Racism in Anti-Trans “Feminist” Activism

Image credit: Still from Heritage Foundation panel livestream. https://youtu.be/ HMj9MOuRswc

California-based epidemiologist Hacsi Horvath raised this alarm about protections based on gender identity at a panel titled “The Inequality of the Equality Act: Concerns From the Left”  at the Heritage Foundation in late January 2019—the latest in a series of panels of anti-transgender activists who root their activism in the rhetoric of feminism platformed by right-wing organizations.

“And, in five years. I mean, just imagine what’s gonna happen when China picks up on this, you know? It’s just gonna be, it is already out of control. It’s gonna be a lot worse if we let this happen. So I would urge you all: don’t play along.”

When invoking the specter of China adopting laws that would criminalize misgendering a transgender person, Horvath asked participants at the Heritage Foundation panel to imagine a world in which a hegemonic, autocratic super-power could stifle free speech, specifically speech against the lives, health, and safety of transgender people. Suddenly, the rhetorical threat posed by transgender people multiplies.  (In fact, China’s human rights record tells a very different story, one of discrimination and persecution, and the resilience of transgender people.)

It’s notable that anti-trans feminists are employing similar racist dog-whistles that have been used by the Right for centuries to create out-sized fear and outrage among their constituents and followers to justify the out-sized time and energy spent advocating against the lives and safety of the communities they target.

Disproportionality has also been weaponized to attack Jewish people, ingrained in the conspiracy theory that Jewish people control the world economy. Within the community of anti-trans “feminists” this antisemitic trope manifests as the conspiracy that transgender advocacy is funded by George Soros. “Who Are the Rich, White Men Institutionalizing Transgender Ideology,” asks Jennifer Bilek in the Federalist. (By framing transgender activism and advocacy as “Transgender Ideology,” Bilek is also playing into the Christian Right messaging trope of gender ideology.) On  4thWaveNow, an anti-trans blog, Michael Biggs explores Open Society Foundations’ funding of, as he calls it, “The Gender Industry Complex.” Conspiracy theories about George Soros’ participation in progressive advocacy are antisemitic, and they also contribute to violence against Jewish people.

Conservative publication The Washington Times ran a piece on this false claim, with an additional racist meme illustrated to depict Soros with features frequently used to stereotype Jewish people. When the article was shared on Facebook by anti-trans “feminist” page Object! Women Not Sex Objects, commenters pointed out the antisemitism in the piece and throughout the Times’ overall reporting. The page moderators responded: “Money can buy political influence as it always has. Always happy to be corrected and aware that we work with strange allies on feminist issues. Our line is always to stick to the issue in hand because if you look to the background of your allies you would never ally with anyone at all!”

Evidence of antisemitism by anti-trans “feminists” is present throughout its academic history. In 1979, Janice Raymond referred to transgender men as the “’final solution’ of women” in her book The Transsexual Empire, often cited to as the basis for anti-trans “feminism.”  And in 2018, Jen Izaakson erased the history of genocide of transgender people and the destruction of decades of research into transgender health during the Holocaust to discredit people using the term TERF (or trans-exclusionary radical feminist).

By fronting White major progressive donors like George Soros, anti-trans “feminists” erase the transgender people of color who built the trans movement. And the cisgender people of color who stand with their transgender siblings. In early 2019, anti-transgender “feminist blog” Feminist Current held an event at the Vancouver Library during which an activist spoke about her work with the Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Center, who denied membership to a trans woman. In her speech, Lee Lakeman, the volunteer, invoked Kimberlé Crenshaw’s work developing intersectionality. Lakeman said, “Feminism is the politics that calls for and has always called for an egalitarian future, for non-violent methods to get there, for open dialogue and transparent processes, for an end to the hierarchies of race and class as well as sex, for an end to the violence that supports those hierarchies, for egalitarian sex practices and sex education, for intersectionality — but not the garbage version that’s being peddled.”

In fact, Crenshaw herself writes that intersectionality should be used specifically for people living at the intersections of identity. “Intersectional erasures are not exclusive to black women. People of color within LGBTQ movements; girls of color in the fight against the school-to-prison pipeline; women within immigration movements; trans women within feminist movements; and people with disabilities fighting police abuse — all face vulnerabilities that reflect the intersections of racism, sexism, class oppression, transphobia, able-ism and more. Intersectionality has given many advocates a way to frame their circumstances and to fight for their visibility and inclusion.” [emphasis added] By weaponizing Crenshaw’s own work against her specific wishes, Lakeman erased the incredible work that women of color, including Black women like Crenshaw, have done to support transgender people.

