Sunday, June 30, 2013

Amnesty International Report Highlights U.S. Religious Right, Homophobia, and Uganda

Earlier this month, Amnesty International release a report entitled Making Love a Crime: Criminalization of Same-Sex Conduct in Sub-Saharan Africa. The report documents anti-LGBTQ legislation in many sub-Saharan African countries, as well as persecution by law enforcement, state actors, and non-state actors.

Amnesty International observes that American Religious Right figures have encouraged homophobia in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in Uganda where a draconian anti-gay bill is under consideration.
“Newer evangelical churches in Africa often receive funding from their counterparts in the West, particularly the USA. In Uganda, religious organizations like the Family Life Network work closely with US evangelicals. The Family Life Network hosted a conference in Uganda in 2009 which featured representatives from Exodus International, a US-based Christian organization with the stated aim of ‘converting’ gay and lesbian people to heterosexuality, as well as Scott Lively, an American minister who has campaigned in several countries for the criminalization of ‘public advocacy of homosexuality’. Speakers claimed that gay activists from the West paid young people in Uganda to ‘recruit’ others into homosexuality. On 14 March 2012, the US-based Center for Constitutional rights filed a federal lawsuit against Scott Lively on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda. The suit argues that Lively’s actions in Uganda, including his campaign to strip LGBTI persons of basic human rights, constitutes persecution.

US-based funding for religious groups that actively advocate against homosexuality in Africa has come not just from evangelical churches, but also from US government agencies. Pastor Martin Ssempa, who runs the Makere Community Church in Uganda and who has vocally opposed homosexuality as well as condom use and women’s rights, received money under the Bush administration from a US programme designed to combat HIV/AIDS.”
The report also highlights the complex relationship between faith and the African LGBTQ community. Amnesty International notes that some African lawmakers and religious leaders cite Christianity or Islam when condemning the LGBTQ community. Some religious groups and interfaith coalitions have been vocal in their homophobia and calls for discriminatory treatment of LGBTQ persons.

On the other hand, the report acknowledges that many LGBTQ Africans find strength and solace in their religious faith, and that some African clergy (i.e., Bishop Senyonjo) affirm the humanity of their LGBTQ brethren. For LGBTQ Africans in homophobic congregations, however, confiding in religious leaders about their sexual orientation, gender identity, or negative experiences could result in expulsion or public humiliation.

The Amnesty International report notes the irony of using religion-as-African-identity arguments to justify homophobia in Africa, given the role of American preachers in fomenting homophobia there.
"Religion is often conflated with notions of culture and tradition, and then used as a justification to condemn same-sex sexuality. The very existence of LGBTI Africans is often denied and same-sex sexuality or behaviour is largely blamed on the West. Meanwhile, the loudest and most public Western influence on this issue arguably comes from Western preachers, like Pastors Rick Warren and Scott Lively, who actively fund and promote homophobia in Africa"
Read the full report for a in-depth look at homophobia in sub-Saharan Africa, including ways that religion has both exacerbated and confronted bigotry there.

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