Christian Right’s Historical Repetition – CAUTION: BEWARE OF [HOMOS]

On Saturday, August 30, 2014, I approached the Nelson Mandela Capture Site and Museum in South Africa. Mandela was arrested here in KwaZulu-Natal, and sentenced to life imprisonment at Robben Island. As I walked around these hallowed grounds, surrounded by the history of apartheid and oppression—it strongly dawned on me that human liberation has a cost, which only some people must pay.

nelson mandela museum

 

Visiting the site with me were 39 scholars, religious leaders and civil society leaders, who had joined me in South Africa for a three day consultation on human sexuality. These distinguished leaders came from around the continent and the diaspora, representing Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Cameroon, Lesotho, South Africa, and Tanzania. We had chosen South Africa because it is the first and only country in Africa to grant equal rights to sexual minorities.

Walking onto the Mandela capture site with Prof. Sylvia Tamale, Prof. Esther Mombo, Dr. Musimbi Kanyoro, Dr. Nyambura Njoroge, and Dr. Manasseh Phiri was no small honor; their wisdom and courage have pioneered women’s liberation and the fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa. And standing next to them, courageous young scholars like Dr. Ezra Chitando, Dr. Nyeck Sybille, Dr. Masiiwa Ragies Gunda, and others were equally inspirational. These are the leaders and scholars who give me hope that someday all people of Africa will be treated equally, who had inspired me to help organize the Conference on Human Sexuality so that African scholars could discuss the treatment of LGBTQI people without Western influence.

The Mandela Capture Site is a small building on a very big piece of land—nothing much to see. On that day, it was full of people, young and old, boys and girls—most of them getting ready for a bicycle marathon. Inside the Museum, however, was a hushed reverence as we examined pictures and depictions of the life of Nelson Mandela and his family. Photos told the story of the civil rights hero’s life from his early years to the end. An old TV broadcasts the propaganda of the racist government of the time—craftily touting to international journalists the “beauty” of the Robben Island prison, where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 year prison sentence.

As I listened to the broadcast, I was reminded of how this shameful propaganda wasn’t limited to just South Africa, and how U.S. conservatives, particularly under the Reagan administration, amplified the smears on Mandela’s name. The attacks got so bad, Desmond Tutu was forced to declare the U.S. policy on Apartheid “immoral, evil and totally un-Christian,” in 1984. Political Research Associates published our report Apartheid in Our Living Rooms, exposing the Christian Right’s support of the racist authorities in South Africa. In July, 2013, Sam Kleiner called U.S. conservatives’ newfound respect for Mandela after his death “Apartheid Amnesia.” After all, national U.S. conservative figureheads like Jeff Gayner of the Heritage Foundation, Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, Jerry Falwell, and many others all supported the racist South African regime’s imprisonment of Nelson Mandela on the premise that he was “terrorist and communist.” To them, fighting for the fundamental human rights of Black people was wrong. Some even used the Bible to justify the mistreatment of black people—claiming it was God’s will to treat Black people as second class citizens.

caution beware of nativesAfter I left the TV’s eerie reminders of the past, one of the pictures on the wall caught my attention. “CAUTION: BEWARE OF NATIVES,” the sign in the photo read. In the old black and white photo, two Black Africans are walking past the posted sign on a road. I asked one of my colleagues to take my picture next to the photo, making us three. “Beware of natives?” I wondered. Were we a danger? I was struck by how closely the old propaganda mirrored how Africa is now treating our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex. With the help and encouragement of U.S conservative exporters of the culture wars, similar messages can now frequently be seen at anti-LGBTQ rallies across Africa—“Beware of Homos,” “Homosexuals are a Danger,” “They Are Coming After Your Children,” and many others.

To be LGBTQ is to be an enemy of humanity. African kids are taught to fear these oppressed minorities, constantly told they are a danger to the community. “If we allow them to exist,” Africans are taught, “they will destroy our families and humanity as we know it.”

It’s like watching history repeat itself: African governments copying the tricks of the past, using propaganda to deny the plight of sexual minorities in their countries, while running full steam to destroy them. I thought of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, President Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria—all claim that African sexual minorities are not under siege. U.S. conservatives working in these countries repeat these lies to their American audiences. Even as African LGBTQ people are murdered, beaten, and raped, U.S. culture warriors like Rick Warren, Scott lively, and Sharon Slater claim that the international human rights community are misrepresenting the facts. Africans now believe that sexual minorities are a danger to humanity—forgetting that we, Black people, were once viewed the same way.

As I walked through the capture site, my head was filled with thoughts of not only Nelson Mandela, but the millions of South Africans who were captured and the thousands who were killed by the apartheid government for standing up for their rights. My eyes filled with tears as I recognize this monstrosity happening again as sexual minorities are forced to fight for the basic dignity of being recognized as fellow human beings.

