U.S. Anti-Gay Influence Exposed in Uganda
The so-called "Culture of Life" spoken of by American evangelicals seems to have played a part in sparking a bill in Uganda that proposes dealing out death to some gays.
The bill was sponsored by David Bahati, a little-known politician who became know overnight all around the globe for the bill he authored that steepens penalties against gays and provides stiff punishments against those who decline to report gays to the police.
In Bahati's original version of the bill, gay men who have repeated sexual encounters with consenting adults of the same gender would be put to death, as would any HIV-positive men who engaged in sexual activity or sexually assaulted others.
There is some evidence that the bill was prompted in part by claims made by American anti-gay evangelicals who visited Uganda nearly a year ago. In March of 2009, several American evangelicals traveled to Uganda and presented what they called the "Seminar on Exposing the Homosexuals' Agenda." Their talks contained assorted claims about gays and the "dangers" that gays pose to society, reported the New York Times in a Jan. 3 article.
The conference was put together by the Ugandan group the Family Life Network, which purports to uphold "traditional family values." The speakers included anti-gay writer and missionary Scott Lively--author of a book that purports to tell parents how to "gay-proof" their offspring--and Don Schmierer, a board member of Exodus international, an organization dedicated to the idea that gays can be "cured" through prayer and counseling.
A third speaker was also in attendance: Caleb Lee Brundidge, who claims once to have been gay, but now to be heterosexual. Mr. Brundage heads seminars focused on "healing" gays (that is, attempting to turn them straight).
The views set out by the Americans ranged from highly dubious claims that gays can be "converted" to heterosexuality to wild, undefined assertions that a "gay agenda" was at work "to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity," as well as stereotype-based pronouncements that gay men prey on teenaged boys.
Exporting Hate to Africa
Some worry that the presence of anti-gay "missionaries" in Uganda is evidence that Africans are in danger of becoming "collateral damage" in the struggle by U.S. religious conservatives to deny gay individuals and families equal legal recognition and protections, with those denials based on the claim that homosexuality is a "choice."
Indeed, the repercussions in American society have largely had to do with assigning blame; some have pointed at prominent megachurch pastor Rick Warren, taking his initial reluctance to issue a statement to be approval and even accusing Warren of helping to create the anti-gay bill. Warren refuted this in a video addressed "to the pastors of the churches of Uganda" in which Warren stated that, "As an American pastor, it is not my role to interfere with the politics of other nations, but it is my role to speak out on moral issues, and it is my role to shepherd other pastors who look to me for guidance... a law that I had nothing to do with, I completely oppose, and I vigorously condemn."
Warren has not, however, denounced his fellow American evangelicals for their purported role in the creation of the proposed Ugandan legislation.
The American evangelicals gave their addresses in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda, over a three-day period. The crowds who heard them speak included not only lawmakers, but also law enforcement officers and teachers, the New York Times article reported. The politician who subsequently introduced the bill has said that he counts as friends American evangelicals in U.S. government positions; a Ugandan minister stated plainly that, "Homosexuals can forget about human rights."
The Times article characterized the controversy that the proposed law has created in Western nations as turning Uganda in to "a far-flung front line in the American culture wars," and noted that in the face of international pressure--including threats to withhold development aid money--the Ugandan government has said that the bill will be revised to scale the penalty back from death to life imprisonment.
For Americans on either side of the issue, the outcome is crucial enough to warrant the sort of response that domestic gay-related issues have generated in the past; in a response reminiscent of the struggle over California's anti-gay ballot initiative Proposition 8, both sides are sending money and manpower to the African nation. "It's a fight for their lives," Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice director Mai Kiang told the New York Times.