Seems a long way away, doesn’t it? Uganda, a tiny landlocked country on the African continent. But there are compelling reasons to do more than wring our hands. Because the religious taliban of our country has exported its violent rhetoric and the horrific consequences of this torrent of hate have become abundantly clear over the last several years.
Writing about what is going on in another country always has its pitfalls, especially when issues of race and colonialism are very often factors. All too often the West gazes elsewhere without understanding, without accounting for other cultures, other perspectives. But the events unfolding in Uganda at present can be traced back to specific groups from the U.S. intent on exporting their brand of hate to anywhere. GLBT people in Uganda have been banding together to fight what is happening in their country; we should equally band together to stop fellow Americans from promulgating a rhetoric of violence abroad.
What is happening to Uganda has been taking place over several years. There is nothing new or sudden or even unexpected about any of these events except, perhaps, for their sudden burst across the consciousness of the media — an awareness that will undoubtedly prove as fleeting as any other. Still I wish to write, I wish to bear witness, to expose these stochastic terrorists. My words and my wrath are the only weapons I have and so I shall use them.
For some reason, even though LGBT Ugandans have been targeted for abuse and killing for some time now, this particular murder, of David Kato, one of the very few outspoken gay activists in Uganda has reached international attention — even resulting in statements from Clinton and Obama: Clinton, Obama Condemn Uganda Murder, Obama states
LGBT rights are not special rights; they are human rights.
As the most outspoken gay rights advocate in Uganda, a country where homophobia is so widespread that Parliament is considering a bill to execute gay people, he had received a stream of death threats, his friends said. A few months ago, a Ugandan newspaper ran an anti-gay diatribe with Mr. Kato’s picture on the front page under a banner urging, “Hang Them.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Kato was beaten to death with a hammer in his rough and tumble neighborhood.
To their credit, most stories of any length at least mention the connections to American religious groups:
“David’s death is a result of the hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. evangelicals in 2009,” Val Kalende, the chairwoman of one of Uganda’s gay rights groups, said in a statement. “The Ugandan government and the so-called U.S. evangelicals must take responsibility for David’s blood.”
Ms. Kalende was referring to visits in March 2009 by a group of American evangelicals, who held rallies and workshops in Uganda discussing how to turn gay people straight, how gay men sodomized teenage boys and how “the gay movement is an evil institution” intended to “defeat the marriage-based society.”
Kato began campaigning for gay rights in Uganda in 1998 when virtually nobody was “out”. Homosexuality was illegal, and offensive to most Ugandans. In the following years the gay rights movement became stronger, with Kato and his colleagues at Sexual Minorities Uganda calling for gay people to be included in national HIV-awareness and treatment programmes.
But the higher profile created enemies. Local religious leaders, especially some prominent evangelical Christians, launched campaigns alleging that the gay community was seeking to “recruit” schoolchildren. Their efforts were boosted by visits from several American preachers renowned for their homophobic views.
Uganda’s typical homophobia has been ramped up in recent years by “religious leaders, a group of US evangelicals and politicians,” according to The Guardian’s Xan Rice, who notes that a 2009 bill, still under consideration by the Ugandan parliament, calls for life sentences for gay people and the death penalty for “repeat offenders.” Under this “anti-homosexuality bill” non-gay Ugandans could also be punished for failing to report homosexual activity within 24 hours. Kato’s murder has sparked outrage from various parts of the world as well as concern for other gay Ugandans who may be at risk.
The immediate proximate cause of David Kato’s death was most likely the publication of his name and picture in the local “Rolling Stone” newspaper — which published about 100 such “exposures” before being ordered to stop after Kato successfully sued. From Before His Death, Ugandan Gay Rights Activist Explained Hostile Climate
Several months ago, a Ugandan newspaper featured his photograph on its front page beside the lurid banner headline, “100 Pictures of Uganda’s Top Homos Leak.” Another line of text said simply, “Hang Them.”
Gay activists, including Mr. Kato, sued the paper and won damages. A court also ordered the newspaper to cease publishing the names and addresses of gay Ugandans.
In some senses this is misleading, as it makes it sound like in the space of one short year, an entire country goes mad from a small set of American Christian workshops. (The mentioned groups and people, of course, disavow all responsibility, as stochastic terrorists do.) In reality, this has been years in the making.
But where is this coming from? There have been several watchdog groups documenting the events of the last several years. Probably the best collection is here: Slouching Towards Kampala: Uganda’s Deadly Embrace of Hate which documents over two years worth of meetings and events in Uganda, and is a must read for anyone wishing to understand the background to Kato’s murder. They also have a post about Kato: “Kato” Means the Younger of Twins.
