American Evangelicals and Ugandan Government Officials Bond Over HomophobiaS

A chilling article in the New York Times today explores the connection between Evangelical Christians in the US and the fallout around the Ugandan bill punishing homosexuality with the death penalty.

Jeffrey Gettleman, writing for the NYT, explains how anti-gay crusaders are finding new possibilities abroad, taking their message about the "the gay agenda" to Uganda and other African nations in hopes of drumming up support for their particular brand of bigotry:

For three days, according to participants and audio recordings, thousands of Ugandans, including police officers, teachers and national politicians, listened raptly to the Americans, who were presented as experts on homosexuality. The visitors discussed how to make gay people straight, how gay men often sodomized teenage boys and how "the gay movement is an evil institution" whose goal is "to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity." [...]

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.

"I feel duped," Mr. Schmierer said, arguing that he had been invited to speak on "parenting skills" for families with gay children. He acknowledged telling audiences how homosexuals could be converted into heterosexuals, but he said he had no idea some Ugandans were contemplating the death penalty for homosexuality.

"That's horrible, absolutely horrible," he said. "Some of the nicest people I have ever met are gay people."

But the logical question arises — how does one present homosexuality as something that is considered immoral or evil, and not expect others to act out an ways that are cruel and violent? The "love the sinner, hate the sin" argument only travels so far, particularly as we have seen the horrible effects of creating "others" — stripping people of their humanity through the words used to describe them. When these people crusade against the LGBTQ communities, they are creating a frightening other, a threat to their lives and children. Schmierer illustrates this willful ignorance beautifully, not daring to use the "some of my best friends" line, but still trying to distance himself from the fire of hatred he's been stoking.

David Bahati, a local politician who supports the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009, offers a careful, reasoned position to justify his homophobia. In an audio statement on the NYT website, Bahati lays out his argument using cultural reference points. He divides the bill into the "legal aspects" discussing the penal code act and the Ugandan constitution which forbids "unnatural acts." In essence, he argues that as long as one isn't actually engaging in homosexual behavior, one should be fine. Bahati also notes that Ugandans are "living in an international community" and that trading partners like the United States and Europe consider homosexuality legal. He points to American struggles with the legalization of same sex marriage as proof that we are "still struggling" with issues of sexuality ourselves, and that different countries have different norms: he explains that polygamy is outlawed in America but legal in Uganda, and believes that this issue is just a matter of national differences.

The LGBTQ community provides a different spin on Bahati's cool words, noting that their lives are considered inferior in every way. One man, going only by Bob, reveals that he lost his job when a tabloid published his name along with other people suspected of being homosexuals. He also explains that it can be difficult to have a relationship with a man, as it it hard to determine who to trust.

Nikki Mawanda (pictured above) identifies as a trans-man, and reveals a litany of assaults that occurred while he was out in the world:

A policeman jabbed a finger in his eye, he said, someone threw a beer in his face at a bar, and a security guard at a minimarket pistol-whipped him simply for trying to buy groceries.

While people like Bahati would like to pretend a ban on homosexuality is more about civility, formality, and cultural preservation, those who identify in some way as gay, lesbian, or transgender often face hostility and physical harm.

The anonymous blogger over at GayUganda read the Times articles as well, lamenting:

It is interesting. Seeing myself in a strangers eyes. Having our story told by others, but, in our voices. These are the day to day things that are my environment. And, some strangers did come and picked up some pretty accurate picture of what we are. Of who we are.

Why don't my countrymates, people like David Bahati, why dont they understand us, when people coming from thousands of miles away, from another continent, understand us?

A simple statement from GUG strikes to the core of the issue:

You don't have to be gay, or to be into gay politics to be human.

Image by Marc Hofer for the New York Times

Americans' Role Seen in Uganda's Anti-Gay Push [NY Times]
Gay in Uganda, and Feeling Hunted [NY Times]
Gay In Uganda [GayUganda]
The Kindness of Total Strangers... [GayUganda]