Sex, Love, and Aid

rainbow money pig

Guest Post by Kerry Williams

Uganda’s policies regarding LGBTQ people—and the implications for the future of foreign aid to the country—have become a controversial transnational political issue. The passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which criminalizes not only gays and lesbians but also anyone who doesn’t report them, prompted Obama and Kerry to announce a review of U.S. assistance programs to Uganda.  Similarly, President Jim Yong Kim of the World Bank postponed a $90 million loan to Uganda and said the Bank needed to review the law for adverse effects on its development objectives.  Uganda seemed unmoved and retorted by saying it would not be blackmailed by Western powers.

The drama of love, sex, and the complicated nature of international aid and involvement is playing out not only on the cross-continental political stage but also in two recent film and theatre productions.  In fact, God Loves Uganda (2013) and Witness Uganda (2014), arguably reveal much more about the potential hazards of aid—and withdrawing it—than current statements made by the U.S. administration and the World Bank.  And whereas much of the recent discussion has centered on state-based foreign aid, God Loves Uganda and Witness Uganda raise up critical issues about the flow of money from individuals, religious networks, and NGOs.

God Loves Uganda (soon to be released on DVD) exposes how American money is being funneled to certain Ugandan churches, which vociferously preach the so-called evils of homosexuality. It is directed by Roger Ross Williams, was nominated for an Academy Award and has been screening across America since late last year. His incredibly brave film shows how certain U.S. evangelicals move both their money and dogma from the U.S. to Uganda: He shows footage of Scott Lively lecturing Ugandan Parliamentarians on how to counter the so-called “Homosexual Agenda.” (Lively, well known for suggesting gays were responsible for the Holocaust, is currently running for governor of Massachusetts while also facing a lawsuit for crimes against humanity due to his involvement in the persecution of LGBTQ people in Africa.)  Williams documents naïve, white, 20-year-old American men instructing wizened, black, 80-year-old Ugandan grandmothers how to live their lives in accordance with the Lord’s word.  He follows the flow of money from the International House of Prayer in Missouri to churches in Kampala, where Ugandan pastors mimic the words of U.S. evangelicals condemning homosexuality in God’s name.  Tragically these Uganda pastors are also building on U.S. evangelical discourse to incite their congregations to perpetrate and justify violence.  A Ugandan pastor stands on a stage in a field before a congregation and as part of the sermon condemning the sexual perversion of homosexuals shouts through a loudhailer, “Those who are ready to kill those who are homosexual, hands up!” Everyone’s hand shoots up to volunteer.

Williams argues through the film that Americans, particularly those involved in religious organizations and charitable giving abroad, need to think about the unintended consequences of their words and their aid.  Reverend Kapya Kaoma, the film’s protagonist and a senior researcher at PRA, explains: “Usually when people are putting their money in the collection plate at church, they don’t know where this money is going.  They see this poor face of an African child—the same money which a person would have given in good faith to help is used to destroy people’s lives in various parts of Africa”. Williams rightly draws an analogy with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, where the white man journeys to Africa filled with the imagined darkness and evils of black Africa only to find the real darkness and evils are within himself.  Or in Williams’s case, as he puts it: “I, a black man, made that journey to Africa and found—America”.

Witness Uganda adopts a somewhat different angle, portraying the existential angst of a young gay African-American who haphazardly takes himself, and eventually his charity, to Uganda.  A colorful musical created by Matt Gould and Griffin Matthews—partners in life and work—the play tells Griffin’s semi-autobiographical story of going to Uganda in his 20s only to find nothing as he expected.  There are few surprises, and the musical ends with everyone living happily-ever-after.  Gould and Matthews now fund the education of orphans on a more permanent basis. Whereas Williams critiques the flow of money and influence from America to Uganda, Gould and Matthews suggest, more mildly, that “giving is complicated”.

