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Uganda's nascent genocide

BY KIRSTEN JACOBSEN | JULY 18, 2011 7:20 AM

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"The whites didn't bring homosexuality [to Africa] … they brought homophobia," a gay Ugandan man quips to Channel 4's Sorious Samura as they stand surrounded by church-goers at an outdoor anti-homosexuality rally. The air is thick with cries of support as evangelical Bishop Julius Oyet rails against "anti-human," "un-African" acts. The gay man simply shakes his head, and the camera trails off.

Uganda has never been known for its upstanding human-rights record, and recent involvement by American evangelical Christians in Ugandan politics has spurred a national crusade against the nation's homosexual population. A bill originally introduced in 2009 — the creatively named "Anti-Homosexuality Bill" — made its way through Parliament yet again this year (albeit unsuccessfully).

Talk about anti-human acts. Minority rights may not be popular with the majority, but the Ugandan Parliament shouldn't be taking dictates from American evangelicals on how to structure their society.

The provisions of the bill allow for lifetime imprisonment for committing even one homosexual act, decades of imprisonment for anyone who fails to turn in a homosexual person to police within one day, the death sentence for "serial offenders," and much more.

"The law is requiring me, if someone walks into my office and he is gay, I must call the police — because there is a criminal in my office," the Rev. Mark Kiyimba told congregants at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City on Sunday. He leads the sole Unitarian church in Kampala and has taken up the fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights.

"The people of Uganda don't need any more discrimination," Kiyimba said.

The bill itself was written by MP David Bahati, a prominent Ugandan member of "The Family" — an underground association of activist Christian political leaders based in Washington, D.C.

"I discovered … that there was this very direct relationship," investigative journalist Jeff Sharlet told NPR in August 2010. He noted that Ugandan politics had become "this institutional idea of government being decided by small groups of elite leaders like Bahati, getting together and trying to conform government to their idea of Biblical law."

(This is nothing new; under the 25-year reign of President Yoweri Museveni, also a major player in The Family, fundamentalist Christianity has blossomed.)

But despite its American ties, the Ugandans have taken the anti-gay torch and run with it. Even before the country's Rolling Stone tabloid published the names, addresses, and known information about 100 homosexuals in April 2010, there was an outpouring of public support for the "anti-gay bill."

From Kiyimba's account, the majority of Ugandans view homosexuality and LGBT rights as roughly equivalent to the plague. Any gay-community member risks her or his life, ruins the reputations of entire families, and becomes a public disgrace.

"They can't go anywhere … they can't get a job anymore," said Kiyimba.

The opposition to the bill, including the 150 or so members of Kiyimba's congregation, continues to be in the minority. But thanks to the tireless efforts of his church, Ugandan gay-rights groups, and a tremendous outcry from the international community, the bill was stayed in Parliament in 2009 (and every subsequent year since, most recently this May). Yet Bahati would rather incur international sanctions and forgo foreign aid than let the bill die.

"We have made important steps in raising the issue and that will continue," Bahati told Agence France-Presse.

Thus, it is essential that interest from the international community continues as well.

Homosexuality is a facet of human diversity — not a "human vice," as Oyet claims — and a nationwide crackdown on citizens of a certain sexual orientation is nothing less than poorly masked genocide.

But as Kiyimba showed, members of Uganda's LGBT minority are slowly gaining a voice. And they won't face the death penalty without a fight.

We should fight for them, too, by combating the homophobia exported by too many American churches.


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