By Conor Godfrey
In less than two weeks the Ugandan parliament will vote on one of the most virulent anti-gay bills in history. Ugandan Anti-Gay Bill 2009 mandates the death penalty for some homosexual acts and significant prison terms for people who fail to report homosexual activity to the authorities.
Mass rallies preceding the introduction of this legislation informed audiences that “[Homosexuality] is not a human right. It is not in-born. It is a behavior that is learned and it can be unlearned”.
Speakers also discussed the aims of homosexuals in Uganda; namely, “to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity.”
If this sounds familiar—you are right! It is our very own hate-mongering A-team.
On the podium in Kampala were Americans like Scott Lively, author of such scientifically renowned literature as 7 Steps to Recruit-Proof Your Child [from homosexuality], and also the source of my favorite piece of detestable drivel—claiming that legalizing homosexuality would be akin to legalizing “molestation of children or having sex with animals.”
Wow. Read this page of Mr. Lively’s blog. I could not make the case against him better than he does.
While Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge, and Don Schmierer are currently trying to distance themselves from the more heinous clauses of the Ugandan Anti-Gay Bill, the fingerprints of the most intolerant currents in American religious thought are all over the proposal.
It turns out that religious extremist groups in the U.S. funnel millions of dollars into Uganda, and Kampala is a regular stop for some extremist evangelical groups when taking their show on the road. (See related reading at the end of this entry for more information on American evangelism in Africa)
These agents of intolerance tap into a deep well of anti-colonial sentiment by portraying homosexuality as a “foreign import”, promulgated by agents of an international gay movement. They simultaneously play on perennial fears of cultural subversion by describing the gay plot to recruit African youth.
Statements by Ugandan Minister of Ethics and Integrity reflect these fears: he says the proposed legislation will “protect the traditional family by prohibiting any form of sexual relations between persons of the same sex”.
Other commentators have portrayed homosexuality as un-African, and by extension, the Anti-Gay Bill as congruent with African values. This strikes me as dangerous hogwash.
Yes it is true: most African communities do not support homosexuality. An open homosexual relationship would render the participants unable to meet some of the reciprocal familial and communal obligations that structure life in many African communities (e.g. marrying, producing children).
However, this rabid homophobia that makes people scribble “Die Sodomite” on the walls in Kampala is down right un-African. I have never heard an African voice anything more extreme than a mild discomfort with homosexuality.
Parents in my village would sometimes scold young children for ‘playing’ impolitely, but never displayed the level of fear and hatred necessary for a gay witch-hunt.
Hate-mongering by American extremists elevated African homosexuality from a non-issue, practiced by some individuals in a private way, to a hate-fueled cause célèbre requiring mass rallies and draconian legislation.
This is not a condemnation of Christianity in Africa. People in the know consistently describe religious charities like Catholic Relief Services as among the best NGOs working on the continent.
I knew several missionary families in Guinea who treated their communities with respect and earned the right to engage their neighbors in a meaningful exchange of ideas on universal questions.
There is a role for pious Westerners on the continent—but this is most certainly not it.
Related Reading: Brief history of modern evangelism in Africa