Beyond Lively & Warren: U.S. Conservative Legal Groups Changing African Law to Persecute Sexual Minorities & Women


While the exposure of the direct involvement of U.S. conservative culture warriors like Scott Lively, Lou Engle, and Rick Warren in draconian anti-gay laws in Russia, Uganda and Nigeria has put many in the Religious Right on the defensive, there are many other leaders in the movement to export the U.S. culture wars who have largely remained incognito. As more African nations move to pass anti-gay laws, there is a need to reflect on the role U.S. conservative legal groups have played on the continent.

In September 2009, for example, leaders from Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly known as Alliance Defense Fund), and Advocate International—the conservative legal group that claims to “protect religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family”—presented seminars at “Be Transformed: Steering the African Continent to Righteousness, Justice and Peace by Renewing our Minds,” a conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Sam Casey, ADF’s founder and General Counsel for U.S. Right Wing Advocates International, and Jeffery Ventrella, Senior Vice-President of Strategic of Training at ADF were plenary speakers. Ventrella spoke about “Religious Freedom, the Homosexual Agenda and Advocacy,” capitalizing on the popular attack on LGBTQ people that the secret overarching agenda of the push for equality for sexual minorities is to “recruit” young children.

What makes the involvement of these well-funded American organizations worrisome is their focus on the legal aspect of the persecution and imprisonment of LGBTQ people, and their well-orchestrated collaboration with other foes of LGBTQ justice. The Alliance Defending Freedom’s involvement in Africa immediately follows that of American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ – founded by Pat Robertson), which helped draft the successfully-passed 1996Defense of the Marriage Act (DOMA)—which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled “unconstitutional” in June, 2013.

The ACLJ has setup offices around the world, and in Africa operates under the name “East African Center for Law and Justice” in Kenya, and the “Africa Center for Law and Justice” in Zimbabwe. Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ’s Executive Director, asserted that his organization assists Africans to “uphold pro-life and pro-family values.” ACLJ, he continued, “has partnered with Africans in Zimbabwe and Kenya, and has been doing great work in Africa now for years.” Behind these U.S. conservative groups’ agenda—ACLJ, ADF, and Advocates International—is an attempt to export U.S. culture wars to Africa, falsely claiming that they are authentic and original African values.

Wherever these groups work, their impact is the same: increased persecution of LGBTQ persons and the denial of sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Just as European missionaries transformed African culture and values on the premise of religion, these organizations are doing the same. For example, during the 2009 Advocates International conference, Sam Casey, addressed the issue of reproductive health in a speech entitled “Protecting Life: An International Status Report.” Three years later, just after the Rwandan government ratified Article 14 of the Maputo Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa,  in which African governments committed themselves to ensure women’s health and reproductive rights (including safe abortions), Casey traveled to Rwanda to urge Rwandans to “join together to form a nationwide pro-life movement built around the San Jose Articles. … In consultation with Heartbeat International, Human Life International or Life International,” Casey wrote, Rwandans must introduce a “pregnancy resource center” to provide conservative counseling, and pregnancy diagnosis, which would inform “women about the health risks of all their options, including the induced abortions.”

Like the American Center for Law and Justice, the U.S.-based Human Life International operates in Africa. Where no African had yet signed onto the San Jose Articles, these groups aimed to turn Africa into a U.S. conservative-modeled continent by recasting the Maputo Protocol as un-African.

But while they find it easy to win over Africans on homosexuality, generally, African nations tend to be more open to women’s health and reproductive rights. In his Mission Report to Namibia in 2010, Human Life International’s Brian Clowes complained that:

“[M]any Namibians have fallen victim to anti-life thinking, simply because they haven’t heard the other side of the story. They did not comprehend why explicit sex education and contraception are intrinsically evil, and they found it very difficult to understand the scientific evidence and Church teachings on these issues.” [emphasis his]

Both Clowes’ and Casey’s claims are not just insulting to Africa, but imperialistic. Why should U.S. groups export their ideologies to Africa—why should they believe they know better than Africans? Unlike many leaders of the U.S. conservative ideology, most Africans understand that sex education, abortion and contraception save lives. But thanks to the intense pressure of these right-wing actors, the once-rational thinking among African nations is being corrupted in order to deny women of their rights—frequently through legislation such as constitutional amendments (which the American groups help to draft) which define life as beginning at conception. Even in a country like Rwanda, for example, disinformation campaigns from these U.S. organizations has pushed the general public to actually believe that abortion is a crime.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, Advocates International, and the American Center for Law and Justice are three of the leading U.S. conservative legal organizations involved in exporting the U.S. culture wars to Africa. But unlike Americans like Lively, Engle, and Warren who came into the spotlight after giving public speeches to sway the local populaces, these secretive conservative legal organizations have been able to avoid negative press by working directly with lawmakers to draft and impose draconian laws, creating the false impression that they’re coming solely from these countries’ representatives.

Last week, the Ethiopian government cancelled the anti-gay rally and dropped the proposed anti-gay bill, but the LGBTQ community continues to be under surveillance and under attack. At this moment, LGBTQ persons “are very scared even to socialize,” a prominent human rights activist recently told me.

U.S. conservatives claim innocence when it comes to the exportation of homophobia—especially when called to account. But the truth is that intense persecution and violence against LGBTQ people is what follows these “innocent” visits from the American Right.

