U.N. Condemns “Conversion Therapy,” But U.S. Right Continues Promoting in Africa

This week, the United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) took the historic step of expressing concern about “conversion therapy,” also known as “ex-gay” or “reparative” therapy. But while much of the Western world is taking steps to eradicate the barbaric practice, U.S. conservatives are doing everything they can to spread the anti-LGBTQ practice in Africa.

ex-gay protester

PRA’s senior researcher for religion and sexuality, Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, wrote an article last month documenting how these U.S. culture war-exporters are increasingly turning to “ex-gay therapy” in African countries as a strategy to advance their propaganda that being gay is a choice—a critical component for them in their message to falsely portray Western LGBTQ people as predators invading local communities to recruit children.

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.

Human rights groups lauded CAT’s advancement of the discussion. The National Center for Lesbian Rights’ (NCLR) #BornPerfect campaign sent survivors of the dangerous conversion practices to testify before the committee. “Today, for the first time, a United Nations committee recognized that conversion therapy is an issue of international human rights,” said Samantha Ames, NCLR’s #BornPerfect Campaign Coordinator. “We are incredibly grateful to the Committee Against Torture for raising up the voices of conversion therapy survivors, and ensuring their suffering is finally being vindicated.”

Dr. Mike Davidson, director of a UK-based conversion therapy group called Core Issues Trust, responded to the U.N. advancement saying “This is a stark reminder of the determination of a certain lobby, driven by a radical ideological agenda, to close down options for those facing unwanted same-sex attraction.”

Despite no cases of ex-gay therapy ever having successfully been proven to alter sexual orientation, andDavidson added “Science and experience demonstrate that help with unwanted same-sex attraction can be effective and is far from harmful.”

But while major success against the practice of attempting to alter and change a person’s innate sexual orientation have been piling up over the past few years—the prominent ex-gay therapy group Exodus International shut down in 2013 after apologizing for promoting the debunked practice, and several U.S. states have now banned the “therapy” from being performed on minors—those successes have not translated to non-Western nations.

Kaoma continues:

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.

American Culture Warriors Book CoverTo learn more about how U.S. conservative Evangelicals are exporting the culture wars to Uganda, Nigeria, and other African nations—and what you can do to stop it—read American Culture Warriors in Africa: A Guide to the Exporters of Homophobia and Sexism.

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Uganda’s New Anti-Gay Law A Copy of U.S. Right-Backed Laws in Russia/Nigeria

Reports of the new anti-gay bill—“Prohibition of the Promotion of Unnatural Sexual Practices Bill of 2014” being considered in Uganda have caught the world unaware. Supporters of Uganda’s LGBTQ community had hoped that the Uganda court’s striking down of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA, formerly known as the “Kill the Gays Bill”), as well as president Yoweri Museveni’s subsequent meetings with President Obama at the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit, had buried the tide of anti-LGBTQ persecution in Uganda. But, then the news came—the new bill is in the pipeline. Unlike the “Kill the Gays” proposal, this new potential law is a virtual copy of the recently-passed anti-gay laws in Russia and Nigeria banning recruiting into, or “promotion” of homosexuality—all guided by U.S. exporters of homophobia and sexism.

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni

The new proposed law is a response to international outrage to both the death penalty and life imprisonment for homosexuality previously proposed by the country’s parliament. By tailoring down the punishment for being an LGBTQ person to 5-7 years imprisonment, the authors hope to appear more moderate and assuage some of the international outrage of their treatment of sexual minorities.

But while this new proposal is sure to draw continued (and deserved) international headlines, the Western world’s near-exclusive focus on Uganda, while ignoring identical legislation in countries like Nigeria, have left the African social justice community vulnerable to anti-gay activists. How are we, as fair-minded people, going to oppose Uganda’s latest anti-gay legislation, when the international opposition to Nigeria has been tame at best? And after the bill (likely) becomes law, there is little question that we should expect similar bills to quickly follow in many other African countries.

Following the international community’s threats of trade sanctions over the original Anti-Homosexuality Act, Uganda president Yoweri Museveni appeared to be stepping down his opposition to LGBTQ people, asking his followers to take it easy due to its impact on the national economy. But this apparent easing of his positions has quickly become transparent as little more than lip-service, when last month he oversaw the consecration of the Bishop Alfred Acur Okodi as the first Anglican Church of Uganda Bishop of West Lango in Uganda—he even donated a brand new SUV to Okodi. During his consecration, Bishop Okodi “pledged a relentless fight against homosexuality,” and argued that the court’s striking down of the Anti-Homosexuality Act “only serves to clarify that the problem is beyond political solution and it’s a spiritual problem that calls for a spiritual solution.”

