Thursday, July 19, 2012

The U.S. Christian Right and the Attack on Gays in Africa

By Rev. Kapya Kaoma (Project Director at Political Research Associates) The Uganda Story For two days in early March 2009, Ugandans flocked to the Kampala Triangle Hotel for the Family Life Network's "Seminar on Exposing the Homosexuals' Agenda." The seminar's very title revealed its claim: LGBT people and activists are engaged in a well thought-out plan to take over the world. The U.S. culture wars had come to Africa with a vengeance. To put on the conference, the Uganda-based Family Life Network led by Stephen Langa with the goal of "restoring" traditional family values and morals in Uganda teamed with two U.S. hatemongers from the Christian Right, Holocaust revisionist Scott Lively and Dan Schmierer of the ex-gay group Exodus International.[1] Vocal opposition in international circles did not stop the country's high profile religious leaders, parliamentarians, police officers, teachers, and concerned parents from attending. Indeed, parliamentary action to wage war on gays was on the conference agenda. It was not enough that homosexuality is illegal in Uganda. As someone stated from the podium, [The parliament] feels it is necessary to draft a new law that deals comprehensively with the issue of homosexuality and takes into account the international gay agenda.Right now there is a proposal that a new law be drafted.[2] The unsuspecting audience heard Lively promote his book, The Pink Swastika, and his argument that not only are gays seeking to take over the world, but they also threaten society by causing higher rates of divorce, child abuse, and HIV/AIDS. Legalizing homosexuality is on par with accepting "molestation of children or having sex with animals," he said. As Lively puts it, LGBT issues cannot be considered human rights issues. "The people coming to Africa now and advancing the idea that human rights serves the homosexual interests are absolutely wrong," he said. "Many of them are outright liars and they are manipulating history; they are manipulating facts in order to push their political agenda." Lively even tarred abortion rights as "a product of the gay philosophy" meant to promote sexual promiscuity in order to "destroy the family." In sum, he warned, U.S. homosexuals are out to recruit young people into homosexual lifestyles so they must be stopped. Lively had a receptive audience. Harry Mwebesa of Family Life Network told the crowd, 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. Another participant who called himself Elijah said, The man of God [Scott Lively] told us about a movement behind the promotion of homosexuality and it is called gay movement. Me, I had never heard of that. But 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. [In] Africa, Uganda in is more easy for the young generation to get attracted into the evil. Since that day, we need to stand firm to fight homosexuality. If only Lively's influence ended there. But a few days later, he met with Ugandan lawmakers and government officials, some of whom would draft parliament's Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009 the next month. This act would ban LGBT organizing and give the death penalty for gays, though not heterosexuals, who have sex with someone underage or while infected with the HIV/AIDS virus.[3] Lively and the "traditional family values" language of U.S. antigay campaigners echoes through the first draft of the legislation dating to April: Research indicates that the homosexuality has a variety of negative consequences including higher incidences of violence, sexually transmitted diseases, and use of drugs. The higher incidence of separation and break-up in homosexual relationships also creates a highly unstable environment for children raised by homosexuals through adoption or otherwise, and can have profound psychological consequences on those children. In addition, the promotion of homosexual behavior undermines our traditional family values. Family Life Network's Langa pushed people at a follow up meeting to stand up for the tougher law against homosexuality for their children's sake, echoing Lively in charging that Ugandan gays and activists were being paid by U.S. gays to recruit schoolchildren into homosexuality. Amid the utter hysteria, any sense that homosexuality has been in Africa from time immemorial was lost. While hardly embraced, and indeed illegal in many countries, at least LGBT people were not hounded by churches and police alike until American culture warriors came to Africa. Bishop Christopher Ssenjonyo, one of the most progressive voices on LGBT issues in Uganda, expressed his own concerns about the Americans' role to me in March, "I am sure that these lies will incite public hatred against gays." How Did We Get Here? How did we get to this point? Scott Lively and Don Schmierer are just two among a parade of right-leaning American Christians who have brought the U.S. culture wars to Africa. But unlike the United States, in Africa sexual minorities are only thinly organized and have few allies who will stand up with them. Those who do are tarred as neocolonialist and racist, because of the effectiveness of U.S. Right organizing in Africa. The result is tragedy. Thankfully, because of Kenya's democratic past and stronger civil society, citizens managed to challenge and slow down efforts for broad criminalization of homosexuality. But in more authoritarian countries, like Uganda and Nigeria, where some counties punish homosexuality with death, U.S. religious conservatives are better able to promote their anti-LGBT agenda, building on decades of missionary work. U.S. evangelicals like California's Rick Warren have turned their attention to Africa as its role in global Christianity has grown. As Warren recently told Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, "If you want to know the future of evangelicalism, it is in [Africa, Asia and Latin America.] To give you an example, in 1900 there were only 10 million Christians in all of Africa -- 10% of the population. Today there are 360 million Christians in Africa, over half the population."[4] Warren's numbers are wrong and fewer than half of Africans are Christian. Still, 30 million of the Anglican Communion's 77 million members live in Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya. Warren is especially influential on the continent, enjoying close ties to African religious and political leaders. They quote him to justify discrimination against LGBT people, and to support their challenge to U.S. mainline Protestants liberalizing their policies around gay ordination. "Homosexuality is not a natural way of life and thus not a human right," Warren said during a March-April 2008 visit with African religious and political leaders in Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya. That quote has reverberated ever since.