Will the world remember the capture sites of LGBTQ people who are currently being held and die in African jails from Lusaka to Cairo? Will the blood spilled by the countless murdered African sexual minorities who sought nothing more than to live in peace mean something at last?

Despite the vast amounts of money, guns, jails, and bibles being used to deny sexual minorities their fundamental human rights, the Mandela capture site is a reminder that justice will come one day. Just as those young boys and girls race in the Marathon to the finish line at the Mandela memorial, the race to freedom for African sexual minorities will not end in African jails or in unmarked graves, but in the heart of young people—boys and girls who will grow to see the day when people will not be judged by their sexual orientation or gender identity, but by their humanity. These are the ones who will laugh in horror at the posters that demonize sexual minorities today and like me, will take pictures with those posters and try to imagine what the world was once like. But they will also celebrate the courage of those who have risked their lives for the freedoms of all people—regardless of who they love or who they are inside.

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Conversion Therapy: A Bigger Threat to Africa Than Scott Lively

Conversion therapy, also known as ex-gay or reparative therapy, is the biggest obstacle to LGBTQ liberation in Africa. An idea promoted heavily in African nations by U.S. conservative Evangelicals who hold tremendous power and sway, many African Christians have bought into the thoroughly debunked belief that through counseling, a person’s innate sexual orientation can somehow be altered or modified.

The exportation of these pseudoscientific claims began as early as 1998, during the Lambeth conference for Anglican Bishops. At the conference, African leaders were told that there is a cure to homosexuality. Bishop Wilson Mutebi of Uganda later recounted “We met some people [at Lambeth] who were healed of homosexuality. They testified how they were healed. Some of them are now married.”

Over the years, despite there being no documented cases of conversion therapy actually succeeding (former participants in these programs say they were only taught to change behavior, and their sexual orientation still remains the same), this argument has become a popular talking point for anti-LGBTQ political and faith leaders in Africa. In March of 2009, at the infamous “Seminar on Exposing the Homosexuals’ Agenda”—also known as the “Kill the Gays” conference—Ugandans heard claims about conversion therapy’s success. The Uganda-based Family Life Network, self-styled anti-gay crusader (and Holocaust revisionist) Scott Lively, Don Schmierer of the since-disbanded “ex-gay” group Exodus International, and Caleb Lee Brundidge of the International Healing Foundation taught Ugandans that homosexuality is learned behavior and can be “cured.”

This group of mostly American conservatives promoted not only the conversion therapy claims of Scott Lively’s book, The Pink Swastika—which also claims Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party were actually “monster” homosexuals—but also Richard A. Cohen’s book, Coming Out Straight. Cohen is the founder and executive director emeritus of the International Healing Foundation, which advocates conversion therapy. There was no mention that the conversion therapy claims they were promoting have been thoroughly discredited by the scientific, psychological, and medical community, but instead were presented as scientific fact.

The influence of Schmierer and Caleb Lee Brundidge’s words was apparent only a week later, at a strategic meeting titled “Combating Homosexuality in Uganda,” where political leaders—including representatives of the Uganda Parliament—said that thanks to the American’s words at the conference, they now knew that LGBTQ people could be changed. Harry Mwebesa—also of Family Life Network—told the audience that he knew that “some gays” were present at the meeting. Looking directly at members of the group Sexual Minorities Uganda, which included prominent Ugandan LGBTQ activist David Kato—who was later murdered in what human rights groups believe was a hate crime—Mwebesa said “We don’t hate you, but we want to help you.”

The “ex-gay” movement may be fizzling out in the United States, as more and more people and even state legislatures continue to disavow it as little more than a scam, but across other areas of the globe, particularly in countries where U.S. culture warriors are working hard to stir up anti-LGBTQ sentiments and policies, it remains the basis for the criminalization of sexual minorities. Alan Chambers’ Exodus International may now be defunct, but organizations such as Exodus Global Alliance, the International Healing Foundation, and Desert Streams still pose serious threats to the welfare of LGBTQ persons in Africa.

Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization

Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization, Cape Town, South Africa, 2010

Sadly, the so-called “ex-gay movement” has found a home in global evangelicalism. In October, 2010, in Cape Town, South Africa, 4,000 global evangelical leaders from 198 countries convened for the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization—the biggest gathering of global evangelical leaders in modern history. Among the attendees were members of Exodus Global Alliance (EGA), a network of “ex-gay” groups. The Alliance was tasked with leading a discussion on “Sexuality, Truth, and Grace.” In its presentations, EGA argued that “compassionate” conversion therapy and prayers for LGBTQ people were the best approaches to homosexuality.

