Washington Post on exporting American anti-gay fundamentalism to Africa

Sunday’s Washington Post highlighted the rise in persecution of gays in Africa as the openness with which gay men and lesbians are increasingly living their lives comes into conflict with the rise in Islam and evangelical Christianity. The Post reports imprisonment, torture and murder of gay men and lesbians in countries like Uganda (a story Rachel Maddow and gay media have covered well). However, it doesn’t stop in Uganda–it is tragically common across the continent, with the exception of South Africa which actually allows same-sex marriage.

Beyond the tragic reality that is faced by so many, there are two key points that are important as we look within our country at the gay rights movement (emphasis added).

American gay activists have sent money to help the community here. Western governments – including aid donors – have vocally criticized the bill and denounced the treatment of gays.That has angered conservative pastors here, many of whom are influenced by American anti-gay Christian groups and politicians who say that African values are under attack by Western attitudes. They say their goal is to change the sexual behavior of gays, not to physically harm them.

And later in the piece:

In recent years, conservative American evangelical churches have had a profound influence on society in Uganda and other African nations. They send missions and help fund local churches that share their brand of Christianity. Sermons and seminars by American evangelist preachers are staples on local television and radio networks across the continent.

Some activists say the attacks in Uganda intensified last year after three American evangelical preachers visited the country. In seminars attended by thousands and broadcasted over radio, the preachers discussed how to “cure” homosexuality and accused gays of sodomizing boys and destroying African culture. A month later, a Ugandan lawmaker introduced the anti-homosexuality bill.

To me, this is just a reminder of the fact that so many of the evangelical religious leaders (think hate groups like the Family Research Council) that claim not to preach hate have very different messages that they’re delivering to different audiences. And their words incite actions and laws that are hateful at best and deadly at worst. We may not be able to hold them responsible legally (like if they were to scream fire in a movie theater), but we must hold them accountable culturally. I genuinely believe (and hope) most Christians who oppose gay rights have no clue what these leaders are responsible for through their messages to other countries.

This is, however, where the western governments can save lives by speaking out.

More than two-thirds of African countries have laws criminalizing homosexuality. In May, a judge in Malawi imposed a maximum prison sentence of 14 years with hard labor on a gay couple convicted of “unnatural acts” for holding an engagement ceremony. Malawi’s president pardoned the couple after international condemnation, particularly from Britain, Malawi’s largest donor……The bill has provoked an international uproar, particularly from the United States and European governments that provide the bulk of Uganda’s foreign aid. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has quietly urged lawmakers not to act on the bill.

International pressure on these foreign countries is a great start, but again, how about putting pressure on the radical American preachers who are fanning the flames of bigotry, intolerance and violence in countries where the result is state-sponsored violence. At least in the US we’re only denied civil rights – not the right to live.

You can read more about efforts to increase international pressure against discrimination against LGBT people by Ambassador Susan Rice at the United Nations at The Advocate.

Born and raised in Maine, Nick Seaver moved to DC to study political communication in 2003. He began writing extensively on LGBT rights during the first ballot initiative in Maine that overturned marriage equality. He writes about a variety of issues, ranging from marriage to issues facing LGBT youth. Follow him on Twitter at @NDSeaver.

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