[5] Warren's bestselling book, A Purpose Driven Life is studied across sub-Saharan Africa and his Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California has close ties with leaders across Africa, including, until recently, Martin Ssempa of Uganda's Makerere Community Church. Ssempa is one of the key architects of the antigay bill and persecution of LGBT people in Uganda. He made global news when he published the names of LGBT people in the local press and destroyed condoms to promote abstinence-only programs in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Uganda. Ssempa was a regular visitor to Saddleback until Warren distanced himself from him in 2008. Within Africa, Warren seems to be progressive when it comes to fighting poverty, illiteracy and HIV/AIDS. These efforts have painted him as a real partner in development. However, his antipoverty and education strategies also promote conservative institutional power and ideologies in Africa, including homophobia. As Warren's "purpose-driven" projects in Rwanda, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda have grown, so too have levels of active homophobia and proposed laws against LGBT people. And Warren's allies particularly Anglican Archbishops Henry Orombi of Uganda, Peter Akinola of Nigeria, Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda and Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya are in the forefront of advocating for stiffer laws against LGBT persons in their countries.[6] Archbishop Orombi argues that U.S. homosexuals should be kept out of Uganda because they are "taking advantage of the abject poverty in Africa to lure people into their club [homosexuality]."[7] In neighboring Nigeria, Archbishop Akinola wrote, "We are especially concerned about those who are using large sums of money to lure our youth to see homosexuality and lesbianism as normative. We must consistently and faithfully teach about God's commands on this ungodly practice and help those with such orientation to seek deliverance and pastoral counsel."[8] History of U.S. Conservatives in Africa If they had faced strong opposition, U.S. conservatives might not have been so successful in promoting their homophobic politics. Traditionally, evangelical African churches have been biblically and doctrinally orthodox but socially progressive on such issues as national liberation and poverty, making them natural partners of the politically liberal western churches. But their religious orthodoxy also provides the U.S. Right with an opportunity. Africans resonate with the denunciation of homosexuality as a postcolonial plot; their homophobia is as much an expression of resistance to the West as it is a statement about human sexuality. Similarly campaigns for "family values" in Africa rest on rich indigenous notions of the importance of family and procreation. In Africa, "family" expresses the idea that to be human is to be embedded in community, a concept called ubuntu. African traditional values also value procreation, making those hindering this virtue an enemy of life (see box 2). Although Rick Warren's involvement in Africa is the most celebrated, and Lively's perhaps the most notorious, they are not the first U.S. conservative evangelicals to influence African policies. Pat Robertson's television show The 700 Club is watched across sub-Saharan Africa. Yet most Africans are not aware that Robertson supported the civil war in Angola and the oppressive White governments of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa. He was one of many U.S. conservative evangelicals, some of whom came to Africa as missionaries in the 1980s, who sided with those White minority governments in their effort to stop the spread of liberation theology. Allied with them was and is the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), a U.S. neoconservative group that also supported the White regimes and challenged the National Council of Churches as a group of dangerous Marxists supporting subversion. The group formed in 1981 with the goal of weakening and splitting U.S. mainline denominations in order to block their powerful progressive social witness promoting social and economic justice.[9] During this same period, the U.S. mainline churches sided with oppressed Africans living in White regimes. Along with exposing the crimes committed in the name of fighting communism, these churches provided financial and social support to displaced families in Africa, Asia, and South America. But today the mainline churches are labeled as neocolonialists and this history is forgotten. You can still hear snippets of the old right-wing scripts in today's attacks on the mainline churches. James V. Heidinger II, the president of Good News, the United Methodist Church's renewal movement which opposes gay ordination and supports conservative theology, tarred official Methodist churches as lacking "a theology of mission but has bought into liberation theology. Mission for them involves bringing about social and political change in third world countries. They favor social ministry at the expense of evangelism."[10] Similarly, IRD's executive director, Mark Tooley, recently sought an apology from the NCC and World Council of Churches for supporting "Marxist" revolutionaries in Africa. His organization is a lead force in mobilizing renewal movements like Heidinger's to use African leaders and the debate about gay ordination and marriage as a wedge in U.S. mainline conflicts IRD's latest but perhaps most effective tactic in diminishing the social witness of its mainline church opponents (for more on the U.S. conflict, see box 3 and my recent report, Globalizing the Culture Wars: U.S. Conservatives, African Churches, and Homophobia).[11] The torrential flow of conservative Christian resources to Africa helps wash away the memory of their alliances with White regimes. Through their extensive communication networks in Africa, social welfare projects, Bible schools, and educational materials, U.S. religious conservatives warn of the dangers of homosexuals and present themselves as the true representatives of U.S. evangelicalism, effectively marginalizing mainline U.S. churches that once had strong relationships on the continent. Right-wing groups have enticed African religious leaders to reject funding from mainline denominations which require documentation of how the money is spent and instead to accept funds from conservatives, further empowering the U.S. evangelical viewpoint while giving local bishops the opportunity to line their pockets. To reach Africans, U.S. evangelicals now broadcast their Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) and Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Although generally disinterested in helping poor Blacks in their own backyard, in Africa U.S. White conservatives driven to convert the continent dominate social services, run orphanages, schools and universities, and provide loans.