Scott Lively, co-founder of the virulently anti-gay Watchmen on the Walls and a veteran of the broader anti-gay movement, will be tied up with legal proceedings until at least 2015. The African LGBTQ advocacy group Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) has sued Lively for crimes against humanity, specifically for inciting the persecution of Ugandan LGBTQ people.
The suit was filed last spring with the aid of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), and hinges on the Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreign victims of crimes under international law access to American courts. Historically, the law has been used by human rights activists on behalf of victims of governments, multinational corporations, and other private actors. SMUG vs. Lively is unprecedented, however, as it is the first such case seeking accountability for persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
After a series of appeals, in August, U.S. district Judge Michael Ponsor ruled against Lively’s motion to dismiss the case. In his ruling, he offered words that have inspired hope in many: “Widespread, systematic persecution of LGBTI people constitutes a crime against humanity that unquestionably violates international norms. The history and current existence of discrimination against LGBTI people is precisely what qualifies them as a distinct targeted group eligible for protection under international law. The fact that a group continues to be vulnerable to widespread, systematic persecution in some parts of the world simply cannot shield one who commits a crime against humanity from liability.”
Yesterday’s scheduling hearing in the case offered some interesting insights, and Political Research Associates was in attendance to observe them.
First, CCR and SMUG are attempting to get a protective order put in place for some of the data which could be obtained by Lively and his lawyers from Liberty Counsel. As discovery moves forward pre-trial, it’s entirely possible that Lively could request the identity and contact information of LGBTQ people in Uganda who may have attended rallies, protests, or meetings which are at issue in the trial. These are not people who are being called as witnesses in the court case, and CCR and SMUG are (rightly) concerned that if Lively were to gain access to these people’s identities, he may pass the information along to his anti-gay friends in Uganda and their lives could be put at risk. No agreement between the plaintiffs and defense has been reached yet, and the judge will likely rule on the issue around the beginning of December.
As Cathy Kristofferson of Springfield’s Stop the Hate & Homophobia Coalition reported in late September, Lively has already demonstrated his propensity for endangering the safety of those who stand against him. Using Peter LaBarbera, head of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH) as his cover, Lively released a “hit list” of those who are supporting the prosecution of his persecution. The release of such a list targeting individuals in Uganda could have devastating consequences.
Unsurprisingly, Lively has rejected a settlement offer from CCR and SMUG. That document and the offer haven’t been made public yet, but any admission of guilt by Lively without a conviction is a near-impossibility.
It’s important to note that this trial could drag on for several years, and that’s a deliberate tactic by Lively’s defense team. Once Lively himself takes the stand and goes on record, he will be forced to admit under oath what he did in Uganda, much of which is on video thanks to PRA’s senior researcher, Dr. Kapya Kaoma. Discovery and other pre-trial proceedings are expected to last until early 2015, at which time Lively will likely ask the judge to dismiss the case once again. Presuming the court denies that request, the actual trial will then commence.
While the trial itself is still a long way off, the energy around this case is already building. Prior to yesterday’s scheduling session, dozens of protesters gathered outside the Springfield Federal Courthouse. The crowd included members of Stop the Hate & Homophobia, a Springfield-based coalition of LGBTQ rights advocates; representatives of the LGBT Asylum Support Task Force (including two Ugandan refugees); members of Out Now, a local LGBTQ youth organization; supporters from the Western Mass Recovery Learning Center; and a variety of others, all boldly expressing their solidarity with the LGBTQ community in Uganda, in Springfield, and around the world.
PRA will be on the ground and in the courtroom to keep you up to date with the latest developments! For the full background on Scott Lively’s involvement in Uganda (as well as other U.S. conservatives who are exporting homophobia), check out politicalresearch.org/issues/africa
**Eri Ethington contributed to this post
UPDATE: Here’s the official court schedule, courtesy of our friend Cathy Kristofferson at Join the Impact: