As the Gregorian calendar year officially comes to a close, we offer once again a sampling of the year’s top ten sexual stories. While certainly not a complete, in-depth, or globally representative list, we do think that this list contains snippets that have both disturbing and hopeful implications for sexual justice.

10. Rick Perry steals gay, secular icons to create anti-gay Christmas message

Rick Perry in a replica of the jacket worn by Heath Ledger in "Brokeback Mountain."

 “​By now, you’ve probably seen Rick Perry’s “Strong” ad, in which he opines, “There’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.” Not only are gays in our military, they’re also composing music for our campaign ads. As the Harvard Political Reviewpoints out, the music that plays in the background of Perry’s ad is inspired by or directly taken from Aaron Copland, a gay composer.” (Nick Greene, Dec. 10, 2011, Village Voice).

9. Herman Cain tests Mainstream American Media: What’s worse in a political candidate: Assault or Affair?

Presidential hopeful Herman Cain’s campaign abruptly crashed and burned after news media learned of his long time extra-marital lover. But this was after his multiple cases of sexual harrassment and assault against his former employees were also aired. Most news media, including reputable news outlets like the Washington Post, failed to differentiate between Cain’s alleged criminal and consensual acts, using the language of “accusation” to describe both. See for example this story with a headline of “Ginger White accuses Herman Cain of long affair.”

…”Cain denied the accusations. In an interview that aired before White’s allegations were broadcast, Cain told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that he knows White and that the two had been friends but that there had been no sexual contact and no “affair.” He characterized their relationship as “trying to help a friend” because of her “not having a job etcetera and this sort of thing.””

The story then goes on to simply state that:

“This month, Cain was accused of sexually harassing several women.”

Such lack of differentiation between criminal and consensual sexual scandals is common among contemporary American mainstream media. Gratefully, Amanda Marcotte (Alternet, Nov. 30, 2011) provides a helpful guide for assessing the significance different kinds of sex scandals. See Marcotte’s article here: “6 Kinds of Sex Scandals: What Should be exposed? What should be left private?”

8. Wienergate

… AND speaking of the need to have more sophisticated interpretative filters around why and how some Wieners constitute a “scandal” … see article above, again. … See also our post about Anthony Weiner:

“In contrast to the Dutch, Americans love sex scandals. We love them so much that in a good year we produce and consume not just one of these high-profile scandals, but several. For many of us interested in sexual justice, the juiciest stories are those of the hypocrites: the Elliot Spitzers who lead anti-prostitute campaigns while purchasing sex; the George Rekers who champion the anti-gay movement while hiring “rent boys,” and the Newt Gingrichs who lead impeachment hearings while engaging in their own extra-marital affairs.”

7.  Obama’s Secretary of Health & Human Services overrules the FDA, pulls “morning after” pill 

Kathleen Sebelius overrules FDA recommendation

“In what can only be called an astounding move by an Administration that pledged on inauguration day that medical and health decisions would be based on fact not ideology and for which women are a major constituency, today Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) overruled a much-awaited decision by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to make emergency contraception (EC) available over-the-counter (OTC) to women of all ages.

According to the New York Times, “no health secretary has ever [overruled an FDA decision] before.”  See Jodi Jacobsen’s full story in RhReality Check here.

6.  The politics of Rape. Rape committed by men against women was frequently in the news during 2011, not because the dynamics of it have changed (it’s always about maintaining/exerting symbolic power), but because some people and institutions have found new tactics of exerting and/or maintaining heterosexism. Here’s a sampling of three such tactics.

Ms Magazine posted several stories on rape this year. This image comes from:

5. Penn State & masculinist cultures of sexual abuse.  Rape and sexual abuse committed by men against boys was again in the news this year. While the Catholic Church and the Military managed to avoid serious spotlight time in 2011, another site of masculine privileged culture — American college football –wasn’t as lucky.

“With former Penn State football assistant coach Jerry Sandusky charged with sexually abusing children—and school officials including iconic former football coach Joe Paterno dismissed for purportedly failing to report Sandusky’s alleged crimes to law enforcement—many observers have compared the situation to a series of similar cases that have rocked the Vatican.”

See: What the Catholic Church can teach us about the Penn State Scandal.” (Patrick Hruby, The Atlantic, Nov. 16, 2011.)

After all these dire (and at times ludicrous) sexual stories, we will end with four stories on a slightly more hopeful note …

4.  Mainstreaming of Transgender stories (including both opportunities and misses for gender transformation).

Transgender actress Harmony Santana

While images of Chaz Bono’s new book and his stint with Dancing with the Stars were ubiquitous, the inclusion of transgender individuals in policies and programs were just as, if not more, influential.  Any sort of mainstreaming can bring missed opportunities for radical transformation (in this case for the institution of gender). But Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality details 14 reasons why 2011 was “a game-changing year for transgender rights.” (See full story in The Advocate, Dec. 28, 2011).

