“The Final Solution”? Gay Ugandans Could Face Death Penalty Under New Law

Amie Newman

In Uganda, though homosexual acts are already illegal, a new bill would penalize homosexuality with tougher penalties - along the lines of life imprisonment and the death penalty.

In Uganda, the blogger known as the GayUgandan is calling it "the final solution."

Though homosexual acts are already illegal in that country, a new bill would penalize homosexuality with tougher penalties – along the lines of life imprisonment and the death penalty. Yes, you read that right. The "Anti-Homosexuality" Bill imposes stricter definitions for "homosexual behavior", extending the definition according to the blog Box Turtle Bulletin, from sexual activity to "merely touch[ing] another person with the intention of committing the act of homosexuality", and harsher sentences for what the Ugandan Parliament is calling "aggravated homosexuality." It sounds more like aggravated, fearful heterosexuals with hate in their heart. But "aggravated homosexuality"? What is that?

According to the BBC, "aggravated homosexuality" would warrant the death penalty for "repeat offenders" and includes such "crimes" as having sex when you’re HIV positive, having sex with a partner who has a disability, or when your partner is under 17 years old. 

Haute Haiku, writing on Global Voices Online, shares that, "The bill further prohibits adoption by gay couples; any person who
aids, promotes, counsels any acts of homosexuality in any way will face
up to seven years imprisonment, or risk a fine…"

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These sorts of sympathizers include friends (who are required to "report" when a gay person comes out to them within 24 hours), NGOs that offer services to gay Ugandans along the lines of HIV prevention, producers and/or distributors of materials geared towards gay Ugandans and – yes – bloggers. 

The GayUgandan is a blogger who covers "issues concerning gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and other sexual minorities in Uganda and Africa" and he writes, 

"Oh, the gayuganda blog is one of the things which
are illegal, as per that bill. I am furiously promoting homosexuality
on this blog, complaining about a law like this. So, 5 years in prison,
and my (non existent) bank balance will be set back by 100M Uganda
shillings…! And the people who dare to give us condoms and lubricant
for sex… Or, if you dare to have an HIV prevention programme for
homosexuals in Uganda… or even try to teach safer sex. Well, the
penalties are stiff. Very stiff. Jail, and jail and other things."

Lest you think, says the GayUgandan, that international human rights’ treaties will somehow protect gay Ugandans from this law,

"Oh, someone in Colombia
asked me to run there when things become serious here. You know what, I
will have to give up my citizenship. I cannot be gay, and Ugandan.
Because if I go to Colombia and have sex with my lover, then, even if
it is years afterwards, I will be liable to the punishments so legally
laid out in law…!

And, and, and, you are
thinking of the international laws and treaties and conventions that
protect other human beings? They are not going to be protective. Not to
a gay Ugandan. No. Because they are going to be neutralized by the law."

And how will law enforcement know of your illegal acts? Your illegal sexual identity? Michael Madill, writing in The Monitor, an independent publication for Ugandans, warns fellow citizens of the real possibility of Nazi Germany like methods being employed,

"Since you can’t tell a gay man or woman just by looking, everyone is at
risk. This puts power into the hands of the snitch, the aggrieved
spouse or employee, the wronged friend or election opponent.  Once you
are branded, the stigma and its judicial consequences will be hard to
shake.  Are you prepared to suffer imprisonment and possibly physical
violence because someone says they saw you commit an act or saw your name in an e-mail list?"

Frank Magisha, a gay human rights activist in Uganda interviewed by the BBC,
calls these new laws, "a total abuse of human rights." He says his
organization agrees that if Uganda wants to criminalize sexual
violence, sexual acts with a minor, or having sex with someone without
revealing that you are HIV positive, these laws should be entirely
separate from laws governing sexual orientation in his country.

Magisha tells the BBC that it’s evangelicals in his country
who are spreading anti-gay, hateful propaganda in order to drum up
support for this bill – a bill that seems only to legislate their own, religious dogma.

