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International Uproar over Uganda Anti-Gay Bill, Study Finds American Evangelicals Encouraging Homophobia

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Proposed anti-gay legislation in Uganda has sparked international uproar. Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, but the new bill would impose much harsher punishments including life imprisonment and even the death penalty for some homosexual acts. We speak with a leading Ugandan gay rights organizer and a Zambian priest who has documented the role of American evangelicals in fostering homophobia in Uganda. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to the East African nation of Uganda and the international uproar over a proposed anti-gay legislation. Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda, but the new bill would impose much harsher punishments, including life imprisonment and even the death penalty for some homosexual acts. It would also require people to report every LGBT individual they know or face imprisonment.

The proposed bill has been condemned by activists and politicians around the world. And earlier this month campaigners gave the Ugandan parliament an online petition against the bill signed by some 450,000 people.

Speaking at the Fellowship Foundation’s National Prayer Breakfast last month, both President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out against the bill.

    SECRETARY OF STATE HILLARY CLINTON: I recently called President Museveni, whom I have known through the Prayer Breakfast, and expressed the strongest concerns about a law being considered in the Parliament of Uganda.

    PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are, whether it’s here in the United States or, as Hillary mentioned, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, the author of the bill President Obama called “odious” is Ugandan lawmaker David Bahati, who organizes the Uganda National Prayer Breakfast and has well-documented ties to the far-right evangelical movement here in the United States.

Last year, Political Research Associates published an exposé on the complicity of conservative American religious forces in encouraging homophobia in Uganda. The report’s called “Globalizing the Culture Wars: US Conservatives, African Churches, and Homophobia.” We’re joined now in Boston by the author of the report, Reverend Kapya Kaoma. He’s an Anglican priest from Zambia. Last year he attended an anti-gay conference held in the Ugandan capital of Kampala and documented the role of American evangelicals in fostering homophobia.

Also joining us from Boston, Frank Mugisha, he’s the spokesperson for Uganda’s leading LGBT rights organization, Sexual Minorities Uganda. He’s here in the US on a speaking tour.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let us begin with Frank Mugisha. Tell us what’s happening now in Uganda, what is the state of this bill, and what exactly it would mean.

FRANK MUGISHA: Thank you so much.

Right now the Ugandan community is very tense, the LGBT community. There’s a lot of hostility targeting the grassroots people. There’s a lot of homophobia that has been increased because of ongoing demonstrations around the country. These demonstrations are done by religious groups.

At this moment, legislators have not — they have not gone back to Parliament to discuss this bill, for another time, because of the international criticism it has received. There has been a lot of pressure from human rights groups all over the world. Different leaders all over the world have condemned this anti-homosexuality bill and have asked the Ugandan government to totally withdraw it. We’ve worked with activists all over the world and within the country, in Uganda. My organization, Sexual Minorities Uganda, has been pushing so much members of Parliament in my country and also asking the communities in Uganda to try and stop this legislation.

But again, because of religious groups going around the country demonstrating and calling upon the Ugandan nation to try and ask Parliament to push this law very fast and pass it, the homophobia has greatly increased in Uganda. A lot of LGBT people are suffering. We’ve got to get people out of prison almost every day. We’ve got to help people who are being thrown out of homes because of this homophobia that has been increased because of the religious groups that have gone around the country calling for this law to be enacted immediately.

Thank you.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Reverend Kapya Kaoma, you have been documenting the role of US right-wing groups and evangelical groups over in Uganda. Could you talk about what you found, the conferences that have been held there, and especially about Mr. [Scott] Lively and The Pink Swastika, the book that he’s written?

REV. KAPYA KAOMA: Thank you very much.

The research was sanctioned by Political Research Associates, and we were trying to understand the relationship between American conservatives and African religious leaders and their impact on American gay and — gay and lesbian kind of politics in mainline churches. But the research, when we went to Africa, we realized that the same kind of key players in American politics are having a role in African anti-gay politics.

And I was in Uganda the time when Scott Lively of Abiding Truth Ministries was holding this conference, which was then a seminar exposing their anti-homosexual seminar agenda. And what it did is that it told Ugandans that this international gay movement will take over the world, it has managed to take over the United States government, it has taken over the UN, it has taken over the country of Brazil. And now, in Brazil for instance, people who are not — who are opposed to gays and lesbians, they are being forced out of their country. And if Uganda does not stop them, then they will do the same thing, because they are now —- their new target is Uganda. So Lively preached a lot of hatred against the LGBT persons.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the forces, Reverend Kapya Kaoma, in the United States that are supporting the anti-gay forces in Africa, in Uganda?