3. Sex workers rights recognized by the UN and US State Department

(Meanwhile the conservative sexual politics of mainstream anti-trafficking rhetoric became increasingly exposed. See: for example, social justice activist Emi Koyama’s brilliant investigative article in Bitch Magazine, American University Human Rights professor Ann Jordan’s series of critical papers exposing the “Hype” of the abolitionist/trafficking movement, as well as of course the Village Voice’s mocking of Ashton Kutcher’s “real men” campaign.)


2. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivers historic gay rights speech to the United Nations

 GENEVA — The Obama administration announced on Tuesday that the United States would use all the tools of American diplomacy, including the potent enticement of foreign aid, to promote gay rights around the world.

In a memorandum issued by President Obama in Washington and in a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton here, the administration vowed to actively combat efforts by other nations that criminalize homosexual conduct, abuse gay men, lesbians, bisexuals or transgendered people, or ignore abuse against them. (Myers and Cooper, New York Times, Dec. 8, 2011).

1.  The Sexual Politics of Egypt’s Arab Spring, featuring:


Happy New Year from Sexuality & Society! Thanks to all the activists and scholars working toward sexual and social justice; may 2012 be filled with your stories!

Warm regards, Kari Lerum and Shari Dworkin


Related Sexuality & Society stories:

This year’s top ten sexual stories: an incomplete list from our subjective, North American perspective, containing a mixture of disturbing, entertaining, and hopeful developments.

10. Katie Perry got kicked off Sesame Street

“Thursday morning, the PBS children’s show announced that a scheduled appearance by Perry, queen of the most inappropriate whipped-cream bra ever, had been canceled. On Monday, a clip of Perrywearing a sweetheart-cut dress, singing a G-rated version of her hit “Hot N Cold” and begging to “play” with Elmo, was leaked on the Web. Parents, outraged by Perry’s C-cup-accentuating dress,immediately protested. “You’re going to have to rename [Sesame Street] Cleavage Avenue,” wrote one commenter, while another simply joked, “My kid wants milk now.” (LA Times, Sept. 23, 2010).

Anti-gay activist George Rekers and his "rentboy"

9. George Rekers got caught with “rent boy”

“Reached by New Times before a trip to Bermuda, Rekers said he learned Lucien was a prostitute only midway through their vacation. “I had surgery,” Rekers said, “and I can’t lift luggage. That’s why I hired him.” (Medical problems didn’t stop him from pushing the tottering baggage cart through MIA.)” (Bullock, P. and Thorp, B., Miami New Times, May 6, 2010).

8. Constance McMillen barred from her prom, becomes a Glamour Magazine “Women of the Year

“Constance McMillen has been named one of Glamour Magazine’s ‘Women of the Year’ for 2010.  We came to know Constance through her personal ordeal with Itawamba Agricultural High School in Fulton, Mississippi.  The school board rejected her request to bring her girlfriend to the prom as her date, and even further, didn’t allow Constance to wear a tuxedo as she had planned.” (Sledjeski, J. GLAAD, Nov. 5, 2010).

7. This one is a tie between: a) Republicans got caught at W. Hollywood Strip Club

“The “family values” Republican National Committee spent almost $2,000 last month at an erotic, bondage-themed West Hollywood club, where nearly naked women – and men – simulate sex in nets hung from above.” (Bazinet, K, and Saltonstall, D. Daily News, March 29, 2010).

and b) Strippers protest Ohio church

“For the past four years, Pastor Dunfee and some of his New Beginnings church members have picketed and protested the strip club in their local community; they’ve even videotaped visitors to the club and posted the videos online in an attempt to hold them accountable for their actions. Pastor Dunfee said the regular protests were to avoid “sharing territory with the devil.”

Irritated by the protests, employees of the club have decided to protest the church—they arrived early in the morning Monday wearing swimwear and toting barbeques, picnic food, sunscreen, and lawn chairs, along with signs reading Matthew 7:15: Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing and Revelation 22:11: He that is unjust, let him be unjust still. ” (Aug.16, 2010;

6.  European Court of Human Rights Rejects Irish Ban on Abortion

“In December, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion violates the rights of pregnant women to receive proper medical care in life-threatening cases. Each year, more than 6,000 women travel abroad from Ireland to obtain abortion services, often at costs of over $1,500 per trip. In a statement on the ruling, the Irish Family Planning Association—the IWHC partner that helped bring about this decision—said the court sent “a very strong message that the State can no longer ignore the imperative to legislate for abortion.” (Top Ten Wins, International Women’s Health Coalition, December 23, 2010).

5. Millions searched for their G-spot

“Asking if the “G-spot” exists can be a bit like asking if God (the other G-spot) exists: It depends on who you ask. And in both cases, science is (thus far) ill equipped to adequately measure either G-spot. ”

(Lerum, K. Sexuality & Society, Jan 6, 2010).

