In yesterday’s news, CNN reporter Saeed Ahmed asks “Why is Uganda attacking homosexuality?” As Ahmed reports, the Anti-Homosexuality Bil in this Eastern African nation (introduced in October, and expected to pass by the end of December) “features several provisions that human rights groups say would spur a witch hunt of homosexuals in the country.” Punishments for homosexual sex will include:
- life in prison
- possible execution for people who test positive for HIV
- three years in prison for anyone who knows of homosexual activity taking place but does not report it
- possible execution for homosexual sex with a minor, or engaging in homosexual sex more than once.
Although it is already illegal to engage in “homosexuality” in Uganda, this law would tighten and broaden the punishments. As Ahmed writes,
- The bill also “forbids the ‘promotion of homosexuality,’ which in effect bans organizations working in HIV and AIDS prevention,” and
- “(i)It applies even to Ugandans participating in same-sex acts in countries where such behavior is legal. They are supposed to be brought back to Uganda and convicted here.”
This level of virulent hatred against gay people is a dramatic contrast to the gradual shift in many parts of the globe toward more acceptance and/or legal decriminalization of homosexuality, including a United Nations Declaration calling for a global decrimimalization of homosexuality. This UN Declaration was signed by the Obama administration in March 2009 (after the Bush administration refused to sign):
In announcing U.S. support, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the U.N. declaration is consistent with the U.S. commitment to being an outspoken defender of human rights. The United States “is pleased to join the other 66 U.N. members states who have declared their support of the statement that condemns human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity wherever the occur,” Wood said (Washington Post, March 18, 2009).
The United States has close diplomatic ties to Uganda, sending Peace Corps volunteers and massive aid through Pepfar and USAID. The current US State Department profile on Uganda argues that Uganda it is actually doing WELL on human rights issues:
“(s)ince assuming power, Museveni and his government have largely put an end to the human rights abuses of earlier governments, initiated substantial economic liberalization and general press freedom, and instituted economic reforms in accord with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and donor governments.” (US State Department, profile of the Republic of Uganda).
Hmmmm. It seems that the US State Department needs to update their assessment of Uganda’s human rights. My question is: why Uganda, and why now? According to Amie Newman from Rh Reality Check and a report by Political Research Associates, conservative US evangelicals are directly linked to bringing Uganda to this homo-hating mess. Below I quote extensively from Newman’s recent post on this issue:
“Uganda’s new anti-homosexuality law currently on the table, before Parliament, is an especially vicious piece of legislation that seeks to impose life imprisonment and the death penalty upon those who are involved in “homosexual crimes.” In this era of growing rights, in the United States, for LGBT individuals, one may be excused for thinking that laws like the one in Uganda are completely unrelated to the Christian, religious right in the U.S., responsible in large part for the onslaught of attacks against LGBT equal rights in this country. However, according to “Globalizing the Culture Wars”, a new report produced by Political Research Associates and released today, laws like the one in Uganda can be seen as the direct result of a campaign by United States neoconservative religious groups to use Africa as another player in the culture wars they have fomented on American soil for many years.” According to the PRA report:
“Conservative U.S. evangelicals play a strong role in promoting homophobia in Africa by spreading their views and underwriting the widespread conservative educational, social service, and financial infrastructure. Right-wing groups have enticed African religious leaders to reject funding from mainline denominations – which require documentation of how the money is spent – and instead to accept funds form conservatives. This money usually goes to individual bishops without accountability or oversight for how it is used.”
Newman writes: ” The truth is that Conservative leaders in this country, like Pastor Rick Warren, have put tremendous effort into cultivating relationships with African clerics who can help further their strong anti-gay agenda, while simultaneously contributing to the vicious homophobia in African nations.” …
“Pastor Warren has strong ties to Pastor Martin Ssempa, a conservative, religious leader in Uganda who has been the recipient of PEPFAR funds (the U.S. AIDS plan which distributes funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment) and is extremely vocal and active about his homophobic beliefs. There are many churches in Uganda, and other African nations, that are the direct recipients of U.S. federal funding via PEPFAR, used to implement clear religious agendas (vocally supported by Pastor Warren) such as requirements for spending a share of funding on abstinence-until-marriage.” …
Newman points to a list of recommendations provided by the PRA report, including:
- “exposing and confronting U.S. religious conservatives (like Pastor Rick Warren) who foment homophobia in Africa,
- exposing the financial ties between African conservatives and various American institutions (like our very own federal government),
- and maybe most importantly supporting African activists and scholars to lead the struggle for LGBT rights and the study of sexuality in Africa. “
Newman concludes by stating that “th)e U.S. neo-conservative movement is working tirelessly to push a religious agenda in Africa that serves their own purposes. As we continue the fight for LGBT rights in our own country, the report reminds us that it is critical we use our peripheral vision to see the bigger picture if we are to truly win the war against religious evangelicalism’s homophobia, and not just individual battles.”
We at Sexuality & Society could not agree more. The current Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton might agree as well. Hillary Clinton’s recent condemnation of international homophobia may help put a stop to this; other world leaders also need to take a strong stand against homophobia and human rights abuses on the basis of sexuality. The US State Department should also reconsider its development assistance to Uganda, and should partner with other nations (including South Africa, which has freedoms for gays written right into their constitution) in the struggle for global human rights.
Amie Newman — December 9, 2009
Great post, Kari. Thanks so much for writing this up - it's so helpful to have all of our voices in this discussion. Did you see that a Ugandan church leader (who is HIV positive) has come out and called this bill genocide?
"Byamugisha said gay people were being used as "scapegoats" for Uganda's social problems, such as the breakdown of the family unit and rising HIV infection rates, and politicians were using the bill to tap into the prevailing anti-gay mood in the country in the run up to the 2011 elections."
Thanks for putting this post together!
Kari Lerum — December 9, 2009
HI Amie, thanks for this link -- I had not heard about this.
I was thinking today about the irony of the Matthew Shepard Act being enacted into US law during the same month as this Ugandan bill was introduced. The Ugandan bill qualifies as a Hate Crime under the US hate crimes law. Ugandan leaders who vote for and enforce this law would be put into prison for acting this way in the US. ...
Thanks, Amie for your continued work on this and all matters related to reproductive and sexual rights.
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