The plea to “help gays escape” homosexuality is perhaps the most commonly repeated mantra across the African continent. From vicious anti-LGBTQ figures such as Martin Ssempa of Uganda, to ostensibly more respectable evangelical leaders such as Rev. Pukuta Mwanza (Executive Director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia), religious leaders endorse prayers and counseling as an answer to homosexuality. Despite the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion) telling Zambians that homosexuality is a global and human rights issue, Rev. Mwanza (who spoke afterwards) asked LGBTQ persons to seek “spiritual help and prayers” from the Church. In his judgment, the church is the hospital for African gays—if they accept to be “cured.”

This characterization of LGBTQ people as “sick” and in need of healing is also used to jail those who are perceived to be “against the cure.” Anti-LGBTQ leaders argue that allowing sexual minorities to live among the public will not only pollute the social life of communities, but also pose a risk to public health and must be forced into therapy, locked up, and/or forced to live in exile. “The choice is theirs!”

Worse still, based on the conviction of the validity of reparative therapy bolstered by U.S. conservative evangelical talking points, some advocate policies that outlaw homosexuality and even allow forced therapy.

On the surface, the ex-gay movement appears to be kind, gentle, and even compassionate. But its ultimate goal is the same as that of U.S. Christian Right leaders—to oppose the human rights of sexual minorities. While the movement operates under the facade of “Christian compassion,” such compassion perpetuates homophobia and the persecution and criminalization of African sexual minorities.

The American Psychological Association has made clear that homosexuality is not a disorder and warns that trying to “cure” it can lead to “intimacy avoidance, sexual dysfunction, depression, and suicidality.” Exodus International president Alan Chambers denounced the idea of a “cure” for homosexuality. But Exodus International (despite what the name may suggest) was only the U.S. arm of a global network. Exodus Global Alliance, the umbrella group for Exodus affiliates all over the world, continues to push the harmful idea that “change is possible.” John Paulk, one of the leading poster boys for “ex-gays,” who appeared on the cover of Newsweek and in a national ad campaign touting his “change,” disavowed conversion therapy in the April 2013 issue of Proud Queer Monthly saying, “Please allow me to be clear: I do not believe that reparative therapy changes sexual orientation; in fact, it does great harm to many people.”

Nevertheless, the claim that gays can and should be “healed” is repeated by Archbishop Henry Orombi, Martin Ssempa of Uganda, Seyoum Antonios of Ethiopia, Peter Akinola of Nigeria, and countless other politicians and religious leaders across Africa. As the world seeks to stamp out homophobia, there is a need to stop the “ex-gay” movement’s unmatched influence across the globe. Failure to do so will allow the exporters of the U.S. culture wars to continue to undermine the human rights of sexual minorities while hiding behind the veneer of “Christian compassion.”

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Museveni Plays Politics with Human Rights

On Friday, Uganda’s Constitutional Court struck down the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) on procedural grounds, ruling that it was invalid because Parliament lacked a quorum when it passed the legislation on December 20, 2013. (In Uganda’s Parliament, a quorum requires that at least one third of members are present when a vote is held.) Thanks to this decision, LGBTI Ugandans no longer face the risk of life imprisonment, and advocacy for LGBTI rights is no longer criminalized. While this ruling is a significant victory for Uganda’s LGBTI community, the road forward remains rocky and steep. And the timing of the decision raises concerns that President Museveni is once again playing politics with human rights.

It’s ironic that the court struck down the law based on an issue that President Museveni himself raised in his letter to Ugandan Speaker Rebecca Kadaga on December 28, 2013—the very letter that led many people to the incorrect conclusion that Museveni would not sign the bill into law. Despite his criticism of the Speaker, succession struggles in his own party compelled Museveni to sign the bill—making him the hero of Uganda’s highly influential anti-gay pastors.

With the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit in D.C happening this week (an event that Museveni is expected to attend, despite significant outcry from international human rights advocates), the timing of the court’s ruling should be viewed with suspicion. Some analysts claim that Museveni forced the courts to rush this ruling in time for his U.S. trip.

Quite probably, Friday’s ruling is Museveni’s attempt to silence the international outrage that has been directed against him and his country since he signed the AHA into law in February. Beyond that, it is an attempt to clear his path to yet another term as president. (He has already been in power for 28 years.) Since Uganda’s opposition candidates have condemned the law, this ruling works to the advantage of Museveni at home as well as internationally, allowing embargoed aid from the World Bank, the U.S., and other Western nations (approximately $118 million in total) to resume its flow into the country’s coffers.

The Court did not consider substantive objections to the legislation made by those challenging its constitutionality, ruling only on the technical issue of the quorum. That is, the ruling establishes no precedent with respect to human rights. The legislation could potentially be reintroduced. However, Museveni understands the cost of this law to his own image abroad and it seems unlikely he would welcome a re-tabling of the measure anytime soon. Regardless, sodomy laws imposed on Uganda during British colonial rule (which exact upon guilty parties a maximum punishment of seven years in jail) are still in place, and, more significantly, the anti-LGBTI, anti-woman ideologies imported and propagated by Christian fundamentalists from the West remain deeply entrenched.

