U.S. “Army of God” Operative Plasters Kenya with Anti-LGBTQI Posters

Jonathan O’Toole—an American anti-choice activist based in Nakuru, Kenya—makes no secret of his opinions about President Obama. “I hate Obama, I hate his guts,” he told me in a recent interview. “I’m against him. I’m his enemy.”

Jonathan O'Toole

Jonathan O’Toole

Indeed, in the struggle for human rights—including the rights of women and LGBTQI people—Jonathan O’Toole stands in stark opposition to the president’s pro-choice, pro-LGBTQI efforts. And in Kenya, O’Toole isn’t alone. East Africa has proven to be fertile territory for his Christian Right agenda.

There’s been a lot of hype surrounding President Obama’s upcoming visit to Kenya, where he will be attending the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. While some Kenyans are eagerly anticipating the long-promised visit (the president’s first trip to his father’s homeland since 2006), others are already organizing protests, threatening acts of defiance if Obama dares speak out for LGBTQI equality while in the country.

At a press conference on July 6, Kenyan lawmakers and religious leaders, including National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, said the president risks opening “floodgates of evil” by promoting LGBTQI rights, adding “we have a responsibility to protect our children.” One of the speakers, MP Charles Njagagua, warned that if President Obama spoke in favor of LGBTQI rights during his speech to the National Assembly, he would be ejected from the House.

Another Kenyan leader, Samuel Thuita, a senior member of the Kikuyu Council of Elders, threatened to throw eggs at Obama if he speaks out about LGBTQI rights during his time in Kenya, correlating the act with historic resistance to British imperialism:

“The founding father of the nation Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was pelted with rotten eggs in Britain for only agitating for our independence. I will mobilise and lead every member of the council, including women and the youth, and Kenyans in general to throw rotten eggs at Obama if he dares introduce the gay and lesbian debate.”

And Obama isn’t the only one being threatened. Denis Nzioka, a Kenyan LGBTQI rights activist, reported to the International Business Times that homophobia is on the rise. “There have been more beatings, evictions and attacks when public discourse focuses on the [LGBTQI] community,” he explained. “It gets heightened and it will only increase momentum as Obama’s visit gets closer.”

In Kenya, those found guilty of homosexuality can face up to 14 years in prison.

By contrast to the United States, where the White House was recently awash with the colors of the rainbow following the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of legalizing same-sex marriages nationwide, in Kenya, those found guilty of homosexuality can face up to 14 years in prison.

According to local reporting, “Thuita urged Kenyans and Africans to uphold their customs and not fall prey to neocolonialism being introduced through the back door.”

This tactic of coopting  and twisting the language of neocolonialism to suggest that homosexuality—rather than homophobia—is the foreign [ideological] agent is increasingly employed by Christian Right-influenced African leaders, who have found that scapegoating LGBTQI people is a highly effective way of distracting constituents from economic deficits and political corruption, and thus maintaining power.

As PRA’s senior religion and sexuality researcher Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma has observed, this self-serving twist on colonialism and neocolonialism is far from accurate:

“[I]t is not LGBTQ people who are foreign to Africa, but rather the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that is being used against them. […] 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 [Zimbabwe President Robert] Mugabe and [The Gambia President Yahya] 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.”

Meanwhile, the real neocolonial narrative is being scripted and directed by right-wing Christian culture warriors from the United States. Sharon Slater of Family Watch International and John Eastman of the National Organization for Marriage were featured speakers at Kenya’s “National Family Conference” this past May (an event sponsored by the U.S.-based culture war-exporting group World Congress of Families). Rick Warren of Saddleback Church announced during a 2014 visit to Kenya that he intends on expanding his ministry into East Africa (this element of Warren’s dominionist agenda will assuredly gain momentum during his “All-Africa Purpose Driven Conference,” set to be convened in Rwanda next year). The American Center for Law & Justice—which advocates against reproductive justice and LGBTQI equality—established their East Africa office in Nairobi, Kenya in 2011.

And then there are the less familiar faces—people like Jonathan O’Toole—who are amplifying the U.S. Christian Right’s global attack on LGBTQI equality and reproductive justice.

Some may recall O’Toole from Soldiers in the Army of God, an HBO documentary released in 2000 that featured interviews with several high-profile anti-choice extremists. O’Toole—then just 19-years-old—became the focal point of the film as he traveled the country seeking the most “radical” and “terroristic” anti-choice group he could find.

