Know Your Right Wingers
Ugandan Activists Sue American Evangelist for Fomenting Anti-Gay Hatred
Banging bucket drums and carrying signs, dozens of protesters gathered in front of Holy Grounds Coffee House in Springfield, Mass., one recent Wednesday.
While it seems like a strange place for a protest, the coffee house is owned by Scott Lively, an American Evangelical pastor, the president of Defend the Family, and the first American to be sued in U.S. Federal Court for crimes against humanity.
In March, Sexual Minorities Uganda filed suit against Lively under the alien tort statute, which allows non-citizens to sue U.S. citizens for violations of international law. In this case, the suit claims that Lively has fomented anti-gay sentiment in Uganda to the extent of encouraging persecution of gender and sexual minorities.
The lawsuit hinges on two events: A 2009 conference in Uganda that Lively led, and Ugandan Member of Parliament David Bahati’s introduction of—and continuing battle over—a restrictive anti-gay bill known colloquially as “Kill the Gays.”
Bahati introduced the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill in October of 2009. As the moniker would suggest, the bill would institute harsh penalties for homosexual activities: Anyone who engages in gay sex would face imprisonment for life, and those convicted of an “aggravated” or “serial” offense would be put to death.
The bill’s introduction came seven months after Lively’s “Seminar on Exposing the Homosexual Agenda,” in which Lively claimed that homosexuality played a role in notable historical genocides, including the Rwandan massacre; that gay men molest children as a “recruitment” method; and that America had fallen due to its increasing acceptance of gay people.
Lively also touted his book, The Pink Swastika, which claims that gay men comprised the upper echelons of the Nazi party, and engineered the Holocaust. (This unsupported hypothesis earned him a Daily Show appearance in July 2010.)
Pro-gay Ugandan advocates claim that Lively’s remarks amounted to incitement to crimes against humanity.
Plaintiff Frank Mugisha, the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, said in a conference call that Lively’s 2009 remarks dramatically changed the attitude toward LGBT people in Uganda. Before, “they were looked at as different,” but “no one bothered them.” Now, he said, gay men face harassment, assault, ejection from homes and jobs, and even—like prominent activist David Kato—murder.
Homosexuality in Uganda is illegal now, but there is still due process—and the punishment is not nearly as harsh. For instance, gay Ugandans told visiting writer Jeff Sharlet that the punishment typically involves bribes.
Sharlet asserts that Lively did not plant the seeds of anti-gay sentiment—rather, he just spurred them into growth. “For years, American fundamentalists have looked on Uganda as a kind of laboratory,” Sharlet writes in his book C Street.
Lively agrees with Sharlet, telling CurrentTV in May 2010 that his 2009 appearance came before those pushing for an anti-gay bill had decided on the wording but after they’d begun discussing it. Still, it’s likely that Lively’s rhetoric further inflamed an already nasty situation.
On the Defend the Family web site, Lively writes that Uganda is being “murdered” by gay men and lesbians and that the gay-friendly West is “raping their culture.” Lively has called gay men “savages” and claimed that they lack impulse control; he is a staunch advocate of scientifically discredited “ex-gay” therapy.
Sexual Minorities Uganda says that the lawsuit is less about Lively’s speech or beliefs than his actions. The organization alleges that Lively waged an anti-gay campaign from 2002 onward that has culminated in the widespread persecution of homosexuals. Pam Speers, a Center for Constitutional Rights attorney who represents the organization, alleged in a conference call that Lively was “the man with the plan.”
For his part, Lively claims that he has been against the death penalty aspect of the bill. But in his interview with CurrentTV, he also stated that he views the bill—capital punishment and all—as a “lesser of two evils,” when compared with allowing gay people to live undisturbed.
Moreover, in the letter he wrote to the Ugandan parliament, Lively’s opposition to the death penalty for gay Ugandans is more a political move than a moral stance:
Advocating the “death penalty” for “mere” sexual crimes evokes such a severe negative reaction in most Western nations that all other aspects of the law, and the rationale for drafting it is ignored, and very “gay” movement we seek to oppose is strengthened by public sympathy they would not otherwise enjoy.
In right-wing evangelicals’ attempts to remake Uganda in their image, gay people have been turned into scapegoats for both Uganda’s socioeconomic worries and American pastors’ insecurity over the liberalization of the United States. Lively and his compatriots have, in the words of Kapya Koama of the Political Research Associates [PDF], “globaliz[ed] the culture war.”
Shay O'Reilly is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @shaygabriel.
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