4. The Pope OKs condoms in some circumstances

“In a break with his traditional teaching, Pope Benedict XVI has said the use of condoms is acceptable “in certain cases”, in an extended interview to be published this week.”

“After holding firm during his papacy to the Vatican’s blanket ban on the use of contraceptives, Benedict’s surprise comments will shock conservatives in the Catholic church while finding favour with senior Vatican figures who are pushing for a new line on the issue as HIV ravages Africa.” (Kington, T., and Quinn, B. Guardian UK, Nov. 21, 2010).

3. Microbicide Research offers hope for HIV prevention

“More than 20 years ago, the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) convened 44 women from 20 countries who conceived of a substance, like contraceptive foam or jelly, which could be inserted vaginally to prevent HIV infection. We named it a “microbicide,” and set out to find scientists and money to develop it. Until recently, progress has been slow, but in July, results from a clinical trial in South Africa found a new gel to be nearly 40 percent effective in protecting women against HIV during intercourse.” (Top Ten Wins, International Women’s Health Coalition, December 23, 2010).

2. Gay Teen Suicide & Bullying as a Social Problem

“The recent rash of high profile suicides by boys who were bullied for gender and sexual non-conformity has created a wake up call for parents and school administrators in the U.S. To create a broader base of support from heterosexual allies, as well as to reach out to GLBT youth themselves, a number of new educational and activist initiatives have emerged. Dan Savage created the “It Gets Better”video project, directed at GLBT youth in despair over hostile treatment and at risk of killing themselves. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD) declared Oct. 20, 2010 Spirit Day to call attention to and memorialize the recent suicides. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even released her own version of an “It Gets Better” video. ” (Lerum, K. Sexuality & Society, Nov. 18 2010).

1. The Repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”

WASHINGTON — “The military’s longstanding ban on service by gays and lesbians came to a historic and symbolic end on Wednesday, asPresident Obama signed legislation repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell,” the contentious 17-year old Clinton-era law that sought to allow gays to serve under the terms of an uneasy compromise that required them to keep their sexuality a secret.” (New York Times, Dec. 22, 2010).


Related Story:  Top Ten Sexual Stories of 2009

The following update on the Uganda anti-gay movement comes from the Box Turtle Bulletin:


American Evangelist To Rally Against Gays In Uganda

Jim Burroway

April 21st, 2010

The month of May will be a very dangerous time to be gay in Uganda, as Pentecostal churches there gear up for a series of crusades, marches and rallies commemorating the 50th Jubilee of the Pentecostal movement there. An anonymous BTB reader in Uganda reports that television is already carrying commercials advertising at least one event, a three-day conference to be held at the sports grounds at Makerere University (Uganda’s largest institution of higher learning) with a march and rally to be held the following Friday, May 7.

In the midst of that expected furor steps yet another American anti-gay extremist, Lou Engle of The Call, who has announced plans to hold a rally in Kampala on May 2, also at the Makerere University Sports Field. The Call Uganda’s web site gives these reasons for holding the rally:

It is intended to awaken and revive the young and the old, men and women, church and family, government and the public and to fight vices eating away at our society. We shall all join our hearts across tribal, political, denominational, and generational boundaries, to cry to God to help us with the challenges in our country such as:

  • The heightened political tensions and wrangles in the country, especially as we go towards the 2011 general elections
  • The increasing level of social evils in our society, some which are threatening our values and lifestyles e.g.
    • Witchcraft and human sacrifice
    • Homosexuality and increased immorality
    • Disasters and the resultant suffering of the people
    • The decay of morals and infrastructure of our city Kampala

Engle’s emotionally-charged extremism and violence-laden rhetoric has become quite familiar here in the U.S. Engle believes that gays are possessed by demons, and was part of a major rally for Prop 8 in San Diego where he called for Christian martyrs. Casey Sanchez, of the Southern Poverty Law Center describes one talk that Engle gave this way:

“I believe we’re headed to an Elijah/Jezebel showdown on the Earth, not just in America but all over the globe, and the main warriors will be the prophets of Baal versus the prophets of God, and there will be no middle ground,” said Engle. He was referring to the Baal of the Old Testament, a pagan idol whose followers were slaughtered under orders from the prophet Elijah.

“There’s an Elijah generation that’s going to be the forerunners for the coming of Jesus, a generation marked not by their niceness but by the intensity of their passion,” Engle continued. “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent take it by force. Such force demands an equal response, and Jesus is going to make war on everything that hinders love, with his eyes blazing fire.”

Engle has also said, “The most ‘dangerous terrorist’ is not Islam but God. One of God’s names is the avenger of blood. Have you worshiped that God yet?”