Despite the violent outcomes of this sort of propaganda, in O’Toole’s mind, his work comes from a place of love.

Today, O’Toole’s main culture war weapon is ProjectSEE.org, an acronym for “Stop Exporting Evil.” O’Toole, who first visited Kenya in 2007, uses the website to warn Africans about the “satanic” culture of the West.

One section of the website is modeled after the Nuremberg Files website, a project established by the late Neal Horsley, who was a close friend and mentor to O’Toole.1 The Nuremberg Files served as an online database of American abortion service providers, including their names, pictures, and contact information. As Dahlia Lithwick at the Slate reported in 2002, “The ‘wanted’ program was pretty effective at dissuading abortion doctors. After his name appeared on a poster in 1993, Dr. David Gunn was shot and killed entering a Florida abortion clinic. Five months later and after his name appeared on a wanted poster, Dr. George Patterson was shot and killed. In 1994, after his name appeared on a poster, Dr. John Britton was killed by Paul Hill.”

After a lengthy legal battle, the courts ultimately found Horsley’s Nuremberg Files to be unlawful and the site was subsequently shut down.

O’Toole, however, has revived the idea with printer-friendly “not wanted” posters on the ProjectSEE website, including one for David Kuria Mbote – former director of the Gay & Lesbian Coalition of Kenya and Kenya’s first openly gay man to run for political office. O’Toole told me he has no way of tracking how many posters have been distributed independent of his own group’s efforts, but boasted that thousands have been posted around Nakuru (the fourth largest city in Kenya), and about a thousand more have been put up in Nairobi.

This "Not Wanted" poster of the first openly-gay man to run for office was created by O'Toole and sent all over Kenya.  The original included the Mr. Mbote's contact information, which has been blacked out here.

This “Not Wanted” poster of the first openly-gay man to run for office was created by O’Toole and sent all over Kenya. The poster includes a quote from Leviticus 20:13, which has been translated into Swahili. Mr. Kuria’s contact information appeared in the original, but has been blacked out here.

The poster for Kuria includes a picture of his face and his contact information, along with the label “Nairobi Shoga” (shoga is a derogatory term for a gay man in Swahili). Local LGBTQI rights activists have submitted complaints to Kenya’s Communications Commission (in charge of regulating internet content in the country), but were told that Kenya had no authority over the site since it’s registered in the United States (under O’Toole’s name).

The tactic spark memories of the Rolling Stone case in Uganda, where the tabloid newspaper (no relation to the U.S. publication) published the names and pictures of 100 of the country’s “top homos,” and called for their execution with a banner reading “hang them.” David Kato, a prominent LGBTQI activist who was included on the list, was murdered just three months later.

After Kuria’s name was added to O’Toole’s “not wanted” list, he received threats by phone and e-mail, and odd dents appeared on his car when he left it parked in the lot outside his home at night. Kuria was ultimately forced to move after a man came to his house and threatened him.

“The implication was that I would die,” said Kuria.

Despite the violent outcomes of this sort of propaganda, in O’Toole’s mind, his work comes from a place of love. Paul Nevin, an independent journalist who recently traveled to Kenya on a fellowship from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, explained that O’Toole “believes that many of those in the Middle Ages who were burning people at the stake to save them from hell, were doing it out of love.”

Following the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision on June 26, President Obama tweeted, “Today is a big step in our march toward equality. Gay and lesbian couples now have the right to marry, just like anyone else. #LoveWins”

What it would mean for love to win in Kenya is a frightening thing to contemplate, given the growing influence of American culture warriors in Africa. Those who have fought against reproductive justice and LGBTQI equality here in the States, continue to wreak havoc abroad, and until we work to expose, confront, and hold them accountable, O’Toole’s version of “love” will keep gaining ground.


Endnotes

[1] Horsley once boasted, “Jonathan [O’Toole] might well be more dangerous to the homosexual outlaws of the world than me. After all, Project SEE is not merely about holding one rich and famous homosexual like Elton John accountable; it’s about stopping the legalization of homosexuality throughout the world.”