The global social justice community must understand that Museveni himself is now devoid of virtually all political power on this issue. The Anti-Homosexuality Act was struck down on technical basis—the parliament did not meet its required quorum of members present during the vote—only, and not because of the merits of the law. To the anti-gay community, this problem can be resolved easily by taking the bill back to parliament or simply introducing a new bill since they have more than enough votes to pass it.

Museveni knows he must downplay any anti-gay laws if he is to keep up economic relations with the rest of the world, but at the same time, his backing away from the laws doesn’t play well with the local electorate who have been whipped into an anti-LGBTQ frenzy by the Religious Right. Museveni has been in power in Uganda for the last 28 years, but things are rapidly changing. Museveni needs the support of religious leaders in order to win the next election, but he also needs the international community, especially the United States, to legitimize his dictatorial hold on power. To please both groups—the electorate controlled by anti-gay pastors like Martin Ssempa and the international community—is a fine line to walk.

In this regard, the new bill could work to his advantage by being virtually identical to the new law in Nigeria—which raised almost no international consternation.

In his letter to the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga (the real power in Uganda at this point) in December last year, Museveni explained that while he opposes the AHA, he nevertheless agreed with anti-gay activists when it comes to barring so-called “promotion,” defined as any mention whatsoever of homosexuality in a positive light in public. This bill, Museveni is likely to argue, fits into the U.S. Right’s narrative that gays are out to recruit children into homosexuality.

Museveni may want to play good politics here. But how is he going to please religious leaders (who are crucial to his hold on power), with their close ties to, and funding from, the U.S. conservative Evangelicals who were behind the creation of the “Kill the Gays” law?

Museveni may wish to veto the new anti-gay law when the Parliament inevitably passes it again—as they have pledged to do—in order to save face with the international community, and preserve the approximately $118 Million the African nation reserves in foreign aid from various Western countries. But even if he were to do so, the Parliament could easily override the veto by simply passing the bill two more times. Museveni has been backed into a no-win political corner, as he would be blamed for the loss of foreign aid if he signs the bill intolaw, but if he vetoes the (sadly) popular anti-gay legislation and is overridden by the Parliament, it would be the final nail in the coffin of his political career.

Regardless of how much he wants to present himself as a moderate to the international community, Museveni does not have the power to stop the anti-gay bill from becoming.

So what is to be done?

The anti-LGBTQ sentiment that has boiled up to the tipping point in Uganda, Nigeria, the Gambia, and so many other African countries is not native to Africa. Rather, as I discuss in American Culture Warriors in Africa, it was born in the United States. U.S conservative culture warriors such as Rick Warren, Lou Engle, Scott Lively, Sharon Slater, and others have successfully capitalized on the widespread anger and mistrust of all things Western in African nations after decades of colonization by Western governments—infiltrating local communities to export their anti-LGBTQ and anti-sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) views in the name of religion. They have also defined Western LGBTQ people as straw men villains, who these U.S. conservatives are there to “warn” Africans about—feeding off of existing prejudices against anything Western while simultaneously neo-colonializing Africa’s values with their own Western anti-human right prejudices.

Spreading imagined and fictitious stories of Western gays infiltrating African schools and recruiting and abusing African children into “gay lifestyles” has fruitfully turned many Africans to U.S. conservative causes. And providing local religious and political leaders with funding and connections has won these U.S. conservatives a powerful crop of talking heads and decision makers who are all too willing to further the homophobic and sexist policies to please their new benefactors.

Local LGBTQ organizations that are on the ground and working day and night to educate and change hearts throughout Africa are fully capable of turning this trend around, if only the spigot of U.S.-based anti-LGBTQ and anti-women money, resources, and talking points were turned off.

While Western people of conscience should indeed take heart at the temporary push-back of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, it is imperative to triple our efforts to shed light and bring to justice the culture warriors who live in our own backyard. The only path to safety and equality for the African LGBTQ community is for Americans to stop the source of this evil where it lives, and allowing the African LGBTQ activist communities to work for change in their countries without the exportation of the culture wars from the U.S.