Last year, a BTB reader shared with me his experience of attending a Call rally in Nashville in 2007.  Tyler (his last name is being withheld) remembers that day vividly — July 7, 2007 (07/07/07 was their “Holy Date”):

I went to Nashville and the day was a whole day of fasting and prayer to “turn the nation back to God.”  Their tactics include, in my opinion, a lot of manipulation using emotionally-driven songs, yelling, dancing, and the like to get individuals charged up.

The Call Uganda’s web site lists the following endorsements by Ugandan Christian leaders:

  • Bishop Simon Peter Emiau – Chairman Evangelical Fellowship of Uganda;
  • Archbishop Luke Henry Orombi – Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Uganda;
  • Pastor Jotham Mutebi – Chairman Full Gospel Churches of Uganda;
  • Pastor Titus Oundo – Chairman Deliverance Churches of Uganda;
  • Apostle John Mulinde – World Trumpet Mission, which also has extensive staff in Orlando, Florida under International Director Mark Daniel.
  • Apostle Jackson Ssenyonga – Christian Life Ministries;
  • Pastor Gary Skinner – Watoto (formerly Kampala Pentecostal) Church. An elder of that church is Stephen Langa, who helped to organize last year’s anti-gay conference featuring three American anti-gay activists. That conference delivered the “nuclear bomb” that served as a precursor and catalyst to the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill that is now before Uganda’s Parliament.
  • Apostle Joseph Ssewadda – General Overseer of Born Again Federation;
  • Peter Asiimwe – Uganda Evangelical Mission Agency;
  • Pastor Fred Wantaate – Coordinator for Pentecostal Golden Jubilee – Full Gospel Church.

The next several weeks will prove to be exceedingly dangerous for LGBT Ugandans. Last year’s conference led to a massive public anti-gay pogrom that included a public vigilante campaign in a major Ugandan tabloid and various FM stations in Kampala in which gay people were forcibly outed. We have reports that several people lost their jobs and were abandoned by their families as a result. Several were arrested, and there are reports of at least one death in the eastern city of Mbale.

Frank Mugisha, president Sexual Minorities of Uganda, said, “Gay people are already fleeing their homes and have to move from house to house because of threats to their lives. Americans need to stop Lou Engle from coming to Uganda.”

When we first reported on the anti-gay conference last March in Uganda, we warned that it was a very dangerous move. But even knowing and warning of those dangers, we had no idea that it would ultimately lead to a proposal to put gay people to death under certain circumstances.

After that experience, there now can be no excuse. We know what can happen following rallies like this one. And whatever happens as an aftermath of this rally, no one can say they could not predict what would happen next. Given the virulent hatred openly expressed by ordinary Ugandans and their religious leaders toward the gay community, Engle’s rally is a dangerous and reckless escalation.


I’d like to know this: at what point will other countries began offering political refuge for gay Ugandans? At what point will there will be airlift evacuations? When will American people of faith intervene with these extremist religious leaders?

Related Sexuality & Society posts:

A legacy of White Supremacy: Why Ugandans embrace U.S. Christian right’s anti-gay-agenda (Jan. 13, 2010).

Growing Global Opposition to Ugandan “kill the gays bill” (Dec. 14, 2009).

Homo hatred in Uganda: A gift from US conservative evangelicals (Dec. 9 2009).

This post by Edwin Okong’o comes via Rh Reality Check. Okong’o is a contributing blogger at RhReality check and an editor at New American Media (where the story was originally posted). Okong’o explains the cultural context under which the Ugandan “kill the gays” legislation could occur (Why Uganda? Why not Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, or Wyoming — where plenty of people hate gays?). Okong’o’s answer points in part to deep seated white supremacist beliefs — both by the religious proselytizers/colonizers and the religious proselytized/colonized:

“Having gone through schools reading mostly textbooks written by white men, Africans are programmed to accept any Western literature. Add the word of God to that and the white man’s message becomes gospel truth. That’s why when a white religious fanatic like Scott Lively writes in his book, “The Pink Swastika,” that Nazis committed the Holocaust because they were gay, without hesitation Africans promise ‘to stand firm to fight homosexuality.'”

Please read on below:

By Edwin Okong’o, New America Media

picture-3161January 13, 2010 – 7:00am

There is a joke among Africans about how colonialism began. A Christian missionary came with a Bible in hand, told our ancestors to bow their heads for a prayer, and when they opened their eyes their land was gone. Today, the same can be said about African constitutions.

American religious right-wingers are flocking to Africa and are having more success in passing new legislation criminalizing homosexuality there than they are having in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia.

The most vicious of those laws is in Uganda, where Parliament is now considering a bill that would make some homosexual acts punishable by death. Although they have denied it, evidence suggests that American right-wingers are in the forefront of this war on homosexuality.

Among them is the Fellowship Foundation, better known as the Family, a secretive but powerful evangelical club that includes U.S. senators and congressmen. Republican senators Jim Inhofe, Tom Coburn, John Ensign, Jim DeMint and Sam Brownback belong to the group. The group includes members like Mike McIntyre, a conservative Democratic congressman, who believes that the Ten Commandments are “the fundamental legal code for the laws of the United States.”