Anti-Black racism among anti-trans “feminists” is common and runs the gamut from accusing sex work activists of co-opting language from pro-slavery forces during the Civil War to specifically likening anti-trans “feminism” to the Civil Rights Movement. Rachel Dolezal, in particular, provides anti-trans “feminists” with an opportunity to espouse anti-Black racism. “Why did trans women lead the Women’s March?” asks Jo Bartosch, “It would be like Rachel Dolezal addressing a Black Lives Matter rally.” Feminist Current published an article titled “You can’t ‘feel’ race, but can you ‘feel’ female? On Rachel Dolezal, Caitlyn Jenner, and unspeakable questions.”

At its heart, the racist rhetoric of anti-trans “feminists” denies the humanity of women of color around the world, transgender and cisgender women alike. And as always, anti-trans advocacy will have the deepest impact on those living at the intersections of multiple identities: transgender people with disabilities, low-income transgender people, and transgender people of color, especially Black, Indigenous, and Latinx transgender women. And therein lies the movement’s true racism.

Anti-LGBTQ media outlets peddle myths about autism and trans identity

Support for transgender rights at the 2017 Women’s March. Photo: Ted Eytan/Wikimedia Commons.

The American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds), founded in 2002 in opposition to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) support for adoption by LGBTQ couples, was cited in one of several articles published by right-wing news outlets in late November in apparent concern over transgender people “taking advantage of” and “recruiting” people with autism. Church Militant, the Post Millennial, and the Federalist all published articles or op-eds based in some part on The Daily Mail’s mid-November expose on a teacher, Carol, who claims that students with autism are being “’tricked’ into believing they are the wrong sex”:

I’m now so alarmed by the force of the transgender agenda that I’m not sure how much longer I can go on for, as I can no longer be honest with the students. We are being dictated to by groups who don’t know these kids, to make decisions that are harmful to them. And we are giving children a huge amount of agency to make decisions when what they need are boundaries to make them feel safe and secure. It feels as if we are walking into a nightmare.

A concurrently published article from Spectrum, an online news outlet launched in 2015 to publish objective coverage of autism research, points out there are myriad reasons why people with autism are more likely to identify as LGBTQ including “decreased adherence to social conventions” and “greater forthrightness and honesty.” But the correlations are not important to those peddling in conspiracy theories.

Church Militant, a Steve Bannon-connected traditionalist Catholic blog headed by ultra-conservative Michael Voris, took up the story from the Daily Mail, looking at the narrative through a lens domestic to the United States. “They are just young people with mental health problems who want to be part of a group,” reads the sub-heading. Church Militant goes on to cite Dr. Michelle Cretella, executive director of the American College of Pediatricians, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as a “fringe anti-LGBT hate group that masquerades as the premier U.S. association of pediatricians to push anti-LGBT junk science.”

Dr. Cretella told Church Militant that children with autism are “very aware of being different from their peers and/or isolated by them at a very young age. Consequently, when autistic children are exposed to transgenderism, it has a two-fold appeal. . . . Once they declare a transgender identity, they suddenly have a group of ‘friends’ the likes of which they have never experienced.” Dr. Cretella regularly espouses her anti-transgender views through the American College of Pediatricians and at conservative venues across the country, such as the Family Research Council-run Values Voter Summit.

As she did from the main stage at the Values Voter Summit, Dr. Cretella cited Dr. Lisa Littman’s discredited study on transgender identity among young people to Church Militant. Earlier this year Dr. Littman, who conducts her research at Brown University, published a paper that purported to have discovered a rash of youth transitioning in UK schools. In fact, Dr. Littman didn’t talk to any transgender youth at all—nor did she collect data on health outcomes for youth who are allowed to assert their gender identity. Instead, she interviewed parents who frequent three UK-focused message boards, message boards for parents critical of supporting children’s asserted gender identity. The results of the study were unsurprising: the research describes “clusters” of children asserting a transgender identity, frequently after an increase in internet or social media use. Dr. Littman coined the term “rapid onset gender dysphoria” to describe this phenomenon.

