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Uganda and the Criminalization of Homosexuality

May 9, 2009

HOMOSX390Make no mistake about it – the situation for queer people in Uganda is very, very dire.

Currently, gay sex is criminalized in Uganda, with a maximum sentence of life in prison as punishment. In March, an anti-homosexuality conference was held, attracting attention and attendees from across the globe (I’ll explain this in more detail later in the post). In April, the newspaper The Red Pepper began publishing lists of out gay people, including their names, occupations, and HIV status, as well as photographs of the individuals themselves. Now, the Ugandan Parliament is considering a petition to make the already existing laws against homosexuality even harsher. In essence, being gay, in and of itself, or supporting gay people, would be illegal.

What makes this new wave of institutionalized homophobia particularly worrisome? The degree to which conservative Americans are participating in it.

Back to the conference in March. The conference was organized by the Ugandan-based NGO, Family Life Network. Three of the speakers at the conference – Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge, and Exodus International Board member Don Schmierer – are American conservative Christians affiliated with the “ex-gay” movement – that is to say, they believe that gays and lesbians can “change” their sexual orientation and become heterosexual. What’s more, the Ugandans who want to criminalize homosexuality are now using the conference as ammunition for their cause. George Oundo, Uganda’s leading “ex-gay” spokesperson, is participating in press conferences throughout the country where he discusses the “recruitment” techniques of the LGBT community. That language is nothing but a scare tactic, of course, but it’s working to raise support for the new anti-gay legislation. And I can’t help but feel that the participation that Americans have had in this debacle is part of the reason why this ultra-conservative legislation is receiving so much support. And that’s dangerous, because such legislation flies in the face of everything the United States was founded on.

It is important to note that not all proponents of the “ex-gay” movement support the current activities in Uganda. Warren Throckmorton, a proponent of reparative therapy, wrote:

My impression is that Exodus had no position on such things, or if there was a position, it was that homosexuality should not be considered a crime. For a change, I agree with Ex-Gay Watch that it sends the wrong message for these people to go where the agenda is not simply congruence with religious teaching but also on state intervention in private behavior.

(emphasis mine)

Throckmorton hits the nail on the head. This is not about individuals choosing for themselves how to live their lives. It’s not about certain groups of people advocating “ex-gay” philosophies from their own pulpits. No. This is about an extreme, moral, religious judgment being used to legislate behavior and identity. And for that action to be condoned by American Christians is wrong. We live in a country founded on freedom. To then go to other countries and essentially advocate for the elimination of the freedom of others could not be more hypocritical and morally reprehensible.

I don’t believe in intervening in situations that undermine the strength and sovereignty of the population in question. So, the best we can do right now, I believe, is talk about this issue. I haven’t read much mainstream media talking about this issue. So it’s up to us to educate ourselves and make it clear to the LGBT Ugandans that, when they ask for us, we will stand as their allies.

  1. alsimoni permalink
    May 9, 2009 1:14 pm

    Thanks for this post Carrie. I absolutely agree that it’s important for us to be talking about this and offering our solidarity.

    When I was living in Uganda a few years ago I was flabbergasted by how much a part of everyday conversation the things you referenced are… in the midst of several casual conversations Ugandans explained to me that homosexuality is something Europeans bring to their country in a syringe. And unfortunately the “witchhunt” by the Red Pepper has been going on for at least a few years… every Wednesday we knew the names, etc. of gay men would be listed and every Thursday it was the names, etc. of lesbians. These scare tactics have had a very obvious influence on the entire population. I often struggled with how to engage in a productive conversation about homosexuality when to do so literally felt dangerous – I felt intimidated and I had the privilege of knowing that at the end of the day I would be returning to a country where my rights were at least somewhat ensured. I have a great deal of respect for the Ugandan LGBT community for their strength and determination in the face of such hatred. I also absolutely agree that it is reprehensible that American Christians have involved themselves in denying others the very freedom that they can and do take for granted.

    Apparently the Ugandan government is now also blaming the UN for “smuggling in provisions on homosexuality.” (

  2. Scott permalink
    September 20, 2009 7:03 am

    I appreciate your doing this exposure. The Christian fascists–and let’s be honest, that’s what they are–who promote this near genocidal hatred need to be called out and politically exposed and isolated. They are the ones who are dangerous to children and others. We in the US need to take responsibility for what US fundamentalist bigots are doing to make the lives of our brothers and sisters overseas a living hell.

    I do disagree pretty strongly with your point, however, that “such legislation flies in the face of everything the United States was founded on”. The wealth that made the founding of the United States possible was the brutal exploitation of African slaves on the land stolen from the people who lived here before the European settlers arrived. All of the laws that “the United States was founded on” were a reflection of the need to maintain and institutionalize those relations of exploitation, and codify the social reality of white supremacy. South Africa during its years of explicit apartheid modeled itself on colonial U.S. and the “founding fathers”.

    So if anything, laws that uphold and institutionalize oppression are a perfect *reflection* of everything the US was founded on.


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