Top Uganda Politician: Western Gays Adopting Children to Turn Them Gay

As Uganda awaits the passage of the new Anti-Homosexuality Bill, Speaker of the Parliament Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga, one the nation’s biggest political powerhouses, is ramping up her U.S. conservative-fed talking points. Her recent speech resulted in a headline in The Uganda Daily Monitor reading, “Gay groups targeting church leaders, schools – Kadaga.”

Uganda's Speaker of the Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga

Uganda’s Speaker of the Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga

Speaking at the golden jubilee celebrations of St. Stephen’s Church in Uganda on November 30, Kadaga repeated the U.S. culture warriors’ claim that “computers and books donated to (underfunded and technology starved) schools are installed with software and literature that promote homosexuality in the institutions.” She went on to say, “Homosexuals are recruiting members of religious institutions,” and homosexuals are now “adopting” vulnerable children and turning them gay. “Be very careful because gays are here to distort our heritage. We have discovered that they adopt our children and confine them in gay communities abroad to train them on gay practices. By the time they come back home, they are already influenced by homosexuality and are used to influence others in the community,” Kadaga told her audience.

As Speaker of the Parliament, Kadaga’s words ought to be taken seriously. Being one of the most powerful people in Uganda, she holds the key to the new Anti-Homosexuality Bill which has potential to destroy countless families if passed into law.

Since coming to power in 2011, Kadaga has become the center of the government’s power structure and a fierce campaigner of anti-gay laws. In 2012, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird confronted Kadaga about Uganda’s record on human and sexual rights during the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Quebec, Canada. Kadaga rebuffed Baird’s pleas for a fair treatment of LGBTQ Ugandans, saying “If homosexuality is a value for the people of Canada they should not seek to force Uganda to embrace it. We are not a colony or a protectorate of Canada.” She went on to promise to pass the infamous Anti Homosexuality Bill 2009.

The original Anti Homosexuality Act (formerly known as the “Kill the Gays” bill) was signed into law in February of 2014, before being struck down by the court for a procedural violation during the Parliament’s vote. Since then, Kadaga has surpassed Uganda president Yoweri Museveni in her zeal to fight homosexuality and “protect” Uganda’s heritage.

But the power of Kadaga stems from her close ties with both the U.S. conservative evangelicals and anti-gay pastors such as Martin Ssempa. Aside from receiving conservative funding from U.S. culture warriors, these vitriolic pastors won’t rest until Kadaga gives them the new anti-gay law, which includes prison sentences up to 15 years for LGBTQ Ugandans, human rights advocates and straight allies.

Kadaga’s claim about computers and books being used to promote homosexuality are direct quotes from claims that have been made by U.S. conservatives such as Scott Lively and Lou Engle during their visits to Uganda.

In fact, Lively used this claim in 2009 to lobby Ugandan parents to reject UNICEF’s books. He later described the effort, saying “On the TV show we exposed a book distributed to schools by UNICEF that normalizes homosexuality to teenagers. (We expect a massive protest by parents, who are mostly not aware that such materials even exist in their country, let alone in their childrens’ classrooms.)”

Likewise, Lou Engle said Uganda must oppose UNICEF “at all costs.” And Sharon Slater, co-founder of Family Watch International, making similar accusations about the United Nations itself.

Moreover, Kadaga’s claim that religious leaders are being recruited by western homosexuals should not be viewed as something new either. The same claims were made during the now-infamous March, 2009, Anti-Gay Strategic Meeting at Triangle Hotel in Kampala. In October 2012, the court convicted six of Speaker Kadaga’s friends—among them were Martin Ssempa and Solomon Male—for character assassination of Ugandan Pastor Kayanja. Each were sentenced to either six months in prison or a fine of Shs1 million (about $400 U.S.) and 100 hours of community service. They all chose the latter.

Reading between the lines, there is another aspect to Kadaga’s claims—the changing religious landscape of Africa’s homophobia. After many unchallenged years of demonizing sexual minorities and human rights activists by U.S. culture warriors and their African allies, pro-human rights clergy are growing slowly on the continent. Many are realizing that the U.S.-born campaigns of demonization and violence against sexual minorities goes against their religious convictions. As the KwaZulu Natal Declaration showed, some African clergy opposed to the violent persecution of sexual minorities are now speaking out. In almost all Sub-Saharan African countries, religious voices against hate are slowly emerging. Since these leaders are preaching love and acceptance of sexual minorities as opposed to hatred, anti-gay pastors’ voices are now being challenged. To dismiss their critical voices, they are being branded as homosexuals themselves. African anti-gay pastors and their U.S. Right allies have entirely branded affirming Religious leaders such as Bishop Christopher Ssenyonjo of Uganda, Revds. MacDonald Sembereka of Malawi, Benebo Fubara-Manuel of Nigeria, Michael Kimindu of Kenya, this author, and many others as homosexuals. Regardless, their numbers are growing—forcing anti-gay pastors and their Western allies into social panic.