Following the ruling, Frank Mugisha, director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and one of the petitioners contesting the validity of the law, expressed relief. He also acknowledged, “Society won’t give in.” The LGBTI community in Uganda is braced for a surge in violent retaliation from supporters of the legislation.

Mugisha’s concern warrants reflection: the striking down of this law will not put an end to the violence and persecution experienced by LGBTI persons. If anything, demonization of sexual minorities is likely to escalate. Notorious homophobic pastor Martin Ssempa, a key promoter of the legislation, charged that the “gay lobby” bought off the judges. The reality is that a justice based on technicalities is not trustworthy. We need justice that accepts the full humanity of African LGBTI persons—a justice based on fundamental human rights.

But currently, there is no political will to put the persecution of LGBTI persons in Uganda to rest. It wasn’t long ago that the very same legal system that struck down this law callously threw out SMUG’s case against the Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Simon Lokodo—a person known for persecuting LGBTI persons in Uganda.

And we must not forget that all of this is happening on Museveni’s watch. For all of his flaws, Museveni is a clever politician, and he knows how to please the West. Now, at the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit, he is about to meet with the very people he has previously referred to as the “homosexual lobby”—and with the law out of play, he can once again feign innocence, alongside other African presidents who are busy imprisoning LGBTI persons using colonial anti-sodomy laws.

Rather than give these African leaders a pass at the Summit we must support African human rights leaders who demand that colonial-era sodomy laws (and their neocolonial expansions supported by U.S. conservatives) be struck down. If we miss this opportunity, we will have allowed Museveni to divert us from our commitment to justice for African LGBTI persons—a dream that will only be realized when sexual minorities are decriminalized.

The process of dismantling these systems of oppression is tedious and difficult, and it requires perseverance, courage, creativity, sacrifice, and steadfast commitment. To endure the journey, we need to pause periodically to celebrate our progress, and when a panel of five judges unanimously nullifies a law that violates the human rights of LGBTI persons—even if the ruling is based more on technicalities than true justice—we are assuredly seeing progress. But after we have paused, momentarily allowing a relieved exhale to quietly escape our lungs, we must inhale once more and cry out even louder than before—tirelessly working for a durable and lasting justice.

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Dominionism Disguised as Aid: Rick Warren’s Expanding Influence in Rwanda

Expanding access to basic healthcare is an important and valuable goal, but what happens when those made responsible for providing the care also hold conservative religious ideologies? What sort of sexual and health education is being taught? How safe do LGBTQ people feel when seeking services? Are gay men able to access the information and resources they need in order to stay healthy? What options are available to women with unwanted pregnancies?

These concerns were amplified in May when megachurch pastor Rick Warren announced that he will return to Africa yet again in August 2015, this time to host an “All-Africa Purpose Driven Church Leadership Training Conference” in Kigali, Rwanda. He is calling for leading African evangelicals from each of the continent’s 54 countries to join him. Warren is also is enlisting 54 American pastors, who will join him in Rwanda, to “adopt” these new “purpose driven” recruits.

Image from saddleback.com

Image from saddleback.com

Rick Warren presents himself as a moderate but is actually a right-wing fundamentalist known for his staunch opposition to LGBTQ equality and women’s reproductive freedom. Sometimes referred to as “America’s pastor,” Warren—who claims Rwanda as his “home” and points to his Rwandan diplomatic passport as proof—is also arguably aspiring to be “Africa’s pastor”: he travels extensively in Africa as part of his dominionist agenda,¹ spreading his dangerous right-wing ideologies wherever he goes. The millionaire pastor has been especially active in Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda, where he has built close relationships with members of the political, business, and religious elite, including many prominent anti-LGBTQ pastors.

Rwanda, ranked among the world’s poorest countries, has been the focus of much of Warren’s international work since he first visited at the invitation of President Paul Kagame in 2005. Kagame enlisted Warren’s help in making the small African nation the first “purpose driven country” after reading the famous pastor’s bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life.

The book found its way into Kagame’s hands thanks to Joe Ritchie, a Chicago-area businessman, who first partnered with the President in 2003 on economic development efforts in the wake of the 1994 genocide. It was while visiting Ritchie’s Chicago home that Kagame was initially introduced to Warren’s book. The pastor subsequently received a letter from the President stating, “I’m a man of purpose. Can you come help us rebuild our nation?”

Since their first meeting, the two have become close friends and colleagues.

That Kagame has been accused of numerous human rights violations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others seems not to have deterred Warren, who has hosted him multiple times as a guest of honor at Saddleback Church’s main campus in Lake Forest, CA. This isn’t terribly surprising considering Warren’s close ties to Martin Ssempa, an aggressively anti-LGBTQ pastor in Uganda who was responsible for helping to draft and promote the infamous “Kill the Gays” bill.

While Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill was ultimately signed into law earlier this year, similar efforts were thwarted in Rwanda in 2009, when penal code revisions that would have criminalized homosexuality were rejected as violations of basic human rights.

In the nine years since his first visit, Warren has returned to Rwanda countless times. He is a member of Kagame’s Presidential Advisory Council and has developed an extensive relationship with hundreds of congregations in Rwanda through Saddleback’s PEACE Plan, which is described as “an initiative of Purpose Driven Ministries that brings together all Christian churches in Rwanda with the ultimate purpose of building peace within our community.”²

Specifically, Warren’s PEACE Plan endeavors to tackle what he refers to as the five “Global Giants”:

P – Plant churches and promote reconciliation – to address spiritual emptiness
E – Equip leaders – to address corrupt leadership
A – Assist the poor – to address extreme poverty
C – Care for the sick – to address pandemic diseases and suffering they cause
E – Educate the next generation – to address illiteracy and lack of education

Because the HIV/AIDS crisis is a primary focus of Warren’s work in Africa, one of the major PEACE Plan projects launched in Rwanda is the Rwanda Healthcare Initiative, a “grassroots effort to mobilize volunteers in community health who are proficient in home visits and health promotion, with a focus on the early identification, treatment care and support of people living with HIV through the local church.” Citing a lack of hospitals and clinics in the country, Warren has used the Rwanda Healthcare Initiative to promote the use of churches as distribution centers for medicine and basic healthcare.

Which returns us to the question, what happens when those made responsible for providing healthcare and other social services also hold conservative religious ideologies? What happens when the gatekeepers charged with distributing antiretrovirals also promote reparative therapy? Or when those responsible for teaching young people about safer sex insist that condoms are sinful? And where will women turn when the only people resourced to provide safe abortions refuse to do so?

In addition to these concerns, Rwanda is a signatory to the African Union Maputo Protocol, which obligates African nations to ensure women’s health and reproductive rights (including safe abortions). Given that Warren has advanced an explicitly anti-women agenda in the U.S. (earlier this year, Warren referred to Planned Parenthood as the “McDonalds of abortion” and declared it to be the “#1 baby killing franchise”), it is most likely that Warren aims to pursue a similar anti-SRHR (sexual and reproductive health and rights) agenda in Rwanda, and his close ties to political and religious leadership in the country will assuredly pave the way for increased attacks on women and reproductive freedom.

The connections between religious fundamentalism and international aid were further strengthened when the Rwanda PEACE Plan experienced a leadership transition in April of this year, appointing Apostle Dr. Paul Gitwaza as its new director. Gitwaza—who condemns abortion and describes homosexuality as an abomination—is a member of the International Coalition of Apostles, now known as the International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders and the primary organizational structure of C. Peter Wagner’s New Apostolic Reformation.

Wagner, who also served as Rick Warren’s dissertation advisor and mentor at Fuller Theological Seminary, writes in his book Dominion! that the PEACE Plan fits into “the 7-M mandate”―the idea that Christians need to take charge of a country by “capturing” the seven “mountains” that represent cultural aspects of society: business, government, family, religion, media, education, and entertainment. This suggests that rather than actually being interested in the empowerment and self-determination of Rwandan people, Warren’s primary interest is controlling the destiny and rights of others.

Warren often explains this multi-pronged approach to development (bringing together business, government, and church) with his “three-legged stool” metaphor. He says that public-private sector partnerships are equivalent to a two-legged stool, which will fall over without a third leg—that of the church. According to Warren, the church is the critical missing link affecting a country’s development.

Unfortunately, Warren’s stool—presented as an instrument of benevolent humanitarianism—is actually more like a soap box for his white savior neocolonial agenda. And as a relatively small country (Rwanda is approximately the size of Maryland) with a population of just over 12 million people (94% of whom are Christian), Rwanda is the perfect test site for this Wagner-inspired, Warren-driven quest for global dominionism.

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[1] Dominionism: The theocratic idea heterosexual Christian men are called by God to exercise dominion over secular society by taking control of political and cultural institutions. This competes in Christianity with the idea of stewardship, which suggests custodial care rather than absolute power.

[2] Warren’s PEACE Plan has since grown, expanding to targeted “Gateway Cities” around the world in order to “live out the Great Commandment and Commission in 12 key cities and all unreached people groups by 2020.”

Archbishop Tells Africa Homosexuality is a Human Rights Issue, Will American Culture War Exporters Listen?

During a working visit to Zambia on June 29, the head of the Anglican Communion, Justin Welby, showed true global leadership when he reportedly told Zambian journalists and Christians what they may not have wanted to hear. “Homosexuality is a global issue,” the Archbishop said. “We need to treat others with respect and dignity. It is a human rights issue… there is need to treat everyone with respect and dignity.”