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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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Uganda & the Gambia: Anti-Neocolonial Posturing and the People Who Suffer

UPDATE: President Jammeh has signed the new anti-LGBTQ bill into law, including sentences up to life-in-prison for homosexuality. Amnesty International recently reported that Gambian security forces are torturing people arrested in raids, threatening them with rape and pressuring them to confess to homosexual acts. The recent arrests are the first under the new law, Amnesty said Thursday. The group said at least four men, a 17-year-old boy and nine women have reportedly been arrested in recent weeks on suspicion of committing homosexual acts. An earlier statement described how the suspects were detained at the headquarters of the National Intelligence Agency in Banjul. “They were subjected to torture and ill-treatment to force them to confess their so-called ‘crimes’ and to reveal information about other individuals perceived to be gay or lesbian,” Amnesty said. 

The recent passage of yet another anti-homosexuality bill in Africa—this time in the small West African country of the Gambia—is being condemned by LGBTQ and human rights advocates around the world. The bill, which will likely be signed into law by President Yahya Jammeh, would amend the criminal code to increase the punishment for the charge of “aggravated homosexuality” to life in prison (currently the punishment for those convicted of “homosexual acts” is up to 14 years in prison).

Uganda president Yoweri Museveni (left) and the Gambia president Yahya Jammeh (right)

Uganda president Yoweri Museveni (left) and the Gambia president Yahya Jammeh (right)

Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 coup, has made no secret of his anti-LGBTQ views. On the occasion of the 49th anniversary of his country’s independence earlier this year, Jammeh took the opportunity to attack his favorite scapegoats: “We will fight these vermins [sic] called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively,” he declared. “We will therefore 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.”

In 2008, Jammeh said he would “cut off the head” of any gay person caught in the country, though he later retracted this threat, according to Agence France-Presse.

While Christian missionaries from the U.S. and elsewhere are certainly present in the Gambia, it is a predominantly Muslim country, so their influence is limited. Unlike Uganda, the chance of infamous U.S. culture warrior Lou Engle successfully attracting a crowd of thousands for a prayer rally there is pretty slim. Nonetheless, the influence of the American Christian Right is unquestionably at play.

For starters, the text for the Gambia’s new bill contains language identical to Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA, formerly known as the “Kill the Gays Bill”), which was signed into law earlier this year (the law was later overturned by the country’s Supreme Court on technical grounds, but it maintains popular support and is expected to return soon). In Uganda’s case, the influence of American culture warriors in the creation and promotion of the AHA is thoroughly documented and crystal clear.

The saga of Uganda’s AHA has also served to influence the foreign relations strategies of numerous African leaders. Increasingly, Western nations are responding to a wider range of human rights abuses, including those that threaten the safety and humanity of LGBTQ people. On International Human Rights Day in 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton boldly declared to an audience of U.N. diplomats in Geneva, “[G]ay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.”

In its efforts to live up to that proclamation, the U.S.—along with several other Western nations—has begun taking diplomatic actions against countries that fail to protect the human rights of LGBTQ people. After Uganda’s AHA was signed into law, the U.S. was quick to impose visa restrictions and economic sanctions on the country.

With much-relied upon aid being withheld, LGBTQ people and their allies are no longer the only ones suffering as a result of these new laws. Concerned that the burden of these cuts will threaten their political standing, leaders are now seeking ways to defend themselves against Western critiques while maintaining their domestic power and influence. A primary strategy has been to leverage the threat—and historic harm—of Western colonialism, recasting themselves as heroic resisters who are bravely standing up to big, imperial, Western nations seeking to ‘impose their evil immorality.’ (Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni uses the term “social imperialism.”) This David & Goliath rescript gains broad support from constituents, securing—and further entrenching—the long-held positions of these questionably democratic leaders (Jammeh has been in power for 20 years, and Museveni has held the Ugandan presidency for 28 years).

Responding to post-AHA sanctions, Uganda government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo said “Uganda is a sovereign country and can never bow to anybody or be blackmailed by anybody on a decision it took in its interests, even if it involves threats to cut off all financial assistance.”

Similarly, Jammeh has declared, “One thing we will never compromise, for whatever reason, is the integrity of our culture, our dignity and our sovereignty. … Sometimes you hear of a lot of noise about the laws of this country or my pronouncements. Let me make it very clear that, if you want me to offend God for you to give me aid, you are making a great mistake; you will not bribe me to do what is evil and ungodly.”

Further highlighting his bold resistance to historic and present-day colonialism, Jammeh announced in March that English would no longer be the Gambia’s official language. While in some sense, Jammeh’s anti-colonial stance is deserving of praise and support, suggesting that homosexuality is a symptom of colonization is simply wrong. As PRA senior religion and sexuality researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma has observed, “[I]t is not LGBTQ people who are foreign to Africa, but rather the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that is being used against them.”

