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Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Situation Report: Proposed Anti-Gay Legislation in Uganda

February 8, 2010

The Sexual and Reproductive Rights Situation Report is a  monthly column exploring policy and political issues around the world.  This month, we’re focusing on a recently floated anti-gay law in Uganda which has ties to ultra-fundamentalists in the U.S.

A “trans-man” in Uganda. Image: NY Times

The extreme anti-gay legislation was introduced in Uganda by the ruling party in the Parliament, and goes beyond the current criminalization of homosexuality in the country to impose extreme penalties for so-called “homosexual behavior.”  The original language of the bill included life imprisonment for anyone who even touches someone of the same sex with “homosexual intent,” punishment ranging from life in prison to death penalty for those who have homosexual sex, and imprisonment even for those who are aware of “homosexual activity” and fail to report it.   A Washington Post editorial has called it “outrageous,” even without the death penalty. Hillary Clinton has joined human rights groups in condemning the law as incompatible with Uganda’s international human rights responsibilities.  Interestingly, the text of the law includes a provision to “prohibit ratification of any international treaties, protocols, agreements and declarations which are contrary or inconsistent” with the legislation.  This language shows that the people who drafted the legislation are aware that certain provisions interfere with human rights (one proponent went so far as to say “Homosexuals can forget about human rights”).

One Ugandan doctor working with an international HIV/AIDS organization is outraged that he may be mandated to report gay patients, and has highlighted the “potentially devastating effects on HIV prevention and services.” Human Rights Watch has also pointed out the danger the legislation presents to free expression rights by banning the “promotion of homosexuality.”

Global outcry: Protesters in London. Image care of the NY Daily News

According to a New York Times editorial, the existing situation for LGBT individuals in Uganda is not good: “gay Ugandans are tormented with beatings, blackmail, death threats and what has been described as ‘correctional rape.’”  The Ugandan President, vocally anti-gay, has supported the bill while urging lawmakers to soften some of its provisions, but his separation from the actual outcomes is questionable given his party’s control over the Parliament.

Part of what should make this issue particularly compelling for U.S. citizens is the role that U.S. Evangelical Christian political figures played in getting the legislation to where it is. If you’ve read Michelle Goldberg’s The Means of Reproduction, you’re familiar with the idea that the Christian Right in the U.S. has been quietly pushing an anti-sexual and reproductive rights agenda in African countries for some time.

This bill is just the latest in a series of sneaky interventions by secretive organizations made up of American fundamentalism’s political elite. The Family is once such group, and it has been wielding power in the U.S. and around the world since the 1950s. Jeff Sharlet, who literally wrote the book called The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, spoke to The Advocate about connections between U.S. fundamentalists and the Ugandan anti-gay legislation.   There’s also this great interview with Rachel Maddow, where he explains the law’s connections to this shadowy fundamentalist underworld:

via the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC

Some old friends of The Family include Reagan, the Bush family, and even congress members Stupak and Pitts (remember them?).  The Family has been influential in ensuring that USAID funds go to abstinence-only programs and not to condoms– which we all know has been catastrophic in Africa.

As this NY Times editorial points out while lambasting the meddling of U.S. fundamentalists, three specific U.S. figures were in Uganda in March preaching against the “gay agenda.”  One of them is Scott Lively, who has credited “the gays” with the rise of Nazism and with engineering the Holocaust in his book, The Pink Swastika.  He has denied intentionally sowing the seeds of this law with his screeds, but the organizers of the conference that brought him to Uganda helped draft the draconian language of the bill.

While Lively and his merry men have no direct connection to The Family in the U.S., the trend is still troubling.  We cannot allow fundamentalists to insinuate themselves into political decision-making.  Jeff Sharlet has suggested that President Obama refuse to attend this year’s Prayer Breakfast, a high-level event that U.S. presidents have been attending since Eisenhower.  According to Sharlet, it’s a strategic tool for The Family to build relationships and broker future political movement.  You can bet that nothing those people have in mind is going to be good for LGBTQ folks– or for women for that matter.  We must demand secular politics at home, and carefully watch fundamentalists’ involvement in other countries’ politics to protect both marginalized groups and the integrity of the political process.

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