The African nation of Uganda is weighing a bill that would impose the death penalty on HIV positive men who have committed what it calls "aggravated homosexuality."
As if that were not shocking enough, a U.S. author is claiming that a secretive group of American politicians appear to be a driving force in seeing the proposal become law.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009, heavily supported by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, was first read in October, triggering a wave of condemnation. According to the gay blog Queerty, Joann Lockard, public affairs officer at the Kampala, Uganda embassy, said the law would "constitute a significant step backwards for the protection of human rights in Uganda."
She added: "We urge states to take all necessary measures to ensure that sexual orientation or gender identity may under no circumstances be the basis for criminal penalties, in particular executions, arrests, or detention."
While that condemnation by a U.S. official would seem reflexive, others in U.S. political circles are providing financial and political support for the bill's sponsors, according to author Jeff Sharlet.
Sharlet's book "The Family" is an investigative look at a secretive group of fundamentalist Christian lawmakers in Washington, D.C. In a recent interview with NPR's Terry Gross, he broke the news that The Family's influence in Uganda is rife.
"[The] legislator that introduced the bill, a guy named David Bahati, is a member of The Family," he said. "He appears to be a core member of The Family. He works, he organizes their Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast and oversees a African sort of student leadership program designed to create future leaders for Africa, into which The Family has poured millions of dollars working through a very convoluted chain of linkages passing the money over to Uganda."
And how did Sharlet discover the connection? "You follow [the] money," he said. You look at their archives. You do interviews where you can. It's not so invisible anymore. So that's how working with some research colleagues we discovered that David Bahati, the man behind this legislation, is really deeply, deeply involved in The Family's work in Uganda, that the ethics minister of Uganda, Museveni's kind of right-hand man, a guy named Nsaba Buturo, is also helping to organize The Family's National Prayer Breakfast. And here's a guy who has been the main force for this Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda's executive office and has been very vocal about what he's doing, in a rather extreme and hateful way. But these guys are not so much under the influence of The Family. They are, in Uganda, The Family."
Under current Ugandan law, homosexuality is a crime punishable by life in prison. The proposed law would not just condemn HIV positive gay men and "repeat offenders" to death, it would also jail for three years anyone who knows a gay man but refuses to report them to authorities. Further, anyone who defends in public the rights of gays and lesbians would be subjected to a seven year prison term.
In his NPR interview, Sharlet said the bill would "very likely" pass and become Ugandan law. He added that the nation's president, whom he called a "dictator," has long been in The Family's fold.
"The Family identified [Museveni] back in 1986 as a key man for Africa," he said. "They wanted to steer him away from neutrality or leftist sympathies and bring him into conservative American alliances, and they were able to do so. They've since promoted Uganda as this bright spot - as I say, as this bright spot for African democracy, despite the fact that under their tutelage, Museveni has slowly shifted away from any even veneer of democracy: imprisoning journalists, tampering with elections, supporting - strongly supporting this Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009."
"Addressing the Commonwealth People’s Forum, Stephen Lewis, the former UN envoy on Aids in Africa, said that the Bill made a mockery of Commonwealth principles," the Times Online reported. "Nothing is as stark, punitive and redolent of hate as the Bill in Uganda," Lewis said.
"We needn't tell you: The implications are dire," opined Queerty. "It's not abnormal for foreign heads of state, like Museveni, to have ties to American politicos. But he's deeply routed in a secretive organization that promotes hatred under the guise of loving Jesus. And the very people — America's elected officials who believe in human rights — we would expect to pressure Uganda's lawmakers not to make such a bill law are turning out to be its biggest supporters."