To be clear, “rapid onset gender dysphoria” is not a scientific term. Nor does it describe any phenomenon known to social science or pediatrics. After significant outcry, the report was discredited by Dr. Littman’s own institution Brown University and called under investigation by PLOS ONE, the journal who initially published it. But the research has become part of the rhetoric among those who most vocally oppose transgender equality, include Dr. Cretella and the American College of Pediatricians.

Two more right-wing publications picked up the Daily Mail article. The Post Millennial published an op-ed from a transgender person warning parents against their kids with autism being taught “confusing and yet ‘magical’ ideas regarding gender.” The Federalist also published an op-ed, this time by a queer person who identifies as non-neurotypical. They write: “So I do understand why many who live with the duality of feeling uncomfortable in their own skin would seek to change their skin instead of their mind. That would be a lot easier. Yet I didn’t have that choice.”

Fundraising card used by Anita Bryant, 1977. Courtesy of Stonewall Library & Archives/Wikimedia Commons.

At its heart, accusing transgender people of “recruiting children” has echoes throughout history, including the first religious campaign against gay rights — Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign against Miami-Dade County’s nondiscrimination protections in the 1970s. Bryant and “Save Our Children” claimed that because “homosexuals cannot biologically reproduce children; therefore, they must recruit our children.” The myth of recruitment has been deployed in anti-LGBTQ campaigns ever since, leading to the dismissal of LGBTQ teachers and preventing adoptions.

Accusing transgender people of taking advantage of children with autism heightens the rhetoric and moves the center of the discussion towards the Right, forcing those attacked to defend themselves against absurd allegations. Moving the ball is an effective tactic and it is shared by anti-transgender activists and advocates across the ideological spectrum and across the world, with real consequences for transgender people.

The Right’s “Gender Ideology” Menace Rolls to Africa

CitizenGO Africa recently announced that Nairobi, Kenya would be the first city on the continent to host the so-called #FreeSpeechBus. The bus, infamous for its explicitly anti-transgender messages, will likely roll through Nairobi in conjunction with the World Congress of Families’ regional gathering scheduled to take place on May 15, 2018.

CitizenGO was launched in 2013 as the online petition platform of HazteOir, a right-wing organization based in Madrid, Spain with Catholic roots. The initiative claims to have almost 9 million members, and works to advance an anti-LGBTQ, anti-abortion agenda in Europe, the U.S., and increasingly throughout the Global South. In addition to CitizenGO-initiated petitions, a wide range of right-wing organizations use the platform to promote their own causes, including the World Congress of Families and Americans United for Life.

Since its founding in 2013, CitizenGO has gained its greatest notoriety for its anti-trans “Free Speech Bus,” which toured the U.S. in 2017 emblazoned with the slogan “It’s Biology: Boys are boys … and always will be. Girls are girls … and always will be. You can’t change sex. Respect all.” The American version of the bus was preceded by a similarly styled bus in Madrid, which carried the message, “Boys have penises, girls have vaginas. Don’t let them fool you. If you’re born a man, you’re a man. If you’re a woman, you will continue to be so.” The bus has also made appearances in France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Chile, and Colombia.


CitizenGO Africa recently announced on Facebook that Nairobi, Kenya would be the first city on the continent to host the so-called #FreeSpeechBus.

Though it’s often portrayed as an isolated element of the Christian Right’s standard fare anti-LGBTQ agenda, the #FreeSpeechBus is actually part of a much larger, multi-faceted movement against what the Right has dubbed “gender ideology.” As Gillian Kane recently outlined in The Public Eye, “gender ideology is a right-wing invention that intentionally misrepresents feminist, queer, and gender theory in order to justify discrimination against women and LGBTQ people.” The term was fabricated by the Vatican in the mid-1990s in an effort to paint gender as a newly invented concept that is dangerous and destabilizing to children, families, and society at large, as well as antithetical to science and reason.


In February 2018, HazteOir and CitizenGO hosted the first International Conference on Gender, Sex and Education, featuring a slate of anti-LGBTQ “experts,” including several representatives from American right-wing groups. Glenn Stanton from Focus on the Family argued that “gender theory” is a lie and the idea of a gender spectrum is false. Rubén Navarro, head of the Geneva office of Alliance Defending Freedom, warned of the encroachment of “gender ideology” into international laws and policies. Miriam Ben-Shalom, an American anti-trans lesbian activist linked transgender activists to pedophilia. Ultimately, the event aimed to advance the idea that “gender ideology” is a conspiracy — the latest plot designed by radical homosexual activists to destroy families, contradict biology, erase Biblical gender roles, and persecute Christians.

