Last March, three American evangelical Christians, whose teachings about “curing” homosexuals have been widely discredited in the United States, arrived in Kampala to give a series of talks.
The theme of the event, according to Stephen Langa, its Ugandan organiser, was “the gay agenda — that whole hidden and dark agenda” — and the threat homosexuals posed to Bible-based values and the traditional African family.
For three days, according to participants and audio recordings, thousands of Ugandans, including police officers, teachers and national politicians, listened raptly to the Americans, who were presented as experts on homosexuality. The visitors discussed how to make gay people straight, how gay men often sodomised teenage boys and how “the gay movement is an evil institution” whose goal is “to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity.”
Now the three Americans are finding themselves on the defensive, saying they had no intention of helping stoke the kind of anger that could lead to what came next: a Bill to impose a death sentence for homosexual behaviour.
One month after the conference, a previously unknown Ugandan politician, who boasts of having evangelical friends in the American government, introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009, which threatens to hang homosexuals, and, as a result, has put Uganda on a collision course with Western nations.
Donor countries, including the United States, are demanding that Uganda’s government drop the proposed law, saying it violates human rights, though the Minister of Ethics and Integrity (who previously tried to ban miniskirts) recently said, “Homosexuals can forget about human rights.”
The Ugandan government, facing the prospect of losing millions of dollars in foreign aid, is now indicating that it will back down, slightly, and change the death penalty provision to life in prison for some homosexuals. But the battle is far from over.
Instead, Uganda seems to have become a far-flung front line in the American culture wars, with American groups on both sides, the Christian right and gay activists, pouring in support and money as they get involved in the broader debate over homosexuality in Africa.
“It’s a fight for their lives,” said Mai Kiang, a director at the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, a New York-based group that has channeled nearly $75,000 to Ugandan gay rights activists and expects that amount to grow.
The three Americans who spoke at the conference — Scott Lively, a missionary who has written several books against homosexuality, including 7 Steps to Recruit-Proof Your Child; Caleb Lee Brundidge, a self-described former gay man who leads “healing seminars;” and Don Schmierer, a board member of Exodus International, whose mission is “mobilising the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality” — are now trying to distance themselves from the Bill.
“I feel duped,” Mr Schmierer said, arguing that he had been invited to speak on “parenting skills” for families with gay children. He acknowledged telling audiences how homosexuals could be converted into heterosexuals, but he said he had no idea some Ugandans were contemplating the death penalty for homosexuality.
“That’s horrible, absolutely horrible,” he said. “Some of the nicest people I have ever met are gay people.”
‘Bomb’ against gay agenda
Mr Lively and Mr Brundidge have made similar remarks in interviews or statements issued by their organisations. But the Ugandan organisers of the conference admit helping draft the Bill, and Mr Lively has acknowledged meeting with Ugandan lawmakers to discuss it. He even wrote on his blog in March that someone had likened their campaign to “a nuclear bomb against the gay agenda in Uganda.” Later, when confronted with criticism, Mr. Lively said he was very disappointed that the legislation was so harsh.
Human rights advocates in Uganda say the visit by the three Americans helped set in motion what could be a very dangerous cycle. Gay Ugandans already describe a world of beatings, blackmail, death threats like “Die Sodomite!” scrawled on their homes, constant harassment and even so-called correctional rape.
Despite such attacks, many gay men and lesbians here said things had been getting better for them before the Bill, at least enough to hold news conferences and publicly advocate for their rights. Now they worry that the Bill could encourage lynchings. Already, mobs beat people to death for infractions as minor as stealing shoes.
“What these people have done is set the fire they can’t quench,” said the Rev Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian who went undercover for six months to chronicle the relationship between the African anti-homosexual movement and American evangelicals.
Mr Kaoma was at the conference and said that the three Americans “underestimated the homophobia in Uganda” and “what it means to Africans when you speak about a certain group trying to destroy their children and their families.”
“When you speak like that,” he said, “Africans will fight to the death.”
New York Times