Kaoma goes on to say, “It is true that Western nations have not always acted in the interest of Africa (to put it mildly), but to use the West as an excuse to persecute and imprison innocent persons is appalling. Politicians like Mugabe and Jammeh, who have robbed their respective nations of billions of dollars, are also responsible for their countries’ dire economic states. These African leaders condemn the West and scapegoat gays to distract from real issues facing their nations and to hide their own incompetence, corruption, and despotism.”

The reality, however, is that Jammeh and Museveni are well-positioned to call out any sort of diplomatic bluff. Both Uganda and the Gambia play important roles in regional peacekeeping efforts. The U.S. Embassy in the Gambia notes that the Gambian government “has provided steadfast, tangible support for the war on terrorism,” and in its FY2014 budget justification submitted to Congress, the U.S. State Department called Uganda a “key strategic partner to the United States … instrumental to security efforts throughout the region.”

And even if they were to play their cards wrong and wind up getting cut off from Western aid entirely, Jammeh and Museveni both know that there are other options on the horizon. China is eagerly expanding and strengthening its political and economic ties across the continent, and stipulations regarding human rights tend to not come up in negotiations with Africa’s new favorite investor.

While it’s unlikely that LGBTQ Africans will ever be confronted by a Chinese version of Scott Lively, like the ongoing effects of colonial-era anti-sodomy laws, the impact of neocolonial American culture warriors is unlikely to disappear with any new economic—or political—regime change. The work of opposing and ultimately eliminating these laws and reversing this current trend toward increased persecution of LGBTQ people will require ongoing, dedicated, multifaceted, and necessarily African-led resistance. For those in the West who seek to support and be in solidarity with these courageous activists, there is a critical role for us to play that extends beyond providing financial resources and advocating for diplomatic sanctions: we must hold accountable the ones among us who lit the proverbial match, setting this anti-LGBTQ firestorm in motion.

These culture war culprits are based all across the United States. Learn more about who—and where—they are, and then let’s start talking about how we can effectively confront and contain their influence.

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Uganda President Faces Human Rights Protests During Texas Visit

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni is visiting Texas this weekend to meet with members of the local business community who are interested in investment opportunities and potential business partnerships in Uganda. It appears, however, that local activists have no intention of letting his history of human rights violations go unnoticed.

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signs the Anti Homosexuality Actl into law  - James Akena/Reuters

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signs the Anti Homosexuality Actl into lawJames Akena/Reuters

On Wednesday, the Dallas Voice, a local LGBTQ news outlet, posted a story about the President’s planned visit, noting that several members of the Ugandan immigrant community in Dallas were calling on the LGBTQ community for help in protesting his appearance. As word spread and pressure mounted, the Four Seasons in Irving canceled the President’s stay less than 24 hours later. The Irving Convention Center and the local police department were also beginning to express concern about the controversial head-of-state’s visit.

As of Thursday afternoon, the Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center in Grapevine was listed as the event’s new host, but according to Martha Neibling. a spokesperson for the Texan, “They did inquire about staying, but we’re not able to accommodate them because of the short-term notice and requirements that they had.”

Earlier this year, Museveni signed the infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law, making it the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA). The AHA—originally dubbed the “Kill the Gays” Bill before the provision applying the death penalty for acts of “aggravated homosexuality” was dropped in favor a life sentences—was later struck down by Uganda’s Constitutional Court based on a technicality, but the legislation maintains popular support and is expected to return.

Activists in Uganda have been resisting these attacks for years, and have gained international attention and support for their efforts. Their opponents, however, are not limited to political and religious leadership in Uganda. PRA senior religion and sexuality researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma has carefully and thoroughly documented the influence of U.S. culture warriors such as Scott Lively, Rick Warren, Lou Engle, Sharon Slater, and countless others in the creation and promotion of the AHA. Resistance, therefore, must also extend beyond Uganda’s borders.

The work of opposing and ultimately eliminating these laws and reversing this current trend toward increased persecution of LGBTQ people requires dedicated, ongoing, multifaceted, and necessarily African-led resistance. But Americans, too, have a role to play.

These culture war culprits are based all across the United States. David Dykes, pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church, for example, lives in Tyler, Texas. In 2012, Dykes traveled to Uganda as part of a missionary venture, and proclaimed his support for the country’s anti-LGBTQ stance on Uganda’s largest independent television station, NTV:

“I’m extremely upset that our state department is putting pressure on Uganda to recognize homosexual behavior. And I’m praying that Uganda will say, ‘We don’t want your money, America. It is blood money. It is sin money.’ I hope that you will continue to stand strong on what the Bible defines as the definition of a real marriage.”