[12] These conservatives and evangelical charities like World Vision, Solar Light for Africa, and the IRD-founded Five Talents use their presence in Africa to address the question of homosexuality from a conservative albeit misleading position. In this way, almost all U.S. conservative Christians working in Africa are responsible for exporting homophobia to Africa. Indeed, Africans do not distinguish between moderate evangelicals in World Vision and Hard Right figures like Scott Lively. For them, the term "evangelical" conveys the notion of Protestant Christianity as a whole, without the substantive distinctions made by U.S. religious groups. And U.S. conservative evangelicals support diverse Anglican, Presbyterian and Pentecostal church leadership in Africa with which they share no denominational tie. For instance, the Providence Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Michigan is not an Episcopal congregation yet it provides funding to the Anglican Church of Uganda.[13] Some U.S. support goes directly to salaries, and has since 1998, as Reverend Aaron Mwesigyi of the Ugandan archibishop's office explained.[14] Opposing Mainline Witness While U.S. evangelicals are actively disseminating their antigay views through their mission work, American mainline renewal movements reach out to African churches for support in fights against gay ordination and marriage, helping to further crystallize this as an African issue. At their behest, Anglican churches in Uganda, Kenya, and Nigeria rejected funding from The Episcopal Church USA in 2004 over disagreements about gay ordination and other culture war issues. While these attacks have resulted in schisms within the Episcopal Church USA and the Presbyterian Church USA and continue to threaten the unity of the United Methodist Church, they offer African churches financial and ideological benefits, including a voice in international circles. As Kenya's Rosemary Mbongo told me, "Africans, Asians, and Latin American evangelical Christians have the voice today; they owe it to American conservatives." Although conservative circles celebrate this rejection of aid as a sign of Africans' moral purity, Africans simply responded to U.S. conservatives' demands. A Kenyan professor noted, "American conservatives have been in my office several times requesting that we cut ties with The Episcopal Church USA and other progressive funders in exchange for their funds. They have succeeded in getting small colleges into their camp but we have refused."[15] The apparent plan is to encourage African church leaders to swap their relationships with mainline churches for U.S. conservative organizations and individuals. While it is largely U.S. evangelical money displacing mainline funds supporting African churches, renewal movements within mainline U.S. churches reap the rewards by securing the alliance of Africans in fighting their battles over gay ordination and other issues at home and in international venues. This effort started as early as 1999, when members of the IRD-affiliated renewal movement in The Episcopal Church USA went to Africa to ask African bishops to support suspending the American church from the worldwide Anglican Communion for being too gay friendly and socially liberal. More recently, IRD and United Methodist Church renewal groups organized African delegates to prevent the United Methodist Church from lifting its ban on the ordination of LGBT clergy during its global General Conference in 2008. Jerald Walz of IRD put it this way, "Wherever there is theological agreement, Americans are making ways of helping their brothers and sisters both financially and theologically. In the UMC, Americans reached out to the African delegates by helping them navigate the system... Americans are also reaching out to their African friends by giving them a voice at international gatherings."[16] Africa's attacks on U.S. mainline churches intensified when The Episcopal Church USA consecrated an openly gay person, Gene Robinson, as a bishop in 2004. On the surface, Bishop Robinson's consecration was an Episcopal issue. However, renewal movements in the Episcopal, United Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, and other U.S. conservatives used it as an organizing tool to preach hatred against LGBT people. In addition to citing Robinson as an example of Western corruption, they partnered with African religious leaders to demand that the Episcopal Church USA be excommunicated from the worldwide Anglican Communion and replaced with conservative leadership. The churches then used their "principled" rejection of mainline money as a fundraising opportunity. In appeals to U.S. conservatives, Canon Allison Barfoot said the Anglican church of Uganda in Kampala lacked working phones because it had rejected money from the Episcopal Church USA.[17] Two years after the Anglican Church of Kenya cut ties with the Episcopal Church USA in 2004, the Reverend Canon Rosemary Mbogo, its Provincial Mission coordinator, appealed for tithing from U.S. evangelical churches "to help the Kenyan province."[18] Their requests to U.S. conservatives appear to have been answered, since both churches confirmed that U.S. conservatives provide regular funding to churches in both countries. U.S. evangelical money is attractive because it does not come with the demands for strict accountability made by mainline churches.[19] Bishops can spend it as they like. Ironically, U.S. conservatives have always campaigned against "unrestricted" giving in U.S. mainline churches. But in Africa, they prefer unrestricted giving as another way of undermining progressives. Local fears that this lack of accountability breeds corruption appear well grounded. Canon Alison Barfoot, an American conservative, administers American funding at the Anglican Church of Uganda headquarters without giving African accountants any access to U.S.-related financial information or books, we learned.[20] Furthermore, dissident U.S. Episcopal Bishop John Guernsey of Woodbridge, Virginia, vets all U.S. donations and mission partnerships with Uganda to ensure they come from "friendly" churches, and other U.S. conservatives play that role for other countries, bypassing usual safeguards.[21] Their safeguards are loose enough that Bishop Samuel Sekadde, the retired Bishop of Namirembe, is under suspicion for alleged misuse of church funds.[22] The independent Uganda Monitor observed that the bishop's estates and private home suggest that "the good bishop was either living beyond his means or helping himself to church property."[23] Neocolonial relationship Despite historical evidence of homosexuality in Africa long before the Europeans arrived, most conservative African religious and political leaders now view homosexuality as a Western export, and a form of imperialism and neocolonialism. And of course, U.S. conservatives exploit and encourage this belief. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, whose wife is a close ally of Rick Warren, warned, "It is a danger not only to the believers but to the whole of Africa. It is bad if our children become complacent and think that people who are not in order are alright. These foreigners should go and practice their nonsense elsewhere."[24] Because Africans are sensitive to neocolonialism, the conservative claim that homosexuality is part of a "Western agenda" gives African church leaders ammunition to demand greater influence and power in the affairs of the church.[25] Denouncing homosexuality is Africa's way of claiming power over the western world. In this regard, when Africans claim that homosexuality is un-African, they are pointing to a politics of postcolonial identity.[26] This history gives the struggle greater depth and tenacity, and for that reason, African involvement in U.S. church issues will continue. Moreover, rejecting what is claimed to be an imposition from the West gives them power both within the African context and with American conservatives of all persuasions. Ironically enough, although American conservatives repeatedly accuse progressives of being imperialist, it is their dealings with Africa that are extremely imperialistic. Their flow of funds creates a form of clientelism, with the expectation that the recipients toe an ideological line. They put words into the mouths of their African church allies, even writing or rewriting their anticolonial statements to reflect U.S. conservative concerns. In one of many examples, IRD reworked a statement Rev. Jerry Kulah of Liberia wrote in preparation for a 2008 Methodist conference to use as a general African statement, adding in its anti-Islamic politics, Cognizant of the massive silent invasion of Islam upon global community with its excessively and liberal use of Arab-oil funds to propagate its faith, we are afraid that the current unrestricted embrace of liberalism within the United Methodist Church is endangering the chances of our children of not considering Christianity as a possibility. It creates a breeding ground for the rapid expansion of Islam among our future posterity." [italics indicate IRD changes][27] In contrast, U.S. mainline churches repeatedly demonstrate their opposition to neocolonialism of all sorts, not least by supporting the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to fight poverty in postcolonial Africa. Yet American conservatives succeed in dismissing such efforts as neocolonial attempts to bribe Africans into accepting homosexuality, which they characterize as a purely Western phenomenon. Sadly, the sensitivity of mainline church leaders in the United States to charges of colonialism can silence them from speaking out on LGBT issues. The African attacks create a dilemma for them: How can they be relevant to their own global North context, while remaining connected to global mainline Christianity? Unfortunately, the fear of isolation leads many social and theological progressives in the church to ignore social justice issues in their daily proclamations. While Episcopalians risked schism to support gay bishops, U.S. Presbyterian and Methodist churches do not openly ordain LGBT clergy. African clergy directly threatened to cut links with Presbyterians in 2004 if they did. Despite the active role American progressives played and continue to play in Africa, they were out-organized. The Attack on Islam Another U.S. conservative ploy is to suggest that mainline churches' acceptance of homosexuality puts African Christian witness at a competitive disadvantage with Islam in winning converts. Thus U.S. conservatives whip up concerns about Muslims and homosexuals simultaneously in their attacks on mainline churches' social witness. Alan Wisdom, the Director of Presbyterian renewal group Action for Faith and Freedom, observed that the U.S. mainline churches' "desire to dialogue with Islam ignores the plights of the Christian minorities in Islamic nations."[28] In November 2008, Jim Tonkowich, then IRD president, announced that his group was "beginning a project to research how the actions of the Episcopal Church promoting homosexuality is negatively impacting Christians in Africa who live within and alongside Muslim cultures."[29] In a February 2009 telephone interview, Faith McDonnell, the Director of IRD's Religious Liberty Programs and of the Church Alliance for a New Sudan, explained, Islam prohibits homosexuality Radical Muslims would use it as another reason for attacking Christians who would be viewed as infidels We are competing with Islam in Africa. Muslims are going to use the argument that Africans are part of the wider communion which accepts homosexuality. It has happened in the Sudan where one Bishop has already formed the Reformed Episcopal Church by appealing to the argument that he is not part of the Church of homosexuals. Homosexuality hampers the witness of the Christian witness in Africa. When asked whether IRD and its allied renewal movements had evidence for such claims, McDonnell replied, "We do not have any empirical evidence yet. This is solely what Christians are thinking and it is damaging the witness among Christians." However, even African religious conservatives discount this idea and there is no evidence for it in Uganda, Kenya, or Nigeria. One senior clergyman in Kenya told me, "Such an argument does not make sense Islam has been part of the African heritage in Kenya. My grandfather was Muslim and on his death bed he was baptized by his son who was the Bishop." Similarly Paul Ssembiro, the Mission Coordinator in Archbishop Orombi's office observed, "Uganda's opposition to homosexuality has nothing to do with Islam. I don't think it is has anything to do with the Islamic faith." The Kenyan Anglican priest Michael Kimindu noted that this argument is intended to "elicit support from U.S. conservatives concerned about radical Islam." Indeed, Archbishop Orombi has cooperated with Muslims in attacking LGBT people in Uganda. But in 2007 he told his American allies what they wanted to hear: Muslims are attempting to conquer "not so much by the sword but by the dollar. Muslims also are offering vocal opposition to laws that protect women's rights because these are not in the Koran.'"