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Image via The Sun

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Image via The Sun

For those who don’t know Archbishop Welby, he belongs to an Evangelical Wing of the Anglican Church, and is a highly respected leader in the evangelical community. In American Culture Warriors in Africa, I explain that unlike his predecessor, Rowan William, Archbishop Welby met with African leaders of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON)—founded by American Conservatives opposed to LGBTQ advances in the Episcopal Church—on October 20, 2013,following the Westgate Mall bombing of September 2013, and again just before the official GAFCON (October 21-26) in Nairobi, Kenya. After leaving Kenya, he sent a video message to GAFCON participants explaining his absence at the conference. Part of his message addressed the issue of human sexuality. “We are dealing with very rapid changes of culture in the Global North and the issue of sexuality is a very important one,” he told the participants. “How we respond rightly to that, in a way that is holy, truthful and gracious, is absolutely critical to our proclamation of the gospel.” Anti-LGBTQ Archbishops of Uganda, Rwanda, and Nigeria and their counterparts in the United States—the very bishops U.S.-based pastor of Saddleback Church, Rick Warren, has long been working with in both African and here in the U.S. to promote and extend the culture wars—misinterpreted the Archbishop Welby’s words as endorsements of their anti-gay position.

This time, however, the Archbishop made it very clear—the issue of human sexuality is a human rights issue. His words attracted the attention of conservative pastors.

Addressing the local media, Rev. Pukuta Mwanza, Executive Director of the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia, rebutted the Archbishop’s message and instead of heeding the calls for love and tolerance, encouraged sexual minorities to “cure” their homosexuality through prayers and counseling.

The Archbishop’s courageous words came at the time when Zambians were awaiting the ruling on a same-sex couple James Mwape and Phillip Mubiana, who were pulled from their home and arrested on charges of being homosexual in May, 2013. After spending over a year in jail, subjected to dehumanizing “medical tests” such as forced anal examinations by the state, the court finally ruled on July 3, 2014, that the state did not prove beyond doubt that Mwape and Mubiana had engaged in same-sex sexual relations.

James and Phillip’s acquittal also brought to the foreground what many Africans believe, thanks to the propaganda spread by U.S. conservatives who travel to their countries, that LGBTQ people are foreign to Africa.

“We, the Youths of Zambia Say No to Gay Rights,” and “Abash Homosexuality, —Leave Zambia,” were some of signs seen outside the courtroom the day of the acquittal. At the same time, the presence of family members of the couple—particularly Phillip’s grandmother, who courageously stood by her grandson—proved the Archbishop’s point, that persecution of LGBTQ persons in Africa is not a political issue; it is a moral issue; it is a human rights issue. It is time to stop playing politics with human lives. We all have the moral responsibility to stand up and be counted—gay rights are human rights! The Archbishop’s example is commendable, for religious leaders to hide behind diplomacy when human lives are being destroyed is a betrayal of our sacred calling.

Moreover, the persecution of LGBTQ persons in Africa is defended by the myth that they can somehow be “cured.” Alan Chambers, the American Evangelical leader who made his career claiming he could “cure” homosexuality, was one of the Speakers at the Evangelical Lausanne Conference in Cape Town in 2010, and whose presentation was later deleted from the Lausanne website. Yet although he later retracted his claims, and apologized for ever claiming that sexual orientation could be altered, African politicians and pastors are busy repeating these made-in-the-USA lies.

Let the sacred truth be said, LGBTQ persons are human beings with fundamental human rights to be protected and defended. To deny these rights is to dehumanize and harm ourselves. As the Archbishop said, this is a global issue, and it deserves a global response. As Africa’s problems multiply, LGBTQ persons have become the easiest scapegoat at political gatherings for African politicians eager to turn public attention away from issues of corruption or economic inequality. And some local religious leaders, who receive funding from these American culture warriors, then celebrate such demonization as courageous leadership.

Global religious institution such as the Anglican Communion and the Vatican need to speak out against such atrocities—failure to do so is to sanction the persecution and discrimination our fellow human beings, and a sin.

The Archbishop refused to separate our common humanity into camps—“us” (heterosexuals) and “them” (homosexuals). He did not say one thing in Africa, only to turn around and deny it to a Western audience (as did Saddleback pastor Rick Warren); he did not condemn the decriminalization of African sexual minorities to a Western audience only to allow local African clergy to support anti-LGBTQ legislation in Uganda and Nigeria (as the Vatican has done). He defended our common humanity, calling on all people to respect the dignity of every individual regardless of the person’s sexual orientation.

The story of the Good Samaritan is critical here. The Archbishop of Canterbury has done his part. Will Pope Francis, Bill Graham, and Rick Warren follow suit? I hope so!

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PRA Discusses American Culture Warriors in Africa on Last Week Tonight With John Oliver

PRA had the opportunity this last week to work with HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, discussing the U.S.-based conservative evangelicals who are responsible for exporting the culture wars to Uganda and other African nations. Watch it below!

