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April 01, 2014 10:40 AM Celebrating Bigotry in Uganda

By Ed Kilgore

If for some reason you need a buzzkill today, BuzzFeed has one in a report on a “five-hour celebration” in Kampala of Uganda’s new Anti-Homosexuality Law, apparently a joint production by President Yoweri Museveni and (a special buzzkill for me) the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda.

The rally on Monday kicked off with several hundred people marching from the campus of Makerere University led by Martin Ssempaa, an evangelical pastor who has been one of the most visible activists against LGBT rights in the East African nation. Marchers carried photocopied signs in pink, blue, and yellow that said, “Museveni, thank you for saving the future of Uganda,” “Homosexuality + AIDS = 100%” and “Obama, we want trade not homosexuality.” Some carried flags that said “Stop AIDS with abstinence pride” and “Stop AIDS — be faithful in marriage….”

Museveni himself certainly descended to the occasion, treating homosexuality as some sort of unnatural colonial legacy of the decadent West,

He drew laughs while arguing that the mechanics of gay sex should make obvious how unnatural it is.
“The sexual organs of human beings are highly specialized,” he said. “Because that part is not for that purpose, it creates very unhealthy repercussions … the intestines come out — this is terrible!”
“There are other terrible things,” he warned. “Oral sex is an idiocy … The mouth is for eating.”
Directing his remarks to the many university students in attendance, he said, “There is nothing good in this imported culture — you don’t have to be ruined by foreign things.”

Buzzfeed’s J. Lester Feder provided a succinct explanation of the political context for this “National Thanksgiving Service Celebrating the Passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill:”

The event comes amidst several moves by Museveni to consolidate his position as the unchallenged leader of Uganda and his National Resistance Movement party ahead of presidential elections in 2016. In February, Museveni and his allies attempted to oust Prime Minister Mbabazi from NRM party leadership to derail his chances at challenging the president for the nomination, which he had been rumored to be considering. Museveni’s government has also been going after the opposition, most recently by shutting down opposition rallies, arresting the organizers, and closing down radio stations.

Yeah, nothing smooths the consolidation of oligarchical power quite like some gay-bashing. But the evidence that homosexuality is a Western import is a lot weaker than the evidence that the “anti-homosexuality” campaign was itself stirred up by Western evangelicals active in West Africa, as noted by The Independent’s Tim Walker earlier this month:

Mr Museveni claimed the measure was “provoked by arrogant and careless western groups that are fond of coming into our schools and recruiting young children into homosexuality.”
Critics of the legislation say it is not homosexuality that has been imported from the West, but homophobia. Roger Ross Williams, the director of God Loves Uganda, a documentary about the influence of conservative US Christians in the East African nation, said, “The anti-homosexuality bill would never have come about without the involvement of American fundamentalist evangelicals.”
One of the first to investigate links between American conservatives and the African anti-gay movement was Kipya Kaoma, a Zambian clergyman living in Boston. Homosexuality was illegal in Uganda under existing colonial laws, he explained, “But nobody was ever arrested or prosecuted based on those old laws. People turned a blind eye to it. Homosexuality was not a political issue.”
That changed in 2009, Rev Kaoma said, when a group of American evangelicals led by Pastor Scott Lively, a self-proclaimed expert on the “gay movement”, held a series of talks in Uganda. Mr Lively warned audiences that the “evil institution” of homosexuality sought to “prey upon” and recruit Ugandan children in a bid to “defeat the marriage-based society”.
Dr Frank Mugisha, director of the LGBT rights organisation, Sexual Minorities Uganda (Smug), recently told The Independent on Sunday, “[The idea] of a gay agenda, of recruiting people to homosexuality - that language wasn’t used in Uganda pre-2009. [Lively] made my work very difficult and was conspiring with my legislators, but [to Ugandans] he was like God himself. People were worshipping him as if he was from heaven.”

Anyone familiar with the process by which western Evangelical Anglicans helped turn African and Asian bishops into a force resisting ordination of gay clergy and bishops in the Anglican Communion can recognize the pattern. A toxic combination of local politics, international conservative religious proselytization, competition with anti-gay Muslim clerics, and good old-fashioned bigotry has helped make celebrating homophobia a popular cause. And Jesus wept.

UPDATE: I didn’t realize it until a few minutes ago, but the aforementioned Scott Lively is now running for governor of Massachusetts on, naturally, an anti-gay platform. Charlie Pierce assures us Lively’s campaign is going nowhere fast.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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