[30] Conclusion The relationship between U.S. conservatives and African religious leaders is inhibiting the right of LGBT people to live freely and without persecution both in the United States and Africa. In Africa, people's lives are threatened not only by vigilantism but by government action. If we agree that African churches should be allowed to map their own agenda in the global church, then the conservatives should let go of Africa. Unfortunately, they will not, at least not without a fight. It is important that progressive activists in mainline churches are now taking the fight to conservatives and putting them on the defensive at home. In the United Methodist Church, progressives managed to expose IRD and renewal movements' attempt to influence African delegates to the 2008 international church gathering by giving out cellphones. In the Episcopal Church, progressives exposed the presence of conservative lobbyists at international Anglican conferences. They are also making new inroads with African religious leaders. It is a positive sign that the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan and the Congo as well as bishops from West Africa traveled to the United States to attend the 2009 General Convention of Episcopal Church USA. Not only did American progressives represent their positions in their own words, the African leaders were able to explore the American church's intentions in Africa. Most of the African bishops pointed to poverty as one of the biggest challenges Africa faces and sought the church's support in antipoverty struggles even though the Episcopal Church lifted the moratorium on blessing of same sex marriages and ordination of gays and lesbians to the office of the bishop. Although not all agreed with the position taken by the Episcopal Church on LGBT issues, African bishops were generally sympathetic with their U.S. colleagues on the matter. The campaign challenging Rick Warren to denounce the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda which he still has not done -- is another example of taking the fight to America. Because the U.S. Right is so skillful at twisting the mainline church statements in Africa as colonial interference, these challenges on conservatives' home territory provide vital support for LGBT Africans under attack. We must make sure that they are not collateral damage in the U.S. culture wars

Sunday, July 15, 2012

How My View on Gay Marriage Changed By DAVID BLANKENHORN

Published: June 22, 2012 IN my 2007 book, “The Future of Marriage,” and in my 2010 courttestimony concerning Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that defined marriage as between a man and a woman, I took a stand against gay marriage. But as a marriage advocate, the time has come for me to accept gay marriage and emphasize the good that it can do. I’d like to explain why. I opposed gay marriage believing that children have the right, insofar as society makes it possible, to know and to be cared for by the two parents who brought them into this world. I didn’t just dream up this notion: the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which came into force in 1990, guarantees children this right. Marriage is how society recognizes and protects this right. Marriage is the planet’s only institution whose core purpose is to unite the biological, social and legal components of parenthood into one lasting bond. Marriage says to a child: The man and the woman whose sexual union made you will also be there to love and raise you. In this sense, marriage is a gift that society bestows on its children. At the level of first principles, gay marriage effaces that gift. No same-sex couple, married or not, can ever under any circumstances combine biological, social and legal parenthood into one bond. For this and other reasons, gay marriage has become a significant contributor to marriage’s continuing deinstitutionalization, by which I mean marriage’s steady transformation in both law and custom from a structured institution with clear public purposes to the state’s licensing of private relationships that are privately defined. I have written these things in my book and said them in my testimony, and I believe them today. I am not recanting any of it. But there are more good things under heaven than these beliefs. For me, the most important is the equal dignity of homosexual love. I don’t believe that opposite-sex and same-sex relationships are the same, but I do believe, with growing numbers of Americans, that the time for denigrating or stigmatizing same-sex relationships is over. Whatever one’s definition of marriage, legally recognizing gay and lesbian couples and their children is a victory for basic fairness. Another good thing is comity. Surely we must live together with some degree of mutual acceptance, even if doing so involves compromise. Sticking to one’s position no matter what can be a virtue. But bending the knee a bit, in the name of comity, is not always the same as weakness. As I look at what our society needs most today, I have no stomach for what we often too glibly call “culture wars.” Especially on this issue, I’m more interested in conciliation than in further fighting. A third good thing is respect for an emerging consensus. The population as a whole remains deeply divided, but most of our national elites, as well as most younger Americans, favor gay marriage. This emerging consensus may be wrong on the merits. But surely it matters. I had hoped that the gay marriage debate would be mostly about marriage’s relationship to parenthood. But it hasn’t been. Or perhaps it’s fairer to say that I and others have made that argument, and that we have largely failed to persuade. In the mind of today’s public, gay marriage is almost entirely about accepting lesbians and gay men as equal citizens. And to my deep regret, much of the opposition to gay marriage seems to stem, at least in part, from an underlying anti-gay animus. To me, a Southerner by birth whose formative moral experience was the civil rights movement, this fact is profoundly disturbing. I had also hoped that debating gay marriage might help to lead heterosexual America to a broader and more positive recommitment to marriage as an institution. But it hasn’t happened. With each passing year, we see higher and higher levels of unwed childbearing, nonmarital cohabitation and family fragmentation among heterosexuals. Perhaps some of this can be attributed to the reconceptualization of marriage as a private ordering that is so central to the idea of gay marriage. But either way, if fighting gay marriage was going to help marriage over all, I think we’d have seen some signs of it by now. So my intention is to try something new. Instead of fighting gay marriage, I’d like to help build new coalitions bringing together gays who want to strengthen marriage with straight people who want to do the same. For example, once we accept gay marriage, might we also agree that marrying before having children is a vital cultural value that all of us should do more to embrace? Can we agree that, for all lovers who want their love to last, marriage is preferable to cohabitation? Can we discuss whether both gays and straight people should think twice before denying children born through artificial reproductive technology the right to know and be known by their biological parents? Will this strategy work? I don’t know. But I hope to find out. David Blankenhorn is the founder of the Institute for American Values.

