This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
In Uganda, being gay can now earn you a lifetime in prison.
In February, the East African country was again thrust into the international spotlight after President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a draconian bill that criminalized homosexuality. The high profile, on-and-off battle over the so-called “kill the gays” bill has drawn headlines for years as the most extreme example in a wave of antigay legislation on the continent. But homophobia in Africa is not merely an African problem.
As the gay rights movement has gained traction in the United States, the more virulently homophobic ideologies of the religious right have been pushed further out of the mainstream and into fringe territory. But as their influence has waned at home, right-wing evangelists from the United States have been flexing their sanctimonious muscles influencing policymakers in Africa.
For years now, evangelical activists from the United States have been injecting themselves into African politics, speaking out against homosexuality and cheering on antigay legislation on the continent. The influence of these groups has been well documented in Uganda. The now-defunct Exodus International, for example, sent Don Schmierer, a board member, to Uganda in 2009 to speak at a conference alongside Scott Lively, a pastor who was later sued by a Ugandan gay rights group for his role in promoting human rights violations against LGBTQ people. The two participated in a disturbing antigay conference, where speakers blamed homosexuals for the rise of Nazism and the Rwandan genocide, among other abhorrent acts. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, a hard-right Christian group that is active in US politics as well, similarly supported antigay laws in Uganda. At the peak of the controversy over the “kill the gays” bill, Perkins praised the Ugandan president for “leading his nation to repentance.”
But such groups aren’t just active in Uganda. They have promoted antigay legislation in Kenya, Nigeria and Zimbabwe, just to name a few other places. The support ranges from popular agitation and sideline cheerleading to outright intervention.