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John Oliver

HISTORIC: African Commission Acknowledges Need to Protect LGBTI People

The African Commission on People's Rights

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights meets in Nigeria. Image via fiacat.org

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has taken a major step toward protecting the rights of LGBTI people by adopting a resolution condemning violence against individuals based on their “real or imputed sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Established by the African Charter in 1987, the Commission consists of 11 members elected by the AU Assembly, and is officially charged with three major functions:

  • the protection of human and peoples’ rights
  • the promotion of human and peoples’ rights
  • the interpretation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights

In keeping with these commitments, during its 55th session held in Angola earlier this month, the ACHPR acknowledged the need to respond to the ongoing human-rights violations experienced by LGBTI people (documented and explained thoroughly in Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma’s new book, American Culture Warriors in Africa)  through the adoption of this historic resolution.

It’s impossible to stop that which is unseen. When we fail to acknowledge the existence of sexual minorities, transgender people, and intersex people, their oppression, too, remains invisible. By recognizing that the violence experienced by LGBTI people is real and distinct, the ACHPR has taken a major step forward in the fight for LGBTI safety, respect, and justice in Africa.

Many conservative lawmakers and faith leaders in Africa—urged on by their U.S.-based conservative benefactors—will undoubtedly argue that this resolution is part of some imagined international “gay agenda” to create new, special rights for LGBTI people. But the ACHPR has simply affirmed that the application of existing human rights standards should also apply to those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex. The work of ensuring the protection of human rights for all people is not a zero-sum game—addressing human-rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity takes nothing away from the ongoing efforts to combat discrimination based on race, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, and other grounds. In a 2012 report, ARC International observed, “There can be no hierarchies of rights, and it is our common duty to ensure that no person faces violations of their human rights on any grounds, including because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon reiterated on the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “It is not called the ‘Partial’ Declaration of Human Rights. It is not the ‘Sometimes’ Declaration of Human Rights. It is the Universal Declaration, guaranteeing all human beings their basic human rights, without exception.”

See the entire text of this historic document below:

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ACHPR Resolution on LGBTI People


Related:

American Culture Warriors Book CoverAmerican Culture Warriors in Africa: A Guide to the Exporters of Homophobia and Sexism is a new, popular-format guidebook designed to educate U.S. audiences and motivate all people of conscience to take action that interrupts the persecution of women and sexual minorities overseas.

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Homosexuality is Not Un-African

It is legalized homophobia, not same-sex relations, that is alien to Africa

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signs an anti-homosexual bill into law  - James Akena/Reuters

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signs an anti-homosexual bill into law – James Akena/Reuters

Guest post by Sylvia Tamale, professor of law at Makerere University in Uganda:

During a prime time interview with BBC’s “Hard Talk” show in March 2012, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni noted, “Homosexuals in small numbers have always existed in our part of black Africa …They were never prosecuted. They were never discriminated.”

Earlier this year, confronted by internal and external pressure, Museveni reversed himself and signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in the full glare of the media — declaring that homosexuality was Western-imposed. Before signing the law, Museveni asked a team of top-notch Ugandan scientists to help him make an educated decision. The panel’sreport did not mince words: “In every society, there is a small number of people with homosexual tendencies.”

Museveni’s bizarre actions can only be interpreted as a political ploy ahead of presidential elections scheduled for early 2016. Having been at the helm since 1986, Museveni faces serious competition both within and outside his party, not to mention a restless population afflicted by a high cost of living, unemployment and a general disgust with rampant corruption. By the stroke of a pen, Museveni succumbed to populist pressures and condemned an otherwise law-abiding sexual minority to maximum sentences of life imprisonment.

Uganda is not alone in its anti-gay crusade. Nigeria recently passed a law criminalizing homosexuality. Several other African countries — including Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Cameroon and Sierra Leone — have all expressed the desire to emulate Uganda and Nigeria. At least 38 African countries already proscribe consensual same-sex behavior.

The sad, tired but widely accepted myth that homosexuality is un-African has been valorized and erected on the altar of falsehood time after time. It is a myth that has been played out in numerous contexts, most recently over the debate on Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill. However, historical facts demand that this fable be debunked once and for all.

African sexualities

The ‘homosexuality is un-African’ myth is anchored on an old practice of selectively invoking African culture by those in power. African women are familiar with the mantra. “It is un-African” whenever they assert their rights, particularly those rights that involve reproductive autonomy and sexual sovereignty.

The mistaken claim that anything is un-African is based on the essentialist assumption that Africa is a homogeneous entity. In reality, however, Africa is made up of thousands of ethnic groups with rich and diverse cultures and sexualities. As appealing as the notion of African culture may be to some people, no such thing exists. Moreover, even if we wanted to imagine an authentic African culture, like all others, it would not be static.

