In the 1970s and 1980s, Uganda was notorious for its human rights abuses, first during the military dictatorship of Idi Amin from 1971-79 and then after the return to power of Milton Obote, ousted by Amin. Since the late 1980s, Uganda has recovered from civil war and economic hardships to become fairly peaceful and prosperous. Yoweri Museveni, who became Uganda's president in 1986, brought major democratic reforms to the country and is credited with substantially improving human rights and reducing abuses by the army and the police.
With the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009, it looks like Uganda is ready to kiss those human rights goodbye again.
The government is now considering legislation that would impose harsh(er) punishment for homosexual behavior. Currently, gay people in Uganda can be jailed for 14 years for engaging in homosexual acts. The new bill would raise that to life imprisonment, though no one has ever been convicted of homosexual acts in Uganda. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill (yes, that's its name) also proposes the death penalty if a minor or disabled person is involved in a homosexual act, and if the "offender" is HIV-positive and/or a "serial offender." There's also a mandatory seven years for helping, counseling, or encouraging another person to engage in a homosexual act.
Let's be clear: Uganda is not unique in its anti-gay sentiments. Homosexuality is illegal in Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Mauritania, Nigeria, Cameroon, Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mauritius, Somalia, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana.
In Mauritania, Nigeria, Sudan, and Somalia, the penalty for homosexual acts is death or life imprisonment. In fact, only South Africa recognizes same-sex couples in any legal regard.
Uganda's president is now under pressure from international donors who contribute a large portion of Uganda's budget. Among those most strongly opposing the bill is Sweden, which has said it would withdraw the $50 million in aid it gives to Uganda each year if the bill becomes law. And, everyone from The New York Times to The Washington Post is bringing the shame and calling atrocity on this one. We'll see if the threat of losing funding causes any epiphanies.
Here's what's more disconcerting to me. Three of America's most potent evangelical preachers, Scott Lively, an anti-homosexuality missionary; 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," gave a series of talks in Uganda last March against the "gay agenda." The topics 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."
But now, Lively, Brundidge, and Schmierer are shocked about the severity of the bill, saying they "feel duped" or even "some of the nicest people I know are gay." Really? You go to a third-world country where you know the culture is hostile to and fearful of homosexuality and not only give that sentiment more energy but act as a consultant for the creation of the legislation. Accountability? Party of NONE.
I'm not naïve enough to think that the Ugandan government couldn't have come up with this legislation without these three evangelical stooges fanning the flames. But isn't it beyond time people stood behind their words and actions — and the resulting consequences? Blood, tears, and horror, all in the name of protecting "the family?"
They have the knowledge, money, and opportunity to improve the world and choose instead to spew hate — and then have the audacity to act surprised when the blood spills. Thanks, but my family is far safer without them.