I attended question-and-answer sessions for both productions; as a South African lawyer working on sexuality, law, and governance in Africa, I was interested in the audiences’ responses. In both sessions, attendees reflected critically on issues of American involvement in Africa.  After God Loves Uganda, for example, a middle-aged white American woman asked how she could help. Rev. Kaoma, one of the panelists, deftly answered the question, suggesting that the woman turn her attentions home and to do whatever she could to hold U.S.-based religious leaders and organizations accountable for their actions abroad.  His response suggested that in many cases, it is more effective for Americans to work at a local level rather than abroad.

At the Q&A for Witness Uganda, a Ugandan man asked Gould and Matthews if they had thought about the “unintended consequences” of their giving. While most questions affirmed that the show reflected a common experience of traveling to Africa to work and volunteer, this question seemed to suggest that Griffin’s haphazard attempts to help may harm.  The show had suggested that nothing but good comes from giving, so why else ask about unintended consequences? Gould and Matthews, unfortunately, could not provide the Ugandan with an answer.

Having lived and worked in South and Southern Africa my whole life, I know that aid can, at the very least, be disruptive. Although Witness Uganda is entertaining, it never really moves past “giving is complicated.”  In contrast, God Loves Uganda thoughtfully takes audiences on a global political journey, highlighting the real risks associated with international giving and aid work.  It sends a message that giving and getting involved in African politics and society—whether through individual or institutional channels—needs to be done carefully, and sometimes, maybe not done at all.

Certainly, not giving is also complicated. If national governments, churches, religious organizations, NGOs, or individuals choose to withdraw aid, they must do so strategically and responsibly.  When the U.S. and the World Bank say they are reviewing their assistance programs because of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, they need to be sure they can justify withdrawing specific types of aid and that they are not merely perpetuating patterns of Western neo-colonialism and oppression.  Perhaps it does make sense, for example, to withdraw money that might otherwise be used to deny gays and lesbians access to health care services or funneled to organizations that vocally support the Anti-Homosexuality Act.  The Dutch government has adopted this approach, withdrawing its aid to the Ugandan justice sector rather than be considered complicit with Uganda’s jailing of gays and lesbians. Over the next weeks and months, we will see whether Obama and Kim follow this example.  The U.S. and the World Bank have an opportunity to send a clear, value-driven message that those who are complicit with the Ugandan government in its needless persecution of LGBTQ people will not benefit from American aid.

Kerry Williams is currently a candidate for a Masters in Public Administration at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where she is both an Edward S. Mason Fellow and a Harvard South African Fellow. The views expressed in this article are hers alone and not necessarily endorsed by Political Research Associates. The full text of her article can be read on the Citizen website. 

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

Channel 4

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

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

Only Fools Believe? Pastor Rick Warren and Global Homophobia

Pastor Rick Warren

Pastor Rick Warren

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LA Times Op-Ed: U.S. Christian Right Behind Global Homophobia

LA Times logo

PRA’s senior religion and sexuality researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma published an Op-Ed in the LA Times this morning, detailing U.S. conservative evangelical involvement in the spread of anti-gay legislation across the world.

Check out the excerpt below and read the full Op-Ed here!

Uganda has deservedly received widespread attention, but it’s not the only country with a culture war that carries the fingerprints of U.S. campaigners. Nigeria has passed a bill almost identical to Uganda’s, and Cameroon and Zambia are enthusiastically imprisoning LGBTQ people.

And let’s not forget Russia. In 2007, Lively traveled throughout Russia to, as he put it, bring a warning about the “homosexual political movement.” He urged Russians, among other things, “to criminalize the public advocacy of homosexuality.” Last year, President Vladimir Putin signed a bill into law that criminalizes distribution of “gay propaganda” to minors, including any material that “equates the social value of traditional and nontraditional sexual relations.”

Later this year, the World Congress of Families — an Illinois-based conservative umbrella organization — will convene in Russia. As the group’s leader, Larry Jenkins, put it: “We’re convinced that Russia does and should play a very significant role in defense of the family and moral values worldwide. Russia has become a leader of promoting these values in the international arena.”

