Last week, Uganda’s Parliament passed what is being called one of the most extreme anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the world. If signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni, the legislation would impose a life sentence for “recruitment, promotion and funding” of same-sex “activities” and would make some forms of “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by the death penalty.
As U.S. officials, including U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, condemn the bill, others have pointed to the role of American anti-LGBTQ+ religious groups in setting the stage for such legislation.
“A slate of proselytizing, activist U.S. religious groups have for years campaigned in parts of Africa, especially in countries like Uganda, and sown the seeds for even more hard-line measures there,” wrote Washington Post foreign affairs columnist Ishaan Tharoor in a recent op-ed.
As Tharoor notes, London-based OpenDemocracy found that close to half of the $54 million spent between 2007 and 2020 by American religious organizations advocating against LGBTQ+ rights in Africa was spent in Uganda alone. They use that money to advocate for conversion therapy and convince people that people can successfully become ex-gay.
Homosexual sex is already punishable by life imprisonment in the East African nation under its colonial-era penal code. But anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment has been on the rise in Uganda, fueled in part by evangelicals outraged over the Anglican Church’s recent decision to bless same-sex unions. The new bill is a revived version of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation that was nullified by Uganda’s constitutional court in 2014 on procedural grounds.
Sexual Minorities Uganda director Frank Mugisha argued in 2014 that political rhetoric around the “gay agenda” and accusations that people were being “recruited” to homosexuality were not prevalent in the country prior to a series of lectures delivered by anti-LGBTQ+ evangelical pastor Scott Lively and his American colleagues in 2009. Though he later opposed the 2014 version of the “Kill the Gays” bill, Lively described homosexuality as a Western-imported “disease” in a 2009 address to Uganda’s parliament.
Writing for Foreign Policy, Nigerian journalist and co-founder and managing editor of Minority Africa Caleb Okereke draws a direct link between Lively’s rhetoric and the bill. Okereke describes “ex-gay” propaganda as “a made-in-the-USA movement and ideology” exported to predominantly Christian nations in Africa like Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda by white evangelical groups like the now defunct Exodus International. Meanwhile, Okereke writes, framing homosexuality – not anti-LGBTQ+ laws – as a Western import gives brutal laws like the one in Uganda an “anticolonial veneer.”
“Ugandans have been radicalized into hatred for LGBTQ persons,” Mugisha said last week.
Tharoor sees a similar radicalization underway in the U.S. He draws a parallel between evangelical rhetoric around “recruitment” and pedophilia in Africa and the now ubiquitous use of the term “groomer” by far-right activists and anti-LGBTQ+ Republican politicians in the U.S.