Bishop Ntgali, head of an Anglican church in Uganda, is quoted in The Christian Science Monitor today, "Homosexuality is a big issue in Africa. The
Bible says that only men of good standing, following the word of Christ
can be leaders of the Church. We disagree with our counterparts in
England and America, who ordain homosexuals as priests."

The Christian Science Monitor also notes that,

"Nowhere is this issue more intense than in Africa, where many see
homosexuality as an affront to the community as a whole. In South
Africa, for instance, it is not uncommon for women thought to be
lesbians to be gang-raped in the belief that they will be "cured" of
homosexuality."

The current Ugandan law, along with the harsher one on the table, may be born from the influence of the Ugandan church but some see that they are also influenced by an alliance between a well-known American church-leader and a well-known Ugandan pastor as well. Pastor Rick Warren, best-selling author extraordinaire, leader of the Saddleback Church, is a compatriot of the paranoid, religious-extremist voice of Uganda, Pastor Martin Ssempa. Ssempa, according to Max Blumenthal, engages in outrageous acts in the name of denouncing homosexuality in Uganda:

"Ssempa’s stunts have included burning condoms in the name of Jesus and
arranging the publication of names of homosexuals in cooperative local
newspapers while lobbying for criminal penalties to imprison them."

The Formers Blog’s Debbie Thurman writes of this bill and the not-so-curious connection to American anti-gay church leaders,

The American Church has high-profile folks like Rick Warren touting his
PEACE plan and traveling to Uganda and reportedly lobbying behind the
scenes while also hosting Martin Ssempa at his own Saddleback AIDS
conference in the past. I don’t think Warren can pretend he doesn’t
know what is happening or come off looking as if he doesn’t care. He
ought to be speaking up, and I and others have called on him to do just
that.

Warren’s success at infusing PEPFAR (The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) under President Bush with church- and ideologically-based prevention efforts (focusing on abstinence-only and monogamy as the only prevention behaviors over proven, evidence based HIV and AIDS prevention efforts), is well-known. Pastor Warren and Pastor Ssempra, along with the Saddleback Church, have worked closely with Janet Museveni – Uganda’s First Lady – and former President Bush, to craft U.S. international AIDS prevention plans and efforts in Uganda with Christian ideology. Warren’s and Saddleback Church’s actions thus far, of course, cannot be separated from the strong anti-homosexuality message in Uganda, whether by overt influence or more subtle impart.  

As Kathryn Joyce wrote back in January of this year, on Rewire

"As journalist
Michelle Goldberg noted at Religion Dispatches, one of
Warren’s protégés in Uganda, the rabidly anti-gay pastor Martin Ssempa, has
interpreted Warren’s faith-driven solutions to the HIV/AIDS epidemic by burning
condoms at universities and offering faith-healing to disease-stricken congregants."

There is clearly a connection between these kinds of anti-gay, faith-based HIV and AIDS "prevention" efforts and the homophobic, hate law being considered in Uganda. The stigma associated with being gay in Uganda and the faith-driven ways in which the countries’ leaders, with support from church and government leaders in the United States, attempt to address HIV and AIDS will only lead to more deaths should this new incarnation of the anti-homosexuality bill pass. 

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission is taking action, encouraging people to contact Ugandan government officials demanding the "swift dismissal" of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Their sample letter can be sent to officials in both Uganda and ambassadors in the United States.This is about sexual identity, on one level, but about the rights of all of us to live in accord with who we really are, without fear of retribution. What gay and lesbian people are going through in Uganda should be a red, flashing, ear piercing siren that holocausts and genocides begin with this kind of propaganda, fear-mongering and hate. 

 

Commentary Sexual Health

Fewer Young People Are Getting Formal Sex Education, But Can a New Federal Bill Change That?

Martha Kempner

Though the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act has little chance of passing Congress, its inclusive and evidence-based approach is a much-needed antidote to years of publicly funded abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which may have contributed to troubling declines in youth knowledge about sexual and reproductive health.

