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Newsweek: Is Uganda’s Anti-Gay Ferver Spreading?

Jim Burroway

December 18th, 2009

[Update: This post has been updated to include a brief statement MP David Bahati made to NPR.]

Katie Paul pulls the microscope off of Uganda and looks at the climate for LGBT citizens throughout Africa. It doesn’t look good. Much of the continent is rife with homophobia. Last year, Burundi criminalized homosexuality for the first time, with penalties of up to two years in prison. In Senegal, we’ve seen people arrested for homosexuality (many of them LGBT advocates). The president of Gambia threatened to cut off the heads of all gay people in his country. And Nigeria has its own draconian bill languishing in its legislature that ostensibly outlaws same sex marriage, but goes much further by banning any gay people from living together and all advocacy on behalf of LGBT people. Meanwhile, Rwanda, which lies on Uganda’s southwest border, is currently debating a bill to criminalize homosexuality with five to ten year’s imprisonment, along with all advocacy and counseling of LGBT people. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission says that a vote may occur in Rwanda’s lower House sometime this week.

But despite all that, some have suggested that if the Anti-Homosexuality Bill becomes law, Uganda will represent the first domino to fall. One of those suggesting this is none other than Ugandan MP David Bahati, the prime sponsor of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. He told NPR:

“Once this bill passes, you’re going to see country by country learning from this, continent by continent. It’s a crucial time and a crucial bill, not only in Uganda but in the world.”

But as Paul points out, pointing to Uganda as the first domino as some have done is, as she puts it, “a tough sell”:

While the historical origins of anti-gay legislation are debatable, antipathy to homosexuality is by now a home-grown phenomenon throughout most of Africa. ABC’s Dana Hughes, writing from Nairobi, points out that such opinions on homosexuality are already widespread on the continet. “While American evangelicals are being examined for their role in the origins of the bill in Uganda,” she writes, “East Africa, and for that matter Africa as a whole, is decidedly, virulently against homosexuality.” In total, 37 countries in Africa have laws on the books criminalizing same-sex relations.

We’ve been on this story every since we first noticed that three American anti-gay activists were about to put on an anti-gay conference in Kampala. We did not believe and we have never suggested, as some have charged in probably the flimsiest strawman ever erected, that conditions weren’t already ripe for an anti-gay pogrom even without the meddling of three Americans who presented themselves as “experts” on homosexuality. We knew very well the conditions that already existed in that country, and that was the subject of the very second post we put up in the series.

We took notice and followed this story through the present day, and we’ll continue to follow it because Uganda has a very violent history. That violence in recent years has been directed toward that country’s reviled LGBT community. And now Ugandan leaders aim to take its violent legacy and codify it into law, turning LGBT people into candidates for the noose and a nation into an army of informers.

No, that conference didn’t start this fire, not by a longshot. The fire was already burning, but the conference was the napalm that burst the fire into the conflagration that we see today. And Uganda is hardly ground zero in Africa’s war against LGBT people. It’s just where the spotlight happens to shine at the moment. And with Ugandans’ extremely close geographical, cultural, and religious ties to Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya, these events bear very close scrutiny.

Click here to see BTB’s complete coverage of recent anti-gay developments in Uganda.

Comments

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Benjamin
December 18th, 2009 | LINK

It would be awesome (if this were only possible) to see Alexander the Great & his warrior lover Hephaeistian lead their vast armies and roll over Uganda like a roaring fire consuming everything in its path. I’m sick and tired of this. Gay people need to mobilize and fight this even if they have to take up arms. This is not only treasonous to International Law but no free nation should ever tolerate this and all free nations should boycott, sanction and threaten to cut off all connection with this insane country and any other who criminalizes who people are.

Timothy Kincaid
December 18th, 2009 | LINK

As Jim notes above, it was not just the presentation of an anti-gay conference that concerned us. Those happen regularly. Rather, it was the environment in that the conference was being presented.

Callously presenting anti-gay rhetoric without knowing your audience is irresponsible. Presenting such rhetoric when you have been warned is reprehensible.

I have not yet forgiven the men who went to Uganda and threw fuel on the fire. But, then again, they haven’t asked for forgiveness.

Timothy (TRiG)
December 18th, 2009 | LINK

It’s rather amazing to think that the first country in the world to write nondiscrimination laws into its constitution is on the same continent. (Not that violence is unknown in South Africa, of course; “corrective” rape of lesbians is frighteningly common there.)

TRiG.

Richard Rush
December 18th, 2009 | LINK

Do we know if these men from the US were paid for attending the meeting in Uganda? And, if not, who paid their travel expenses? Or did the men or their organizations view it as a marketing opportunity and therefore cover the expenses themselves? And would the travel expenses be tax deductible?

I think it’s likely these men were salivating at the potential business opportunities, in not only Uganda, but in most of Africa. After all, their business in the US is in the slow process of drying up. These men’s careers and incomes depend on exploiting societies that overwhelming loath homosexuals plus the resulting self-loathing homosexuals.

Timothy Kincaid
December 18th, 2009 | LINK

Richard,

I think the participants viewed it as part of their ministry, sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ. As such, expenses probably were out of their ministry’s regular operating expenses.

I think it is unwise to view such efforts purely in a business or profit-making perspective. Zeal and ideological certainty are probably more of a motivation than profit. And it is to our own detriment that we discount these emotional drives.

Richard Rush
December 18th, 2009 | LINK

Timothy, I can see where my comment seemed as though I was ONLY seeing a business operation, but I didn’t mean to discount the zeal and ideological certainty, as I realize that is the primary driver for these people. But it may be easy to forget that they require the flow of money to function. Many people have a burning passion for their work, but if it cannot generate enough income, they will need to look elsewhere.

Alex
December 19th, 2009 | LINK

The idea that Rwanda might criminalize homosexuality is denied today.

http://www.newtimes.co.rw/index.php?issue=14114&article=23893

KIGALI – The Minister of Justice Tharcisse Karugarama has condemned and refuted reports that government intends to criminalize homosexual acts saying that sexual orientation is a private matter not a state business.

His reaction comes after international organizations, including rights groups and gay communities across the world raised an alarm in several reports accusing the government of trying to consider a law against homosexuality.

“The government I serve and speak for on certain issues cannot and will not in any way criminalize homosexuality; sexual orientation is a private matter and each individual has his or her own orientation – - this is not a State matter at all,” said Karugarama.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), and Rwanda’s Horizon Community Association (HOCA), recently issued statements demanding that that the Rwandan Parliament withdraws article 217 of the penal code regarding homosexuality.

The Minister accused the ‘groups for either acting in total ignorance or intentionally presenting wrong facts for their own political motives.’

“They allege that the law was to be passed in Parliament on December 16, but sincerely there was nothing like that in the parliament that day.”

He clearly stated that; “these people should distinguish between issues debated by private parties and concrete proposals from the government.”

He hastened to add that the government has held a meeting with its development partners on this particular issue and told them their position ‘which is that the government has no intentions whatsoever to criminalize homosexuality.

Ends

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