Publicly, the Family’s most prominent event is a National Prayer Breakfast held in Washington, D.C., which has been attended by congressmen, senators, and even presidents. In his book, “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,” New York University scholar Jeff Sharlet writes that of the Family’s $14 million budget, “the bulk of it, $12 million, goes to ‘mentoring, counseling, and partnering with friends around the world.'”

In other words, having failed to turn the United States into a true “Nation under God,” American evangelicals are going to Africa to satisfy that calling. Is there a better place to create Christian nations than in a continent with nearly 500 million impoverished believers, and easily corruptible governments? Similar laws have been proposed, or exist, in Nigeria, Burundi, Rwanda and Malawi.

“You develop a relationship with the [African] presidents in the spirit of Jesus,” Sen. Inhofe said in a February 2009 interview posted on the website of Faith and Action, an evangelical Christian group, whose “mission is to awaken the conscience of our nation by proclaiming Truth to those in positions of power.”

In his book, Sharlet writes that Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni is the organization’s “key man” in Africa. Museveni’s relationship with the Family goes as far back as 1986, when he came to power following a bloody civil war. David Bahati, the Ugandan lawmaker who introduced the anti-gay bill, is also a member of the Family.

U.S. evangelical groups have gotten so close to African religious and political leaders that they openly conduct their hateful crusades. In early March 2009, for example, U.S. religious extremists played a central role in the “Seminar on Exposing the Homosexuals’ Agenda” held in Kampala, Uganda. Among speakers was Scott Lively, a California evangelical pastor who heads Abiding Truth Ministry.

Rev. Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian priest who went undercover to the “viciously homophobic” conference, quoted one Ugandan attendee as saying, “The man of God (Scott Lively) told us about…a movement behind the promotion of homosexuality. … I got to know that there is a force behind homosexuality, which we need to tackle with force. He also told us that these people who are behind this…evil, they have all resources that they need…to spread this evil. We need to stand firm to fight homosexuality.”

Evangelicals have managed to succeed in promoting homophobia by taking advantage of Africans’ lack of adequate information. They have presented homosexuality as a new “culture,” rather than something that has existed all along.

Kaoma quotes yet another Ugandan from the anti-gay conference: “Dr. Scott told us about Brazil where, 10 years ago, homosexuality was unheard of. Today, it is the capital. There are people that have been against homosexuality that are having to leave because of the pressure and the threats that they are putting on them. That is how serious it is.”

Africans take such filth without questions because they suffer from a severe case of inferiority complex. Even worse, they staunchly believe in the supremacy of the white man. Ill-informed Christians like the ones Rev. Kaoma quotes above, place the white man immediately below the Holy Trinity, a belief with its roots in the colonial era.

Growing up in Kenya, I heard stories about how supernatural the white man was. When we did well in school, our parents and teachers said we were as intelligent as white men. When you went to take a bath, Ma told you to come out as clean as a white man. If the white doctor at the hospital failed to diagnose your disease, death was imminent.

Even among the “educated,” this plague runs deep. In 2006, I mentioned to my younger brother — a graduate of a Kenyan university — that I had co-taught a writing class at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was studying journalism.

“Come on! Stop playing,” he brushed me off and laughed.

When he was finally convinced that I was telling the truth, he asked, “Were there white students in the class?”

Having gone through schools reading mostly textbooks written by white men, Africans are programmed to accept any Western literature. Add the word of God to that and the white man’s message becomes gospel truth. That’s why when a white religious fanatic like Scott Lively writes in his book, “The Pink Swastika,” that Nazis committed the Holocaust because they were gay, without hesitation Africans promise “to stand firm to fight homosexuality.”

As I ponder over this issue I’m reminded of the 1980s, when Reinhard Bonnke, a German evangelist who claimed to have healing powers, visited Kenya. Business came to a halt, as people with all kinds of ailments traveled to Nairobi to seek his miracles. Kenyans flocked Bonnke’s sermons because they believed that as a white man, he was closer to Jesus Christ than were black evangelists.

If Archbishop Manassas Kuria, who at the time was the Anglican primate of the Church of Kenya, had called a press conference to announce that he had healing powers, they would have laughed at him, and perhaps accuse him of blasphemy. Black clergymen do not perform miracles.

The belief that black people can only speak to God through white men is illustrated in the same interview Sen. Inhofe gave to Faith and Action. Inhofe describes the Family’s work in a “miserable” village in Benin. The hamlet’s name translates to “Village of Darkness,” he says, and children “drink mud and die of dysentery.” The evangelicals rescue the village by providing sanitary water.

When residents ask why the evangelicals have decided to shine light on the village, the Americans say, “Because we love you.” And when they ask, “Why do you love us?” they answer, “Because Jesus loves us.”

