(VIDEO) Uganda: Signs of Eroding Support for Anti-Gay Bill?


UPDATE: January 13th, 9:28 am: Uganda’s newspaper New Vision reports that Museveni has made concerns about the foreign policy and foreign assistance impact known to members of his party. See the story here.

 

It’s being reported that, at the urging of U.S. government
officials, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni will block the anti-gay bill introduced in October in the Ugandan Parliament. It is also reported that the majority of Ugandans supports the bill. The controversy over the bill, however, continues to bubble unrelentingly. Will strong financial ties to the U.S. influence Museveni’s actions? Or is the “historic religious revival” (as Jeff Sharlet, author of “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power” calls it) underway in Uganda enough to power this homosexual hatred to its ultimate extreme?

Homosexual sex is already criminalized in Uganda. But the proposed legislation would impose
either the death penalty or life imprisonment for those "outed" as
homosexual (with prison sentences for those who knowingly protect gay Ugandans).
Ugandan legislator David Bahati, who is significant in this story in more ways
than one, drafted the bill. Not only is he behind the hateful bill, he
maintains strong ties to high-ranking U.S. political and evangelical religious leaders
and corporate executives through his membership in the clandestine organization
"The Family" an
international organization based in Washington DC and considered one of the
most politically well-connected fundamentalist groups in the U.S.

In fact, some report that the idea
for the bill was initially introduced by Bahati at a prayer breakfast in
Washington DC, a regular event hosted by “The Family.” Jeff Sharlet, notes that the idea was
met by “disapproval” from members of The Family and, Sharlet writes, none of
the American members of The Family “seem to support” the bill, including Bob
Hunter, the member of The Family responsible for building the relationship
between the group and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, and who has since come
out
in vocal opposition to the bill. But other Family members, Sharlet
writes, such as Senator
James Inhofe, Senator Chuck Grassley, Rep. Joe Pitts, and Senator Tom Coburn
condemned the bill only after a concerted campaign of public and private
pressure.”

Connections between U.S. religious leaders and African
church leaders have been a focus of renewed
investigation
over the last few months because of the especially vicious
nature of the Ugandan bill and the support its engendered amongst Christian
religious leaders in that country. Pastor Rick Warren, leader of the Saddleback
Church and a vocal voice in U.S. global HIV/AIDS policy (PEPFAR) considers the
homophobic Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa a friend and the two are currently
engaged in a heated public discussion over the nature of the bill. Last month,
after weeks of speculation regarding his involvement and some finger-pointing
that he was actually behind the Ugandan anti-gay legislation, Pastor Warren released
a video statement
directed towards Ugandan pastors in which he voiced his
opposition to the “Un-Christian”-like nature of the bill and urged his fellow
religious leaders to do the same. Though Warren makes clear in the video that
he strongly opposes the passage of this bill, he simultaneously includes his
homophobic convictions as if offering such a “spoonful of sugar” to Ugandan
pastors will help them imbibe a message they do not seem likely or willing to
accept.

In response, Pastor Ssempa, who has a long history of
anti-gay activism and fundamentalist evangelism, angrily argues in favor of the
law in
this letter
. Pastors in Uganda, says Ssempa in the video below, formed an
interfaith task force – The Uganda National Pastors Task Force – to “fight the
evil of homosexuality.” Ssempa goes on to advocate for the law based on a
clause within the legislation that criminalizes the rape of a minor.
Inexplicably, there are no reasons given for why the criminalization of rape
needs to be inserted into a bill that seeks to legalize government sanctioned
murder of homosexuals.

But perhaps the most in-depth report to uncover the
relationships between U.S. evangelical political and religious leaders and
African churches is the recent Political Research Associates’ report Globalizing the
Culture Wars
. Written by Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian priest who went
undercover in Uganda for six months, the report reveals just how multi-layered
U.S. fundamentalist influence is upon the African religious leaders who lead
the homophobic charge.

One example of this tightly woven web, as I reported
last month from the excellent blog Truth Wins Out (and
which The
New York Times just recently picked up) was the participation of Scott
Lively, Don Schmierer and Caleb Lee Brundridge, three vehemently anti- and
ex-gay activists from the U.S., in a stoking-of-the-homophobic-fires conference
in Uganda in March 2009. Lively is
a missionary known for his screed, “The Pink Swastika” which claims that the
Nazis were really homosexuals getting back at Jews for Judaism’s prohibition on
homosexuality. He is also the
writer of “7 Steps to
Recruit-Proof Your Child.” But it’s Schmierer who now claims that he was
“duped” into attending the anti-gay conference under the auspices of talking
about “parenting skills for families with gay children.” The blog Box Turtle Bulletin (BTB) easily dispels
his claims, however, by producing evidence of his
knowledge in the form of emails sent, prior to the conference, by BCB’s Timothy
Kincaid to Exodus, International’s president Alan Chambers (on the board of
which Schmierer is a current member). The emails were sent to ensure that
Exodus, Chambers and Schmierer were keenly aware of the “character and history of those participating at the Uganda anti-gay conference.” As BCB writes of the
exchange:

“Alan’s response was off the record. But because he
responded we know he received our email and was therefore aware of the
list of presenters and of our concerns.

So on Monday we asked him to let us know if he and the
Exodus leadership would develop a position on Don Schmierer’s activities in
Uganda.

Since that time, conference speaker Scott Lively has endorsed the criminalization of gay persons and declared that the Ugandan government should “subject the criminals of homosexuality to a therapy.