ITN News’ Channel 4 and PRA’s Kapya Kaoma Take Down Scott Lively

Channel 4

PRA’s senior researcher Kapya Kaoma joined ITN News’ Channel 4 (England) in a spotlight feature about Scott Lively’s involvement in the creation of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The piece includes PRA’s exclusive video of Lively’s presentation at a Uganda anti-gay conference in 2009.

Watch the embedded video below, or on Channel 4′s website.

Only Fools Believe? Pastor Rick Warren and Global Homophobia

Pastor Rick Warren

Pastor Rick Warren

The recent passage of highly punitive anti-LGBTQ legislation in Nigeria, Uganda, and Russia has brought renewed media scrutiny to certain conservative American evangelicals known for campaigning against homosexuality abroad. Pastors Scott Lively and Rick Warren – in particular – have been called out for creating the conditions that led to Uganda’s infamous Anti-Homosexuality Act. That law imposes long jail sentences (up to life in prison) for being LGBTQ and criminalizes anyone who dares to speak out in defense of the human rights of sexual minorities. Thanks to Lively, Warren, and a number of other American culture warriors, there is a wave of politicized homophobia burning its way through villages, cities, and parliaments in Africa. Were I in Uganda today, I could be arrested just for writing this.

Although documentation of the involvement of right-wing American campaigners (including by this writer) is ample, the current media scrutiny has brought forth predictable denials of responsibility. We’ve seen this movie before. When things get hot, as they did when Uganda’s Parliament considered a death penalty provision for its Anti-Homosexuality Bill, the likes of Lively and Warren attempted to deflate the public’s anger at their involvement by issuing statements distancing themselves from the very events they set in motion. Now again, there appears to be a dedicated PR campaign to whitewash the history of right-wing evangelical involvement in exporting their U.S.-style anti-LGBTQ and reproductive freedom campaigns abroad.

In Lively’s case, a U.S. federal judge has determined that there is sufficient evidence of his direct involvement in committing crimes against humanity that the Springfield, Mass., pastor now awaits a civil trial here at home for persecuting Uganda’s sexual minority community. Key evidence for the case comes from Lively himself, who has a habit of boasting about his influence in Uganda and Russia, among other places. When asked about the original death penalty provision of the Uganda bill, Lively said it was not his preferred methodology, but pushed for the bill’s passage anyway, saying, “I think the lesser of two evils is for the bill to go through.” It seems Lively is such an unrepentant believer in the evil of homosexuality that he can’t help but remain outspoken – even when it brings him public condemnation.

But what of Baptist megachurch pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren? Yes, he campaigns against same-sex marriage and promotes creationism, but Warren also cultivates a much more moderate image than the fire-and-brimstone Lively. Warren delivered the invocation at President Obama’s first inauguration and aspires to a prominent role in American public life. (Lively presumably gave up any hopes of mainstream acceptance when he co-authored a book blaming the Nazi Party and Holocaust on homosexuals.)

On March 2 of this year, Warren responded to the renewed public criticism of his promotion of homophobia abroad in with a post on his Facebook page under the heading, “Only fools believe everything they hear!” Warren says that he “publicly opposed [Uganda’s bill] nearly 5 years ago,” and argues that he’s been wrongly associated with the measure ever since MSNBC host Rachel Maddow “falsely accused” him of supporting it back in 2009.

It is true that Warren publicly criticized the bill in December 2009, calling it unjust “and un-Christian.” But his denouncement came only after intense and sustained pushback when Americans learned of his public statements in Africa condemning homosexuality, and about his close relationships with the Ugandan politicians and pastors who had taken up their American colleagues’ call to “defend” their children, families, and nation from homosexuality. When Pastor Warren visited Uganda in 2008, he supported and encouraged Anglican Archbishop Bishop Henry Orombi’s boycott of the Lambeth Conference (the worldwide gathering of Anglican Bishops every 10 years) where tolerance of sexual diversity was encouraged. Warren told the African press that “homosexuality is not a natural way of life and thus not a human right. We shall not tolerate this aspect at all.” Pastor Warren left Uganda, but his powerful condemnation remained, recirculated in the Uganda media for years.

Pastor Warren’s words and actions helped pave the way for the bill in the first place. But he has never acknowledged any of this, and has instead depicted himself as an innocent bystander to the whole affair who nonetheless had the courage to speak out against the measure. Warren fails to acknowledge his statement denying the human rights of LGBTQ people. Further, before he tried to distance himself from the “Kill the Gays Bill,” he responded to early criticism of his involvement by saying, “[I]t is not my personal calling as a pastor in America to comment or interfere in the political process of other nations.”

My 2009 report, Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches & Homophobia, was widely cited by Warren’s critics. The study examines the interference of various right-wing U.S. groups and individuals in African political and church affairs, and it addresses Pastor Warren’s influence in Africa and his 2008 denouncement of homosexuality in Uganda.

Eventually the pressure grew too strong for Warren to avoid public comment. But his much-cited denunciation of the bill also provoked a reaction from his previous allies in Uganda. Martin Ssempa – a Ugandan pastor trained by conservative American evangelicals and one of the most ardent champions of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill – responded with an open letter to Warren, accusing the Saddleback pastor of failing to stand up for his own words and values. Ssempa’s criticism of Warren was not merely for standing in opposition to himself and the Uganda legislation, but for saying one thing in Africa, and another in the United States. Ssempa reminded Pastor Warren that when he went “to Uganda on Thursday, 27 March 2008, he condemned homosexuality.” Ssempa also wrote of how Pastor Warren taught Ugandans that “the Bible says evil has to be opposed. Evil has to be stopped. The Bible does not say negotiate with evil. It says stop it. Stop evil.” The underlying theme of the Ssempa letter is a charge of betrayal.