U.S. culture warriors have strategically focused on countries already suspicious of America, often ones with authoritarian leaders eager to turn public attention away from issues of corruption or economic inequality.

By recasting LGBTQ people in their countries as creations of the West, these leaders both feed on and fuel existing prejudices. Strongly worded statements from President Obama, Secretary of State John F. Kerry and U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon merely reinforce the argument that the West is imposing an international “gay agenda” on unwilling nations. The irony, of course, is that these “anti-Western” policies were created and marketed by Americans.,0,2345261.story#ixzz2wi5uu3IM

Guest Post – Right-Wing Evangelicals in Uganda: Telling the Whole Story

Guest Post By Peter Montgomery

Peter Montgomery

Peter Montgomery

American Religious Right groups have spent years promoting anti-gay attitudes and policies overseas.  As Political Research Associates, People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch, and others have documented, American right-wing evangelicals have pushed for laws criminalizing homosexuality, banning marriage equality, and suppressing pro-equality advocacy in many parts of the world, including Eastern Europe, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Conservative religious activists in the U.S. have praised anti-gay laws in Russia, Nigeria, and Uganda.

The consequences of these efforts by conservative American Christians have been devastating for many LGBT people. Which is why it was so frustrating to read this Religion News Service story by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, which suggests that American evangelicals are being unfairly associated with Uganda’s law.

The story quotes some evangelical leaders who opposed and have criticized Uganda’s law, including Rick Warren and Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. And that’s fine as far as it goes: it is important to have Christians speaking out against harmful anti-gay legislation, and they should not be unfairly accused of backing it if they didn’t.

But the RNS story falls short by ignoring the reason American Christians are associated with the law: because American evangelicals traveled to Uganda, cultivated and financially supported anti-gay clergy and politicians there, and helped ignite a wave of homophobia. In the documentary God Loves Uganda, one pastor marvels to an interviewer that his financial support from Americans tripled once he started focusing on homosexuality. The fact that anti-gay politicians also had their own domestic political calculations in mind doesn’t mean American support has not played a significant role in stoking the flames of homophobia sweeping across parts of Africa.

In a twitter exchange, Bailey said she knew of nobody with a constituency who supported the Uganda law. Bryan Fischer is a spokesman for the American Family Association, one of the biggest Religious Right groups in America, and has a show on the AFA’s radio network. Fischer celebrated the signing of the Uganda law, connecting it to the controversy over Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson: he tweeted, “Uganda stands with Phil. Makes homosexuality contrary to public policy. It can be done.” Fischer regularly gets politicians on his show. He has addressed the Values Voter Summit. Doesn’t he have a constituency? It’s also worth noting that when the Obama administration criticized the Ugandan bill, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins told the U.S. to back off, calling the legislation an effort to “uphold moral conduct.”

And what about Scott Lively, who blames gays for the rise of the Nazi Party and the Holocaust? Lively is a discredited and marginalized figure in the U.S., where a federal judge has rejected his efforts to dismiss a lawsuit charging him with promoting anti-gay persecution. But he has been criss-crossing the globe, telling legislators and other public officials that gays are a threat to children and families. He has bragged about the role he played in pushing Russia’s anti-gay “propaganda” law, which is being used to punish journalists and activists. He believes other countries should embrace laws that similarly suppress free speech when it comes to advocacy for LGBT equality.

In the RNS Story, Lively says he is not responsible for the Ugandan law. Maybe it depends on what the meaning of “is” is. Certainly Ugandan members of parliament and President Yoweri Museveni are responsible for the law. But Lively has played a major role in fanning anti-gay sentiment and arguing for the urgency of legislation aimed at stopping moves toward equality. In 2009, he helped organize a rally supporting the bill, at which another American evangelical, Lou Engle, told participants he had been called to Uganda to support the church there in its stand for righteousness.