The irony is that both sides argue that gender is a socially constructed concept. For progressive feminists, LGBTQ activists, and gender theorists, constructs of gender that strictly prescribe roles for men and women are perceived to have been wrongly imposed on individuals who may possess myriad identities and expressions of gender, apart from one’s sex or sexual characteristics. Sources of these impositions include various patriarchal institutions that are understood to have disrupted naturally occurring gender variance and equanimity through systems of violence and domination.

For the Right, “gender theory” is perceived as a contemporary concept aimed at erasing unique and definitive feminine and masculine characteristics that are exclusively tied to one’s biological sex (and limited to male and female). This framework fails to take into account the existence of intersex people, and denies the gender variance that is most often observed in transgender and genderqueer people, but also manifests in a multitude of diverse expressions of gender among cisgender people as well. Ignoring all this, the Right suggests that the acknowledgement of these realities is an LGBTQ conspiracy designed to destroy families and sexualize children. They call it “gender ideology,” and they’re effectively using it to instigate a sort of moral panic that ultimately distracts societies from real structural issues, such as poverty, disease, government corruption, and growing inequalities.

The effectiveness of this strategy was especially evident in voters’ surprising rejection of Colombia’s landmark peace agreement in 2016. On October 2, 2016, Colombians were summoned to vote in a referendum aimed at terminating the long-standing conflict between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The war had spanned more than 50 years, resulting in the deaths of more than 220,000 Colombians and displacing nearly seven million people. But despite strong public support for peace, 50.2 percent voted to oppose the referendum.

Anthropologist Winifred Tate reported that those who opposed the peace agreement circulated pamphlets declaring, “Colombia is in danger! Of falling under the control of a communist dictatorship and the imminent passage of a gender ideology.” Many credit the success of the “no” campaign with their effective mobilization of homophobia and fear of expanded LGBTQ rights by linking their cause to a national debate over new, more progressive gender and sexuality education materials for high schools produced by Colombia’s Ministry of Education.

To the Right, the “gender ideology” menace is rapidly expanding its reach globally, and the CitizenGO bus has become something of a big orange mascot for the movement. But it doesn’t roll without resistance.

In Madrid, a judge banned the bus from traveling through the city on the grounds that it was discriminatory and could provoke hate crimes. In the U.S., counter protestors greeted the bus’s arrival on every stop of its attempted tour. In Bogota, the LGBTQ activists splashed multicolored paint on the vehicle.

Kanyali Mwikya, a program advisor at the Kenya Human Rights Commission, responded to the news of the pending visit of the bus to Nairobi, warning CitizenGO, “Human rights defenders shall not sit quietly as you bring this hate speech bus to Nairobi. Like in every part of the world where this bus of hate has visited, get ready for counter action against you [sic] campaign of disinformation and evil!”

Whether the bus is ultimately stymied or not, though, the Right’s anti-“gender ideology” strategy is already taking hold and will likely continue to develop as one of the key sources of right-wing resistance to gender, sexual, and reproductive rights globally.

#First100Days Crash Course: Week 9

Coinciding with Trump’s first 100 days in Office — a period of time historically used as a benchmark to measure the potential of a new president — PRA will share readings, videos, and tools for organizing to inform our collective resistance based on principles for engaging the regime, defending human rights, and preventing authoritarianism. Daily readings will be posted on our Facebook and Twitter accounts and archived HERE.


Opposition to LGBTQ equality has long been both a fundamental value and useful political tool for many American conservative organizations, especially those associated with the Christian Right. Even as visibility and mainstream acceptance of LGBTQ people grows, homophobia and transphobia continue to serve as key ingredients in the Christian Right’s ongoing “pro-family” campaign, which enforces a Biblically mandated heterosexuality, champions gender essentialism or “complementarity,” and prioritizes procreation.

Featured resources:

Additional Readings:

Media (Click to download):



Engage: Schools in Transition


A guide for parents, students, educators, administrators and other stakeholders are working together to determine the best ways to support transgender students. This guide highlights best practices while offering strategies for building upon and aligning them with each school’s culture.

Check out the guide HERE.

CitizenLink Prepares to “Muscle Up” for [One-Man-One-Woman] Marriage

The new president of one of the most powerful conservative organizations in the country is well-steeped in the Christian Right’s scheme to redefine the meaning of religious freedom into a weapon designed to roll-back LGBTQ rights and attack reproductive justice. And as the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision looms, he’s readying a massive response.