Recent research from the Guttmacher Institute finds there have been significant changes in sexuality education during the last decade—and not for the better.

Fewer young people are receiving “formal sex education,” meaning classes that take place in schools, youth centers, churches, or community settings. And parents are not necessarily picking up the slack. This does not surprise sexuality education advocates, who say shrinking resources and restrictive public policies have pushed comprehensive programs—ones that address sexual health and contraception, among other topics—out of the classroom, while continued funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs has allowed uninformative ones to remain.

But just a week before this research was released in April, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act (REHYA). If passed, REHYA would allocate federal funding for accurate, unbiased sexuality education programs that meet strict content requirements. More importantly, it would lay out a vision of what sexuality education could and should be.

Can this act ensure that more young people get high-quality sexuality education?

In the short term: No. Based on the track record of our current Congress, it has little chance of passing. But in the long run, absolutely.

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Less Sexuality Education Today

The Guttmacher Institute’s new study compared data from two rounds of a national survey in the years 2006-2010 and 2011-2013. It found that even the least controversial topics in sex education—sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV and AIDS—are taught less today than a few years ago. The proportion of young women taught about STDs declined from 94 percent to 90 percent between the two time periods, and young women taught about HIV and AIDS declined from 89 percent to 86 percent during the same period.

While it may seem like a lot of young people are still learning about these potential consequences of unprotected sex, few are learning how to prevent them. In the 2011-2013 survey, only 50 percent of teen girls and 58 percent of teen boys had received formal instruction about how to use a condom before they turned 18. And the percentage of teens who reported receiving formal education about birth control in general decreased from 70 percent to 60 percent among girls and from 61 percent to 55 percent among boys.

One of the only things that did increase was the percentage of teen girls (from 22 percent to 28 percent) and boys (from 29 to 35 percent) who said they got instruction on “how to say no to sex”—but no corresponding instruction on birth control.

Unfortunately, many parents do not appear to be stepping in to fill the gap left by formal education. The study found that while there’s been a decline in formal education, there has been little change in the number of kids who say they’ve spoken to their parents about birth control.

Debra Hauser, president of Advocates for Youth, told Rewire that this can lead to a dangerous situation: “In the face of declining formal education and little discussion from their parents, young people are left to fend for themselves, often turning to their friends or the internet-either of which can be fraught with trouble.”

The study makes it very clear that we are leaving young people unprepared to make responsible decisions about sex. When they do receive education, it isn’t always timely: It found that in 2011-2013, 43 percent of teen females and 57 percent of teen males did not receive information about birth control before they had sex for the first time.

It could be tempting to argue that the situation is not actually dire because teen pregnancy rates are at a historic low, potentially suggesting that young people can make do without formal sex education or even parental advice. Such an argument would be a mistake. Teen pregnancy rates are dropping for a variety of reasons, but mostly because because teens are using contraception more frequently and more effectively. And while that is great news, it is insufficient.

Our goals in providing sex education have to go farther than getting young people to their 18th or 21st birthday without a pregnancy. We should be working to ensure that young people grow up to be sexually healthy adults who have safe and satisfying relationships for their whole lives.

But for anyone who needs an alarming statistic to prove that comprehensive sex education is still necessary, here’s one: Adolescents make up just one quarter of the population, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate they account for more than half of the 20 million new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that occur each year in this country.

The Real Education for Healthy Youth Act

The best news about the REHYA is that it takes a very broad approach to sexuality education, provides a noble vision of what young people should learn, and seems to understand that changes should take place not just in K-12 education but through professional development opportunities as well.

As Advocates for Youth explains, if passed, REHYA would be the first federal legislation to ever recognize young people’s right to sexual health information. It would allocate funding for education that includes a wide range of topics, including communication and decision-making skills; safe and healthy relationships; and preventing unintended pregnancy, HIV, other STIs, dating violence, sexual assault, bullying, and harassment.

In addition, it would require all funded programs to be inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students and to meet the needs of young people who are sexually active as well as those who are not. The grants could also be used for adolescents and young adults in institutes of higher education. Finally, the bill recognizes the importance of teacher training and provides resources to prepare sex education instructors.

If we look at the federal government’s role as leading by example, then REHYA is a great start. It sets forth a plan, starts a conversation, and moves us away from decades of focusing on disproven abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. In fact, one of the fun parts of this new bill is that it diverts funding from the Title V program, which received $75 million dollars in Fiscal Year 2016. That funding has supported programs that stick to a strict eight-point definition of “abstinence education” (often called the “A-H definition”) that, among other things, tells young people that sex outside of marriage is against societal norms and likely to have harmful physical and psychological effects.

The federal government does not make rules on what can and cannot be taught in classrooms outside of those programs it funds. Broad decisions about topics are made by each state, while more granular decisions—such as what curriculum to use or videos to show—are made by local school districts. But the growth of the abstinence-only-until-marriage approach and the industry that spread it, researchers say, was partially due to federal funding and the government’s “stamp of approval.”

Heather Boonstra, director of public policy at the Guttmacher Institute and a co-author of its study, told Rewire: “My sense is that [government endorsement] really spurred the proliferation of a whole industry and gave legitimacy—and still does—to this very narrow approach.”

The money—$1.5 billion total between 1996 and 2010—was, of course, at the heart of a lot of that growth. School districts, community-based organizations, and faith-based institutions created programs using federal and state money. And a network of abstinence-only-until-marriage organizations grew up to provide the curricula and materials these programs needed. But the reach was broader than that: A number of states changed the rules governing sex education to insist that schools stress abstinence. Some even quoted all or part of the A-H definition in their state laws.

REHYA would provide less money to comprehensive education than the abstinence-only-until-marriage funding streams did to their respective programs, but most advocates agree that it is important nonetheless. As Jesseca Boyer, vice president at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), told Rewire, “It establishes a vision of what the government could do in terms of supporting sex education.”

Boonstra noted that by providing the model for good programs and some money that would help organizations develop materials for those programs, REHYA could have a broader reach than just the programs it would directly fund.

The advocates Rewire spoke with agree on something else, as well: REHYA has very little chance of passing in this Congress. But they’re not deterred. Even if it doesn’t become law this year, or next, it is moving the pendulum back toward the comprehensive approach to sex education that our young people need.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to clarify Jesseca Boyer’s position at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

Commentary Religion

Why Did Anti-Choice Activists Harass Unitarians in New Orleans?

Amanda Marcotte

Last week activists interrupted a New Orleans Unitarian Universalist service to hector the congregants, demonstrating how the anti-choice movement is seeking to attack the long-standing American tradition of religious tolerance.

As Teddy Wilson reported for Rewire, anti-choice protesters from the group Operation Save America spent a week recently harassing the residents of New Orleans (as though that city has not had its share of grief in recent years). The ostensible reason for the protests was to target a Planned Parenthood that’s being built in the area to provide legal abortion care, but one incident in particular showed how “abortion” continues to be a Trojan horse for the real agenda here: a fundamentalist attack on the long-standing American tradition of religious freedom and tolerance.

Some of the anti-choice activists invaded the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans while members were observing a moment of silence for a deceased congregant and proceeded to abuse and harass the people inside the church. The folks from Operation Save America were hardly ashamed of this deplorable behavior, instead bragging on their website about disrupting services at the “synagogue of Satan” and making special note of haranguing the female pastor, who they called a “pastor,” in scare quotes. (But they’re in this for “life” and not because they have a problem with women!) This behavior isn’t necessarily any worse than the miseries they subject clinic patients and workers to, but it serves as a reminder that the reason anti-choice “protesters” get into the lifestyle is that they are bullies, full stop.