So who were these people at 2009 conference? As reported in Americans’ Role Seen in Uganda Anti-Gay Push:
The three Americans who spoke at the conference — Scott Lively, a missionary who has written several books against homosexuality, including “7 Steps to Recruit-Proof Your Child”; Caleb Lee Brundidge, a self-described former gay man who leads “healing seminars”; and Don Schmierer, a board member of Exodus International, whose mission is “mobilizing the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality” — are now trying to distance themselves from the bill.
Joe My God has the goods on Scott Lively: Evidence Of Scott Lively’s Complicity In The Murder Of David Kato
The inspiration for Uganda’s gay death penalty bill, and surely, Kato’s murder, arises from the work of American evangelists, chief among them the repulsive anti-gay activist Scott Lively, whose infamous book The Pink Swastika blames the rise of the Nazi Party and the Holocaust on gay men. One year ago, the New York Times profiled Lively’s hand in Uganda’s burgeoning pogrom against homosexuals, which began after Lively hosted a three-day meeting attended by thousands of Ugandan police, teachers, and politicians.
[…]Yesterday Scott Lively’s “nuclear bomb” against Ugandan gays went off in the form of the iron bar which crushed the skull of David Kato. In some countries, it’s possible that Lively would be under arrest today. Also complicit in this murder is Peter LaBarbera, who for years has worked to publicize and praise Scott Lively’s evil agenda. Then there’s Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council, who last year paid lobbyists $25,000 to convince members of Congress to block a planned resolution denouncing Uganda’s gay death penalty bill. And let’s not forget Pastor Rick Warren, who supported, funded, appeared with, and publicized the work of Uganda’s leading anti-gay activist, Pastor Martin Ssempa.
Box Turtle Bulletin describes My lunch date with Caleb Lee Brundidge:
In his write-up in the summer 2009 IHF newsletter (PDF: 7MB/12 pages), Brundidge gives few details about the trip. He addressed the Ugandan Parliament, the Family Life Network conference and a church. He spoke on the radio and was interviewed by a newspaper. He describes his speech to Parliament as an effort “to help them understand a more compassionate response to anyone who experiences SSA.”
They must have missed that message. How could they get the message when Brundidge himself writes this about the situation in Uganda:
“As I mentioned, homosexual behavior is illegal and punishable by life in prison or even death. They have fear to go [sic]. On the other hand, the word is out on the street to the young people: If you want to make good money, pretend to be ‘gay.’ Why? Gay activists are recruiting impoverished young boys and girls, offering them money to impersonate homosexuals. ‘Just tell people you are gay and we’ll pay you money.’ In this way, they are trying to skew the data regarding the numbers of people who are homosexual.”
In April, the month after Brundidge and company participated in the Family Life Network Conference, Ugandan legislators began drafting a bill to execute gays.
After more than nine months of controversy over Exodus International boardmember Don Schmierer’s participation in a virulently anti-gay conference in Kampala last March, he has finally deigned to speak up. And his defense is rather novel, something you might call the “Alfred E. Newman” defense. In a statement posted on Exodus International’s blog, Schmierer pretends that he had no idea that there was any problem with that conference until he was mentioned by Rachel Maddow:
Never in a million years did I expect to see my face on MSNBC. But there I was, plain as day – white hair, tanned wrinkles, looking every bit the grandfather I am- in a photo posted on Rachel Maddow’s show last night. Unbeknownst to me, she had decided to discuss a conference I spoke at in Uganda several months ago.
Remember, this is after nine months of outcry over the outcome of this conference, months of his own organization’s prevarications, half-hearted defenses, and finally — finally! — a letter. Even after all that, it wasn’t until just this past Tuesday that he decided that maybe it was time to add his signature to the letter more than two weeks after it was originally issued. (Exodus vice president Randy Thomas explains that Schmierer’s late signature was due to the fact that he was gallivanting elsewhere around the world with his “redemptive” message — and we all know where that’s gotten us.) But it wasn’t until his mug showed up on national television did he decide it was finally time to make a statement.
And who is Rick Warren? Well, here’s a starting point, at Rick Warren’s Africa Problem (by way of Joe My God). We in California are pretty familiar with this guy:
Once hailed by Time magazine as “America’s Pastor,” California mega-church leader and bestselling author of The Purpose Driven Life Rick Warren now finds himself on the defensive. President-elect Barack Obama’s selection of Warren to deliver the inaugural prayer has generated intense scrutiny of the pastor’s beliefs on social issues, from his vocal support for Prop 8, a ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage in California, to his comparison of homosexuality to pedophilia, incest and bestiality. Many of Obama’s supporters have demanded that he withdraw the invitation.