CitizenLink announced last week that after nearly 30 years at the helm, Tom Minnery will be stepping down as president, transitioning leadership of the right-wing political advocacy group to Paul Weber, who previously served as vice president of communications and development for one of the Right’s most prominent legal advocacy groups, the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), from 2000-2013.

Outgoing CitizenLink president Tom Minnery (left) and incoming president Paul Weber (right)

Outgoing CitizenLink president Tom Minnery (left) and incoming president Paul Weber (right)

Founded in 2004, CitizenLink is the public policy arm of Focus on the Family, operating out of the same building and under the same executive leadership team. Its mission is to “equip citizens to make their voices heard on critical social policy issues involving the sanctity of human life, the preservation of religious liberties and the well-being of the family as the building block of society.” Essentially, CitizenLink endeavors to insert—and enforce—a conservative biblical worldview into government and civil society.

Weber, who says he was originally recruited into the conservative movement through New Jersey’s CitizenLink affiliate, the Family Policy Council, is excited to “muscle up” CitizenLink’s work, focusing especially on the development and expansion of the nationwide network of Family Policy Councils.

Similar to the national network of conservative State Policy Network groups, there are currently 38 state-based Family Policy Councils formally associated with CitizenLink. Through these affiliates, CitizenLink works to “advance Christian values in laws, elections and our culture.” In the 2014 midterm elections alone, CitizenLink mobilized a huge nationwide effort targeting 21 state and federal races with an aggressive and well-funded field campaign that included nearly 5 million phone calls, 11,000 door knocks, and 2.3 million mailers.

CitizenLink’s campaign efforts include defunding Planned Parenthood, restricting abortion access, enforcing abstinence-only sex ed, resisting marriage equality efforts, countering attempts to curb global warming, and promoting creationism in schools.

In a recent fundraising appeal, outgoing president Tom Minnery conceded that despite the Right’s valiant efforts to restrict the benefits and privileges of marriage to the one-man-one-woman Christian Right model, the Supreme Court will likely rule in favor of marriage equality when they issue their decision in Obergefell v. Hodges later this month. “We need to be prepared for this devastating setback,” he wrote, going on to say, “Despite the court’s ruling, we must look to the future and get ready for the inevitable battles to come.”

Minnery also recommends looking to the past. In CitizenLink’s Spring 2015 newsletter, he reflected on the success of the anti-choice movement in the 40-plus years since Roe v. Wade. The veteran conservative explains that instead of falling into despair and giving up, anti-choice activists “began chipping away at Roe, by supporting smaller bills that limit abortions in many ways. Today, hundreds of those laws are in place around the country.”

In the last four years alone, over 200 laws restricting abortion access have passed in state legislatures (at least one in every state except Oregon), and more than 300 additional regulations have already been proposed in 45 different states this year.

If the Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality later this month, Minnery warns that what he calls the “radical Left” will next seek to “shut down the free religious expression of millions of pro-family Americans.” By this, he means that Christian business owners won’t be allowed to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation. Bakers, florists, and wedding photographers will, indeed, be expected to accommodate the needs of LGBTQ customers in the same way that they serve their heterosexual clientele.

The strategy to use the progressive value of religious freedom to mask discriminatory laws is largely being authored by the Alliance Defending Freedom—the former workplace of new CitizenLink president Paul Weber—and other Christian Right  groups.  While the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) promoted the progressive values of religious pluralism, respect for all beliefs and non-beliefs, and tolerance, the RFRA bills being proposed and promoted by the Christian Right in state legislatures all over the country are designed to legalize religious authoritarianism—in direct contradiction to the original definition of religious freedom.

The strategy to use the progressive value of religious freedom to mask discriminatory laws is largely being authored by the Alliance Defending Freedom—the former workplace of new CitizenLink president Paul Weber—and other Christian Right groups. While the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) promoted the progressive values of religious pluralism, respect for all beliefs and non-beliefs, and tolerance, the RFRA bills being proposed and promoted by the Christian Right in state legislatures all over the country are designed to legalize religious authoritarianism—in direct contradiction to the original definition of religious freedom.