Museveni will only be in Texas for a short period of time, but those who have helped choreograph the surge in anti-LGBTQ attacks that we’re seeing in Uganda, Nigeria, Russia, and elsewhere… they’ll still be here long after he leaves. Learn more about who—and where—they are, and then let’s start talking about how we can effectively confront and contain their influence.

UPDATE:

Diana Pfaff of the Irving Convention Center notified the Dallas Voice that the Ugandan Embassy had until the close of business on Thursday, Sept. 18, to get all paperwork back to them. Because embassy officials did not meet that deadline, it’s unlikely that the event will take place in Irving as originally planned.

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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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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

RELEASE: Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma Applauds Obama Admin Sanctions on Anti-LGBTQ Ugandan Leaders

BOSTON, 6/19/14 – After the Obama administration announced new sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations in Uganda on Thursday, PRA applauds the plan for targeted sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations in Uganda, including persecution based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
From the administration’s press release:

Today, we are announcing several additional steps. Specifically, the Department of State is taking measures to prevent entry into the United States by certain Ugandan officials involved in serious human rights abuses, including against LGBT individuals. In addition, the United States will take steps, consistent with current authorities, to prevent entry into the United States by Ugandans who are found responsible for significant public corruption.

“This is a wonderful first step,” says Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, whose groundbreaking research first brought global attention to the American right-wing religious groups behind Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act. “While we await the details of the State Department’s plan, we have been a critic of blanket sanctions on Uganda and support approaches that target the leaders most responsible for human rights violations. But this action must  be expanded. Uganda is not the only African nation with life-threatening human rights violations being passed by governments. We hope to continue working with the State Department to create similar sanctions against leaders in Nigeria, Zambia, Rwanda, Cameroon, and other nations.”

“What we need to be careful about,” added Tarso Luís Ramos, executive director of PRA, “is about falling into the trap of thinking this is a problem happening exclusively across the ocean in Africa. The exportation of homophobia and sexism comes from U.S.-based conservatives, and we would like to see the U.S. government take a closer look at American culture warriors like Scott Lively, Rick Warren, Lou Engle, and Sharon Slater, who are just as much responsible for these massive human rights violations against sexual minorities and reproductive autonomy as their African allies are.While one of them, Scott Lively, is going to trial for crimes against humanity, most have not been held accountable.”

It is not yet known which anti-LGBTQ political and religious leaders in Uganda will face the sanctions, but PRA is encouraging the State Department to include:

  • MP David Bahati, author of the Anti-Homosexuality Act
  • Pastor Martin Ssempa, who was instrumental in garnering support for the Anti-Homosexuality Act, including its original form which called for the death penalty for LGBTQ people
  • Stephen Langa, leader of the Family Life Network, who hosted the infamous 2009 anti-homosexuality conference in Kampala which featured U.S. Pastor Scott Lively
  • Gary Skinner, who used his position at Wototo church to host meetings with members of parliament to build support for the Anti-Homosexuality Act
  • Julius Oyet, who served on a 2009 task force to raise funding for anti-LGBTQ programs at the behest of MP David Bahati

Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma is the senior religion and sexuality researcher at Political Research Associates, and the author of Globalizing the Culture Wars, and Colonizing African Values (the primary research reports which exposed U.S. conservative influence and involvement in anti-LGBTQ and anti-reproductive freedom initiatives in Africa). He is also the author of the new book American Culture Warriors in Africa: A Guide to the Exporters of Homophobia and Sexism.

Kaoma is also featured in the award-winning documentary, God Loves Uganda.

Relevant Links: 
Globalizing the Culture Wars: http://www.politicalresearch.org/2009/12/01/globalizing-the-culture-wars-u-s-conservatives-african-churches-homophobia/

American Culture Warriors in Africa: A Guide to the Exporters of Homophobia and Sexism: http://www.politicalresearch.org/africa/book-american-culture-warriors-in-africa/

Exclusive undercover video of Scott Lively in Uganda: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9F9k4guN3M

About PRA:
Political Research Associates is a social justice think tank based in Boston, MA, devoted to supporting movements that build a more just and inclusive democratic society. We expose movements, institutions, and ideologies that undermine human rights.
Media Contact:
Eric Ethington
Communications Director
617-666-5300 ext 19
press@politicalresearch.org

pra press release