The Ugandan government is back with more homophobia, this time in the form of new legislation that would ban foreign groups from “promoting” homosexuality. The draft bill targets non-governmental organizations (NGOs), often funded by foundations and governments, that may be helping groups opposed to the authoritarian government.
“There are some NGOs who have come here to undermine us, to promote very bad behavior like homosexuality,” junior internal affairs minister, James Baba told Reuters. “As a responsible government we need to check that. They (NGOs) will not be able to do that when we pass this law.”
The move is in keeping with the vicious crackdown that the LGBT community in Uganda has been subjected to. But what is happening in Uganda goes well beyond that country. The antigay vendetta instituted by the government isn’t just an issue for Ugandans. Here are five reasons why Uganda’s homophobia has implications far outside the country’s borders.
Success in Uganda props up the religious right. Professional homophobes like Scott Lively have seen what little credibility they had in the U.S. vanish over time. But their ability to export their brand of hatred to Uganda bolsters their declining fortunes. In the U.S., Lively is a joke candidate for Massachusetts governor. In Uganda, he’s a respected “expert” who meets with the parliament and cabinet. If it wasn’t for places like Uganda and Russia, Lively and his ilk would have little or no platform for their vile views and the damage that those views inflict.
Hatred spreads. The sad truth about homophobia is that it’s often contagious. No country would look to Uganda as the pinnacle of political achievement, but some authoritarian governments might find criminalizing homosexuality a useful tool to whip up the citizenry and create a handy scapegoat. Nigeria has already taken a page out of Uganda’s book, making life hell for LGBT people. If Uganda can abuse its LGBT citizens with impunity, it’s a green light for other countries to follow suit.
Uganda is a challenge to Obama’s commitment to LGBT rights. At the time Uganda passed the bill to jail its LGBT citizens, President Obama issued a statement saying that he was “deeply disappointed” with the move, calling it “a step backwards for all Ugandans.” (This is what passes for a strongly worded condemnation in diplomatic circles.) Yet its hardly the stirring rhetoric that his erstwhile Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, used when she declared that LGBT rights should be central to the U.S.’s human rights policy. If that’s the Administration’s stance, you’d be hard press to know it from its attitude toward Uganda. Three European countries cut aid to Uganda when it passed the “Jail the Gays” law. The U.S. did not.
Uganda tests just how gay friendly the pope is. Here’s a fact that slips through most discussions about Uganda: it’s approximately 40 percent Catholic. Which means, at least theoretically, that the pope should have some sway in the country, and, not so theoretically, that he can reprimand clergy who embrace the government’s homophobia. If the pope really intent on sending a sign that he recognizes LGBT people was deserving of respect, he could begin by chastising Archbishop Cyprian Lwanga and other clergy who have been active supporters of the country’s criminalization of homosexuality. Maybe then he might also begin to earn his Person of the Year status.
Ugandan homophobia underscores the LGBT community’s domestic bias. Two groups, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) have been waging a brave (and lonely) battle for decades on behalf of oppressed LGBT people around the world. Yet IGLHRC and ILGA have never gotten a fraction of the attention or the financial backing that domestic LGBT groups receive. Some of that is to be expected–after all, you’re more likely to put your own concerns ahead of people half way around the world. But at a high point in the movement’s history, the community could well afford to pay more attention to oppression elsewhere, particularly when it’s enabled by fellow Americans (see point one above.)