As part of his denial of association with the campaign to persecute sexual minorities, Warren says he wrote to then-Anglican Archbishop of Uganda Henry Orombi voicing his opposition to the death penalty provision of the bill. (He says Orombi wrote back saying that “he, too, was opposed to the death penalty for homosexuals.”) Pastor Warren’s letter to Archbishop Orombi is not in the public record, but until he stepped down as Archbishop in 2012, Orombi was consistently one of the most influential leaders supporting the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Like Ssempa, Orombi advocated replacing the death penalty with severe prison sentences, as happened with the final version signed into law by President Museveni.

Pastor Warren laments that “lies and errors are never removed from the internet. False information on the internet is global, searchable, and permanent.” While that is true, truth and history also remain online. The Internet is where I found Warren’s on-camera endorsement of California’s anti-LGBTQ Proposition 8, and his claims that same-sex marriage was consistent with incest, pedophilia, and polygamy (all statements he later claimed he never made).

So when Pastor Warren laments the outcry over his involvement in the persecution of African sexual minorities, one has to consider the source. And when one reads Warren’s 2009 statement about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, one has to consider the context. We are still waiting for Warren to publicly acknowledge his role in fostering anti-LGBTQ hysteria in Uganda. Meanwhile, Warren’s global outreach continues to grow. While his public relations machine in the United States promotes his “Daniel Plan” diet book, he is pursuing an ambitious plan to open Saddleback Churches in Berlin, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Manila, Ghana, and Moscow. Will that prove to be the next stepping stool for attacks on freedom and human rights? What do you believe?

VIDEO: Rev. Kapya Kaoma Discusses the U.S. Religious Right Behind Uganda’s Anti-Gay Law

PRA Researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma discusses U.S. conservative involvement in African anti-gay laws

PRA Researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma discusses U.S. conservative involvement in African anti-gay laws on The Real News Network

Political Research Associates’ Senior Religion and Sexuality Researcher, Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, joined The Real News Network to discuss how U.S. conservative evangelicals are the real culprits behind Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Law.

Watch the interview below or on

Decriminalizing Queer Requires More Than Diplomacy

obama back off africa

An American Episcopal bishop was traveling in South Africa shortly after Gene Robinson had been consecrated as the first openly gay bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion. While visiting a rural seminary, the bishop found a group of students, sitting around a late-night campfire, engrossed in animated conversation in their native Swahili language. Interested to know what deep theological query was up for debate, the bishop asked his translator what the group was talking about, and was amused to learn that the topic of discussion was none other than his dear friend, Gene.

Speaking through his translator, the bishop said to the group, “As it so happens, I know Gene – he’s a good friend of mine. In fact, I’ve been to his house and have had dinner with him and his partner. What would you like to know about him?”

This disclosure sparked another lively debate among the seminarians, who ultimately returned to the translator with one burning question: “Who cooks?”

As the Anglican Church was being torn asunder over the ordination of LGBTQ individuals, it’s somewhat funny that such a seemingly simple concern would be the question for the South African seminarians. But it also illustrates some of the deeper issues at play. In cultures where strict gender roles are considered fundamental to the integrity of family and community, it can be difficult for someone to imagine how a family might eat, for example, if the household doesn’t include someone who’s traditionally understood to hold cooking responsibilities.

However, as noted in the recent “Scientific Statement on Homosexuality” submitted to Uganda’s President Museveni by a team of expert (Ugandan) scientists, “Homosexuality existed in Africa way before the coming of the white man.” And evidently, somebody managed to get the cooking done.

Under the Colonial Laws Validity Act of 1865, England was able to impose its laws on colonized territories, including Uganda. This package of imported morality included the 1533 Buggery Act, which originally condemned anyone found guilty of an “unnatural sex act” to death and loss of property. By 1885, although the death penalty was replaced with imprisonment, the Courts specified that anal sex between men was a crime.

England and Wales got rid of their sodomy laws in 1967 (decades before the U.S. Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas ruling in 2003 which finally eliminated sodomy laws here), but Uganda had gained its independence in 1962, and the homophobia inherited from British colonial rule remained on the books.

These relics of the colonial era, combined with a new wave of aggressive fervor from U.S. conservative evangelical missionaries, have created the perfect foundation for an all-out war against LGBTQ people (formally declared by Pres. Museveni in his Valentine’s Day address last week). That foundation is further fueled by the historic trauma of colonization, which helps enable leaders like Museveni to cast homosexuality as a Western import, and criminalization of homosexuality as an anti-colonial act of “resistance” rather than oppression.

The attacks on LGBTQ people have more to do with post-colonial backlash against the West than with upholding “traditional African values,” as was illustrated by The Gambia president Yahya Jammeh’s recent speech, marking the 49th anniversary of The Gambia’s independence from Britain. Speaking on state television, Jammeh proclaimed that his country would defend its sovereignty and Islamic beliefs and not yield to outside pressure on LGBTQ issues.  Addressing threats from the United States and other Western nations to cut foreign aid to countries that pass anti-homosexuality laws, Jammeh declared, “We will … not accept any friendship, aid or any other gesture that is conditional on accepting homosexuals or LGBT as they are now baptized by the powers that promote them.”