No one asks why Jesus didn’t send love directly to Africa without going through middlemen. Inhofe says today the village has changed its name to “The Village of Jesus”, thanks to the Savior’s “miracles.”

Now imagine telling such people that the “force behind homosexuality” threatens to corrupt their children and anger Jesus. They will “stand firm to fight” this “evil.” Enacting laws allows them to hide the blood in their hands.




In the past several days there has been growing global dismay and disapproval over Uganda’s “kill the gays bill” (to use Rachel Maddow’s term). As well there is an increasing amount of scrutiny and disgust from many regarding the direct connection between the Ugandan anti-homosexual campaign and a conservative U.S. religious group called “The Family” — which some, including The Observer have called a ” cult” due to the requirement for core members to remain secret about their activities. Regardless of what the group is labeled, it is clear that it has been successful in recruiting high level political leaders including some US congressmen and Uganda’s president Museveni to its core values:  “fighting homosexuality and abortion, promoting free-market economics and dictatorship, an idea they once termed “totalitarianism for Christ’ ” (as quoted by Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, 2008). This post is a follow up on my last post on this issue and a compilation of several news stories for the purpose of updating concerned readers on the Uganda situation. I start with snippets of a Nov. 25, 2009 article from The Observer which describes the history and ideology of “The Family” (I have put some words in bold for emphasis; also note that the article below mispells Sharlet as “Sharlett”). I end with a very preliminary list of groups lining up in opposition to this bill.

Museveni, Bahati, named in US ‘cult’ (click here for the full article in The Observer) Print E-mail
Wednesday, 25 November 2009 20:45
NEW YORK: “President Museveni, Ethics Minister Nsaba Buturo and MP David Bahati have been linked to a shadowy religious fundamentalist group in the United States known as the ‘The Family’.  …According to journalist, academic and author Jeff Sharlett, who has spent years researching on The Family, its core agenda includes fighting homosexuality and abortion, promoting free-market economics and dictatorship, an idea they once termed ‘totalitarianism for Christ’. “  

“It recruits people in positions of power and influence to promote its agenda and, according to Sharlett, the group has had its sights on Uganda for over 20 years. He also says the group is behind the anti-gay legislation recently tabled in Parliament by Ndorwa West MP, David Bahati, which proposes the death penalty for men who have gay sex with disabled people, under-18s, or when the accused is HIV-positive.”

“In an extensive interview with National Public Radio (NPR), a privately and publicly funded non-profit radio network in the United States, Jeff Sharlett said that The Family identified President Museveni as their “key man in Africa” in 1986.  …”

“Describing Museveni as a “core” member of the group, Jeff Sharlett alleged that President Museveni visits, spends time and “sits down for counsel” with Doug Coe, the leader of The Family, at the group’s headquarters at a place called The Cedars in Arlington, Virginia.

The Observer reporter continues:

“One of The Family’s central ideas, according to Jeff Sharlett, is that Jesus Christ’s message was not about love, mercy, justice or forgiveness. Rather, it was about power. The group says that Jesus didn’t come to take sides, he came to take over. Doug Coe, the leader of the group, tries to illustrate this, for instance, by saying, sort of posing a puzzle: name three men in the 20th Century who best understood that message of The New Testament. And most people are going to say someone like Martin Luther King, or Bonhoeffer; or maybe the more conservative, they can say, [evangelist] Billy Graham.  And Coe likes to give an answer – Hitler, Stalin and Mao, which just makes your jaw drop. And he will say – he’s quick to say these are evil men, but they understood power. And that message recurs again, and again, and again in The Family,’ Sharlett said.”

“Sharlett, who spent time within The Family as an undercover researcher, given access to its leaders and archives, said that the group actively promotes dictators in pursuit of its economic and other interests. Because of its influence in Washington, the seat of the American government, foreign leaders find it in their interest to associate with the group.”

“Senator Tom Coburn, who also sits on the Senate Arms Forces Committee, is quoted to have said he has been on a mission to Uganda to “promote the political philosophy of Jesus as taught to him by Doug Coe.” … Jeff Sharlett says he has established in recent investigations that the group has been channeling money to Uganda to promote its activities, including the anti-gay Bill. … “The Family has poured millions of dollars working through a very convoluted chain of linkages passing the money over to Uganda,” he said. According to Jeff Sharlett, in Uganda, Museveni, Buturo and Bahati are not merely under the influence of The Family but they are, in effect, The Family.

“The Family, also known as The Fellowship, was founded in the United States in 1935. According to its founder, Abraham Verene, God came to him one night in April, 1935, and told him that Christianity has been focusing on the wrong people, the poor and the suffering, “the down and out”. He commanded him to be a missionary to and for the powerful, the “up and out”, who could then pass off the blessings to everybody else.”