New LGBTI clinic faces fierce government criticism

KAMPALA, 11 July 2012 (PlusNews) - Gay rights activists have opened Uganda's first clinic for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in the capital, Kampala, where it will provide testing, counselling and treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. "We need our own clinic because we have had health service providers, and in some cases other clients at the health centre, attack us either because they suspect us to be gay or know that we are gay," said Pepe Julian Onziema, programme director and acting advocacy officer at Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), a local rights group. "The main idea of the clinic is to provide voluntary counselling and testing, HIV/AIDS treatment and care, and promote general wellness." "We don't feel safe. Some practitioners gossip about you when you are right there, increasing stigma. When I was about 16, I went to test for HIV and I was asked to bring my partner so we could be tested and counselled together. I brought someone of my sex and we were sent out and not catered for," Onziema said. "At this clinic, we want to protect our community from such humiliation, and stress and promote health and wellness." A recent AIDS Indicator Survey puts Uganda's HIV prevalence at 7.3 percent, but according to the Crane Survey, a 2008/09 study of high-risk groups in Uganda, HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men (MSM) was 13.7 percent. Despite the high level of HIV among MSM, the government has not included the group in its national strategy to fight HIV because homosexual activity is illegal in Uganda. A bill before parliament seeks even more stringent punishments for people engaging in homosexual acts and those perceived to be "promoting" homosexuality. The clinic was opened on 19 May 2012 by Bishop Christopher Senyonjo - one of the country's few religious leaders willing to speak for gay rights - and is managed by a local gay rights lobby group, Ice Breakers Uganda (IBU). "The clinic is being run by professional health workers. It will offer better avenues in health seeking behaviours among the LGBTI community," said Denis Wamala, an IBU official. "The clinic will offer free care, support and treatment services to LGBTI in Uganda... here they can easily open up because they are free." Government criticism Richard Nduhura, Uganda's Minister for Health (General Duties), told IRIN/PlusNews the clinic was unnecessary because despite the government's anti-gay stance, "We don't discriminate and marginalize when it comes to offering health services. When people come for treatment at our health facilities, we can't ask for their sexual orientation." The Director General of the Uganda AIDS Commission (UAC), Dr David Apuuli Kihumuro, agreed. "It's nonsense for them [LGBTI] to say that they are always discriminated against in the provision of health services. I have been a doctor for over 40 years... I have never heard where a patient has been asked about his or her sexual orientation," he said. A surgeon at Mulago National Referral Hospital in Kampala, Dr Robert Mawanda, told IRIN/PlusNews: "We swear an oath. It instructs us to treat [patients] without harm and injustice, so we can't discriminate against anybody, based on sexual orientation. We treat all people without asking their orientation." Despite Uganda's commitment to improved HIV prevention, few programmes reached most at-risk populations such as MSM and sex workers, and condoms were not sufficiently targeted to these groups, a Modes of Transmission analysis found in 2009. The Minister for Ethics and Integrity, Samuel Lokodo, has said he intends investigating the clinic for promoting homosexuality. "If we find out that it's [the clinic] related to promoting the culture which doesn't conform to our morals as a country, we shall instantly ban and close it," he told IRIN/PlusNews. We have had health workers, and in some cases other clients at the health centre, attack us because they suspect us to be gay or know that we are gay "These people [LGBTI] are doing their operations under cover - it's not easy to track them. However, we shall not allow any social gathering, association, infrastructure or any activities that exist to promote homosexuality," he said. "If the clinic was for offering social services to the people, that would be good. However, this clinic is meant for giving assurances those who are involved in it [homosexuality]. It's supposed to treat the ruptured backs [anus]. We can't allow this." The fear of attacks by the government and members of the public means the location of the clinic has not been made public, but LGBTI networks are being used to alert the community to its existence. "Our community members know about the clinic and they access it. The media have written about it too... Of course we are afraid. We live in fear daily about the public because it acts ignorantly," said SMUG's Onziema. "The Ugandan Constitution guarantees the right to health, and the right to life, among others. Although the government, through the UAC acknowledged that there is a need to address HIV/AIDS among MSM, it has ignored our plight in addressing the issue, and left us no choice but to fend for ourselves."

Govt is using gay issue to fight NGOs – Ssewanyana

WRITTEN BY PATIENCE AKUMU Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) is one of the NGOs that now face a threat of closure after Ethics and Integrity Minister Rev Simon Lokodo accused them of promoting homosexuality. PATIENCE AKUMU spoke to FHRI executive director, LIVINGSTONE SSEWANYANA, on why NGOs cannot stay away from gay rights. Ssewanyana maps the way forward for ‘blacklisted’ NGOs and explains why he believes this is more than a fight against homosexuality. Are FHRI and other NGOs that Minister Lokodo named promoting homosexuality? We are involved in minority rights issues. We are saying that all minorities, including homosexuals, deserve respect. Uganda has an obligation to preserve the rights of every citizen. The Constitution prohibits discrimination on all grounds — as does the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights (ICPR). Uganda signed the ICPR without any reservations. This means that it must respect all its provisions. Perhaps government is furious because you are recruiting people into homosexuality. We are not recruiting. We do not actively encourage people to become homosexuals. But how can you promote a right to what is already illegal under the Penal Code Act? The Penal code needs a lot of reform. It is our duty [as civil society] to campaign for reform. We are involved in other reforms, like the campaign to restore [presidential] term limits. The law generally needs to be reformed to promote non-discrimination. The Constitution prohibits same-sex relationships, yet at the same time says that there shall not be discrimination based on colour, race, sex, religion or other factors. Such contradiction requires reform. The Constitution contains other contradictions. For example, it provides for the death penalty under Article 22, and then prohibits torture and inhuman degrading treatment under Article 44. We work to reform several areas of the law. But for now, the law upholds the death penalty and prohibits homosexuality. Shouldn’t you respect that? We acknowledge that that is the law, but we are also saying that this law is in conflict with the Constitution. We are saying minorities deserve respect and must be defended. This is different from encouraging people from getting involved in same-sex relationships. Our duty is to defend all rights. If NGOs are so confident that homosexuals have rights, why haven’t they approached the Constitutional Court to iron out the contradictions and declare criminalising homosexuality unconstitutional? We cannot do everything at the same time. Currently, we are challenging the death penalty, the offence of terrorism and pushing for electoral reforms. We have to take one step at a time. Or perhaps you too realise that Uganda is not ready to embrace homosexuals. Is that why there is so much activism, but no NGO has taken this big step? Right now, most NGOs are focusing on the Anti-Homosexuality bill and seeing that it is not passed. If it is passed, then definitely