The passage of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill last Friday brings renewed attention to the plight of LGBTQ people in Africa. Initial outcry sparked by the bill’s introduction in 2009 faded into the shadows of shrinking attention spans and the challenge of sustaining interest in an issue that isn’t constantly confronting our daily lived realities. It reemerged periodically, but mostly disappeared from the headlines.
However, ignorance is only bliss for some. While many in the U.S. were still sleeping, the nightmare haunting thousands of Ugandans for years became real. Unless President Yoweri Museveni vetos the bill (which seems highly unlikely), the legislation that passed on Friday will put LGBTQ Ugandans in jail for life if they’re found guilty of being “repeat offenders” of homosexuality, and will further silence the human rights community by criminalizing advocacy on behalf of Uganda’s sexual minorities. Additionally, it calls for a witch-hunt by compelling Ugandans to inform on their LGBTQ sisters and brothers or risk imprisonment themselves.
Unfortunately, this nightmare isn’t unique to Uganda.
Being gay is still a crime in 76 countries—a crime that’s even punishable by death in several, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and parts of Nigeria. This might seem unthinkable to many in the United States, but it was only ten years ago that our last sodomy law was finally struck down, and regardless… marginalized and oppressed communities throughout history can attest to the fact that equality and acceptance are difficult things to legislate. No matter what judges and legislators might say about who we are, how we dress, what we do in our bedrooms, or whom we love, LGBTQ people experience untold amounts of violence and discrimination all around the world.
Sadly, this oppression is easily justified when politicians, community leaders, priests, and other authority figures offer their condemnatory endorsement. Under the guise of “protecting children” and “preserving the natural family,” we are witnessing a growing surge of homophobia and transphobia across globe. Though Russia has consumed much of the international human rights spotlight recently, since passing its own slate of anti-LGBTQ legislation earlier this year, India’s Supreme Court recently re-criminalized homosexuality, and just this week Nigeria passed a law prohibiting same-sex marriage and any form of LGBTQ organizing (building on existing laws that already punish consensual same-sex activity with 14 years in prison, or death in 12 northern states).
But oppression isn’t the only link between these regions. The same U.S. evangelicals responsible for promoting the initial drafts of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill (often referred to as the “Kill the Gays” bill due to clauses in its original form that would have applied the death penalty to individuals found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality”) are also well-known figures in Russia’s anti-LGBTQ movement. Scott Lively, who’s currently being charged with “crimes against humanity” for his involvement in Uganda’s attack on LGBTQ people, has also claimed credit for Russia’s gay propaganda law. Rick Warren, who was also influential in the conception of Uganda’s anti-LGBTQ legislation, is in the process of launching a new branch of his ministry in Moscow. Don Schmierer, another of the U.S. evangelicals guilty of endorsing Uganda’s anti-LGBTQ movement, has gone to the effort of having his book (a guide for how to “prevent the homosexual condition”) into Russian.
It’s often said that imitation is the best form of flattery, and beyond sharing common cheerleaders, the legislation in Uganda, Nigeria, and Russia also shares common language, revealing what seems to be a great deal of mutual admiration amongst the countries leading these recent legal attacks on LGBTQ people. For example, echoing Russia’s gay propaganda legislation, Uganda’s law criminalizes “the promotion or recognition” of homosexual relations “through or with the support of any government entity in Uganda or any other nongovernmental organization inside or outside the country.”
Fortunately, though equality and acceptance might be difficult to legislate, love and truth are impossible to legislate, and resistance continues. Human rights advocates around the world are rallying behind those who find themselves at the frontlines of U.S. culture wars gone global. In addition to offering resources, diplomatic strength, and support, there is much work to be done here at home. As Americans, we have greater access to the U.S.-based propagators of LGBTQ oppression, and it’s imperative that we do our part to clip their wings – to stop the Livelys and Warrens and Schmierers of our communities from jet setting around the world and hold them accountable for the harm they’ve done.