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Arch-Conservative U.S. Christians Help Uganda 'Kill-the-Gays' Bill Stay Alive

Uganda's anti-gay bill, which espouses the death penalty for homosexual acts, still lives -- with the help of the U.S. religious right.

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"I think the Family opened the doors to Uganda for what they consider [to be] an evangelical revival, and the result was to make this country sort of a guinea pig for experiments in the American culture war," Sharlet said. "This is a way foreign policy often works; political experiments happen at the fringes and policies that can't be implemented here at home are tried out there."

In the case of the anti-gay bill, Sharlet said, the Family's influence got away from them in a bill that ultimately gave the group the kind of visibility it never wanted for a bill its own Washington, D.C., members likely deem "too extreme."

Sharlet explains in the PBS documentary how the controversy over the bill, reported repeatedly by MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, rose to such a clamor in the days preceding the National Prayer Breakfast that the Family abruptly replaced its scheduled keynote speaker, Spain's Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (a supporter of LGBT rights) with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who used the occasion to condemn Uganda's anti-gay bill. Clinton's admonition, though, is reported to have come with no threat of aid withdrawal, so the bill still lives, although a cabinet committee appointed by Museveni under U.S. pressure has urged the bill's withdrawal. That was a month ago, yet the bill still lives.

Highlighted in the documentary is the story of a young Ugandan named Moses who is currently seeking asylum in the United States. So fearful is he for his life that he spoke with a paper bag over his head at a news conference at the National Press Club, convened by a coalition of religious and gay-rights groups just days before the Prayer Breakfast. There he described how, targeted for being gay, he was raped so brutally by a policeman in his home country that he bled for days, but dared not seek medical attention for fear of being thrown in prison, where he would likely suffer more of the same.

Just last week, the Center for American Progress hosted retired Ugandan Bishop Christopher Senyonjo of the Anglican Church, who is constantly on the run due to the death threats he and his wife receive because of his ministry to LGBT people. For his good works, 78-year-old Senyonjo has been stripped of his pension by the church.

In his interview at CAP by Gene Robinson (the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal church), Senyonjo explains how the biblical story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah has been exploited by religious-right leaders to target LGBT people in a land that is overwhelmingly religious. Although the Bible never specifies the sins of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah as that of homosexuality, those sins have long been presented by Christians as homosexual acts. (Amanda Terkel's report on the interview and video of the event are here.)

Through the preaching of evangelists, many Ugandans have come to believe that homosexuality could lead to the similar destruction of their nation. In a land plagued with AIDS, that's not a tough sell. The irony is, before the religious right had its way with Uganda, it had one of the best records in Africa of containing its AIDS epidemic. But, according to Senyonjo, the trend toward abstinence-only sex education flogged by the right in the U.S. has been exported to Uganda, where it is having dire consequences -- a fate that the demonization of LGBT people can only make worse.




Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington bureau chief.