Friday, May 21, 2010

 

Anti-gay laws in Africa are product of American religious exports, say activists




After enduring decades of state torture and gross human rights abuse,minorities in Uganda are the next target

When he arrived at Kampala’s Hotel Triangle for a three-day conference, the Rev Kapya Kaoma knew that he would not like what he heard.

The clue was in the event’s title — “Exposing the truth behind homosexuality and the homosexual agenda” — and in the line-up of guest speakers arranged by Stephen Langa, head of the Ugandan-based Family Life Network (FLN), and an outspoken advocate for the criminalisation of homosexuality in Uganda.

Given top billing at the event hosted by the FLN was Scott Lively, president of Abiding Truth Ministries, an American conservative Christian group from California, and a Holocaust revisionist whose controversial book The Pink Swastika names homosexuals as “the true inventors of Nazism and the guiding force behind many Nazi atrocities.”

Weeks after the Kampala conference in March last year — which followed a meeting between the speakers and members of the Ugandan Parliament — a clause appeared in the country’s draft Anti-Homosexuality Bill recommending life imprisonment for certain homosexual “crimes” or, for “serial offenders”, the death sentence.
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To Mr Kaoma, an Anglican priest from Zambia who is project director of Political Research Associates — a Massachusetts-based progressive think-tank — it was further evidence of how America’s Christian Right has stoked intolerance to homosexuality in Africa.

After a 16-month investigation, during which he interviewed scores of witnesses in Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria, Mr Kaoma concluded that Africa’s anti-gay crackdowns are, at least in part, “made in the USA”.

“Through their extensive communications networks in Africa, social welfare projects, Bible schools and educational materials, US religious conservatives warn of the dangers of homosexuals, and present themselves as the true representatives of US evangelicalism,” he wrote in Globalising the Culture Wars: US Conservatives, African Churches and Homophobia, a damning report on the issue.

He told The Times: “We are not dismissing the fact that some of the money they send for Africa is going to good use. What we are concerned about is that the people who receive it are being trained in a conservative ideology. It will be like, ‘If I give you this, you must dance to my tune’.”

The results are becoming clear. In Malawi, where this week an openly gay couple were sentenced to 14 years in prison with hard labour, and across the continent, gays and lesbians face lives of increasing dread. It is hard to underplay the depth of anti-gay sentiment expressed in Africa. “Everyone is looking over their shoulders,” said Mwangi, a gay man from Nairobi, who did not want his family name published. “People don’t even want to come to this bar now because they know it has a reputation as a meeting place for gays. Before, no one gave a damn. Everyone came here, prostitutes, straights, the lot,” he said.

It wasn’t always like this. A decade ago Uganda seemed at the forefront of a liberal renaissance sweeping Africa. Then, Angela, a Ugandan transvestite, led a dance troupe that regularly played to packed audiences. Now she fears for her life. “This is the worst it has ever been; they say we are evil and blame us for everything,” she said.

A large tear trickled down her cheek and splattered on the concrete floor of her modest home, its walls plastered with photographs of her in dancing costumes — souvenirs of happier days. “It is bad, my brother, it is bad,” she whispered. “They want to kill us.”

Fomenting this hatred are politicians. When President Mugabe of Zimbabwe famously proclaimed that “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Adam”, most people in Africa nodded in agreement — along with preachers like Mr Lively.“Homosexuality is ... equivalent to paedophilia, sadomasochism, bestiality and many other forms of deviant behaviour,” he told his audience in Kampala.

Referring to gay people as sinners who pose a “danger” to society and represent an “evil institution” hell-bent on seizing power, he added: “Nobody has been able to stop them so far. I’m hoping Uganda can.”

Mr Lively said he had subsequently sent a letter to the Ugandan MP promoting the proposed anti-homosexual legislation “saying that the death penalty is overly harsh”. But he added: “I think there’s far, far, far greater violence against Christians around the world today than there is against homosexuals, and for some reason that doesn’t make the news. Just the fact that someone is a victim of that kind of activity doesn’t validate what the victims do . ... [The] gay agenda is to re-create society on a different moral foundation that brings harm to everyone”.

Also on the speakers’ list at the conference were Don Schmierer of Exodus International — an organisation that argues that same-sex attraction can be “cured” — and Caleb Lee Brundidge, a counsellor who claims that he was healed of his homosexuality and promotes others to do the same through “healing seminars”.

Richard Cohen, founder of the International Healing Foundation — which seeks to help people with “unwanted same-sex attraction” through counselling — was behind the decision to despatch Mr Brundidge to the conference, but now he says that they were “blindsided”.

“The purpose of the conference, as we understood it, was to inform people about the causes and potential healing of unwanted same-sex attraction. We had absolutely no idea that the teachings at the conference would be misused to contribute in any way to the persecution and criminalisation of homosexuals ... If we had had any inkling of such an outcome, we never would have considered participating,” he wrote to President Museveni.

He added in an interview with The Times: “We found this Bill reprehensible. As we are both former homosexuals, under such a Bill, we could have been incarcerated for life ... It came out of left field, and [my reaction] was ‘What . . . ?’ ”

Ugandan human rights advocates say that, informed or not, the American evangelists who attended the conference took part in a dangerous process of human rights erosion.

“Just as the United States and other northern societies routinely dump our outlawed or expired chemicals, pharmaceuticals, machinery, and cultural detritus on African and other Third World countries, we now export a political discourse and public policies our own society has discarded as outdated and dangerous,” said Tarso Luis Ramos, executive director of Political Research Associates.

Mr Kaoma said: “It’s a political agenda being driven by so-called evangelism in the US and being pushed on to Africa.

“Unless the world moves fast, we should expect a lot of killings of gays, not by state sanction but through mob violence. This will continue unless the international community can start talking about gay and lesbians having human rights that need to be protected and defended.”

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