by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
The East African nation of Uganda is considering new legislation against its LGBT citizens, including prison sentences for 'touching' a person of the same sex, and the death penalty for 'repeat offenders.'
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, introduced in Uganda's parliament last week, comes in the wake of an anti-Gay conference in the Ugandan capital of Kampala that was attended by a number of prominent US fundamentalists.
Convened on March 5 this year, the conference included Exodus International Board member Don Schmierer, Defend the Family President Scott Lively, and the International Healing Foundation's Caleb Lee Brundidge.
Exodus International is perhaps the most prominent "ex-Gay" ministry, claiming 120 local organizations in the US and Canada and another 150 in other countries. It is affiliated with James Dobson's Christian-right organization Focus on the Family.
Lively is the founder of Watchmen on the Walls, a Christian fascist organization based in Riga, Latvia. Watchmen is listed as a "hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Watchmen members in Latvia and Russia have been involved in anti-Gay riots and assaults on LGBT people.
In 2007, Lively shared the stage with local anti-Gay pastor Ken Hutcherson at a Watchmen rally in Latvia. He was formerly California State Director of the American Family Association - an anti-Gay, anti-choice, and anti-union organization noted for boycotting businesses that offer same-sex domestic partnership benefits to employees.
The International Healing Foundation claims to cure people of "unwanted same-sex attraction" through a combination of "conversion therapy" and religious ministry.
The Kampala conference was convened by Stephen Langa, Director of the Kampala-based Family Life Network, and an associate of Scott Lively since 2002. Langa promoted his conference as the kick-off event in a campaign to "wipe out" homosexuality in Uganda.
Following the conference, a Kampala newspaper printed the names of locals alleged to be Gay, provoking assaults, arrests, and reported murders of LGBT Ugandans.
THE INFLUENCE OF "THE FAMILY"
In the 1990s, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni was hailed in the US as an example of a new generation of democratic African leaders. Museveni soon began to display authoritarian tendencies, however, intervening in civil wars in neighboring Rwanda, Sudan, and the Congo, and altering Uganda's constitution to allow himself to run for and win a third term as president.
Museveni also fell under the influence of "The Family," a secretive right-wing Christian group with an extensive following among US political leaders.
While it achieved notoriety as the organization that facilitated the extra-marital affairs of Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), Rep. Chip Pickering (R-Mich.), and Gov. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), the Family has carefully and quietly cultivated relationships with many foreign heads of state.
Among the Family's protégés have been Somali dictator Gen. Siad Barre, Indonesian dictator Gen. Suharto, and several key generals in the military government that held power in Brazil from 1964 till 1985.
According to investigative reporter Jeff Sharlet, who infiltrated the Family to write an account of their activities, Family leader Douglas Coe met Museveni and recruited him to become the Family's "key man" in Africa. In his 2008 book The Family, Sharlet writes:
"So," Doug Coe told us, "my friend said to the president, 'why don't you come and pray with me in America? I have a good group of friends - senators, congressmen - who I like to pray with, and they'd like to pray with you.' And that president came to the Cedars [a religious retreat], and he met Jesus. And his name is Yoweri Museveni & and he is a good friend of the Family."
In addition to teaching that unregulated and union-free capitalism is "God's will," Coe promotes a totalitarian theology which consciously compares Jesus to Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.
"Jesus said, 'You have to put me before other people,'" Coe has been quoted as saying. "'And you have to put me before yourself.' Hitler, that was the demand to be in the Nazi party. You have to put the Nazi party and its objectives ahead of your own life and ahead of other people."
"UNDEMOCRATIC AND UN-AFRICAN"
In spite of a December 2008 Ugandan Supreme Court decision which held that it is unconstitutional to discriminate against LGBT Ugandans, homosexuality remains illegal there and carries a potential life sentence.
The proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill would
o Reaffirm the life sentence currently provided by law.
o Extend the definition of homosexuality to include merely "touch[ing] another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality."
o Create a new category of "aggravated homosexuality" with the death penalty for "repeat offenders" and for cases where the offender is HIV-positive.
o Forbid free speech and peaceful assembly for those who advocate on behalf of LGBT citizens in Uganda, with fines and five to seven years imprisonment.
o Punish the act of obtaining a same-sex marriage abroad with life imprisonment.
o Require friends or family members to report LGBT persons to police within 24 hours of learning about their homosexuality, or face fines and imprisonment of up to three years.
o Add provisions allowing Uganda to prosecute LGBT Ugandans living abroad.
Pres. Museveni's party, the National Resistance Movement, controls 205 of the 319 seats in Uganda's parliament and can easily pass the law, or not, as he chooses.
The Sexual Minorities Uganda Group has branded the law "profoundly undemocratic and un-African."
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Executive Director Cary Alan Johnson echoed the sentiment, blaming homophobia on Africa's legacy of foreign colonialism.
"Most of the countries in Africa that still criminalize same-sex acts inherited these laws from colonial masters, particularly from British colonial rule, and that shows us in fact that the homophobia that's existing in many countries is really a remnant of our colonial history," Johnson said in a public statement on October 16.
Homosexuality is illegal in 38 African countries, and legal in only 13. In Mauritania, Sudan, and the Muslim areas of Nigeria - where Sharia law is in effect - homosexuality carries the death penalty.
In South Africa, by contrast, the constitution forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In 2006, the South African parliament voted 230-41 to authorize same-sex civil marriage and civil unions for unmarried same-sex and opposite-sex couples. The governing African National Congress (ANC) party had endorsed the principle of marriage equality in 1993.
"A SIGNIFICANT STEP BACKWARDS"
The US State Department is taking a dim view of the proposed law.
"This is a significant step backwards for human rights in Uganda," State Department spokesperson Noel Clay told SGN, "and we are in the process of raising the issue with the government of Uganda."
"We are disturbed by violence, harassment, intimidation, arrests - any kind of discrimination - because of sexual orientation or gender identity anywhere," he added.
Clay cautioned that "[The State Department's] understanding is that this is a 'private member's bill' which means that the Ugandan government hasn't decided whether to support it yet."
Asked to comment on the participation of US citizens in the Kampala conference and the possibility that US citizens were encouraging the Ugandan government to suppress its LGBT population, Clay said, "We condemn human rights violations wherever they occur and whoever is responsible. [The conference] obviously doesn't help."
The Ugandan Embassy in Washington DC had no comment.
"WE DON'T HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THAT"
SGN also reached International Healing Foundation Director Richard Cohen, who at first declined to comment.
"No. I don't think we have anything to say about that," he told SGN.
When the Kampala conference was characterized as "anti-Gay," Cohen became agitated. "No, no, no, no, no, it wasn't that at all!" he exclaimed. "It was a conference about helping people with unwanted same-sex attraction."
When reminded that conference organizer Langa indicated it was his intention to "wipe out" Gays in Uganda, Cohen replied, "Well, we don't have anything to do with that."
"People who experience homosexual feelings, and people who experience unwanted homosexual feelings have a right to express themselves," he added.
Invited by SGN to comment, Exodus International sent the following statement:
"Unfortunately, Uganda as a country has demonstrated severe hostility towards homosexuals supporting criminalization of homosexual behavior and proposing compulsory therapy - positions that Exodus International unequivocally denounces. It is our sincere desire to offer an alternative message that encompasses a compassionate, biblical view of homosexuality not just here in America, but around the world. We applaud our board member's attempt to convey these redemptive truths to a country in desperate need."
Exodus International spokesperson Kirk R. Chambers added that "any specific questions about this can be directed to [Exodus Board member] Don Schmierer, who spoke about the content of his books on his own personal time."
Scott Lively, his Abiding Truth Ministries, and Defend the Family were also called for comment and did not return SGN's calls by press time.
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