the only solution will be to go to the Constitutional Court. We cannot challenge a law unless it is passed. Why don’t you, in the meantime, challenge S.145 of the Penal Code for criminalising homosexuality? The Penal Code is currently before the Law Reform Commission. They are studying it to see which aspect needs to be reviewed. We think the Penal Code is not a good area for petition right now. One would think the two High Court decisions upholding the rights of homosexual people would give NGOs more confidence. Are you afraid of Minister Lokodo? The courts, like us, have looked at it through the perspective of the right not to be discriminated against — not through the homosexuality perspective. The issue of homosexuality was not directly brought before court. NGOs should go ahead and defend rights in spite of political threats. We are ready to challenge [threats] before Parliament, before the citizens and, if need be, before the Constitutional Court. The Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, has stated that homosexuals will never be accepted in Uganda. With the Anti-Homosexuality bill set to be debated in the House she heads, are you really not fighting a losing battle? Kadaga, like any other person, is entitled to her views. The Anti-Homosexuality bill needs to come before the House and be debated, and all views and opinions heard. The difficult part would be for her to decide whether she wants to promote discrimination. She has to uphold the Constitution and the ICCPR. These have non-discrimination clauses. It will do well to remember that Uganda signed the ICCPR without reservations. Is there a legitimate reason for government to deregister NGOs? Surely, these arguments must hold some water. I do not think there is a legitimate reason for government to deregister NGOs. The larger issue is whether Ugandans are entitled to freedom of expression, association and assembly. It’s about whether whoever wants to participate in governance issues must be registered. This issue of registration is contested. This is a broader democratic governance issue. Are you saying this is a general attack on NGOs? Of course, of course! I do not think it is fair for government to say that because NGOs are involved in advocating for minority rights, they should be closed. NGOs must not be partisan, but they must, by all means, be political — there is nothing in this country that is non-political. If you want better food, better water, if you are fighting disease; all this is political. Besides, NGOs comprise individual citizens of Uganda. They have a right to monitor how their country is governed. What place does the people’s culture and religion have in the fight for the rights of minorities? Culture, religion, morality, values; this is the turning point of the current debate on human rights [not just homosexuals’ rights]. Societies have different value systems and religion has an important role to play. Christianity, for example, does not promote persecution. I don’t know of any religion that does. African culture promotes tolerance and is welcoming. It is a question of individual attitudes. People have argued that the African child cannot learn unless she or he is caned. Is this true? The Bible says, “Spare the rod and spoil the child”, but the government has outlawed corporal punishment in schools. Culture and religion preach that a woman has no value, but is this true? We have to interpret culture and religion positively. Besides, the Constitution provides that any culture or religion that contradicts it is void. At the 1993 Vienna conference on human rights, states embraced the universality of rights. Anyone interpreting rights in the cultural relativist view with the intention of undermining them will not carry the day. Would you still defend the rights of gay people if your own child was gay? You know, we faced the same question when campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty. Would I feel differently if it was my own relative murdered? In this struggle for human rights, we should be guided by reason rather than emotion. If the question of emotion is not left out of the debate, then the entire human rights question will be defeated. Again, we are not campaigning for homosexuality, but for minority rights. We are not advocating for people to get killed, or for women to become belligerent when we defend their rights; we are only defending human dignity and human rights because the Constitution says so. Won’t NGOs cower under so much pressure? NGOs should do the right thing. If they are fighting for rights, then they must defend rights. We must educate people on the issue [homosexuality]. We should realise that some people are short, others tall, and others fat . . . Any government worth its value will respect the rights of all citizens. The Ugandan government should get its priorities right. Ugandans want better service delivery, better quality life; we need a better economy. Pitted against these, homosexuality is a non-issue. But government is assessing non-issues and using them to deny people their rights. We should now focus on term limits, because their absence is causing political instability.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

LGBTI Rights in Uganda: A Call for Global Solidarity

It is no secret that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Ugandans are discriminated against, threatened with violence, and intimidated by their own government. Too often, though, it is ignored that this is a human rights issue.
Last week my country's Minister of Ethics and Integrity, Fr. Simon Lokodo, said he we would ban 38 organizations because they "promoted homosexuality" and "undermined Ugandan culture." To ban these NGOs would be to deny Ugandans the right to association, which sadly, we've been denied for years. For years, LGBTI and other civil society groups have faced challenges in registering as official organizations because we work on sexual rights.
Lokodo also ordered a raid on a gay rights workshop in Kampala last week -- the second this year. Police officers clad in riot gear surrounded the location and detained 15 participants for questioning. Ironically, our rights to free speech and association were being trampled on while we were training participants on how to document human rights violations. Lokodo justified his actions by invoking the country's sodomy laws. Not only is this ridiculous, but it does not establish a legal basis to deny our human rights. If organizing against laws that violate Uganda's international human rights obligations is illegal as Fr. Lokodo seems to think, I'd like to ask him to comment on the legality of Dr. King's actions to end segregation in America or Bishop Tutu's efforts to end apartheid in South Africa.
It was reported on Wednesday that notes from one of our meetings have been leaked to the government. The notes include strategies on how to promote our human rights and lobby against the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill. It is our right to assemble and our right to freely speak about nonviolent ways to protect ourselves against people in our government, like Lokodo, intent on erasing us from society.
But Lokodo spun our efforts to organize and protect our rights as a strategy to promote homosexuality and recruit children. "This is not going to stop. We will support the [Anti-Homosexuality] bill," he threatened. "There is now sufficient evidence to move against these evil people. We'll punish them with a deterrent punishment." It seems Lokodo will use anything to justify his actions, except Uganda law and international human rights standards.
Responding to Lokodo's actions, the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and SMUG released a statement from four Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. The statement calls for the protection of the human rights and recognition of the inherent dignity of LGBTI people around the world. The Nobel Laureates' words are powerful, and the reaction to the statement was inspiring. Within a few days of posting the statement, it was translated into four different languages and reached three continents. If more human rights leaders came forward, perhaps the whole world could hear this message of tolerance and respect.
