Why Ugandans Embrace U.S. Christian Right’s Anti-Gay Agenda

Edwin Okong’o

American religious right-wingers are flocking to Africa and are having more success in passing new legislation criminalizing homosexuality there than they are having in the United States. The most vicious of those laws is in Uganda.

UPDATE: January 13th, 9:28 am: Uganda’s newspaper New Vision reports that Museveni has made concerns about the foreign policy and foreign assistance impact known to members of his party. See the story here.

This article was originally published by
New America Media  and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

There is a
joke among Africans about how colonialism began. A Christian missionary came
with a Bible in hand, told our ancestors to bow their heads for a prayer, and
when they opened their eyes their land was gone. Today, the same can be said
about African constitutions.

American religious right-wingers are flocking to Africa and are having more
success in passing new legislation criminalizing homosexuality there than they
are having in Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia.

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The most vicious of those laws is in Uganda, where Parliament is now
considering a bill that would make some homosexual acts punishable by death.
Although they have denied it, evidence suggests that American right-wingers are
in the forefront of this war on homosexuality.

Among them is the Fellowship Foundation, better known as the Family, a
secretive but powerful evangelical club that includes U.S. senators and
congressmen. Republican senators Jim Inhofe, Tom Coburn, John Ensign, Jim
DeMint and Sam Brownback belong to the group. The group includes members like
Mike McIntyre, a conservative Democratic congressman, who believes that the Ten
Commandments are "the fundamental legal code for the laws of the United
States."

Publicly, the Family’s most prominent event is a National Prayer Breakfast held
in Washington, D.C., which has been attended by congressmen, senators, and even
presidents. In his book, "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of
American Power," New York University scholar Jeff Sharlet writes that of the
Family’s $14 million budget, "the bulk of it, $12 million, goes to ‘mentoring,
counseling, and partnering with friends around the world.’"

In other words, having failed to turn the United States into a true "Nation
under God," American evangelicals are going to Africa to satisfy that calling.
Is there a better place to create Christian nations than in a continent with
nearly 500 million impoverished believers, and easily corruptible governments?
Similar laws have been proposed, or exist, in Nigeria, Burundi, Rwanda and
Malawi.

"You develop a relationship with the [African] presidents in the spirit of
Jesus," Sen. Inhofe said in a February 2009 interview posted on the website of
Faith and Action, an evangelical Christian group, whose "mission is to awaken
the conscience of our nation by proclaiming Truth to those in positions of
power."

In his book, Sharlet writes that Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni is the
organization’s "key man" in Africa. Museveni’s relationship with the Family
goes as far back as 1986, when he came to power following a bloody civil war.
David Bahati, the Ugandan lawmaker who introduced the anti-gay bill, is also a
member of the Family.

U.S. evangelical groups have gotten so close to African religious and political
leaders that they openly conduct their hateful crusades. In early March 2009,
for example, U.S. religious extremists played a central role in the "Seminar on
Exposing the Homosexuals’ Agenda" held in Kampala, Uganda. Among speakers was
Scott Lively, a California evangelical pastor who heads Abiding Truth Ministry.

Rev. Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian priest who went undercover to the "viciously
homophobic" conference, quoted one Ugandan attendee as saying, "The man of God
(Scott Lively) told us about…a movement behind the promotion of homosexuality.
… I got to know that there is a force behind homosexuality, which we need to
tackle with force. He also told us that these people who are behind this…evil,
they have all resources that they need…to spread this evil. We need to stand
firm to fight homosexuality."

Evangelicals have managed to succeed in promoting homophobia by taking
advantage of Africans’ lack of adequate information. They have presented
homosexuality as a new "culture," rather than something that has existed all
along.

Kaoma quotes yet another Ugandan from the anti-gay conference: "Dr. Scott told
us about Brazil where, 10 years ago, homosexuality was unheard of. Today, it is
the capital. There are people that have been against homosexuality that are
having to leave because of the pressure and the threats that they are putting
on them. That is how serious it is."

Africans take such filth without questions because they suffer from a severe
case of inferiority complex. Even worse, they staunchly believe in the
supremacy of the white man. Ill-informed Christians like the ones Rev. Kaoma
quotes above, place the white man immediately below the Holy Trinity, a belief
with its roots in the colonial era.

Growing up in Kenya, I heard stories about how supernatural the white man was.
When we did well in school, our parents and teachers said we were as
intelligent as white men. When you went to take a bath, Ma told you to come out
as clean as a white man. If the white doctor at the hospital failed to diagnose
your disease, death was imminent.

Even among the "educated," this plague runs deep. In 2006, I
mentioned to my younger brother — a graduate of a Kenyan university — that I
had co-taught a writing class at the University of California, Berkeley, where
I was studying journalism.

"Come on! Stop playing," he brushed me off and laughed.

When he was finally convinced that I was telling the truth, he asked, "Were there white students in the class?"

Having gone through schools reading mostly textbooks written by white men,
Africans are programmed to accept any Western literature. Add the word of God
to that and the white man’s message becomes gospel truth. That’s why when a
white religious fanatic like Scott Lively writes in his book, "The Pink
Swastika," that Nazis committed the Holocaust because they were gay, without
hesitation Africans promise "to stand firm to fight homosexuality."

As I ponder over this issue I’m reminded of the 1980s, when Reinhard Bonnke, a
German evangelist who claimed to have healing powers, visited Kenya. Business
came to a halt, as people with all kinds of ailments traveled to Nairobi to
seek his miracles. Kenyans flocked Bonnke’s sermons because they believed that
as a white man, he was closer to Jesus Christ than were black evangelists.

If Archbishop Manassas Kuria, who at the time was the Anglican primate of the
Church of Kenya, had called a press conference to announce that he had healing
powers, they would have laughed at him, and perhaps accuse him of blasphemy.
Black clergymen do not perform miracles.

The belief that black people can only speak to God through white men is
illustrated in the same interview Sen. Inhofe gave to Faith and Action. Inhofe
describes the Family’s work in a "miserable" village in Benin. The hamlet’s
name translates to "Village of Darkness," he says, and children "drink mud and
die of dysentery." The evangelicals rescue the village by providing sanitary
water.

When residents ask why the evangelicals have decided to shine light on the
village, the Americans say, "Because we love you." And when they ask, "Why do
you love us?" they answer, "Because Jesus loves us."

No one asks why Jesus didn’t send love directly to Africa without going through
middlemen. Inhofe says today the village has changed its name to "The Village
of Jesus", thanks to the Savior’s "miracles."

Now imagine telling such people that the "force behind homosexuality" threatens
to corrupt their children and anger Jesus. They will "stand firm to fight" this
"evil." Enacting laws allows them to hide the blood in their hands.

News Law and Policy

Pastors Fight Illinois’ Ban on ‘Gay Conversion Therapy’

Imani Gandy

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban so-called gay conversion therapy. Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans.

A group of pastors filed a lawsuit last week arguing an Illinois law that bans mental health providers from engaging in so-called gay conversion therapy unconstitutionally infringes on rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

The Illinois legislature passed the Youth Mental Health Protection Act, which went into effect on January 1. The measure bans mental health providers from engaging in sexual orientation change efforts or so-called conversion therapy with a minor.

The pastors in their lawsuit argue the enactment of the law means they are “deprived of the right to further minister to those who seek their help.”

While the pastors do not qualify as mental health providers since they are neither licensed counselors nor social workers, the pastors allege that they may be liable for consumer fraud under Section 25 of the law, which states that “no person or entity” may advertise or otherwise offer “conversion therapy” services “in a manner that represents homosexuality as a mental disease, disorder, or illness.”

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The pastors’ lawsuit seeks an order from a federal court in Illinois exempting pastoral counseling from the law. The pastors believe that “the law should not apply to pastoral counseling which informs counselees that homosexuality conduct is a sin and disorder from God’s plan for humanity,” according to a press release issued by the pastors’ attorneys.

Illinois is one of a handful of states that ban gay “conversion therapy.” Lawmakers in four states—California, Oregon, Vermont, and New Jersey—along with Washington, D.C. have passed such bans. None have been struck down as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court this year declined to take up a case challenging New Jersey’s “gay conversion therapy” ban on First Amendment grounds.

The pastors say the Illinois law is different. The complaint alleges that the Illinois statute is broader than those like it in other states because the prohibitions in the law is not limited to licensed counselors, but also apply to “any person or entity in the conduct of any trade or commerce,” which they claim affects clergy.

The pastors allege that the law is not limited to counseling minors but “prohibits offering such counseling services to any person, regardless of age.”

Aside from demanding protection for their own rights, the group of pastors asked the court for an order “protecting the rights of counselees in their congregations and others to receive pastoral counseling and teaching on the matters of homosexuality.”

“We are most concerned about young people who are seeking the right to choose their own identity,” the pastors’ attorney, John W. Mauck, said in a statement.

“This is an essential human right. However, this law undermines the dignity and integrity of those who choose a different path for their lives than politicians and activists prefer,” he continued.

“Gay conversion therapy” bans have gained traction after Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teenager, committed suicide following her experience with so-called conversion therapy.

Before taking her own life, Alcorn posted on Reddit that her parents had refused her request to transition to a woman.

“The[y] would only let me see biased Christian therapists, who instead of listening to my feelings would try to change me into a straight male who loved God, and I would cry after every session because I felt like it was hopeless and there was no way I would ever become a girl,” she wrote of her experience with conversion therapy.

The American Psychological Association, along with a coalition of health advocacy groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers, have condemned “gay conversion therapy” as potentially harmful to young people “because they present the view that the sexual orientation of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth is a mental illness or disorder, and they often frame the inability to change one’s sexual orientation as a personal and moral failure.”

The White House in 2015 took a stance against so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth.

Attorneys for the State of Illinois have not yet responded to the pastors’ lawsuit.

Culture & Conversation Politics

Latino Votes Count or ‘Why Would They Be Trying to Suppress Them?’: Dolores Huerta on What’s at Stake in 2016

Ally Boguhn

“We know that we’ve had this problem that Latinos sometimes don’t vote—they feel intimidated, they feel like maybe their vote doesn’t matter,” Huerta told Rewire. Huerta encouraged people to consider both what is at stake and why their vote might be suppressed in the first place.

Republican nominee Donald Trump launched his campaign for president in June 2015 with a speech notoriously claiming Mexican immigrants to the United States “are bringing drugs, and bringing crime, and their rapists.”

Since then, both Trump’s campaign and the Republican Party at large have continued to rely upon anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric to drum up support. Take for example, this year’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio—whose department came under fire earlier this year for racially profiling Latinos—was invited to take the stage to push Trump’s proposed 2,000-mile border wall. Arpaio told the Arizona Republic that Trump’s campaign had worked with the sheriff to finalize his speech.

This June, just a day shy of the anniversary of Trump’s entrance into the presidential race, People for the American Way and CASA in Action hosted an event highlighting what they deemed to be the presumptive Republican nominee’s “Year of Hate.”

Among the advocates speaking at the event was legendary civil rights leader Dolores Huerta, who worked alongside César Chávez in the farm workers’ movement. Speaking by phone the next day with Rewire, Huerta—who has endorsed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton—detailed the importance of Latinos getting involved in the 2016 election, and what she sees as being at stake for the community.

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The Trump campaign is “promoting a culture of violence,” Huerta told Rewire, adding that it “is not just limited to the rallies,” which have sometimes ended in violent incidents, “but when he is attacking Mexicans, and gays, and women, and making fun of disabled people.”

Huerta didn’t just see this kind of rhetoric as harmful to Latinos. When asked about its effect on the country at large, she suggested it affected not only those who already held racist beliefs, but also people living in the communities of color those people may then target. “For those people who are already racist, it sort of reinforces their racism,” she said. “I think people have their own frustrations in their lives and they take it out on immigrants, they take it out on women. And I think that it really endangers so many people of color.”

The inflammatory rhetoric toward people of color by presidential candidates has led to “an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom,” according to an April report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The organization’s analysis of the impact of the 2016 presidential election on classrooms across the country found “an increase in bullying, harassment and intimidation of students whose races, religions or nationalities have been the verbal targets of candidates on the campaign trail.” Though the SPLC did not name Trump in its questions, its survey of about 2,000 K-12 educators elicited up more than 1,000 comments about the Republican nominee, compared to less than 200 comments mentioning other presidential candidates still in the race at that time.

But the 2016 election presents an opportunity for those affected by that violent rhetoric to make their voices heard, said Huerta. “The Latino vote is going to be the decisive vote in terms of who is going to be elected the president of the United States,” she continued, later noting that “we’ve actually seen a resurgence right now of Latinos registering to vote and Latinos becoming citizens.”

However, a desire to vote may not always be enough. Latinos, along with other marginalized groups, face many barriers when it comes to voting due to the onslaught of voter restrictions pushed by conservative lawmakers across the country—a problem only exacerbated by the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling gutting portions of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) meant to safeguard against voter suppression efforts. The 2016 election season will be the first presidential election without those protections.

As many as 875,000 eligible Latino voters could face difficulty voting thanks to new restrictions—such as voter ID laws, proof of citizenship requirements, and shortened early voting periods—put into place since the 2012 elections, a May analysis from the National Association of Elected and Appointed Officials found.

When it comes to restrictions like this, Huerta “absolutely” saw how they could create barriers for those hoping to cast their ballot this year. “They’ve made all of these restrictions that keep especially the Latino population from voting. So it’s very scary,” said Huerta, pointing to laws in states like Texas, which previously had one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country. (The state has since agreed to weaken its law following a judge’s order).

“We know that we’ve had this problem that Latinos sometimes don’t vote—they feel intimidated, they feel like maybe their vote doesn’t matter,” Huerta went on.

Huerta encouraged people to consider both what is at stake and why their voting rights might be targeted in the first place. “What we have to think about is, if they’re doing so much to suppress the vote of the Latino and the African-American community, that means that that vote really counts. It really matters or else why would they be trying to suppress them?”

Appealing to those voters means tapping into the issues Latinos care about. “I think the issues [Latinos care about] are very, very clear,” said Huerta when asked how a presidential candidate could best appeal to the demographic. “I mean, immigration of course is one of the issues that we have, but then education is another one, and health care.”

A February survey conducted jointly by the Washington Post and Univision found that the top five issues Latino voters cared about in the 2016 election cycle were jobs and the economy (33 percent), immigration (17 percent), education (16 percent), health care (11 percent), and terrorism (9 percent).

Another election-year issue that could affect voters is the nomination of a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Huerta added. She pointed out the effect justices have on our society by using the now-decided Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt case as an example. “You know, again, when we think of the presidents, and we think of the Supreme Court and we know that [was] one of the issues that [was] pending in the Supreme Court … whether what they did in Texas … was constitutional or not with all of the restrictions they put on the health clinics,” she said.

Latinas disproportionately face large barriers to reproductive health care. According to Planned Parenthood, they “experience higher rates of reproductive cancers, unintended pregnancy, and sexually transmitted infections than most other groups of people.” Those barriers are only exacerbated by laws like Texas’ HB 2, as the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health explained in its amicus brief in the Whole Woman’s Health case prior to the decision: “Texas Latinas already face significant geographic, transportation, infrastructure, and cost challenges in accessing health services.”

“H.B. 2’s impact is acute because of the day-to-day struggles many Latinas encounter when seeking to exercise their reproductive rights,” wrote the organization in its brief. “In Texas, there is a dire shortage of healthcare facilities and providers in predominantly Latino communities. Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured adults in the country, and Texas Latinos are more than twice as likely as whites to be uninsured …. Additionally, the lack of public and private transportation creates a major barrier to accessing health services, especially in rural areas.”

As Rewire’s Tina Vasquez has reported, for undocumented women, the struggle to access care can be even greater.

Given the threats cases like Whole Woman’s Health have posed to reproductive rights, Huerta noted that “Trump’s constant attacks and misogynist statements” should be taken with caution. Trump has repeatedly vowed to appoint anti-choice justices to the Supreme Court if elected.

“The things he says without even thinking about it … it shows what a dangerous individual he can be when it comes to women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights,” said Huerta.

Though the race for the White House was a top concern of Huerta’s, she concluded by noting that it is hardly the only election that matters this year. “I think the other thing is we have to really talk about is, the presidency is really important, but so is the Senate and the Congress,” said Huerta.

“We’ve got to make sure we get good people elected at every level, starting at school board level, city council, supervisors, commissioners, etc. state legislatures …. We’ve got to make sure reasonable people will be elected, and reasonable people are voted into office.”

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