“As far as I am concerned, LGBT can only stand for Leprosy, Gonorrhea, Bacteria, and Tuberculosis; all of which are detrimental to human existence,” he added.

Meanwhile, in Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni’s spokesperson, Tamale Mirundi, has stated that the country “can do without” American foreign aid and that Museveni “cannot be intimidated.” (Currently, the U.S. contributes around $400 million in foreign aid to Uganda every year, much of which goes towards humanitarian causes, including the battle against HIV/AIDS.)

Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s Minister for Ethics and Integrity who has actively campaigned against the LGBTQ community, has also proclaimed that Ugandans would rather “die poor than live in an immoral nation.”

According to Mirundi, “If you use the [foreign] aid or other strings you are inciting the population in Uganda to rally behind the President.”

Indeed, President Obama’s recent condemnation of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill may have received praise from LGBTQ and human rights advocates in the United States, but the shaming of Uganda’s leader is likely to only further entrench international opponents. As Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma has observed, “By signing this draconian bill, Museveni repositions himself as the defender of Uganda against ‘Western imperialism’ on one hand, and the defender of Ugandan religious and cultural values to the populace, on the other.”

This same dynamic is playing out in Russia, where President Putin has been boosting his political standing and solidifying his power through a strategic pro-Russian/anti-Western campaign that positions LGBTQ people as the ultimate Western-made threat to Mother Russia.

Presenting Russia’s “Report on the Human Rights Situation in the European Union” at the 32nd EU-Russia Summit last month, Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian foreign ministry’s human rights commissioner, said the EU and its 28 member states saw it as a priority to disseminate their “neo-liberal values as a universal lifestyle for all other members of the international community.” Citing the EU’s “aggressive promotion of the sexual minorities’ rights,” the report argued that “Such an approach encounters resistance not only in the countries upholding traditional values, but also in those countries which have always taken a liberal attitude towards queers.”

So what are concerned Western activists to do?

Any thoughtfully considered approach to solidarity work must centralize the leadership of those who are most directly affected by the injustice at hand, so when the Ugandan Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights & Constitutional Law calls for U.S. and other countries to withdraw their Ambassadors to Uganda and Nigeria, the request needs to be taken seriously.

In a press statement released by the Human Rights Campaign, Chad Griffin said, “The Ugandan and Nigerian governments’ decisions to treat their LGBT citizens like criminals cannot be accepted as business as usual by the U.S. government. We urge Secretary Kerry to recall both Ambassadors for consultations in Washington to make clear the seriousness of the situation in both countries.”

The U.S.-based LGBTQ rights group All Out has also joined the effort with an online petition. In their explanation of the campaign, organizers write, “If thousands and thousands of us speak out right now we can get the attention of the whole world. We could even get world leaders, major corporations, and religious institutions with sway in Uganda to use their influence.”

But there’s another influencing factor in the struggle for LGBTQ justice in Uganda that cuts in international aid would paradoxically bolster: that of right-wing U.S. evangelicals—the very same people who laid the foundation for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in the first place. While diplomatic pressure may prevent further criminalization of LGBTQ Ugandans in a legislative sense, reversing over 150 years of colonial and neocolonial anti-LGBTQ indoctrination requires more than a condemnatory statement from the U.S. Secretary of State.

Perhaps our greatest contribution as Americans is to start here at home—to confront those who have propagated violence and virulent messages against LGBTQ people around the world, hold them accountable for the harm that they’ve caused, and develop long-term strategies for transforming hearts and minds and building toward truly comprehensive liberation.

WARNING: U.S. LGBTQ Organizations Falling Into Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Trap

museveni - bbc

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni. photo credit: BBC

This morning, I woke up to the news that various human rights organizations in both the U.S. and Uganda are demanding a recall of the U.S. Ambassadors to Uganda and Nigeria.  I first thought it was a joke—but then I read more press releases and saw petitions on Facebook and Twitter. These organizations are falling right into the well-organized trap set by U.S. conservatives.

Last weekend, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni gave a speech “declar[ing] war on the ‘homosexual lobby,’” and called on all Ugandans to stand with him—he was expecting the Western world to react to his declaration. To Museveni and most Ugandans, the ‘homosexual lobby’ includes not only major LGBTQ rights organizations, but the United States and the European Union, which have for many years fought for the rights and dignity of LGBTQ persons on African soil. Western nations and organizations have not fought in the way social justice-minded people have hoped—they have not stopped the arrests, or the beatings—but there is no doubt that their presence and back-room meetings with African politicians has saved LGBTQ lives from systematic persecution, and in some cases, genocides.

It is these nations and organizations that have provided safe spaces for African LGBTQ persons—even in extraordinarily homophobic countries like Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and The Gambia—to share their plight and reorganize after their governments disband them. In Zambia and Uganda, these nations have gone beyond simple meetings with local LGBTQ activists, but are also monitoring and documenting human rights abuses, flooding court rooms when LGBTQ persons appear in court, and have provided safety when African nations declare war on gays. When LGBTQ Africans lives’ are in immediate danger, it is to the U.S. and European embassies they run for safety. These nations’ open protection of sexual minorities in Africa has resulted in charges of “promoting homosexuality in Africa” by both religious and political leaders.