As these esteemed human rights defenders have supported human rights for LGBTI people in Uganda and worldwide, I hope the support of other leaders will have the same impact. If religious leaders defended our human dignity, how could anyone threaten us with violence? If civic leaders defended our constitutional rights, how could government-sponsored discrimination prevail? If enough citizens spoke up, how long could the government refuse to listen?
Frank Mugisha is the Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) and the 2011 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award Laureate.

Uganda to de-register “gay” supporting organisations and others

June 19, 2012 By Angelo Izama in The Ugandan Reader
Fr. Simon Lokodo, the boisterous catholic priest who serves as the Minister for Ethics and Integrity yesterday told me, Charles Mwanguhya and Bernard Tabaire that he had finalised arrangements to de-register some 38 NGO’s in Uganda. ” They will be de-registered for supporting homosexuality under the guise of fighting for human rights” he said.
The Minister was a guest of the Hot Seat on 933 KFM in what was a rather disturbing show yesterday. He had come to explain why his ministry was focussing on breaking up “gay promotion” meetings. Amongst other things he when I asked him why he was not as outspoken about the perils of child trafficking, child sex abuse or even the plight of men in Uganda’s prison system where non-consensual sex and congestion is pushing up HIV numbers he retorted that he embraced prostitution because it was a lesser evil. I also asked him what he thought of the idea of a military police mooted by the head of the Uganda Police Force since it would mean the force would be soldiers in uniform? His response off air was that the government was being provoked.
There is something of moral flux in Uganda these days. Political leaders have drawn the battle lines over the “involvement” of the Church in politics even as religious leaders seek to impose not just political solutions ( they want a restoration of constitutional term limits etc) but recently suggested lawmakers revisit Uganda’s controversial “anti-gay” legislation. This even as news reports are filled daily with what are likely systemic cases of violence, criminal behavior that those with an eye for these things including Fr. Lokodo may to review as a national conversation about common values.
Still the Minister had a unique angle on that too. He said mushrooming evangelical churches would also be “de-registered”. Unlike traditional churches he said they only entertained. False prophesy maybe.
Ugandan NGO’s are facing a tough stretch. The Internal Affairs Minister who Lokodo said had worked with him on the list of NGO’s whose operating license would be withdrawn has been battling with UK’s Oxfam and the Uganda Land Alliance following the publication by the two of a report on alleged land grabbing. The full list of 38 NGO’s likely includes two organisations I know well, the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment and the Uganda Human Rights Network [HURINET]. Lokodo confirmed HURINET was on the list. ”Oxfam will survive for now” he said but added that Uganda Land Alliance was on its way out.
News reports will likely carry these stories in the next couple of days but it appears that the ante is up on NGO’s. I did several interviews over the last weeks about the situation. What appears clear is that the community of NGO’s has no common response. Perhaps until the rhetoric turns into action and licenses are torn up like yesterday’s newspapers.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon says gay activists are his 'inspiration'

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hails 'brave' gay activists, says anti-gay abuse is a human rights violation and insists countries have a legal and moral duty to deal with it, whatever their culture
29 June 2012 | By Demitri Levantis
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has described LGBT activists as ‘brave’, ‘committed’ and an ‘inspiration’ to him.
The comments from the UN leader were read out by assistant secretary general for human rights, Ivan Šimonović, at a screening of gay documentary Call Me Kuchu at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York last night (28 June).
The film covers the struggles faced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights movement in Uganda. It also focuses on the murder of veteran campaigner David Kato.
In the speech Ban Ki-moon said the film showed how gay activists were harassed, threatened and attacked.
'They are treated with a callous cruelty that no human being should have to endure. Yet despite all this, they conduct themselves with calmness, optimism and dignity. It is truly remarkable,' he said.
He stated that violence and discrimination against gay and trans people violates human rights and that countries have a moral and legal duty to do something about it.
Ki-moon continued: 'At the end of last year, the High Commissioner for Human Rights published the first official United Nations report on the problem. In all regions of the world, LGBT people suffer discrimination — at work, at home, at school, in all aspects of daily life. Too often they have trouble in finding housing or obtaining basic healthcare and pension benefits. Too often they are subjected to verbal abuse or singled out for attack, torture and even murder. In 76 countries, having a partner of the same sex is a prosecutable crime. People are arrested, imprisoned, in some cases executed, just because they are in a loving relationship.
'This is an affront to the principles on which the United Nations was founded: equality, freedom, tolerance and the inherent dignity of each individual.'
French activists, including the International Day Against Homophobia founder Louis-Georges Tin, are currently on hunger strike, demading their president, François Holland sponsors a resolution in the UN calling for the decriminalization of gay sex around the world.
However, some countries have hit back at attempts to improve the human rights situation for LGBT people, saying homosexuality goes against their cultural traditions.
But for them, Ki-moon had a clear message: 'No custom or tradition, no cultural values or religious beliefs, can justify depriving a human being of his or her human rights.
'That is why, as UN secretary general, I take every opportunity to push leaders to listen and to act. But I am conscious that the hardest work is done by local activists like those you will see in this film.
'To them I want to say: You are an inspiration to me and to millions of people around the world. I am proud to join in this great human rights cause. However hard and however long it may take, I know that justice will prevail and that all people can enjoy the rights and dignity they deserve.'
Tears of sympathy were shed and a long ovation followed the screening. Directors of Call Me Kuchu, Malika Zouhall-Worrall and Katherine Fairfax Wright attended the festival.
Call Me Kuchu won the Teddy Award for Best Documentary at the Berlin International Film Festival this year.