African history is replete with examples of both erotic and nonerotic same-sex relationships. For example, the ancient cave paintings of the San people near Guruve in Zimbabwe depict two men engaged in some form of ritual sex. During precolonial times, the “mudoko dako,” or effeminate males among the Langi of northern Uganda were treated as women and could marry men. In Buganda, one of the largest traditional kingdoms in Uganda, it was an open secret that Kabaka (king) Mwanga II, who ruled in the latter half of the 19th century, was gay.

The vocabulary used to describe same-sex relations in traditional languages, predating colonialism, is further proof of the existence of such relations in precolonial Africa. To name but a few, the Shangaan of southern Africa referred to same-sex relations as “inkotshane” (male-wife); Basotho women in present-day Lesotho engage in socially sanctioned erotic relationships called “motsoalle” (special friend) and in the Wolof language, spoken in Senegal, homosexual men are known as “gor-digen” (men-women). But to be sure, the context and experiences of such relationships did not necessarily mirror homosexual relations as understood in the West, nor were they necessarily consistent with what we now describe as a gay or queer identity.

Same-sex relationships in Africa were far more complex than what the champions of the “un-African” myth would have us believe. Apart from erotic same-sex desire, in precolonial Africa, several other activities were involved in same-sex (or what the colonialists branded “unnatural”) sexuality. For example, the Ndebele and Shona in Zimbabwe, the Azande in Sudan and Congo, the Nupe in Nigeria and the Tutsi in Rwanda and Burundi all engaged in same-sex acts for spiritual rearmament — i.e., as a source of fresh power for their territories. It was also used for ritual purposes. Among various communities in South Africa, sex education among adolescent peers allowed them to experiment through acts such as “thigh sex” (“hlobonga” among the Zulu, “ukumetsha” among the Xhosa and “gangisa” among the Shangaan).

It is ironic that an African dictator wearing a three-piece suit, caressing an iPhone, speaking in English and liberally quoting the Bible can dare indict anything for being un-African.

In many African societies, same-sex sexuality was also believed to be a source of magical powers to guarantee bountiful crop yields and abundant hunting, good health and to ward off evil spirits. In Angola and Namibia, for instance, a caste of male diviners — known as “zvibanda,” “chibados,” “quimbanda,” gangas” and “kibambaa” — were believed to carry powerful female spirits that they would pass on to fellow men through anal sex.

Even today, marriages between women for reproductive, economic and diplomatic reasons still exist among the Nandi and Kisii of Kenya, the Igbo of Nigeria, the Nuer of Sudan and the Kuria of Tanzania. Like elsewhere around the world, anal intercourse between married opposite-sex partners to avoid pregnancy was historically practiced by many Africans before the invention of modern contraceptive methods.

Clearly, it is not homosexuality that is un-African but the laws that criminalized such relations. In other words, what is alien to the continent is legalized homophobia, exported to Africa by the imperialists where there had been indifference to and even tolerance of same-sex relations. In Uganda such laws were introduced by the British and have been part of our penal law since the late 19th century. The current wave of anti-homosexuality laws sweeping across the continent is therefore part of a thinly veiled and wider political attempt to entrench repressive and undemocratic regimes.

Alien to Africa

Equally alien to the continent are the Abrahamic religions (particularly Christianity and Islam) that often accompany and augment the “un-African” arguments against homosexuality. African traditional religions were (and still are) integrated into the people’s holistic and everyday existence. It was intricately tied to their culture, including sexuality.

With the new religions, many sexual practices that were acceptable in precolonial, pre-Islamic and pre-Christian Africa were encoded with tags of “deviant,” “illegitimate” and “criminal” through the process of proselytization and acculturation. It is ironic that an African dictator wearing a three-piece suit, caressing an iPhone, speaking in English and liberally quoting the Bible can dare indict anything for being un-African.

The struggle to win full citizenship for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex groups is global. Even in countries where homosexuality has been decriminalized, the consciousness of the majority has yet to catch up with reformed laws. In order to completely dispel homophobia from Africa, we may have to employ radically new methods of advocacy that resonate with African philosophies such as Ubuntu. This concept encompasses many values — humaneness, solidarity, interdependence, compassion, respect and dignity. It rejects selfish, paternalistic and restrictive regulations issued by rulers riding high moral horses in complete disregard of the interests of their neighbors, their community and their fellow human beings.

The late Nelson Mandela described this philosophy as “the profound sense that we are human only through the humanity of others, that if we are to accomplish anything in this world, it will in equal measure be due to the work and achievements of others.”

The homosexuality-is-un-African mantra negates everything that African history and tradition has transmitted to posterity. A tenet of African philosophy holds that “I am because you are.” In short, it matters little about the differences that each one of us displays but much about the essence of humanity that binds us together. What really matters is the respect for human dignity and diversity.

**Originally published on Al Jazeera America. Republished with the author’s permission. Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of PRA**

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

ACLJ ADF

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.