Honestly, had it not been for the presence of the U.S. and European embassies, African gays would have been massacred years ago, without any fear of consequences. For LGBTQ organizations to now demand they pull out of Uganda perilously compromises the lives of LGBTQ persons—who will not have anyone to turn to for safety, and strip our ability to monitor persecution.

I understand that we are all desperate to stop the progression of the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill. But threatening to leave the country will only boost the political power and credibility of leaders like Museveni, David Bahati, and Martin Ssempa—opening the door for African nations to expand further anti-LGBTQ laws, possibly even including executions and mass slaughter.

Knowing that most people don’t understand the pan-African ethics of solidarity, how African nations perceive the West’s response to Uganda will have effects across the continent, from Kenya to Algeria to Namibia.

We need Western nations’ presence in the fight against the criminalization of LGBTQ persons in Africa more than American human rights activists. Recalling the U.S. ambassador will just confirm the false claim that Western nations are in Uganda for one purpose—to recruit young people into homosexuality. This perception will increase the negative attitudes against LGBTQ persons in Uganda.

It is time to realize that African LGBTQ people are not all activists—most of them exist without public faces.

The withdrawal of the U.S. Ambassador from Uganda and Nigeria would also have some neo-colonial implications, which we should guard against. Uganda is not the first country to pass this Anti-Homosexuality Bill banning advocacy for LGBTQ issues—Russia was first. Nigeria followed, and many more nations are still to follow. How do we explain that no calls have gone out for the U.S. to sever diplomatic relations with Russia, but then call for the cutting of those ties to African nations? Frankly speaking, this move is an invitation for neo-colonial politics—which make even vicious dictators (like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe) heroes in the eyes of African people.

African nations are sensitive to neo-colonial and imperialistic attitudes of the West—hence they are likely to side with Museveni when he is condemned for his handling of homosexuality. The move will only make Museveni a hero not just among Ugandans, but also among his African allies—precisely what he is hoping for after watching his political power fade in recent years. If the West attacks him, and leaves the country, Museveni will have free reign to rule as the dictator he wants to be.

So what is the way forward?

African homophobia is promoted and propelled by religion. In Uganda, Christian leaders (paid for and encouraged by American evangelicals) have been demanding the bill for years, and pushing their followers to vote for the lawmakers who support it. Politicians will always be politicians—they are always looking for votes. In his attempt to win the Evangelical votes in 2008, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama disagreed with same-sex marriage in a debate moderated by Pastor Rick Warren—one of very same U.S. evangelicals who worked with anti-gay pastors in Uganda. But to think that such dynamics only work in American politics is naïve at best, and dangerous, careless, and deadly at worst. Museveni needs votes to remain in power. So the answer to Uganda’s anti-gay bill lies in the primarily Christian electorate of Uganda. We should be demanding that Pope Francis speak directly to President Museveni and Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, and urge Ugandan Roman Catholics to proclaim his already-stated opposition to any law criminalizing LGBTQ persons. U.S. Anglican, and Evangelical/Pentecostal leaders should equally speak to their friends in Uganda about the dignity and fundamental human rights of sexual minorities. And the American people must demand an end to the constant flow of exportation of homophobia from U.S. evangelicals like Scott Lively, Lou Engle, and Rick Warren to Ugandan pastors and politicians.

Open letters, petitions, and press releases will only give Museveni and Uganda lawmakers another reason to sign and enforce the bill.

Considering #SochiProblems Beyond Russia

2014 sochi logo

The 22nd Winter Olympic Games kick off this week in Sochi, Russia, amid pomp, circumstance, controversy, and concern. On Twitter, journalists are popularizing the “#SochiProblems” hashtag, documenting shoddy and ill-prepared accommodations. Yet the bigger concerns have more to do with human rights than broken doorknobs.

Since the passage of the infamous “Anti-Gay Propaganda” bill in June of last year, international human rights advocates have been horrified by a massive surge in attacks on Russia’s LGBTQ community. Blogs, newspapers, and other media sources—both in mainstream and LGBTQ outlets—have circulated images of bloodied protesters, videos documenting the torture of young gay men, and stories of people and families living in fear for their lives. The situation is assuredly dire, and activists on the ground anticipate that things will only get worse once the Games are over and the international spotlight has faded.

But with an anticipated television audience of 3 billion viewers (and at a cost of over $50 billion), the games go on. More than 2,800 athletes from 87 different countries have tirelessly trained in anticipation of what will—for most—be the pinnacle of their athletic careers. As usual, American athletes are expected to dominate the podium, but the stories that most captivate the world frequently come from the perpetual underdogs—the ones with no name recognition, no corporate sponsors, and almost no chance of winning.

Like the 1988 Jamaican bobsled team, competitors from countries in traditionally warmer climates are rare anomalies at the Winter Olympics, and tend to garner a sort of curious fascination from journalists and spectators. In 2014, five such “underdog” athletes hail from Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Togo, and Zimbabwe)—a continent that has yet to claim a single medal in the entire history of the Winter Olympic Games.

Africa, however, deserves more attention than a mere puff piece about its underdog Olympians. 38 African countries currently have laws that criminalize homosexuality, and the atmosphere for LGBTQ people in many countries is growing worse.

