Myths and Consequences: The True Impact of the Kampala Anti-Gay Conference
May 26th, 2010
One criticism of the coverage of the three American Evangelists who held their anti-gay Kampala Conference in March 2009 and its aftermath is over the inference that without the conference, we wouldn’t be in this mess today. Critics of our coverage have charged that we have blamed Uganda’s rampant homophobia on these American activists — a position we have never held. Holocaust revisionist Scott Lively, one of the principal American speakers who delivered his “nuclear bomb” at that notorious conference has even played the race card: “It’s racist to suggest that Africans have no will of their own to produce public policy to suit their own values.”
While we do reject the notion that homophobia in Uganda is an American import, I think it is proper nevertheless to hold the three Americans — Lively, Exodus International board member Don Schmierer, and the International Healing Foundation’s Caleb Brundidge — accountable for the conference and its aftermath. As many independent observers have noticed, this particular conference, with the unwieldy title “Exposing the truth behind homosexuality and the homosexual agenda,” turned out to be — as I correctly feared when I first learned about it a week before it took place — the prime catalyst for the massive convulsion of anti-gay hysteria which followed and ultimately led to the tabling of the draconian Anti-Homosexuality Bill before Parliament.
Bishop Christopher Senyonjo is a rare straight allies for LGBT people in Uganda, and he’s paid a very heavy price for his support. Last Friday, I asked him whether the link between the conference and the events following were overstated:
Jim Burroway: Over here in the US, we often get an unclear, distorted view of what’s happening in Uganda. But when we look, we find that there have been a lot of outing campaigns in the 2006, 2007. To put things in perspective, did that conference really make things worse for LGBT people in Uganda? Or was it just that the rest of us in the Western world, we noticed it because we hadn’t been paying attention before? Did it really make things worse?
Bishop Senyonjo: What we saw coming to the office, it made things worse. Because soon after that conference, we saw the introduction of the bill, you know what I mean? Because I think it was October something when Bahati came out with that bill, And we knew, I knew, different ones were at that conference that before the people come to speak to us, Lively and his company, they had also met with some members of Parliament and talked with them, even I think with the Minister of Integrity. So they had met with him and of course they spoke with someone in power behind them. Right? And not long after, this bill comes up.
Burroway: So, some of the people that you counsel, have they talked about their fears about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill?
Senyonjo: Oh yeah.
Burroway: Do you have any particular examples you can share without breaking anybody’s confidentiality?
Senyonjo: Many, many are afraid, and they have been coming and talking to me about it. And they are afraid and would like to run out of the country. And that is something very difficult. They don’t know how they can live in Uganda like that because their life will be in great danger, because they feel they cannot change what they are. And because many are losing their employment, we are trying to see that we can have some place where people can have what they call self-employment in a certain way so that they may not live a destitute kind of life. We’re trying to do what we can, to have some possible room where you can have people, even if for a short time in a transition to allow them to see where they are going. Some people would need some shelter for some time, they could need transit to get to work…
Burroway: Because a lot of them loose their family, too, is that correct?
Senyonjo: Oh yeah. That’s true. … so it is not easy. There is real fear of what is going to happen if this bill passed. And that is why many of us feel everything possible should be done to reject this bill.
Bishop Senyonjo was an eyewitness to all three days of the three-day conference, so I pressed him to talk more about Lively’s talk –particularly Lively’s assertion that homosexuality and Nazism are inextricably linked, and his blaming the Rwandan genocide on gays — but he was reluctant to touch those topics. “It creates a lot of unnecessary fears,” he said. “It does, and we may probably not want to repeat those.” Besides, he felt that those who attended the conference didn’t place much weight to those two points, which surprised me because I thought that those were the most incendiary parts of the entire conference.
Instead, it turns out that the centerpiece message that came out of the conference was Lively’s, Brundidge’s and Scmierer’s reinforcement of the myth that gays recruit school children through child sexual abuse. That was the message which struck a particular chord in Uganda. Bishop Senyonjo concurred:
Burroway: One of the things that I keep reading in the newspapers in Uganda that are on the Internet is that there’s a widespread belief that gay people are recruiting children in the schools, and then I heard basically Scott Lively say the same thing at his conference. Do you think that his talk helped confirm some of those fears that people have?
Senyonjo: Yeah. In fact, even myself, I was at one time accused that I was going to schools and trying to recruit, as it were, people into homosexuality, which is actually blackmail. And you can see, what are the intentions of these people to do this? …. People who will say this, they have very evil intentions which I don’t understand. Because I don’t go to schools to recruit young people. In each …. People develop into what they are, they know themselves whatever they are, what kind of sexual orientation they are. They are not being recruited into it.
Buroway: I know. I mean nobody recruited me.
Senyonjo: [Laughs] That’s what I’m saying there’s a lot of work we have to do in education. They threaten the parents, they say that people are going to schools trying to recruit their children into being gay or what? This is not true, you know?
Scott Lively’s philosophies have been deeply internalized here among those who are proponents of the law, and for people who are listening to these public dialogues on homosexuality, they’re hearing Scott Lively’s words reiterated by Ugandan Evangelicals and others who are proponents of the bill. And they believe it to be Gospel. They believe it to be scientific fact, what they’re listening to.
The Vanguard episode, “Missionaries of Hate,” which premieres tonight on Current TV, further confirms the critical role that March 5-7 conference played in propelling this myth as “scientific fact.” Here is one exchange between Pepe Onziema of Sexual Minorities Uganda and Peabody-award winning reporter Mariana van Zeller:
Pepe Onziema: (SMUG) The conference basically introduced the idea that homosexuals, their agenda is to recruit children into homosexuality.
van Zeller: So before this conference this concept didn’t really exist in Uganda?
The truth is, despite Pepe’s recollection, this allegation didn’t originate with the conference. I’ve seen these allegations in Uganda media long before the conference took place. But Pepe’s faulty memory reinforces what NPR’s Tomkins reported, that because those prior suspicions are now regarded as “scientific fact,” the March 5-7 conference has now been thoroughly associated with being the origin of the charge. Where before, the myth was passed on as rumor, this conference led by three American “experts” elevated this rumor to “fact.” Human rights advocate Julius Kaggwa told van Zeller confirms, “The theme of this conference was the gay agenda and the gay agenda was that there is a massive recruitment of school children into homosexuality.” He added:
There is a culture of fear among gay people and among non-gay people. I mean the non-gay people are fearing that the gay people are invading our culture and want to recruit children into this thing. The gay people are scared because there’s a massive onset of hatred, if you look like you’re gay then you might be arrested, you might get mob justice, you might just get assaulted. So there is generally fear on every front.
And to match what Bishop Senyonjo told me about his clients’ fears in the conference’s aftermath, van Zeller followed the story of “Long Jones,” a gay man who was arrested by police following the conference. Because of the conference, he said, “people became more out and spying and mentioning others.”
As we noted yesterday, van Zeller talked to Scott Lively, who admitted that he knew that Ugandan lawmakers were considering new legislation to “strengthen” their already draconian anti-homosexuality law (life imprisonment is already the current penalty, depending on how it is prosecuted). And as we have reported multiple times, the three Americans also met with Ugandan members of Parliament as part of their tour in March, 2009. Van Zeller also spoke with MP David Bahati, who introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into Parliament. She asked him why he wrote the bill. His response:
I did that for the sake of protecting our children. Here in Uganda we have a problem of people promoting homosexuality, especially using money and materials to recruit young people.
And we know exactly where he got his “facts” from.