To date, we’ve not heard back from Alan as to whether he,
Schmierer, and the rest of the Exodus leadership denounce the theme of
Schmierer’s conference or if they too endorse criminalization of homosexuality
and forced ex-gay therapy. Until we hear otherwise, we must assume that their
silence is an indication that their board
member is representing them in Uganda and that they endorse the positions taken
by the conference
." [Emphasis mine]

It’s hard to take Don Schmierer’s claims of being tricked
seriously then. And of Scott Lively’s protests that he had nothing to do with the particularly vicious nature of the bill? As Professor Warren Thockmorton writes
on his blog:

 

When you tell an audience that gays caused World War II and assorted
other atrocities (e.g., Columbine, Rwanda, etc.), you should not be surprised
when the audience becomes hostile. It is like yelling fire in a theatre and
wondering why people get trampled in the rush. It is called “inciting
a riot.

 

Despite the obvious violent, homophobic rhetoric put forth
by these three anti-gay activists as well as the scores of religious extremists
funded
by the U.S. in Africa, there are other forces at play as well. In 2003,
President Bush created PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief)
and pledged billions
to 15 African countries to help prevent the spread of HIV and treat AIDS-related
illnesses.   The original
PEPFAR law required that one-third of all funding for prevention of HIV
transmission be spent on abstinence-until-marriage programs.  In Uganda, two-thirds of all funds for
prevention were spent on abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, large amounts
of funding went to fundamentalist faith-based groups that rejected
evidence-based prevention programming, and safer sex practices, including
condom use, were stigmatized.

This imposition of Christian right principles upon public
health policy was only too welcome by President Museveni and his born-again
Christian wife Janet Museveni who equated condom
use with murder
. Oddly and tellingly, Museveni went from praising
condoms as a means to “saving his people” from HIV infection in the nineties to
attacking “those who want to condomise the world” after Uganda was promised
huge amounts of funding under PEPFAR. And Pastor Ssempa was right there with
them loudly proclaiming that condoms are a “ticket to death.”

What, then, should the United States do to address the bill
as the Ugandan Parliament is on the cusp of reconvening?

President Obama released
a statement condemning the Ugandan bill saying he “opposes” the bill as it
moves “against the tide of history” while the State Department declared “We
condemn human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity
wherever they occur…If adopted a bill further
criminalizing homosexuality would constitute a significant step backwards for
the protection of human rights in Uganda." The Human
Rights Campaign is urging
the United States to exert leadership through Congressional action in the form
of letters to President Obama and President Museveni.

Some are suggesting that the United States should cut
PEPFAR funding to Uganda as a way of punishing the government for this proposed
law. It is true that the U.S. government is the largest donor of HIV and AIDS
funding in the world. Withholding funds from Uganda may make a statement but we
are also responsible for addressing the underlying, destructive homophobia that
has been cultivated for many years on Ugandan soil, with the help and guidance of U.S. evangelicals as well as the
United States government. PEPFAR funds, initially under the direction of
President George W. Bush, have been distributed directly to the Ugandan
government to use as the government sees fit with very little accountability
for where the money goes. The U.S. has continued to fund Uganda as the country
has perpetuated homophobia in its legislation for years. Therefore US funding
is in part responsible, one could say, for the growing anti-gay sentiment
throughout Uganda. It is difficult to imagine, in fact, given what a large role
U.S. funding has played thus far in Uganda’s public health response to HIV and
AIDS, how we did not see this coming and why we are surprised by the bill’s extremist
response to homosexuality.
Withholding funds might allow us leverage in which to not only encourage
the Ugandan Parliament to vote against this bill in specific but to examine its
human rights principles overall.

It seems that those fighting against this bill,
internationally, should really be pushing for an overhaul of PEPFAR over the
long term, not just a temporary cut to Uganda’s PEPFAR funding. Public health
plans not only involve health solutions but attitudinal and social change
solutions as well. If the United States was to alter PEPFAR so that some funds
to Uganda actually were spent to promote social change strategies that helped
address homophobia and discrimination we might see progress. As it stands, HIV
and AIDS funds from our country are not only not addressing the underlying public health issues that contribute
to homophobia: discrimination and fear, but the funds are being directed
towards ideologically-based organizations in Uganda that are feeding the issues that seed bills like
this one.

Given the international outcry
the proposition of this bill has incited, for months now, it seems likely that this
bill will not be signed into law in its current incarnation. There is, however,
still a law on the books in Uganda that criminalizes sex between same-sex
partners. There is still a firm relationship between Ugandan Anglican church
leaders, Uganda’s political leaders and U.S. evangelicals with a lot of money
and a strong fundamentalist Christian zeal to “wipe out” homosexuality. There
still is HIV prevention funding, traveling through our federal government for
Uganda and other African nations, tied to Christian right theology rather than
public health evidence. “The Family” is still hard at work weaving together
like-minded evangelicals internationally. And there are still gay Ugandans
struggling to attain even the most basic of human rights – to be recognized as human beings.

Advocates of all shapes and sizes, around the world,
continue to stand up as long as there are those so blatantly in harms way. As
the Gay Ugandan writes
in his most recent post – a call-out to those who are fighting for him – and
all gay and lesbian Ugandans, in other countries:

“I am Ugandan. I
love the country. The people are my people. But, they have crossed the line
when in stupidity they try to kill me. Sorry, I am also a human being. Just
like they are.”

 

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To schedule an interview with Amie Newman please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.