Such was not always the case: Legal restrictions on same-sex relationships are primarily a product of European colonial rule, prior to which homosexuality was widely documented as having been normalized and accepted. In recent years, however, a wave of neo-colonial influence, led by right-wing U.S. evangelicals, has led to a resurgence of anti-homosexuality legislation and public sentiment.

Certainly, many human rights groups, queer activists, and social justice organizers have recognized and begun to challenge the exportation of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and ideology. But our collective efforts—well-intentioned as they may be—have also included some less effective, even harmful models. Like many mainstream Western gay and lesbian movements, the evolving face of the international LGBTQ justice movement has struggled to figure out what it means to approach this work with an intersectional analysis and ethos, and how to responsibly and accountably move toward a vision of collective liberation that doesn’t exclude anyone—a vision that understands the indelible link between LGBTQ justice and racial justice, economic justice, disability justice, etc.

Anti-LGBTQ activity in Russia is a distinct, albeit interrelated trend, providing both a model for new legislation and a useful distraction for African governments pursuing similar agendas. Within months of the Duma’s near-unanimous approval of the Anti-Gay Propaganda law, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, signed a new law that not only prescribes prison sentences of up to 14 years for openly LGBTQ people, but also bans same-sex marriage, intimate relationships with a member of the same sex, and gay organizations. Uganda’s Parliament passed its own anti-homosexuality law, formerly known as the “kill the gays” bill, which is awaiting President Museveni’s signature. Similar measures are currently in the works in Liberia, and rapidly gaining momentum.

Unfortunately, these regressive moves have gone largely unnoticed, thanks to the enormous protective shadow of Mother Russia—and thanks to the preferential treatment of Western activists who notoriously favor other Westerners within the confines of restrictive and destructive “issue silos.” Meanwhile, in the U.S. and around the world, the suffering of indigenous people, incarcerated people, undocumented people, transgender people, poor people, homeless and underhoused people, people with disabilities, and people of color continues to go unnoticed. This contrast is felt in mainstream gay and lesbian movements that perceive marriage equality as an end goal, in the current neglect of LGBTQ rights abuses in Africa and other parts of the Global South, in every host city for the Olympic Games (sites of perennial contention that notoriously displace local communities, exploit and drain public resources, and suppress marginalized voices), and in the lived experiences of individuals who dare to claim more than one oppressed identity.

The privileging of some above others fractures our community as a whole, and as long as we are divided, the Right will continue winning. So in the coming weeks, as the world’s attention is captivated by displays of strength, agility, speed, and athleticism, let’s not forget that for every athlete that mounts the podium, there’s an underdog with a story to tell, too. For every glitzy, star-studded media campaign launched by well-financed LGBTQ organizations, there’s a grassroots group struggling to pay its bills. For every story about Russia, there’s a less-publicized campaign to make life worse for folks in Uganda, Cameroon, Jamaica, and elsewhere. In the end, regardless of who wins gold, we all lose when injustice endures.

Long Walk To Freedom: What African Sexual Minorities Can Learn from Tata Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandelason mandela, apartheid, lgbt, africa

When I heard that Nelson Mandela had died, I tweeted, “Long walk to freedom–Mandela was in 27 years in prison, but didn’t give up. LGBT Africans, our walk is long but freedom is coming tomorrow.”

That was when I remembered my first visit to Robben Island, in 2003.

During our tour, we were shown the pile of stones that political prisoners broke daily. We then entered the prison cell in which Nelson Mandela spent 18 years. While my friends rushed to take photos of cell #5, I couldn’t bring myself to do so. I may regret that someday, but it would have felt to me like playing at being Mandela – who I am not and will never be. Mandela was an icon, who never lost hope in humanity—something most of us find impossible.

As we headed back to Cape Town, surrounded by the lovely waters, I spent my time wondering how Nelson Mandela remained hopeful in the face of the seemingly impossible. Since my visit to Robben Island, I have learned that freedom is not something that comes easily—people have to fight for it and, sometimes, many have to die for it.  I began to make sense of his book, Long Walk to Freedom.  I came to realize that freedom is a long journey travelled not by the strong, but rather by the determined.  It took Nelson Mandela more than 27 years to secure freedom for himself and for so many others.

Of course, many people walked on that journey with Mandela. Steve Bantu Biko, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, and Hector Pieterson are among the many South Africans who died and inspired Mandela to continue the walk to freedom. These individuals were ordinary people, about whom most of the world knows very little. Their sacrifices inspired Mandela not only to continue the journey, but also to carry their dreams with him. That day of freedom finally came, and with cameras broadcasting across the world, Nelson Mandela left prison. He later became that country’s first democratically leader as well as its first Black president.

Mandela’s vision extended to all those who continue to pursue long walks to freedom. Mandela championed the human rights of all people, whether Black, White, straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or intersex. He lived to see the day when South Africa became the first African country to make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal and began allowing same-sex marriages. The African National Congress’ (ANC) outspoken support for non-discrimination against sexual minorities resulted from the courageous, visible leadership of LGBTQ people in the anti-apartheid struggle and their principled challenges to the movement’s leadership.

Today, amid state sponsored violence, religiously sanctioned persecutions, and an apparent lack of rule of law, many African sexual minorities are now made to believe their freedom will never come.  But is Mandela’s journey over? I don’t think so—the journey to freedom continues. To me, Mandela’s legacy is simply this: “No oppression in any form will last forever.”

