Uganda: An Overview of How White American Evangelicals and Enriched Ugandan Politicians Target Lesbians and Gays


American taxpayers have grown increasingly wary and weary of dumping billions of dollars annually into countries that do not honor the separation of religion and state and which provide little sunlight on how much of those billions are spent. Egypt’s recently fallen dictator Hosni Mubarak, exorbitantly funded by the US since the Reagan Era, was known for antigay horrors justified by the Koran. Israel chronically disgusts human rights organizations with military and internment policies that are justified by specific interpretations of Jewish history and identity.

Conservative Islamic legacies and rigidity permeate the two countries the US has poured billions into over the past decade under both Bush and Obama administrations. Constitutional protections against women, children, and gays are still lacking in Iraq. In Afghan tribalism still reigns with misogynistic, child-battering, and homophobic iron fists.

Hence, some could hastily conclude that Christian countries have better human rights records than those run by Jews and Muslims. But not so fast.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the reign of terror suffered by gays and lesbians in Uganda in recent years and simply dismissed it as either hyperbolic or as a typical example of a poor country sliding backward.

However, as is often the case in the Third World, there is a complicit Western component. In this case it goes back to Ronald Reagan’s White House, where President Yoweri Museveni was warmly greeted by “the gipper” and began establishing ties with Christian Right millionaires.  Musevini has been Uganda’s President since 1986.  Jeff Sharlet, contributing editor to Harpers, has assiduously researched the influential financial, social, and political ties of Christian Right wealth. He says Museveni is known to what he calls The Fellowship as “their key man in Africa.” (Sharlet’s book The Family is a scupulously detailed inside look at The Fellowship’s extraordinary financial clout and its network of C Street politicians. Sharlet and Pulitzer Prize-winner Christopher Hedges’s years of reportage and analysis for Harpers contains some of the sharpest insight on the Christian Right, post-Reagan.)

However, it wasn’t until 2003 when the US evangelical/Uganda connection struck its mother lode. Recall then how President George W. Bush shrewdly pulled the rug from under his detractors when he announced that he would send 15 billion dollars from 2003 to 2008 for AIDS funding in the form of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Tens of billions still fund and will be funding PEPFAR.

Two Christian Right figures assisted Bush. (1) His Department of State’s Global AIDS co-ordinator, Randall Tobias, pivotal in launching the program, was also known as the “global AIDS czar.” He resigned in 2007 after it was revealed he regularly sought services through the suspiciously late D.C. Madam, whose most talked about client was Senator David “Diaper Boy” Vitter (R-LA). However, as a political figure, Tobias was adamantly anti-prostitution and said that condoms had not been effective in thwarting HIV/AIDS. (2) Claude Allen, Bush’s chief domestic policy advisor, also active with PEPFAR, resigned in 2006 because of felony theft at a Maryland Target store.

In 2005 California pastor Rick Warren capitalized on PEPFAR’s gravy train when he introduced his global AIDS initiative at his Saddleback Mega-church along with Ugandan pastor Martin Ssempa, a close friend of Uganda’s “born again” First Lady Janet Museveni. Drama Queen Ssempa publicly burned condoms in Jesus’s name, a crude theatric that surely scored him points with Bush’s pro-abstinence crowd. He was also named special representative for the First Lady’s Task Force on AIDS in Uganda to the tune of a $40,000 PEPFAR-funded salary. Ssempa and the First Lady’s relationship could be compared to Rasputin and Czarina Alexandra.

In 2005 billboards supporting condom use in the capitol, Kampala (Minneapolis’s sister city) were replaced with ones supporting abstinence. The following year it was reported to the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto that Uganda’s AIDS cases number had risen. (The abstinence approach to preventing HIV has been long discredited.)  In 2007 Ssempa shifted into full throttle with a Kampala march that peddled gay marriage fears and called for the arrests of “homos.” Ssempa’s online campaign to expose known gay people led to the arrest of gay activists by the Museveni administration, whose police forces not only did and have not tracked hate crimes against gays and lesbians, but which is also said to have been involved in torture, beatings, and other rights violations of gays and lesbians. To this day websites promoting gay rights in Uganda are systematically shut down.

