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How Deep Is the Republican Christian Right's Connection to the Anti-Gay Bills Sweeping Sub-Saharan Africa?

As the horrific "kill-the-gays" bill resurfaces in Uganda, Republican politicians deny connections, but their rhetoric is frighteningly similar.

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Imagine a self-proclaimed “homosexuality expert” who says he knows more about his subject than anyone else in the world, teaching you that gays were responsible for the worst genocides of the 20th century. That’s precisely what Scott Lively of California’s Abiding Truth Ministries did before a crowd of Ugandans at an anti-gay conference in Kampala in 2009.

This would be an explosive point of view in any country. And it is absurdly irresponsible given that many Ugandans believe homosexuality to be a Western, or colonial, import. But this didn’t prevent Lively from telling his 2009 Ugandan audience that gays were “probably” the perpetrators of Rwanda’s genocide. Nor did it stop him from promoting the lie on which he’s built a career: the idea that gay men oversaw the rise of the Nazi regime in Germany. The chilling footage of Lively’s speech, in which gay men are cast as “brutish sociopaths,” child rapists and mass murderers, is worth watching:

Not surprisingly, the Southern Poverty Law Center regards Abiding Truth Ministries as a hate group. Its work has touched off a firestorm of anti-gay activism and violence in Africa.

Gay rights activist Jim Burroway says his LGBT contacts in Uganda live in what sounds like a constant state of siege. Founder of  Ex-Gay Watch and editor at  Box Turtle Bulletin, Burroway has been tracking developments in Uganda since 2009. His Ugandan LGBT contacts report increased violence against people in their communities. They claim that things have escalated slowly since American missionaries stepped up their demonization of LGBT people about a decade ago. Some say they lived in relative peace back then. But many now go into hiding or seek asylum in other countries.

Homosexuality has long been a criminal offense in Uganda, just as it is in 36 other African countries. Throckmorton is doubtful that Uganda will ultimately defy the international community and implement the new, harsher legislation. Still, officials insist on trotting it out every few months. When this happens, Throckmorton and Burroway say, the public conversation takes a violent turn.

In 2010, just a few days before the first anniversary of the bill’s introduction in parliament, Uganda’s Rolling Stone newspaper published a cover piece with names and photographs of 100 LGBT Ugandans. Its headline: “ Hang them.”

In 2011, Human Rights Watch  reported that “[m]embers of the LGBT community have faced increased harassment and threats since the bill’s introduction.” Just a couple of months before the report was published, gay activist David Kato  was murdered in his home. Police officially reported that he was killed for refusing to pay for consensual sex. Whether or not this is true, South African-born  Advocate contributor Melanie Nathan tells me, many LGBT Ugandans believe he was targeted because of his political activism. 

Most Christian groups that promote gay criminalization in Africa are more secretive about it than Lively was. But it’s clear he did not act alone in Uganda. In his 2010 book,  C Street, Jeff Sharlet exposed the Family, the fundamentalist group behind the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. Sharlet showed that members of the Family are associates of bill sponsor David Bahati. Throckmorton says they “provided him with training opportunities and networked him.”

And other American evangelicals, I’m told, have associations with the officials and pastors who support the bill. We know that [fundamentalist] New Apostolic group, the “7 Mountains Conference,” hosted an event with pastor Julius Oyet, a vocal bill supporter who may have helped recruit bill sponsor David Bahati.

The New Apostolic movement is loosely comprised of pentecostal preachers who seek to establish Biblical law instead of secular law throughout the world. Some of its members have become increasingly outspoken in support of the bill. Lou Engle, another prominent New Apostolic figure, held a 2010 event called  The Call Uganda in capital city, Kampala. It featured both public officials and religious leaders who support the bill. Though Engle tried to distance himself from the bill’s most violent provisions, he  refused to refute it.

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