Doug Coe the head (or perhaps more aptly titled, “the godfather”) of The Family does not have the name or face recognition of other conservative evangelical Christian leaders such Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, or Rick Warren (in fact, it is very difficult to find ANY good or current photos of the man online). Nevertheless he is well known in Washington DC amongst politicians and has considerable political influence domestically and globally. In 2005, Time Magazine named him one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America. As reported by Time:

Several members of Congress live in rooms rented in a town house owned by a foundation affiliated with the group. Coe and his associates sometimes travel (on their own dime) with congressional members abroad and—according to investigations by the Los Angeles Times and Harper’s—have played backstage roles in such diplomatic coups as the 1976 Camp David accords…

While Time Magazine named Coe and described his organization over four years ago, only in the past several months has The Family began receiving serious, and critical, media attention. This attention began after Jeff Sharlet published his book on the Family in 2008, and escalated after the summer of 2009 political sex scandals of Senator John Ensign and S. Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, both of whom are connected to the group. With the introduction of the Uganda anti-homosexual bill in October 2009, The Family and other US based evangelical Christians such as Rick Warren became subjects of widespread academic and human rights critique.

In the past few days scores of politicians, global public health workers, human rights groups, and religious leaders have denounced this bill as a fascist, even genocidal, act. Below is a sample of those making public oppositional statements:

Politicians: Senator Russ Feingold “has warned that relations between Uganda and the United States would suffer because of a proposed Bill against homosexuality. Mr Russ Feingold, who chairs the Senate’s Committee on Africa, said he was outraged by the Anti-homosexuality Bill proposed by Ndorwa West MP David Bahati.” (US Senator joins critics of Anti-homosexuality Bill (Dec 14) Daily Monitor)

Public health officials: According to Stephen Lewis, the former United Nations envoy on AIDS in Africa, “This intended anti-homosexual statute has the taste of fascism.”.. “The proposed law would “demonize homosexuality” and “intensify stigma,” driving gays underground and making it much more difficult to prevent the spread of AIDS…”. (

Human rights groups: Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both released statements in absolute opposition to this bill.

Religious leaders: Several moderate US Christian leaders have expressed opposition to this bill. Some Conservative evangelical Christian religious leaders  in the US are also now coming out against it. After several calls by human rights activists and reporters, US evangelical pastor Rick Warren released a video statement to Ugandan Christian leaders asking them to not support the bill (while maintaining that God does not support homosexuality). Warren has been identified as closely tied to Ugandan anti-gay activist Martin Ssempa. Click here to view Warren’s video address and read Amie Newman’s analysis.

The growing multi-sector, and increasingly multi-national, opposition to Uganda’s anti-homosexual bill is heartening. The bill itself has been temporarily “tabled.” However the hatred and fear stirred up by US-based anti-gay activists in Uganda and surrounding African countries is enormous, and will take much work to reverse. Building coalitions between Ugandan and African-based human rights activists, moderate religious leaders, and HIV/AIDS workers is an obvious step. But another, perhaps more crucial step in the US is for the politicians to finally uphold their commitment to a separation of Church and State. It may be time for the White House and Congress to officially sever its ties with The Family.

See also:

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:

Uganda is bordered by the East African coastal nations of Kenya and Tanzania


  • 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:

Amie Newman“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.” …

US evangelical leader, directly implicated in Uganda's draconian anti-gay movement
US evangelical leader Rick Warren -- who despite gay activist protests led the invocation for Obama's inauguration. Warren is implicated in Uganda's draconian anti-gay movement


Newman continues:

“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.

worldaidsday400_558On December 1, 1988, the World Health Organization declared its first observance of World AIDS Day. Since that day 21 years ago, every December 1st has been used to raise awareness about the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.  In 2006, the Political Declaration on AIDS set a goal to have “universal access to comprehensive prevention programmes, treatment, care and support by 2010.” While progress has been made, we are very far away from being able to trumpet that successes have been fully reached. For the year 2009, the theme of World AIDS Day is Universal Access and Human Rights.

Currently, approximately 33 million people are living with HIV/AIDS (for a full set of global epidemiology slides, click here). Women constitute one half of the people living with HIV/AIDS, and this percentage has risen rapidly from 35% in 1985 (for a slide on the percentage of women in the epidemic around the world, see the UNAIDS epidemiology slides above). Shockingly, young people constitute one half of the new infections each year. While there is no cure for HIV/AIDS, anti-retrovirals have offered hope, newfound possibilities for health and well-being, and added years of life to millions of individuals, households, and communities around the globe. In the case of treatment, while many (but certainly not all) in the United States have access to life saving anti retroviral therapies, the availability of treatment is widely variable around the world. Unfortunately, only a small proportion of those with HIV/AIDS have access to anti-retro viral therapy. (For more details on the prevention, treatment, and care dynamics of the epidemic around the globe, see the UNAIDS 2008 Report on the Epidemic.)