Warren tries to point to his “good works in Africa” dealing with AIDS as evidence he’s a good guy. But a closer examination of that “work” — difficult to summarize, you really should read the whole thing — shows that via his ties to Ssempa, he has actually been instrumental in discouraging condom use — a use that in the early 2000 was rapidly slowing the spread of HIV and AIDS — and whipping up homophobia in Uganda:
Troubled by what he was witnessing in Africa [the decline of condom use, the rise of abstinence promotion], Rep. Tom Lantos led the new Democratic-controlled Congress to reform PEPFAR during a reauthorization process in February 2008. Lantos insisted that Congress lift the abstinence-only earmark imposed by Republicans in 2002, and begin to fund family planning elements like free condom distribution. His maneuver infuriated Warren, who immediately boarded a plane for Washington to join Christian right leaders including born-again former Watergate felon Chuck Colson for an emergency press conference on the Capitol lawn. In his speech, Warren claimed that Lantos’ bill would spawn an increase in the sex trafficking of young women. The bill died and PEPFAR was reauthorized in its flawed form. (Days later, Lantos died of cancer after serving for 27 years in Congress.)
With safe sex advocates on the run, Warren and Ssempa trained their sights on another social evil. In August 2007, Ssempa led hundreds of his followers through the streets of Kampala to demand that the government mete out harsh punishments against gays. “Arrest all homos,” read placards. And: “A man cannot marry a man.” Ssempa continued his crusade online, publishing the names of Ugandan gay rights activists on a website he created, along with photos and home addresses. “Homosexual promoters,” he called them, suggesting they intended to seduce Uganda’s children into their lifestyle. Soon afterwards, two of President Yoweri Museveni’s top officials demanded the arrest of the gay activists named by Ssempa. Terrified, the activists immediately into hiding.
Warren, in his effort to dispel criticism, has denied harboring homophobic sentiments. “I could give you a hundred gay friends,” he told MSNBC’s Ann Curry on December 18. “I have always treated them with respect. When they come and want to talk to me, I talk to them.”
But when Uganda’s Anglican bishops threatened to bolt from the Church of England because of its tolerant stance towards homosexuals, Warren parachuted into Kampala to confer international legitimacy on their protest. “The Church of England is wrong and I support the Church of Uganda on the boycott,” Warren proclaimed in March 2008. Declaring homosexuality an unnatural way of life, Warren flatly stated, “We shall not tolerate this aspect [homosexuality in the church] at all.”
Warren’s involvement begins well before the crucial 2009 conference, and as can be seen, effectively prepared the country’s leaders to be particular receptive to its homophobic message. More on Warren can be found here: Rick Warren’s Rank Hypocrisy and here: Untold Consequences: Rick Warren’s AIDS Activism.
Here’s a good documentary, as recommended to me by others who have listened to it: Missionaries of Hate (45 minutes, no captions or transcript)
Correspondent Mariana van Zeller travels to Uganda, where many question whether the growing influence of American religious groups has led to a movement to make homosexuality a crime punishable by death. As an anti-gay movement spreads across the continent, gay Africans and their families face an increasingly uncertain future of isolation, imprisonment or even execution.
“Vanguard,” airing weekly on Current TV Mondays at 9/8c, is a no-limits documentary series whose award-winning correspondents put themselves in extraordinary situations to immerse viewers in global issues that have a large social significance. Unlike sound-bite driven reporting, the show’s correspondents, Adam Yamaguchi, Kaj Larsen, Christof Putzel and Mariana van Zeller, serve as trusted guides who take viewers on in-depth real life adventures in pursuit of some of the world’s most important stories.
“Bahati said: ‘If you come here, you’ll see homosexuals from Europe and America are luring our children into homosexuality by distributing cell phones and iPods and things like this,’ ” Sharlet recounts. “And he said, ‘And I can explain to you what I really want to do.’ ”
Sharlet accompanied Bahati to a restaurant and later to his home, where Bahati told Sharlet that he wanted “to kill every last gay person.”
“It was a very chilling moment, because I’m sitting there with this man who’s talking about his plans for genocide, and has demonstrated over the period of my relationship with him that he’s not some back bencher — he’s a real rising star in the movement,” Sharlet says. “This was something that I hadn’t understood before I went to Uganda, that this was a guy with real potential and real sway and increasingly a following in Uganda.”
And he has connections to American leaders. Sharlet explains that Bahati is one of the Uganda leaders of an American evangelical movement called the Fellowship, or the Family — the secretive fellowship of powerful Christian politicians who wield considerable political influence, both in Washington and abroad.
Ugandan reaction: Shock in the System: David Kato Kisule
So, of course we are scared. Too many rumours swimming around. Too easy to do something that we would regret later. Now, maybe it is just time to cry and mourn our loss, however we do that.