“Freedom is coming tomorrow”—we cannot give up.  Mandela was imprisoned for demanding equality for all people, regardless of race. We, too, we are demanding equality for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.  For both the many sexual minorities who walked alongside Mandela and for all of us walking now, these struggles for freedom and justice are chapters of an interconnected, interrelated journey.

We will continue to suffer casualties along our walk to freedom.  But our fallen sisters and brothers—Duduzile Zozo and Noxolo Nogwaza of South Africa, David Kato of Uganda, Maurice Mjomba of Tanzania, Eric Ohena Lembembe of Cameroon, among many others—did not die in vain. Rather than retreating in despair, may their sacrifices inspire us to walk again tomorrow. As it is said, “If something is not worth dying for, it is not worth fighting for.”  If we fear demonization, prisons, or death, we won’t get our freedom.

And ultimately, when we get our freedom, are we going to be like Nelson Mandela, willing to forgive and reconcile with the very people who persecuted and killed us? Tata Mandela, as you join our ancestors, inspire us to continue that long walk to freedom, which you courageously made in the name of human rights of all God’s people.

Celebrating the Movement Mandela

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

We pause this day to celebrate Nelson Mandela, “Madiba,” and to reflect on what his life and the South African freedom movement has to teach us. Inevitably, this involves reflecting on our own lives and our own social justice commitments.

Like countless others, many in PRA’s family have been involved in the anti-apartheid and broader South African freedom movements. We organized churches to support the African National Congress when it was still designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. government, occupied university buildings in pursuit of divestment, raised funds, and boycotted businesses. (As a ten-year-old, I made and carried my first protest sign outside a Broadway theater showing the South African play Ipi Tombi.) We supported the movement not only as individuals but also through our organizations. In 1985, Political Research Associates challenged President Reagan’s bankrupt “constructive engagement” policies toward South Africa’s White minority regime with an exposé, Apartheid in our Living Rooms: U.S. Foreign Policy and South Africa, by our dear colleague Prexy Nesbitt. PRA’s commitment to Africa, forged in the cauldron of the anti-apartheid movement, continues in different forms to this day.

We took both inspiration and direction from the leadership of South Africa’s freedom movement, and I’ll venture to say that all of us received more than we gave through our ultimately modest contributions. But, combined with the actions of so many thousands of others, we helped to make possible a remarkable social transformation in South Africa and transformed our own lives in the process. Inspired by that movement, untold numbers around the globe made lifelong commitments to social justice. That is what a well-organized, creative, visionary, and disciplined social justice movement can achieve.

When I read that we have “lost” Mandela, I fear I am reading the words of those who would just as soon close the book on the South African freedom struggle and, by extension, the struggle for racial, economic, gender, and broader social justice across the African continent and beyond. As with the legacy of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. here in our own country, the celebration of extraordinary lives –whether well-meaning or cynical–can be used to contain rather than to kindle freedom fires. Even those who once denounced the man as a terrorist now rush to laud his accomplishments, and it is only a matter of time before his legacy is invoked in the name of reactionary causes. Such are the indignities of becoming, however unwillingly, an icon. Mandela had to contend with much myth-making about him even while he was alive. To his everlasting credit, he consistently resisted story-telling that elevated his contributions far above those of hundreds and thousands of his comrades and other, everyday heroes of the freedom struggle.

The eulogies flooding in for Mandela rightly recognize his extraordinary wellspring of compassion and spirit of Ubuntu. But Mandela was also fierce in his commitment to justice for the dispossessed, unyielding in his confrontation with oppression and inequality, and deeply democratic in his commitment to pass the torch of leadership to others. This combination of fierceness and love, commitment and compassion were bound together with the conviction that love is the most powerful force for justice. It is an approach to being in the world to be emulated, as well as celebrated.

Mandela lived a long life punctuated by almost unimaginable accomplishments. If we are to mourn as well as celebrate his life, let us mourn that key parts of his freedom dream remain unfulfilled. His mortality reminds us of the limits of what even the most dedicated and talented social justice organizers can achieve in their own time. Mandela–along with his comrades in the African National Congress, Confederation of South African Trade Unions, and the South African Communist Party–understood that to make change one must build power. And these women and men built and sought to exercise power not to dominate–not to emulate their oppressors–but to liberate. What they achieved is truly remarkable: a liberal racial democracy in place of a White supremacist state maintained by racial terror and the complicity of the so-called democratic world. What they sacrificed for that achievement is equally noteworthy–not just in unspeakable violence (much of it, somehow, spoken through the truth & reconciliation process) and fallen colleagues, but also in dreams deferred, commitments unrealized, and compromises made.

Mandela and his comrades fell well short of their goal of realizing a just economic order in South Africa. The unearned power, privilege, and wealth of White racial dominance were not swept away by the democratic transition, and the free-market capitalism that prevails in today’s South Africa cannot deliver economic justice for the Black majority or for the poor of other racial groups. Of course, this is true not only of South Africa. As Mandela famously said during his first trip to the U.S. after being released from Robben Island, “A luta continua.”

