After signing the bill into law, Museveni was defiant. In an interview with CNN's Zain Verjee, Museveni called gays "disgusting", arguing that he'd seen insufficient evidence that homosexuality was inborn. In a transcript of his February 24th speech posted at the Daily Monitor, Museveni demonized gays as predators heralding from the "arrogant" west.
"It seems the topic of homosexuals was provoked by the arrogant and careless Western groups that are fond of coming into our schools and recruiting young children into homosexuality and lesbianism, just as they carelessly handle other issues concerning Africa."Museveni's speech was littered with bizarre claims about the origins of sexual orientation and the supposed dangers of oral sex. He accused the west of imposing its pro-gay values on his land, ignoring ways that American anti-gay activists have exported homophobia to Africa.
"Are we interested in seeing your sexual acts – we the Public? I am not able to understand the logic of the Western Culture. However, we Africans always keep our opinions to ourselves and never seek to impose our point of view on the others. If only they could let us alone."The global reaction was swift. The White House, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Human Dignity Trust, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, and South African cleric Desmond Tutu condemned the new law as discriminatory and backwards.
I fear that the worst is yet to come for Uganda. LGBTQ Ugandans, already under siege in a country that criminalizes homosexuality, will now be at risk for long, unjust imprisonment. The new law and the rhetoric coming from Ugandan leaders may embolden homophobes, putting LGBTQ people at risk of further violence and persecution.
It is vital to remember that the anti-gay law was introduced as American Religious Right figures promoted homophobia in Uganda. Scott Lively, Exodus International board member Don Schmierer, and other American Religious Right were among the speakers at a 2009 anti-gay conference in Kampala. Lou Engle of TheCall preached at TheCall Uganda rally in 2010, earning him criticism from LGBTQ rights groups. While the American Religious Right is not exclusively to blame for homophobia in Uganda, its anti-gay propaganda did not help the situation.
Do we need any further evidence of the dangers of homophobia? This is what happens when political leaders embrace ignorance, bigotry, and scapegoating. This is what happens when dangerous myths, stereotypes, and pseudoscience infect public consciousness. This is what happens when hatred is conflated with patriotism, national autonomy, and faith. This is what happens when the Religious Right spreads its influence and ideology. The LGBTQ community is demonized, unjust bills become law, and innocent people suffer.
We must continue to speak out for equality, both in the U.S. and abroad. We must resist interpretations of religion that dehumanize LGBTQ people. We must refute dangerous stereotypes and pseudoscience wherever they fester. We must shine a light on the global ambitions of the Religious Right. And, we must always remember that a saner world is possible.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
Christiane Amanpour on CNN: How American evangelicals may be responsible for Uganda’s anti-gay law
Mother Jones: Uganda's President Signs Extreme Law That Has Led to Calls to Kill, Burn, and Beat Gays
New York Times: Reaction to Uganda Antigay Law