Gay Rights Can Only Be Secured By Fighting For Human Rights For All Ugandans

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Uganda's Museveni

[Uganda's Anti-Gay Bill]

In “God Loves Uganda,” filmmaker Roger Ross Williams follows a group of American Christian missionaries as they try to launch a religious revival in this impoverished East African country. It soon becomes depressingly clear that these young evangelists are linked to a group of American and Ugandan preachers who are persecuting Uganda’s gays and lesbians.

The preachers are behind Uganda’s controversial anti-homosexuality bill, which makes “aggravated homosexuality” — meaning habitual gay or lesbian sex — punishable by a life sentence. Under this law, even straight Ugandans who fail to report friends who engage in gay sex could end up behind bars.

On Feb 24 , Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed this draconian bill into law, reversing an earlier promise to veto it. His change of heart will disappoint those Western donors who give Uganda nearly $1 billion in foreign aid annually. In recent weeks, the head of the European Union delegation in Uganda, Kristian Schmidt, met with Museveni in person, urging him not to sign it. U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice spent hours on the phone with Museveni trying to talk him out of it. In the midst of a Sunday golf game on Feb. 16, President Barack Obama issued a stern statement condemning the law, warning that by signing it, Museveni could harm Uganda’s relations with the U.S., currently the nation’s second-most-generous donor, after the United Kingdom.

“God Loves Uganda” rightly exposes the poisonous movement that gave rise to the anti-gay bill. Yet the film — an Oscar nominee for best documentary — as well as the diplomatic reaction to it overlook other serious human rights abuses in Uganda that affect far more people. Inadvertently, the filmmakers and diplomats — despite their good intentions — are ignoring one of the harshest crackdowns on human rights on the African continent and playing right into Museveni’s hands.

The documentary suggests that American Christian zealots like Scott Lively, a California minister and a co-author of “The Pink Swastika,” manipulated the bill’s Ugandan authors. Lively is shown in the film explaining to a group of rapt Ugandans his theories that homosexuals helped plan the Holocaust, have infiltrated the United Nations and the European Union and will soon take over the world if Christians don’t stop them.

But the Ugandans who drafted the anti-gay bill had it in mind long before Lively arrived. In 2004, I interviewed Martin Ssempa, one of the vehemently anti-gay Ugandan pastors who helped draft the legislation. In “God Loves Uganda,” he screens a sadomasochistic gay porn video and tells his audience that this is what Western homosexuals have in store for their children. When I met Ssempa 10 years ago, he had not yet begun his anti-homosexuality crusade; we mainly discussed U.S.-government-funded abstinence-only campaigns. But he was not shy about his views on homosexuality. He told me that gays were trying to create sexual pandemonium so that dark forces could steal Uganda’s natural resources.

Four years later he joined Uganda’s Ethics Minister James Buturo and ruling party caucus chairman David Bahati to draft the anti-homosexuality bill. Ordinary Ugandans, who knew very little about homosexuality and were horrified by Ssempa’s S&M videos, supported the bill.

For the rest of the Op-Ed please see Aljazeera America

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