REV. KAPYA KAOMA: Currently, the forces that are supporting the bill in Uganda have all distanced themselves. For instance, we have Scott Lively saying the bill goes too far. Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback in California has also said, no, he denounces the bill. The American conservative churches, which have broken away from the Episcopal Church, are saying they are no longer part of the bill. There is no American conservative who is prepared to say that they are for this bill.

But before this bill was proposed, they were the ones who were, in fact, in the forefront preaching and using homophobia as an organizing tool. Pastor Warren was in Africa doing his so-called purpose-driven project. He has purpose-driven projects in Nigeria. He has a purpose-driven project in Rwanda. He has the same project in Uganda. And ironically, all these countries have been shamed. They have new laws against homosexuality. His friends are Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria. We have Orombi, Henry Orombi of Uganda. These are the very people who are advocating for anti-gay laws in their countries. So you can see that they distance themselves now because the fire is burning. But their friends in Africa are the same people who are for this bill.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Reverend Kaoma -—

REV. KAPYA KAOMA: And the other thing I have to point out to you is that —-


REV. KAPYA KAOMA: We have a group of Americans, like the Institute on Religion and Democracy, headed by Mark Tooley currently, who is their president. This is a group which has used homophobia as an organizing tool in Africa. It has misrepresented or taken the American politics of gays and lesbians in this country and used it as a reason for them to get Africans on their side. And unfortunately, when the fire now is burning against LGBTI persons in Africa, these groups are silent about this bill. So we need to hold these groups accountable.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Reverend Kaoma, you attended the now-infamous anti-gay conference in Kampala last year. I’d like to play a tape of -— a clip from one of the Americans who spoke at that conference. This is Scott Lively, whom we’ve been mentioning, a prominent anti-gay conservative Christian activist.

    SCOTT LIVELY: The gay movement is an evil institution that’s goal — the goal and the aim of it is to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity, in which there’s no restrictions on sexual conduct, except the principle of mutual choice.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Scott Lively. In the report that you have done, Reverend Kapya Kaoma, you say in the United States the renewal groups are the problem in the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church USA, the Presbyterian Church USA, US conservative evangelicals and the Institute on Religion and Democracy, the neoconservative think tank that for decades has sought to undermine Protestant denominations’ tradition of progressive social justice work. Are you having members of these churches supporting your work — and I wanted to ask Frank Mugisha that question, as well — from these very churches that are opposing those within these church that are working towards this anti-gay legislation?

REV. KAPYA KAOMA: I must say that we had a advisory board from some of these churches, like the Episcopal Church, the Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church, and the role they played is just to allow us understand the politics of — the anti-gay politics in their churches. As to work with them directly on this bill, we know that their churches have sent statements opposing the bill in Uganda. The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in America has sent a statement condemning the bill. The same thing has happened from other groups. But we don’t necessarily work with them directly. What we are trying to do is to let them know that these groups of the renewal movements are doing a lot of harm outside the world using the gay politics, and what they should do is to come up with a strategy of countering this, because if they don’t counter it, then the people in Africa are going to suffer the consequences.

AMY GOODMAN: Frank Mugisha —-


AMY GOODMAN: —- your response? And can you talk about where you’re traveling in the United States, as you are a spokesperson for Sexual Minorities, a group called Sexual Minorities Uganda?

FRANK MUGISHA: Thank you so much.

My take on the support is that, of course, there are some religious groups that have come out and condemned this bill. But I’ll give you a small background of my activism in Uganda. My activism comes in because I’m a gay person in Uganda. Because of the hostility we’ve gone through, because of the homophobia we faced in Uganda, we find ourselves doing this kind of work. But we don’t have the research. We don’t have the kind of support that the people like — people like who fight homosexuality in Uganda have. People like Pastor Martin Ssempa, they have PhDs. They have strong supporters who even come down and support them from the grassroots. But in Uganda, for us, the research like the Political Research Associates did, this was a tool that was one of its kind that we’ve started using at this moment. And we would like such kind of support to continue happening for us. And then talking about the religious groups that support us in Uganda, people who are progressive and liberal to homosexuality in my country, if they come out and support us, then they are going to be labeled homosexuals themselves, which becomes kind of dangerous for them and their families, because Uganda is very homophobic. So they come out and support, and then they tend to shy away again. We’ve got people who have supported us and have been labeled homosexuals. So this kind of environment gives us very little support. That’s why we call our [inaudible] —

AMY GOODMAN: Frank Mugisha, we’re going to have to leave it there, and I thank you for being with us. The show is ending. Frank Mugisha, spokesperson for Sexual Minorities Uganda, and Reverend Kapya Kaoma with the Political Research Associates.

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