In the RNS story, Lively says he has “mixed feelings” about the law and doesn’t support its final form. In a recent press conference, Lively was more explicit, saying that while his goal isn’t to put people in jail for being gay – as long as they keep their sexuality behind closed doors and don’t try to influence society –he thinks governments have a duty to discourage sex outside the law. More specifically, he said that if he had to choose between the Uganda law and complete freedom for “the homosexual agenda” he would take the law. That is not the impression left by the RNS story.

Any article that quotes Scott Lively, particularly a story that seemingly purports to exonerate him, owes its readers a fuller picture of his anti-gay activism, which explicitly includes support for laws that suppress the free speech of pro-equality advocates, as those in Russian, Nigeria, and Uganda do. And it is definitely worth noting that Lively has recently created a new coalition designed to push anti-gay policies overseas. Why is such a group needed now, when there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of anti-gay activism in the world? Because, Lively says, too many conservative leaders are afraid to denounce homosexuality itself and not just marriage equality. Among the many who have signed up for Lively’s new bigotry-spreading campaign are the American Family Association’s Tim Wildmon and Bryan Fischer and Liberty Counsel’s Matt Barber.

The Southern Baptists’ Russell Moore told RNS he knows no evangelicals who would support legislation like Uganda’s. Perhaps we can make some introductions.

Peter Montgomery is a Washington DC-based writer. He is a senior fellow at People For the American Way and an associate editor at online magazine Religion Dispatches.

Scott Lively & Rick Warren: The PR Campaign to Whitewash the Right’s Anti-Gay Uganda History

scott lively, rick warren, uganda

As a comms person myself, I can really appreciate a good PR campaign, and the best I’ve seen in a long time is the new effort by U.S. right-wing evangelicals to completely whitewash their own history of involvement with Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality law.

For the last five years, human rights advocates around the world been discussing how U.S. conservative figures were integrally involved in the creation of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (originally called the “Kill the Gays Bill”). Vast amounts of research have been produced on the involvement of conservatives such as Rick Warren (who posted a YouTube video supporting California’s Prop 8 only to later take it down and deny it ever happened), and hours of undercover footage were taken of Scott Lively (famous for claiming the Nazi Party was really a gay club in his book The Pink Swastika) in Kampala, Uganda, advocating the bill’s creation with local political and religious leaders.

As evidence of their involvement has spread throughout the U.S., the public’s sentiment on these characters’ involvement has soured considerably. This was exacerbated when, last month, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law, ascribing life-in-prison sentences to LGBTQ people in the African nation, criminalizing advocacy of homosexuality, and requiring authority figures (parents, teachers, doctors, etc.) to report LGBTQ people to the government.

The American public is finally taking notice. Story after story in major media outlets (The GuardianReal News NetworkThe Rachel Maddow Show, and the National Journal in just the last few weeks) is running about these right-wing evangelicals’ involvement, and the millions of dollars they’ve poured into Uganda, Nigeria, Russia, and elsewhere in carefully crafted campaigns to train local pastors and political leaders how to use culture wars-talking points for an all-out attack on LGBTQ people.

So if you were a right-wing public figure, and all of a sudden found yourself standing alone, staring down the barrel of public anger over your past work, what would you do?

For most public figures, it would be a career-ending disaster. But when you’ve got the money, the personnel, and a stellar PR team, you just might be able to convince the rest of us of a simple little lie: They were against the law in the first place.

The process of turning someone who claims “gay = Nazi” and that “equal rights = condoning pedophilia” into a “moderate” is quite the sight to behold.

Step 1: Float the New Idea 

In an interview on NPR’s “Tell Me More” program, Scott Lively wasted no time distancing himself from the criminalization measures in the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Almost before host Michel Martin could finish introducing him, Lively jumped in with, “I have mixed feelings about the bill. I support the provisions that increase penalties for homosexual abuse of children and intentional spreading of AIDS through sodomy. But I think the other provisions are too harsh, and I don’t support those and I wish they’d gone in a different direction.”