Universal access as a theme is pointing to the need to ensure that populations have access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care.  This is easier said than done—in 2007 only 31% of people who needed treatment received it—and the rate of infection is far outpacing the increases in the number of people who are receiving treatment. Economic retractions around the globe threaten the progress that has been made and there are some reports that treatment programs are being halted or scaled back substantially given economic constraints (UNAIDS 2008 Report).

Because of the way that the number of infections is far outpacing those who have access to treatment, and because the epidemic is largely spread through drug use and sexual contact, the importance of prevention cannot be overstated. Prevention is well recognized as a key factor in slowing the pace of the epidemic—and this is not simply a matter of getting people much needed information and skills about condoms. Prevention is also about tending to the root causes of the epidemic, which involves issues related to social inequalities, homophobia, poverty, gender inequality, the criminalization of drug use and sex work, violations of human rights, and lack of health care access and infrastructure. And, then of course there are the complexities of culture and human behavior, and the fact that many prevention programs work for a short time, even up to a year, but these behavior changes are not often maintained in the long run. There is a great deal of promise in structural, interpersonal, cultural, and group level behavioral prevention interventions. However, the promise of these prevention interventions will not be fully realized without attention to social inequalities and human rights issues.


This brings us to the second aspect of the theme of World AIDS Day 2009: human rights. While it may not be obvious to many, violations of human rights shape HIV/AIDS risks and access to prevention, treatment, and care around the world.  Men who have sex with men, sex workers, and drug users experience stigma and discrimination throughout the world. Many countries attempt to make HIV/AIDS a public health issue, but far too often, it is treated as a moral issue where populations are blamed for their fate (particularly sex workers, drug users, and men who have sex with men). Some countries do not even count “men who have sex with men” as a category in their surveillance systems and men who have sex with men have the lowest coverage of HIV prevention services of any category (UNAIDS, 2008). In numerous countries, women who are known to be HIV positive are thrown out of their homes  when they test positive for HIV/AIDS and do not have adequate access to education, property rights, or income generation to help them to survive (and these factors shape their risks to begin with)—this is the case even when their partners may have infected them. In my own travels and research in South Africa and Kenya, it is clear that many women will not bring their children back to health care centers or clinics to be treated with ARVs for fear of being thrown out of their households and families by their male partners, relatives, or community members. Many men do not come to clinics to be tested because of HIV/AIDS stigma and because of perceptions that clinics are women’s spaces. Men also do not test because of ideals of masculinity which teach men to avoid signs of “weakness” or need. In many countries HIV positive women and men are subject to forced sterilization. Sex workers and drug users are often arrested and viewed as criminals, and prisons do not have adequate access to drug rehabilitation, condoms, or ARV’s, exacerbating the epidemic among “high risk” populations. And the U.S. has been known to stop funding prevention programs that take comprehensive sex education and condom use into account, arguing (against a very strong evidence-base) that abstinence and be faithful approaches work best (for studies that show that comprehensive sexual education and condoms work better than abstinence only programming, there are too many to list, but see this for one). The list of the links between social inequalities, rights, and HIV/AIDS risks goes on and on.

There have been gains, and there have been many of them. The number of people on anti-retroviral therapy has increased 10 fold in the past 6 years alone (UNAIDS, 2009). Recognition of the role of gender inequality and homophobia in shaping HIV/AIDS risks is increasing, as has prevention programming which is increasingly gender-specific and transformative for both women and men. Defining ‘human rights’ and implementing changes in rights has newfound momentum and if this continues, may provide marginalized populations with increased protections, resources, legal recourse, and access to prevention, treatment, and care. The US has a centralized dissemination program to diffuse evidence based successes to community based organizations. There is global mobilization to eradicate mother-to-child transmission. The economic contributions to prevention and a global scale ups in treatment have been a stunning testament to the fact that the global community can rally much needed support.

Still, there is much work to be done both domestically (U.S.) and globally. The incidence rate of HIV/AIDS in Washington DC is similar to that found in Western Kenya. The age distribution in some countries on the African continent has shifted life expectancy downward by several decades in several countries due to the epidemic. AIDS is the leading cause of death right now among African American women aged 25-34 in the United States and African-American women are 21 times more likely to die of HIV/AIDS than Caucasian women. There are millions of orphans due to HIV/AIDS. Sub-saharan Africa constitutes 10 percent of the world’s population and over 65% of the cases of HIV/AIDS. Anti-poverty efforts and food security efforts have been slow to link up with HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care and are much needed. National policies have been hampered in their implementation by a lack of coordination, technical skill, and competing economic and health needs. Young people need prevention efforts more than ever before and prevention efforts reach adults the most. To achieve universal access and human rights within the HIV/AIDS epidemic is a goal that all social sectors and countries must all strive for. At the same time, all must be mindful that recalcitrant issues such as social inequalities and social justice shape the epidemic profoundly and must be dealt with head on in action and not in rhetoric.


For more information on the AIDS pandemic and how you can get involved in advocacy, research, or activism see the following links: