The highly-esteemed director of the 2010 Academy Award-winning film, Music by Prudence, is back with a movie that critics call the most eye-opening documentary in years. Roger Ross William’s latest work, God Loves Uganda, brings to light a disturbing truth that many Americans will have difficulty coming to terms with: that America’s leading evangelists and “Holy people” are among the primary architects and proponents of Uganda’s incredibly repressive Anti-Homosexuality legislation. The bill, which previously included a provision allowing death as the penalty for homosexuals in Uganda, was slightly amended last year after an immense amount of international pressure. The punishment of death for one’s sexuality was “reduced” to a lifetime of imprisonment and signed into law this February. The movie appalled audience members when it initially premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 18, 2013 to mostly rave reviews. Film critics described it as “shocking”, “terrifying” and “disturbing”, with the New York Times describing it as “a searing look at the role of American evangelical missionaries in the persecution of gay Africans.” In addition to allocating ample time for Christian missionary groups to speak and defend for themselves the work they’re doing, the movie also exposes the ways in which modern-day politicians have deliberately and hypocritically distorted past historical events to make the present agenda able to appeal to anti-colonial sentiments. God Loves Uganda has been screening in selected movie theaters and churches nationwide including with dates in Atlanta, New York, Chicago, Seattle, Richmond, San Francisco and dozens more to come! A complete list of showtimes and locations can be found by visiting GodLovesUganda.com, and the DVD which will be released May 19th is available for pre-order now.
The Anti-Homosexuality Bill passed by the Ugandan Parliament in December and signed into law on February 24, 2014 by President Yoweri Musevi spent years in the making, and an international campaign both for it and against it (mostly against) has been ongoing since it was first proposed in early 2009. The law as initially drafted would have carried a sentence of death by execution for Ugandans discovered to have engaged in “homosexual” or “bisexual” activity. In addition to that it would have levied various penalties against people who possessed knowledge that somebody was a homosexual but failed to alert the authorities of this knowledge within a time-frame of 24 hours. The version of the proposed law which was eventually passed and signed into law in 2014 strays very little from the original 2009 version, with the notable exception of life imprisonment as the supreme penalty as opposed to execution. The other witch-hunting measures remained intact and are now the law of the land, including a provision which mandates forced extradition of citizens back to Uganda for harsh punishment if they are believed to have engaged in same-sex relations anywhere outside the country’s borders. There is also a strict ban on people or organizations who voice support for LGBT rights in addition to fines, levies and possible jail time for citizens who do not inform authorities of someone they know being homosexual or bisexual.
Unfortunately Uganda isn’t the only African country where LGBT rights are facing an unprecedented regional assault. The past few years have seen an increase in anti-gay legislation. While anti-sodomy laws have been in place in about 38 African countries since the European colonial-era, in places like Malawi and Nigeria these laws have been expanded in recent years to include lesbians and to reserve especially harsh punishment for same-gender couples discovered to have been wed. The vast majority of the original laws made to persecute non-heterosexual activity were put into the books during the brutally vicious years of European colonialism in Africa, with the British imposing the worst punishments of all. Take for example Nigeria, where the British regime imposed a minimum sentence of fourteen years imprisonment as punishment for all non-heterosexual activity. (*) The new proposals and laws in the modern-era have been accompanied by an upsurge in violent attacks on LGBT people as well. What can account for the increasingly intolerant atmosphere against a specific group in such a relatively short span of time? What forces are fueling what seemingly amounts to an epidemic of anti-gay legislation on a continental scale? The answers to these questions are probably much closer to home than you think.
Before addressing the root of the extreme ideology, it’s necessary to understand the ways in which some prominent Ugandan politicians, such as President Yoweri Musevi, have quite cleverly and rather skillfully manipulated the so-called “homosexual narrative” and presented it in a way that is appealing to the (understandable and justified) anti-colonial sentiments held by most Ugandans. In this narrative, homosexuality and bisexuality are a part of Western culture and thus the presence of such behaviors among even a tiny minority of Africans must be attributed to the legacy of European colonialism. Some have taken this a step further by implying the very presence of homosexuals in Africa is part of a modern method to impose colonial rule. Though some people reading this post will undoubtedly be dismissive of anyone who could seriously entertain such theories, they do so at their own expense. Part of the reason President Musevi has been able to use this issue as such a rallying cry is precisely because over the years the West, and the U.S. in particular, have either been supportive of or remained silent on other repressive legislative proposals and laws that were harmful to a great many Africans, as long as they didn’t negatively interfere with the corporate profits and interests of America’s largest business industries. Why, many Africans must wonder, should the United States suddenly express such alarm over the persecution of a minority of Africans while they’ve never expressed such grave concern over the well-being of Africans in general? The sad truth of the matter is that the cries of outrageous indignation coming from Western officials are but cries of “phony solidarity” used to undermine foreign governments that don’t align politically with the West. Threats made by wealthy, more powerful nations to withhold aid to struggling Third World economies are often rightly met with defiance and resistance. After all, the Western nations solidified their positions of power and accumulated their wealth on the very backs of “Third World” nations. Besides, it isn’t entirely clear that Uganda’s anti-LGBT position is a liability to those at the top of the country’s economy. Even the Anti-Homosexuality law’s main sponsor in Parliament, David Bahati, said on live Television in 2009 to wealthy right-wing extremist Pastor Martin Ssempa: “The moment we said no to homosexuality, actually the donations from Western Churches multiplied by three.” And that is the great paradox here. A foreign religion, adopted by Europe and shamelessly used by Europe to achieve its goal of world domination in the past, is being cited as a reason to persecute a minority of people for privately practicing a form of sexuality deemed to be “of the West.” In reality, it’s homophobia, hatred and intolerance for sexual minorities that is characteristic of Western culture and religious practice, and it is the American missionaries who purposely incite this hatred who are guilty of the “Western meddling” that President Musevi accuses the LGBT community of. (**)
There is really very little historical basis for the widely-peddled assertion that homophobia and persecution of sexual minorities was ever widespread or commonplace in Africa prior to colonization or incursions by practitioners of Christian and Islamic faiths. That is not to say that anything other than heterosexuality was ever actively encouraged. Indeed, as with the faiths that came after, Ancient African Spiritual Systems placed special emphasis on the “doctrine of Opposites“, meaning that “the universe consists of opposites: the finite and the infinite, the male and the female; the odd and the even; the left and the right.” The reason for this is simple: “Opposite principles control the life of the universe.” [James, George G. M. (1954). Stolen Legacy. pages 70, 87, 140-144.] (*^) Though the belief (or rather the fact) is that opposites come together to create life, nowhere is stigmatizing and persecuting people who engage in bisexual activity a chief concern of the society. Judaism, Christianity and Islam, just like the African Faith System that gave birth to them, emphasized the importance of heterosexual activity as the means of keeping the creation cycle going. Unlike pre-colonial African Faiths, however, Judaism, Christianity and Islam all placed special emphasis on persecuting all persons who engaged in sexual activity that wasn’t for the sole purpose of procreation.(^*) Sexism, hatred and persecution of minorities have been key components of religion ever since Europe began to emerge as a powerful global force, and England in particular placed special emphasis on forcing its own hypocritical and twisted anti-sex attitudes on any land that came under its imperial heel. The various British and German missionaries of the 18th-19th century, representative of the Protestant and Roman Catholic Churches, took it upon themselves to make examples out of any non-heterosexual Africans they might come across by decrying their “shameful indecency”, insisting that only the Europeans possessed the moral authority to teach the difference between right and wrong. Bisexuality and polygamy, the missionaries explained, must have been picked up by African participants from the hated Arab enemy. Through the white European man’s culture and religion, it was promised, they could be “cured” of all sexual “aberrations”. The white men failed to mention one vitally important fact though; that the Christian doctrines they espoused had never succeeded in “curing” or “eradicating” homosexuality from their own continent either!
Now, only half a century after Africa’s former colonial subjects rebelled and demanded an end to the European dominance of their homelands, foreign missionaries are once again descending upon the continent with their own agendas in mind. And Uganda – the “pearl of Africa” as Winston Churchill once described it – is ground zero for the recruitment of new converts to Western Christianity, mainly because half the population is beneath the age of 15. One of the groups at the forefront of sponsoring these American missionary trips to Africa is the International House of Prayer (I.H.O.P.), founded in 1999. Among its earliest members were the Rev. Jo Anna Watson and Lou Engle, the man responsible for assembling “The Call” prayer rallies. Engle, a native of Kansas City, Missouri, says he was motivated to assemble “The Call” in Uganda “to pray for God’s blessing on the nation, and for a great spiritual awakening among her youth.” In God Loves Uganda he says that “America’s not yet done sending her sons and daughters to bring the Gospel to the nations.” Rev. Watson, while not explicitly encouraging passage of the Anti-Homosexuality legislation, seemed to defend it in an interview in which she said the Ugandan government has “a responsibility to do what they want to do. Right now the law says no homosexuality in this nation. It’s an abomination to God, and I will stand in agreement that they should not open the doors… [God] wants it stopped! And Uganda’s trying to take a position.”
Another organization heavily invested in the spread of their right-wing fundamentalist interpretations of Christianity in Africa is the so-called “American Center for Law and Justice“. A.C.L.J. (not to be confused with the A.C.L.U.) was initially founded in 1990 by America’s top “Televangelist” preacher Pat Robertson. (+) Functioning as the head of the organization is Jay Sekulow, the anti-marriage equality crusader who once wrote in 1997, “Homosexuals are not only out of the closet, they are out to destroy the family as we know it.” He further insisted that “the state has a compelling interest to ban the act of homosexuality.” Such statements are the ramblings of someone clearly frustrated by the sense that he and his conservative allies are losing ground in the battle against gay rights in America. The stark reality that, as the 21st century dawned, they no longer wielded the power of dictating the terms of conventional sexual morality in American society forced them to look elsewhere. Once again, they turned to Africa to reignite their dying crusade. The missionaries of the 18th-19th centuries and the missionaries of today have another important thing in common; they besieged Africa at a time of particular vulnerability that was the result of a prior catastrophe. In the last millennium, missionaries came in greater droves than they previously had once life on the continent was turned upside down by the centuries-long trafficking of slaves from the continent. With tens-of-millions of Africans being either kidnapped from their homes or killed during the raids on their villages, things were in complete disarray. Fast forward to today, fifty years after Africans from one end of the continent to the other fought against and declared independence from their European oppressors, Africa and its people are still recovering from centuries of Europeans looting their most vital resources and systematically denying them the fruits of their own labor. Recently, the A.C.L.J. actively lent its support to the Anti-Homosexuality bill in Uganda.
Even more extreme than any of the above-mentioned is conservative anti-LGBT activist Scott Lively, whose claim to fame is authorship of a Holocaust-revisionist book in 1995 called The Pink Swastika: why and how to defeat the “gay” movement. The book, which was inexplicably marketed as “non-fiction”, is nothing but the fantasy of a sexually-frustrated bigot who demonizes gay men as being masterminds behind Nazi Germany‘s extermination program. In his world Hitler was a flaming homosexual who purposefully recruited other “homos” precisely because of their “inherent savagery.” While it is tempting to dismiss him simply as a self-hating psycho-path who can’t find a way to come to terms with his inner-gay demons (which undoubtedly is the case), the poison he’s been able to inject into the atmosphere in places like Uganda should not be dismissed. Scott Lively brought with him to Uganda his “first-person account” of having witnessed the International Gay Conspiracy in its infancy and proceeded to expand across the West. He presented himself to Uganda’s youth as a concerned citizen of the world who’d come to warn of a conspiracy being concocted in his homeland, a conspiracy to bring about a New World Gay Order. When it came time for the Ugandan parliament to consider whether or not to pass the “Kill the Gays” bill in 2009, Scott Lively was there to testify in front of the entire Parliament, insisting on the urgency of passing it into law.
Just about everyone acknowledges that homophobia was greatly exasperated in the immediate aftermath of a large religious conference that was held in March of 2009. The conference, held in the Ugandan capitol of Kampala, featured several big-name American evangelists, and Scott Lively was featured as its keynote speaker. In a rousing speech delivered in front of prominent politicians and clergymen alike, Lively issued an apocalyptic warning of an impending Judgment Day for Uganda if it they allow for the “gay lifestyle” to infiltrate their society. There were secret homosexual “predator” societies collaborating to infiltrate the educational system, he said, who would not rest until they’d torn every family in Uganda apart. He said these predators would come into their homes, kidnap their young ones, and have them converted into homosexuals. Building on this theme was a presentation given by Don Schmierer of the now-defunct Exodus International, the religious organization which purported to be able to cure homosexual desires through “ex-gay conversion therapy”. As proof of the authenticity of Exodus’s methods, Schmierer brought out Caleb Lee, an African American man who claimed to have been cured of his sinful “disease”. Less than a month after the conference’s end, the Parliament passed a resolution allowing Councilman David Bahati to draft the text for the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.
Evangelical ministers and religious activists crisscrossed the country in the weeks leading up to the bill’s vote. Despite not publicly endorsing the bill, the genocidal nature of it apparently mattered little to Lou Engle, who continually decried homosexuality in his sermons as a form of “witchcraft and corruption” and called it “a satanic attack on the family”. Other popular evangelical leaders in the States, such as Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, offered tacit endorsements of the proposed legislation but ultimately retracted under public pressure.
The atmosphere of intense hatred and intolerance reached a crescendo with the appearance in October, 2010 of a front-page headline on Uganda’s popular Rolling Stone publication (not to be confused with Rolling Stone Magazine in the U.S.) announcing a “national scandal”. Next to the words “100 PICTURES OF UGANDA’S TOP HOMOS LEAK: Hang Them” were the pictures of two well-known public figures in Uganda. One of them was David Kato, an outspoken LGBT Rights advocate known best for his activist work in the organization known as S.M.U.G. (Sexual Minorities Uganda). The other was of Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, a straight ally of the LGBT Community who was previously excommunicated from the Church of Uganda upon his refusal to condemn five gay men who’d come to him terrified and seeking guidance. Below these photographs were two sub-headlines, the first of which carried an ominous declaration falsely attributed to “Homos”: “We shall recruit 1000,000 [sic] innocent kids by 2012,” it proclaimed. In the following line it warned of how “parents now face heart-breaks as Homes raid schools.” This incendiary publication was like adding fuel to a fire which threatened to engulf whatever might come in its path in flames.
The vilification and castigation Bishop Christopher Senyonjo experienced intensified to the point where he felt it was imperative that he flee the country. Similarly, David Kato was subjected to an endless amount of death threats. Eventually when the harassment reached the point in which Kato feared for his own safety, he and several other men featured in the Rolling Stone took the newspaper to court, charging the publishers with having put their lives at risk. They eventually won the lawsuit. Then, on January 27, 2011, tragedy struck when David Kato was bludgeoned to death in his Kampala residence. A subsequent investigation by police tracked down a 22-year old male suspect. Oddly, on the very same day this all occurred, the authorities wasted no time in declaring the murder in no way affiliated with Kato’s gay rights advocacy or his sexual orientation; they held that it was not a hate crime. Testimony given by the young man who was eventually convicted of Kato’s murder could be interpreted to suggest otherwise, for he claimed (rather unconvincingly) that he committed the murder only after Kato made an “unwanted sexual advance” towards him. (-) For many Ugandans – be they “straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender [or] intersex” in the words of S.M.U.G. Chairman and Kato-ally Frank Mugisha – the clock began to turn backwards for equal rights only after American evangelicals descended on their country. As Ugandan activist Val Kalende expressed, “David’s death is the result of hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. evangelicals in 2009. The Ugandan government and the so-called U.S. evangelicals must take responsibility for David’s blood.” (#)
After David Kato was so viciously killed, it appeared as if the Anti-Homosexuality Act might not pass after all. However, after all the intimidating talk and professed outrage from the West, the show of solidarity with Uganda’s sexual minorities was quickly put on the back-burner, and international attention was focused elsewhere. In 2013 the LGBT Community was once again cast in the role of national scapegoats, and this time it culminated in the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act at the end of the year. It seems for now as if the only hope Uganda’s sexual minorities can have is for their appeals to rationality and empathy to somehow win out over the vicious cycle of scapegoating and persecution rooted in the prejudice against them. Before this point can be reached, however, it is imperative for all the religious fundamentalists, whose desire it is to wipe out every last vestige of traditional African civilization, withdraw (or be withdrawn) from the area entirely.
- Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches, & Homophobia
- Uganda’s President Signs Anti-Gay Bill
- Mwanga II of Buganda and Uganda Remixed (Part 1)
- What if in Uganda?
- Expanding Criminalization of Homosexuality in Uganda: A Flawed Narrative
- How LGBT Activists Accidentally Helped Pass Uganda’s Anti-Gay Laws
- Debunking the myths: Is Homosexuality, Bisexuality or Transsexualism Un-African or Unnatural?
- Ugandan Tabloid Resumes Anti-Gay Vigilante Campaign
- GOP’s New Prayer Guru Helps Incite Near Genocidal Hatred in Africa
- Ugandan Who Spoke Up for Gays is Beaten to Death
* Astoundingly, more than half the world’s anti-sodomy laws are in fact hold-overs from British colonialism.
** According to an article in Think Africa Press, “Christianity was used to whitewash African culture as primitive and to demonize traditional interpretations of African intimacies.”
*^ Traditional African Spirituality is perhaps best known and best represented by the System of Faith as it was practiced in Ancient Kemet – that is, the land of Egypt several millennia prior to its becoming what is now the Arab Republic of Egypt. For more on traditional African religion, I highly recommend you read Precolonial Black Africa by Cheikh Anta Diop and Stolen Legacy by George G.M. James.
^* Nearly all societies prior to the spread of Judaism, Christianity and Islam were much more sexually liberated than they became after these religions arrived. It is well-known and visibly evident in the art of pre-Christian Rome and Greece that there were men who took male lovers for themselves. Lesser known are documented examples of same-sex relations in Ancient Africa, such as an ancient drawing painted on a rock in Zimbabwe, in addition to some rather suggestive artifacts among the Ife culture. But the best example supporting the thesis that bisexuality was not stigmatized or singled out for persecution in Classical Africa is the evidence of the tomb of two Egyptian manicurists, Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep. There have been all kind of theories trying to explain away this evidence, but the fact is that the two men were buried together and they are depicted on wall paintings embracing in ways that, in all other circumstances, were reserved for a man and his wife. Though this is an anomaly to be sure, the very fact that this tomb was allowed to be built and and was not destroyed in the immediate years after their deaths is indicative that they were not persecuted for so unconventionally intimate.
+ Pat Robertson, it is worth noting, is a former Dixiecrat, cut from the cloth of traditional white supremacy that has characterized the Southern United States for most of its existence, a past that he’s never publicly disavowed.
– Ironically, this “justification” is nearly identical to the attacks lodged against a controversial Bugandan Monarch over 130 years ago. The myths surrounding this King are the subject of my latest post, Mwanga II Basammula Ekkere: the King of Buganda’s distorted legacy.
# A year after Kato was murdered, LGBT Rights activist Kikonyoga Kivumbi of Unspa-Uganfa Organization shared that Kato’s death inspired in the LGBT community a sense of “empowerment – more zeal [in refusing] to be marginalized.” Kivumbi also expressed profound disappointment in his country’s lawmakers over the proposed anti-gay law: “It is a shame that the parliament of a sovereign nation should consider discussing such a bill,” he said. He added, “Institutionalized homophobia fanned by American evangelists is still a challenge [in 2012].”