Quite the change from the Scott Lively of 2009, who wrote a blog post while in Uganda where he admitted meeting with local lawmakers, warning Ugandans “how bad things would be” if it was not illegal to be an LGBTQ person, and that his campaign to enact legislation further persecuting sexual minorities was “a nuclear bomb against the ‘gay’ agenda in Uganda.” He concluded, “I pray that this, and the predictions, are true.”

Step 2: Create a New Image

For the last several years, Pastor Rick Warren has been successfully advancing his media blitz to get people talking about anything other than his stance on homosexuality. In December of last year, he was featured in TIME Magazine talking about his new weight-loss plan. This same story has been pushed hard by Warren’s PR team, resulting in features in Parade Magazine and NPR—none of which mentioned his flip-flop on Prop 8, or his involvement with the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda.

Step 3: Strategically Place Reinforcements of your Talking Points

Following the NPR story with Lively, a new article surfaced on the Religious News Service, expertly titled “U.S. evangelicals on the defense over Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.”

Staging the piece as a journalistic interview, author Sarah Pulliam Bailey basically transcribes a press release from Scott Lively and Rick Warren, disavowing themselves of their involvement:

California megachurch pastor Rick Warren, too, posted on his Facebook page on Sunday (March 2) denying allegations that he ever supported the Uganda bill…

Scott Lively, a Massachusetts pastor and head of Abiding Truth Ministries, said that he is not responsible for the bill.

“It’s a very insulting argument, that somehow an American evangelical pastor is so powerful that I’ve overwhelmed the intelligence of an entire government and turned them out to do my will,” Lively said. “The Ugandans knew what they wanted to hear.”

He said he does not support the bill in its final form.

Never mind that Lively himself has admitted on several occasions that he had seen and reviewed the original “Kill the Gays Bill” before it had been released to the public. Despite the ample evidence of Lively and Warren’s involvement in Uganda, none of it is mentioned. There isn’t even a hint at what pro-human rights groups have found in their research.

Step 4: Spread the Word

Now that they’ve gotten their press release printed as if it were an accredited journalistic account, the right-wing PR campaign can push to get mainstream outlets to reprint. The whitewashed article has been republished not only on small sites like Spokane Faith & Values, but on major outlets like The Washington Post.

As is typical with controversial and nuanced stories, the simple talking points are much easier to publish. Why bother researching what these right-wing evangelicals have said and done beyond U.S. borders, when they’re willing to tell American media a completely different—and significantly more palatable—story on camera?

The Fatal Flaw

This massive PR campaign has only made one mistake so far, but it’s a big one. Rick Warren has, by far, been the most successful at misleading the public into thinking he’s a moderate. He’s been at it for years. If the campaign had aimed to only wash Warren’s hands of Ugandan LGBTQ blood, it would probably succeed with flying colors. But the efforts have been ambitious than that.

The inclusion of Scott Lively throws the door wide open for the public to see this PR stunt for what it is. While few people other than researchers on the ground have seen Warren at work in Africa—partnering with local anti-gay clergy and feeding them the funds necessary to push through the Anti-Homosexuality Bill—plenty of people have heard Scott Lively on air or in his writings comparing LGBTQ people to rapists and pedophiles. Plenty of people have seen the undercover videos from Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma of Scott Lively in Uganda explaining that if they don’t enact anti-gay legislation then gays from America will come and recruit their children. And plenty of people have seen the videos of Scott Lively on Ugandan TV with the vehemently anti-gay Pastor Martin Ssempa, saying that Uganda needed to enact the Anti-Homosexuality law and criminalize LGBTQ people in order to save children from being “recruited

There’s no question of right-wing evangelical involvement in Uganda’s anti-gay legislation. The work has been verified and fact-checked by researchers around the globe, organizations like Amnesty International, and outlets such as the New York Times. There’s a reason a court refused to throw out the case against Scott Lively for crimes against humanity.

It’s not just human rights advocates who are shocked by the turnabout from these conservatives. The anti-gay clergy in Uganda they’ve spent years training are shocked as well. Pastor Martin Ssempa was so surprised he published a letter addressed to Rick Warren, asking why he is now changing his story.

