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Human Rights

Uganda's homosexuals targeted by US Evangelicals

A report by Amnesty International says homosexuals are increasingly becoming targets of hate in many African nations. In Uganda, US-based Evangelicals are involved in campaigning against homosexuality, critics say.

Here, in a conference room situated next to the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, Viktor Mukasa is struggling to talk of his experiences as a transgender person in his homeland of Uganda.

"It got to a stage that I went to church and said, please heal me from homosexuality," Mukasa explains. "I ended up being abused in the church by the so-called men of God, Evangelicals."

"I was stripped naked at one of the events. A man laid hands on me, including around my genitals, to chase out all the homosexuality in me and the spirit of a boy that they saw."

Mukasa says his story is not a unique one.

Targeted for being different

The 37-year old, who was born a woman but identifies as a man, now lives in the US permanently. He was previously the director of the non-governmental organization Sexual Minorities Uganda, known as SMUG, which fights for the rights of lesbian, homosexual, bisexual and transgender people in Uganda.

Victor Mukasa former director of SMUG, Uganda.

Victor Mukasa is campaigning for more recognition of LGBT people in Uganda

Currently, homosexuality is illegal in the country. When he was part of the organization, Victor Mukasa's apartment was searched by police and a guest was arrested and interrogated.

Ugandan politicians have in the past demanded homosexuals should, in some instances, be sentenced to death. International protests have made sure those plans have not yet been turned into law.

Uganda: a moral warzone

Jeff Sharlet, a journalist and professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, has been following the political interests of the US Evangelicals for some time. He says the group, which is known for being theologically conservative, also has strong links to the secret organization "The Fellowship." This Christian political group, which includes members of the US political elite, is active domestically and overseas.

"There is a group of parliamentarians in Uganda who are sponsored by The Fellowship, who meet every week," Sharlet told DW. "They get together to see how they can reform Uganda's law to match up with their understanding of biblical principles."

Part of that reform involves the rejection of homosexuality. One Ugandan politician, David Bahati, introduced a bill in 2009 that would make homosexuality punishable by death, saying he had the full support of the United States. According to Sharlet, most Americans with links to Bahati now distance themselves from the bill and say that they urged him to be more cautious.

Preaching against homosexuality

Holy Grounds coffee house in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Holy Grounds coffee house in Springfield, Massachusetts

Scott Lively runs a Bible studies session for homeless and unemployed people at his café, "Holy Grounds," in a run-down area of Springfield, Massachusetts each morning. The Evangelical pastor believes that God doesn't tolerate homosexuality and has been following developments surrounding the planned law in Uganda. But, he says, he has been misrepresented in the current debate.

"I don't support the incarceration of people for homosexuality or the death penalty," he told DW. "I've never done that. That's a false assertion on the part of the gays and the media."

Lively says he has travelled to Uganda to offer suggestions on how to deal with homosexuality in the country, but local politicians didn't listen to him.

"What I advised the Ugandan government to do is to focus on reparative therapy and on prevention by training their children in the public school system toward marriage," Lively says. "If you do that you minimize the number of children who will go off into a lifestyle of perversion, you protect your society that way."

Lively says that he doesn't think his advice to Ugandan politicians could have been misunderstood. And, he says, violence against homosexuals in Uganda doesn't exist.

Legal action in the US

But SMUG, the homosexual organization in Uganda, sees things differently. They launched legal action against Lively in March 2012 under the US Alien Tort Statute, accusing him of persecution and conspiracy.

An Amnesty International brochure protesting against anti-homosexuality in Kampala, Uganda. (Photo: EPA/DAI KUROKAWA (c) dpa - Bildfunk)

An Amnesty International brochure protesting against anti-homosexuality in Kampala, Uganda.

SMUG is now demanding compensation for damages. Their lawyer, Pam Spees, says Lively started to meet with Ugandan officials in 2002 to influence policies.

"Scott Lively has been a principal strategist," Spees explains. "He is motivated and focused on removing those rights from the LGBT community."

"He is brought in to create a panic, and it is with the end goal of stripping away these rights."

US Evangelicals split

Warren Throckmorton used to see things Lively's way. He was a vocal advocate of efforts to change gay people's sexual orientation.

But these days the psychology professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania is firmly against Uganda's anti-homosexual policies.

He believes US-based Evangelicals need to realize the importance of their role in the current developments in Uganda.

"If the Ugandan people weren't getting support from Scott Lively and some of the other Americans, I think it would cause them to reflect more," he told DW. "They might ask: Why are these people who share a religion not seeing it the way we are?

"I think the American support gives them a reason not to consider other ways to think about these matters," he added.

In Uganda the proposed law is still being reviewed. Even so, human rights activists are in agreement: The damage has already been done.

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