Why did they pick on a Unitarian church? The ostensible reason is Unitarian support for reproductive rights and social justice, which antis seem to have decided Jesus was against, despite biblical evidence to the contrary. But let’s be honest here: Their hostility against the church likely was just as much, if not more, about the long-standing fundamentalist hostility to the Unitarian church for being open-minded and accepting of people who have a variety of beliefs. Unitarians have been targeted for hate crimes before, most notably in a Knoxville shooting in 2008.

(It’s worth pointing out that while Operation Save America—like most fundamentalist organizations—imagines itself “restoring” some kind of halcyon past, the Unitarian Universalist Church has deeper roots in American history than Bible-thumping fundamentalism. The two churches, which combined in the 1960s, date back to 1793 and 1825. In contrast, belief in the “Rapture,” which is a common marker of modern evangelical fundamentalists, only really started in the late 19th century and only became popular in the late 20th century.)

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Basically, “abortion” was just a flimsy cover for what’s really going on, which is a fundamentalist war on the very Enlightenment principles—of which the Unitarian Universalist Church is a long-standing historical emblem—that undergird our Constitution. There are many pro-choice churches, but the religious pluralism of the Unitarians is what really sets fundamentalists off. Indeed, there’s a strong reason to believe that the religious right is basically using the battle over reproductive rights to advance a much larger agenda against religious tolerance. And the strategy is to argue that their own “religious freedom” cannot be protected without taking yours away.

That is, after all, what’s at the heart of the two recent Supreme Court decisions over whether or not abortion clinics can have buffer zones and whether or not your boss’s opinion on birth control should matter more than your own when it comes to insurance coverage of contraception. In both cases, anti-choicers argued that their own freedom could only be protected by taking someone else’s away. With the abortion buffer zone case, anti-choicers argued that their “right” to impose their views on you should trump your right to ignore them. In the Hobby Lobby case, anti-choicers argued that “religious freedom” can only be protected by forcing other people’s health-care plans to meet your own religious beliefs, just because they work for you. In both cases, anti-choicers won with the argument that the fundamentalist “right” to impose their religion trumps the American tradition of religious tolerance.

Now the argument that the “religious freedom” of fundamentalists relies on taking the freedoms of others away is out there, and there’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was heard recently encouraging opponents of gay rights to see themselves as victimized and their religious freedom being trod upon, even though they are actually the ones seeking to take away the rights of others. “[T]oday, there is a growing intolerance on this issue, intolerance towards those who continue to support traditional marriage,” he said, claiming that it’s wrong, for instance, for the CEO of Mozilla to be forced out for being anti-gay. (Rubio did not extend this logic to its conclusion and argue for reinstating Donald Sterling as the owner of the LA Clippers. Why is it OK to fire people for being racist, but not for being anti-gay, Rubio?)

But mostly his argument rested on the assumption that calling bigotry by its rightful name is somehow a grievous violation of human rights. “And I promise you that even before this speech is over, I will be attacked as a hater, a bigot or someone who is anti-gay,” he said. “This intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy.”

The problem with this is no one is actually being “intolerant” of homophobes. No one is arguing that their freedom of speech should be denied, nor are they arguing that churches that preach anti-gay views should be shut down. No one is denying their right to organize or to hate gay people as long as they want. The “offensive” thing that gay rights activists are doing is fighting for their own rights. At the end of the day, what this argument boils down to is suggesting that the religious freedom of fundamentalists can only be protected by taking away the freedom, religious and otherwise, of gay people to marry—that your same-sex marriage somehow deprives them of rights.

Obviously, people should support reproductive rights for the sake of women’s health and well-being. But it’s also important to understand that while the attacks on reproductive rights are quite sincere—antis really are upset that you have sex without their permission!—the issue is part and parcel of a larger campaign to end the long American tradition of religious plurality, of understanding that the best way for religious freedom to be protected is for everyone to stay in their own lanes. It’s about giving fundamentalists not just the right to practice their own faith but the “right” to foist their faith on you.