The U.S. relationship with South Africa is long and complicated. South African apartheid was modeled on the U.S. Jim Crow South, and today the U.S. is a pioneer in maintaining White racial dominance without old school segregation. As Whites in the U.S. lose majority status, this is becoming increasingly challenging. The opportunity to celebrate Nelson Mandela offers a fig leaf to those elected officials and highest officers of the court who gut the Voting Rights Act, systematically disenfranchise African American and other targeted communities, preside over mass incarceration, mobilize local and national security forces to surveil and police communities of color, deport rather than provide a path to citizenship for millions of unauthorized immigrants, and continue to rob and exploit the indigenous peoples of this land. The South African freedom movement was an anti-colonial struggle led by the indigenous peoples of that land, along with defectors from the White colonial elite. Mandela emerged first as a tribal leader of the Xhosa, and the movement that he helped to lead united many disparate communities around a shared quest for freedom. Honoring the South African freedom movement requires that we confront the continuing oppression of indigenous communities and commit ourselves to decolonization as we journey along our own long walk to freedom.

Nelson Mandela and the South African freedom struggle stoked embers of justice around the globe. As we take time to celebrate the “movement Mandela” and mourn his passing, may we honor his legacy by kindling new fires for justice and setting our sights beyond the horizon of the possible as we stay the course towards freedom.

Mandela presente!

Zambia First Lady Deserves Praise for Pro-LGBT Speech? Think Again.

First Lady of Zambia, Dr. Christine Kaseba. Image via YouTube

First Lady of Zambia, Dr. Christine Kaseba. Image via YouTube

The global North LGBTI and Human rights groups have heralded Zambia’s First Lady Christine Kaseba’s “positive” statement on homosexuality. But if you read her full remarks in context, there’s isn’t anything praiseworthy about it.

At a reception hosted by UNAIDS on November 5, 2013, Dr. Kaseba told a group that “Silence on men having sex with men should be stopped,” and added “no one should be discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. .. Personally, I am concerned about the vulnerability of our women married to or in intimate relations with men who also have sex with men.” On this basis, she joined many Human rights defenders in calling on Zambians to have an open and civil discussion on homosexuality which, as she argued, is the key to fighting HIV and AIDS. Because of the demonization of LGBT persons across Africa, many Africans gay persons are forced to live a lie—married to women during the day, and gays at night. Her statements made global headlines, and many international human rights organizations lavished her with praises for standing up against homophobia.

However, the international community seems to have missed the rest of the First Lady’s speech (posted below). Like many African politicians, Dr. Kabesa falsely claimed that young people are “enticed” or recruited into same-sex relations—the same claim used by Scott Lively and other anti-gay figures both in the United States and Africa to promote widespread prejudice, discrimination, and violence. In the very same speech to UNAIDS, Dr. Kabesa says, “We have anecdotal evidence especially in colleges where young men are enticed into having sex with men but at the same time also have young girlfriends on the side.”

As a Zambian national and human rights defender, I found her statement misleading, and a major distraction to the plight of LGBT persons in Zambia and the rest of Africa.

When I first heard about Dr. Kaseba’s statement, I wanted to know what Zambian LGBT persons thought of her position on homosexuality. I read a short post from an outspoken Zambian LGBT advocate (I’m withholding her name because of threats of violence she’s received), questioning the logic of Dr. Kaseba making such a statement while two LGBT Zambians, James Mwape and Phillip Mubiana sit in Zambian prison simply being gay, and Paul Kasonkomona is facing charges for speaking openly about homosexuality on TV.

I think the Zambian LGBT author rightly interpreted the First Lady’s statement as little more than nice words mean to entice donor’s dollars. In fact, the Zambian media reported that Dr. Kaseba made these remarks at the international donors “reception”—which happened to be UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board Reception with Key Partners.

Dr. Kaseba knows that her husband, President Michael Sata, who sees nothing wrong with Africa’s longest reigning dictator Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, needs something big to win him donor support. Is the First Lady’s statement on homosexuality the key to new dollars?

Regardless, the statement sought to distract international attention from the systematic persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans*, and inter-sex persons in Zambia.

Combatting HIV/AIDS within the LGBT community is crucial to human rights, but so does the freedom to work, expression, association and live peaceful lives—which Zambian LGBT citizens are currently denied. So in as much I applaud the good portion of the First Lady’s statement, I find it insulting that those who heard her speak failed to ask her to declare her position on her husband’s administration’s persecution of LGBT citizens, failed to ask that something be done about the LGBT Zambians sitting in prison, and failed to ask why she was perpetuating the blatantly false lies about “gay recruitment.”

The celebration of the First Lady statement in international circles and the down-playing of the same by local activists suggest the lift between wealthy global North activists and poor African activists. Western activists continue to fail to seek guidance from Zambian activists when getting involved or commenting on local stories. They cannot ignore Zambian voices, assuming “we know better.”

Press statements alone do not translate into human rights—actions do. Dr. Kaseba is not new to Zambian politics and knew very well her husband’s policies on LGBT persons—she is aware that Human rights defender Paul Kasonkomona is fighting his case in court; she is aware that James and Phillip were snatched from the privacy of their home in April, dumped in prison and denied bail.

If the International community needs to celebrate Dr. Kashiba’s courage, they should ask her to step up and do something. Ask her to have the charges against Paul Kasonkomona, Phillip Mubiana, and James Mwape dropped immediately and release them from prison. Ask her to work with her husband to stop the persecution of LGBT persons in Zambia. Only then can I, and I believe many LGBT rights advocates in Zambia, join the world in celebrating her courage.

As for now, her statement is meant to deceive the world that LGBT persons have a home in Zambia, so she can collect donor money.

Zambian First Lady Christine Kaseba Speech to UNAIDS by PoliticalResearch