Though many on the Left may scoff, the narrative that “good, God-fearing Christians” are being persecuted by laws that prevent them from discriminating against LGBTQ people is gaining strength and momentum. CitizenLink has played a key role in the effort to redefine religious liberty and oppress LGBTQ people and women across the country by working to advance more repressive, state-level laws essentially granting licenses to discriminate, all under the same name as the more progressive federal Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA). Simultaneously, through their on-the-ground network of Family Policy Councils, CitizenLink is also fighting legislation that would expand civil rights protections to LGBTQ people, including laws that would prevent employment and/or housing discrimination. The organization was an active part of the RFRA fights in Indiana and Arkansas, and claims credit for the defeat of laws in Idaho and North Dakota that would have provided critical protections to LGBTQ people.

Elliot Mincberg, a senior fellow at People for the American Way, explains, “These [state “religious freedom” bills] are, in part, a component of the far right’s efforts to reframe their decades-long war against every advance in societal acceptance and legal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Americans into a noble effort to protect ‘religious liberty.’”

They are also an echo of the anti-abortion movement’s state-by-state chip away strategy—a nod to the lesson that no defeat is ever final.

Regardless of whether or not the Supreme Court gives same-sex couples the stamp of approval, the Right won’t stop fighting. Paul Weber has already pledged to expand the network of CitizenLink-affiliated Family Policy Councils to all 50 states, and we can anticipate that wherever they are, they’ll be hard at work weakening whatever rights and protections might be gained.

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.

VIDEO: Kuchu Diaspora Alliance Protests Uganda’s LGBT Policies

PRA fellow, and co-founder of SMUG and KDA, Victor Mukasa

PRA fellow and co-founder of SMUG and KDA, Victor Mukasa

PRA’s associate fellow Victor Mukasa, co-founder of both Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and the Kuchu Diaspora Alliance (KDA), was featured on TV 2 Africa’s news program this week.

Gathering outside the Ugandan embassy in Washington D.C., Victor and other members of the KDA protested against Uganda’s pending anti-homosexuality law and the exportation of homophobia by U.S. evangelicals to Africa.

Issue Brief: This Month in LGBTQ Justice


Every Friday, PRA brings you a monthly update on a different social justice issue. This week, we are recapping the last month in LGBTQ Justice.

India Supreme Court  Brings Back Colonial Anti-Sodomy Law
Four years after a ban on “carnal intercourse against the order of nature with man, woman or animal” was overturned by the Delhi High Court, the decision was reversed in India’s Supreme Court. The law in question is a relic of the British colonial penal code from 1860. The law’s odd ambiguity is explained by not wanting togive rise to public discussion on this revolting subject.” Although the re-criminalization of homosexual acts was backed by an uncharacteristically cooperative selection of Hindu, Islamic, and Christian groups, there was a substantial backlash when the ruling was delivered. There have been street protests across the country, a prominent social media campaign, and outspoken celebrities including the writer Vikram Seth.

Australian High Court Overturns Same-Sex Marriage
The Australian High Court has overturned the same-sex marriage legislation in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), ruling it inconsistent with federal law. The ACT law only went into effect five days before the ruling, leaving a five day window in which 27 same-sex couples married only for their marriages to be annulled. Although the ruling invalidates ACT’s strategy of creating a separate marriage status, rather than extending the federal definition of marriage, some see a silver lining in the ruling; the ruling forces the issue to be dealt with at a federal level, preventing an unreliable state-by-state expansion of marriage laws. Nevertheless, for the citizens of ACT, and especially those who had just gotten married, this ruling is disappointing and pushes back the issue of marriage equality in Australia.

North Dakota’s “Clarification” Could Lead to Possible Bigamy Issues
The refusal of some American states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states has resulted in an odd twist, with North Dakota’s Attorney General ‘clarifying’ that individuals previously married to same-sex partners in other states could, without penalty, marry somebody of another sex in North Dakota. Regardless of whether anybody would do so, this brings up thorny legal issues. Because of the lack of federal bigamy laws, North Dakota’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriage would lead to legal conundrums both in filing taxes and the legal consequences of re-entering states that do recognize same-sex marriages.

Marriage Equality Comes to New Mexico
On the 19th of December, New Mexico became the 17th state to legalize same-sex marriage. The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the equal protection clause of the state’s constitution guaranteed the right to marriage to same-sex couples. They also rejected the premise that marriage should be limited to protect childrearing, stating “Procreation has never been a condition of marriage under New Mexico law.” New Mexico’s gender-neutral.

