (it also remains illegal in 79 more countries worldwide), this bill goes further by raising the punishment to death. It doesn’t just affect the LGBTQ community but also anyone who attempts to support homosexuals or fails to report the identities of all the LGBTQ people they know. It endangers the lives of hundreds of thousands of Ugandans, and excludes them as a now near-invisible minority.

But why did the Ugandan government decide that this was the time to solidify anti-gay hatred in the law? Why not earlier? Few realize the influence that the U.S fundamentalist right has on many Ugandan political and religious leaders. David Bahati, the bill’s main backer, is not only a member of Uganda parliament but was also part of “The Family”, a secretive American Evangelical political organization founded in 1935. Bahati was invited to the organization’s “National Prayer Breakfast” in 2008, where he first introduced the idea of executing homosexuals.

The story of U.S evangelicals in Africa starts much earlier, however, with American evangelist Scott Lively. Lively is prominent in the anti-LGBTQ movement and is the author of “The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party” which claims that the Nazis were controlled by homosexuals. Lively is much closer to home than many of us would like to think; he runs a coffee shop called Holy Grounds in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts, and his shop was the site of protests earlier this year. As early as 2002, Lively was working to stir up anti-gay hatred and promote a love of “family values” in Uganda by telling politicians and religious leaders alike that Ugandan children were at risk of being “recruited” by homosexuals. In 2009, he met with lawyers, politicians, students and religious leaders to talk about the “gay agenda”. He even gave a three-day conference for numerous legislators and the Minister of Ethics and Integrity, and spoke to more than 5,000 young students.

Treatment of homosexuals before the 2009 events was relatively better; while homosexuality was still criminalized, day-to-day hate crimes were not as common. After the speeches, Frank Mugisha (Ugandan LGBT rights activist) said that “People were being reported to the police as homosexuals, were thrown out by their families or thrown out by the church.” A week after Lively’s visit, the Kill the Gays bill was proposed.

The bill caused uproar from Europe and the United States and LGBTQ activists worldwide; some international donors even threatened to cut aid to Uganda because of it. On the whole, most of the reporting I’ve seen and heard on the Uganda issue is one-sided, and goes something like, “The Ugandan government is inhumane and this bill is terrible.” Yes, this is true. But where’s the context on Ugandan culture, or the discussion about the idea of  homosexuality being a Western import and a fear of neo-colonialism? Where’s the information about U.S conservative’s work to create fear of homosexuals and of LGBTQ activists in East Africa?

The question of sexuality identity in the African context is a very complicated one. Conversations on sexual identity have only just begun in some African countries and the heavy religious influence can make it difficult to accept members of the LGBTQ community. Yet this often Christian influence is a colonial Western import as well, and it may very well be this Western import that has allowed homophobia to rise.

Western activism can only fuel the distrust for outside aid and intervention. There’s a very fine line between supporting a community and judging a community and culture while staying on one’s pedestal of Western paternalism. To ensure success and build a sense of community, LGBTQ activism and support work in Uganda should be done by Ugandans. It’s impossible to “solve” such a situation by pouring money into organizations and signing petitions; to effect real change, it’s necessary to tackle the notion of homosexuality coming from the West which can only be done by Ugandan activists. Unfortunately, it just might be too late.

Further reading:
An extensive study on American churches in Africa and homophobia written in 2009.