When you came to Uganda on Thursday, 27 March 2008, and expressed support to  the Church of Uganda’s boycott of the pro-homosexual church of England, you stated; “The Church of England is wrong, and I support the Church of Uganda”.

You are further remembered to say, “homosexuality is not a natural  way of life and thus (its) not a human right. We shall not tolerate this  apect at all”.

Good PR work has a tendency to override facts. Tell people that something didn’t happen enough times, and eventually they’ll start to believe it. It’s up to us to tell the truth louder and more often.

Rev. Kapya Kaoma Discusses Uganda on Al Jazeera English’s “The Stream”

al jazeera logo

PRA’s Senior Religion and Sexuality Researcher, Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma, was featured on a recent episode of Al-Jazeera English’s “The Stream.” While U.S. right-wing pastors are desperately trying to go back and claim they had no involvement in the creation of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Rev. Kaoma has undercover video footage proving that not only did they encourage anti-LGBTQ sentiment, they supported and assisted in its creation.

Rev. Kaoma comes in at the 32 minute mark.

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

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

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

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

Watch the interview below or on

RELEASE: Uganda President Signs Anti-Homosexuality Bill

pra press releaseDespite promises not to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill until he had heard from U.S. scientists, Uganda President Yoweri Museveni has broken that promise and put the lives of every LGBTQ Ugandan in jeopardy.

The now-signed law carries a penalty of 14 years in prison for first-time convictions of homosexuality, life-in-prison sentences for “aggravated homosexuality,” and, like Russia, criminalizes “advocacy” for LGBTQ issues. International outcry over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill since it was introduced in 2009 succeeded in removing the death penalty.

“Museveni has kept his promise to ‘declare war’ on LGBTQ persons,” says Political Research Associates’ senior religion and sexuality researcher, Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma. “By signing the law, Museveni has given in to the whispers and urges he has been getting from U.S. evangelicals for decades. It is no accident that nearly identical laws and talking points have surfaced in Uganda, Nigeria, Russia, and other countries. The work of Americans like Scott Lively, Lou Engle, and Rick Warren advocating for these laws in these countries has been consistent, strong, and effective, and the blood of LGBTQ persons in Africa, Russia, and Eastern Europe is on their hands.”

Kaoma was the first researcher to expose the strong ties behind U.S.-based conservatives and the anti-LGBTQ movement in African countries. His work is documented in two comprehensive reports, Colonizing African Values and Globalizing the Culture Wars, which have become foundational primers on the exportation of U.S. attacks on LGBTQ and reproductive justice abroad. His work is also featured in the award-winning documentary, God Loves Uganda.

“Listening to President Museveni, MP David Bahati, and Ugandan religious leaders like Pastor Martin Ssempa, you would think you were listening to American religious conservatives with a Ugandan accent,” says Tarso Luís Ramos, executive director of Political Research Associates. “These are the very same talking points used by Scott Lively, who has been charged with ‘crimes against humanity’ here in the U.S. for conspiring with Ugandan pastors and members of Parliament to violate the human rights of that country’s LGBTQ community. When Museveni calls for ‘a scientifically correct’ position on homosexuality, he is echoing the pseudo-psychiatry of discredited American figures like former Exodus International official Don Schmierer. I am disappointed but not surprised.”

“There is no longer any excuse for Americans or any other people of integrity to sit back and passively watch the systematic destruction of their brothers and sisters in Africa,” added Victor Mukasa, co-founder of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and an associate fellow at Political Research Associates. “Now is the time to step forward and work with the LGBTQ activists on the ground to demand fair human rights for all.”

Background on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, and how U.S. evangelicals came to be involved, can be found at

Press Contact: Eric Ethington, Communications Director, 617-666-5300,

Decriminalizing Queer Requires More Than Diplomacy

obama back off africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what are concerned Western activists to do?

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

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

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

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

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