Kadaga’s claim to have discovered Western homosexuals adopting African children and “confining them in gay communities abroad to train them on gay practices” is certainly a new low in her attempts to vilify LGBTQ people. Kadaga does not, of course, have any evidence for such claims—it is just another way anti-gay groups incite hatred against gay communities. African sexual minorities and their allies are also frequently accused of receiving “millions of dollars” to recruit people into homosexuality. The reality, however, being that the majority of LGBTQ people in Africa live in extreme poverty.

It is interesting that Speaker Kadaga, and not President Museveni, made these claims about LGBTQ Ugandans at this particular religious event—the space Museveni has usually used to demonize gays in the past. Does this suggest that Museveni would veto the new Anti Homosexuality bill?

Museveni may wish to veto the legislation when the Parliament inevitably passes it again—this time without the procedural mistake—in order to save face with the international community and preserve the country’s approximately $118 Million in foreign aid Uganda receives each year. With Kadaga on the helm, however, the Parliament could easily override the veto by simply passing the bill two more times. This backs Museveni into a no-win situation. As for Kadaga, she would emerge as a hero—as she did it in 2012, 2013, and 2014 when she used her position to challenge the West, pass the Bill and force Museveni to sign it into law.

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National Journal: PRA Researchers Describe U.S. Evangelical Involvement in Russia & Uganda

cole parke, kapya kaoma

PRA’s religion and sexuality researcher, Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma (left) and LGBTQ rights researcher, Cole Parke (right)

In the latest issue of the National Journal, Political Research Associates’ researchers Rev. Dr. Kapya Kaoma and Cole Parke discuss how U.S.-based conservatives are working directly with the governments of nations like Russia and Uganda to bring about anti-LGBTQ legislation.

Check out the snippet below, and read the full article, “Evangelicals Are Winning The Gay Marriage Fight — in Africa and Russia” here.

national journal logoThings have only gotten worse for LGBT Russians since then: Moscow’s city council passed a 100-year ban against gay-pride parades in 2012; TV personality Anton Krasovsky was fired in 2013 after coming out as gay; and the parliament approved a national version of the propaganda law, which had been overwhelmingly rejected as recently as 2009. When gay Russians have tried to demonstrate in recent years, they’ve been subject to violence from antigay mobs and even the police, who often arrest LGBT activists and leave violent counterprotesters alone. Putin’s government has encouraged the crackdown, finding that strident social conservatism is useful in uniting his base and building power internationally. “He’s saying essentially that to be pro Russia is to be anti-LGBTQ, and to be pro-LGBTQ is to be pro-Western and anti-Russia,” says Cole Parke, who studies LGBTQ rights in Russia for Political Research Associates.

American social conservatives realize that associating with these countries looks bad, but they insist they “hate the sin and love the sinner,” as the saying goes. “We really are not monsters,” Ruse says. “We really do not want to harm anyone.” Indeed, they all distanced themselves from Uganda’s antigay bill when it included the death penalty. Lively, perhaps the most extreme of the bunch, calls even the life-in-prison version overly draconian and says it’s his “biggest failure.”

But for LGBT-rights advocates, that’s not enough. Even if the U.S. conservatives don’t support laws that harm gays, they say, LGBT people are being harmed in places where the Americans work. “The blood of African gays in places like Uganda and other parts of the world is on the hands of the U.S. extreme Right,” [Political Research Associates’ religion and sexuality researcher Kapya] Kaoma says. “When you lie to people, when you tell Ugandans that ‘there is a well-financed group that is coming after your children—defend yourself against this movement,’ they will take the law into their own hands and you don’t know what they’ll do.” 

 

Different Countries, Common Threads: Connecting the dots in the global surge of anti-LGBTQ attacks

God_Loves_Uganda_insert

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.