Marriage Equality Comes to Utah
Only a day after New Mexico’s court ruling, on December 20th a federal judge struck down Utah’s constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. This led to festive scenes at the Salt Lake City county clerk’s office, with the unexpected ruling taking many by surprise. Both trial judge Robert Shelby as well as the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Utah’s request to stay the decision, after the state Attorney General’s office apparently forgot to file the request until after hundreds of marriages had already taken place. The Supreme Court of the United States eventually granted the stay, but not until after an estimated 1,360 same-sex couples had already tied the knot. Utah Governor Gary Herbert send out a memo to all state agencies after SCOTUS granted the stay, announcing that while the 1,360 marriages are still legal marriages, the state will not recognize them or grant benefits to the couples until the state’s appeal of the decision to the 10th Circuit (and, presumably, the Supreme Court after that) is complete. The move to in essence invalidate the legally-performed weddings is taking a lot of heat, with arguments that the designation of legal marriages to second-class status only proves the point of why the ruling should stand. In addition, a state lawmaker is proposing a new constitutional amendment guaranteeing that both religions as well as religious people be allowed to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker Calls Discrimination + Anti-Discrimination a “Healthy Balance”
In a television interview, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker opined that Wisconsin’s anti-discrimination law, alongside a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between “one man and one woman” constitute a “healthy balance.” A healthy balance, that is “between equality and state-sponsored discrimination.”

Colorado Air Force Academy Hires Ex-Gay Therapist
The US Air Force Academy in Colorado has hired Dr. Mike Rosebush to run the “character and leadership coaching program.” Rosebush is a former vice president of Focus on the Family, a previous director of a leading ex-gay consulting group, and was president of his own counselling service, “Coaching Confidant,” offering to ‘cure’ men of homosexuality. The tagline, “Advancing Christian Men Towards Real Life” demonstrates his views towards gay men. Though the Air Force maintains that Rosebush does not coach cadets directly, he has still designed their entire character and leadership program. This builds on a history of discrimination in the military, and one closeted gay Academy cadet’s statement that “Being LGBT here is like not being an “all in” Christian. You’re finished.”

Designated ‘Protest Zones’ for Sochi Olympics
Special protest zones will be created by the Russian government during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, “for people who want to demonstrate against something.” The same kind of protest zones were in place for the recent Olympics in Beijing and Vancouver, but not only are some predicting protest zones will be quite a distance from the sporting venues, but that the Chinese precedent showed these zones to be a “convenient means for China to identify and persecute dissidents,” and that protesters might be detained anyway, as was the case in China.

U.S. President Won’t Attend Sochi Olympics, Sends LGBTQ Athletes
The United States delegation for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi is going to include two gay athletes, former world champion tennis player Billie Jean King, and ice hockey star Caitlin Cahow. President Obama and all former-presidents will also not be in attendance, as they join a number of other world leaders including the French and German presidents not attending the games in protest of Russia’s anti-LGBTQ laws.

Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill Passed by Parliament
“The Anti-Homosexuality  Bill” was passed by Uganda’s parliament on December 20th, four years after the bill was introduced by MP David Bahati. This version of the bill includes punishments up to lifetime imprisonment for consensual same-sex acts, criminalizes the ‘promotion’ of homosexuality, and imprisonment of up to five years for not informing authorities of “renting an apartment to an LGBT person.” As PRA has documented, US evangelicals, including Scott Lively, Lou Engle, and Rick Warren, have been instrumental in exporting anti-gay hate to Uganda. In order for the bill to become law, the president still needs to sign it. There is still the possibility that the President would delay the Bill, or suggestions of a lack of quorum hindering the bill, but it seems to have passed its highest hurdle towards being signed into law. PRA executive director Tarso Luís Ramos responded to the passage of the bill, saying “This human rights crisis was made here in the United States … we ask all Americans of conscience to demand accountability from those U.S. conservatives who planned and encouraged these human rights violations and now hide behind the African pastors and politicians who are their willing partners in persecuting people because of who they love.”

Croatia Votes to Define Marriage Between a Man and a Woman
With the lowest turnout in Croatian electoral history, a Croatian referendum to amend the constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman succeeded, with 66% of the vote, bringing Croatia in line with many of its Eastern European Neighbors including Montenegro and Serbia. However, the Prime Minister stated that the vote was “sad and pointless,” also promising to promptly pass civil partnership laws giving “all couples, regardless of sex orientation, the same rights.”