When the late Representative Tom Lantos (D-CA) called for reforming PEPFAR in early 2008, Warren and Watergate felon Chuck Colson, now a nationally syndicated Chistian radio commentator, held an emergency press conference at the US Capitol. Warren, in a shameless appeal to both neocon Christians and liberal feminists said Lantos’s efforts would increase sex trafficking. Hence, Lantos’s efforts were quashed and PEPFAR retained its shape.

What’s stunningly ironic is that Warren has also been deeply associated with Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, whose army has conscripted children, has been cozy with sex traffickers, and has acted atrociously toward inhabitants of the Congo. Further irony: Warren delivered President Obama’s inaugural prayer. Further irony yet: singer/songwriter Melissa Etheridge was highly proactive in cleaning up Warren’s image to appease the GLBT community and others in Obama’s base.

In March 2009 a Kampala conference dubbed The Gay Agenda, led by three American evangelicals, was held in Kampala. Revisionist historian Scott Lively, Exodus International board member Don Schmierer, and Caleb Lee Brundbrigde, a so-called “ex-gay” who thinks homosexuality can be “cured,” were at the helm. This conference is considered to be a dark turning point by launching a frenzy of fear-driven mis- and disinformation. It gave pseudo-scientific justifications that reinforced prevailing ignorant absurdities in Uganda about homosexuality equaling promiscuity, bestiality, pedophilia, drinking of bodily fluids, and something for which youth can be recruited. The recruiting fear has been especially potent.

Seven months later, in mid-October, Member of Parliament (MP) David Bahati introduced the infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill. It essentially called for the infrastructuring of homophobia into public policy to a degree perhaps unequaled in human history. (Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), who has made over 100 trips to Africa, more than any Senator in US history, gave Bahati his entre into the American Christian Right’s wealthy inner circles.)

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill’s tamer aspects, many of which can still be voted on, put forth the concept of the “offense of homosexuality.” The definition of that offense includes any act that penetrates or stimulates the genitalia and orifices, including the mouth of someone of the same sex; or touching someone of the same sex with the “intention of committing the act of homosexuality.” These could mean incarceration for life. Other attempts to “commit” homosexuality could result in seven years of incarceration.

The death penalty would be executed for what’s termed “aggravated homosexuality.” Those found guilty would be forced to undergo an HIV test and then be killed by the state. “Aggravated homosexuality” is defined as when an adult has homosexual sex with someone under 18, when the offender has HIV, when the offender is the parent or guardian of or a person of authority over the victim, when the victim has a disability, when the offender does something to “stupefy or overpower” the person he or she is drawn to, or someone who has had previous offenses. Obviously a toxic recipe for he said/he said or she said/she said as well as a chilling effect on medical professionals and human rights agencies who would ordinarily protect privacy rights of patients and victims of state-sanctioned abuse.

When news of this bill reached Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), he swiflty contacted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Trade Representative Ron Kirk asserting that “Uganda’s beneficiary status under the AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) will be revoked if the proposed legislation is enacted.” Secretary Clinton and President Obama expressed opposition to the bill. Minneapolis’s city council passed a resolution opposing the bill.

The week before the bill was introduced, mass hysteria swept Uganda as the Uganda magazine Rolling Stone, editor Giles Muhame, (not the same as that published in the US) printed the names, addresses, and photos of a hundred known gays and lesbians. Its headline: “Hang Them!” Later that month Muhame exposed yet more identities. Privacy invasion sells. This meant gays and lesbians were even more on the run than ever. They were continued to be denied rental rights. Torture was continued. They continued to be fired from jobs. Sharlet has reported the practice of “corrective” rape superstitiously believed to turn lesbians straight. These evils were punctuated in January of this year when one of Uganda’s major gay activists, David Kato of Sexual Minorities Uganda, was beaten to death. It garnered global dismay.

Kato’s death warrant was metaphorically signed in December 2009 when he spoke at a United Nations-sponsored conference about the bill where according to Wikileaks he was mocked with homophobic jeers. Also leaked was that Bahati railed against Obama’s opposition to the bill while speaking before the conference.

Kato’s horrific end seems to have been the impetus for the defeat of the death penalty section of the bill earlier this year. Warren was compelled along with various of his confederate Christians to denounce the death penalty aspect. However, other sections of the bill are up for debate and could still be passed. Conservative tax-exempt American Christians have opened a Pandora’s Box. One can only wonder, what would Jesus think?

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