Frank Mugisha, one of the most courageous human rights activists you could ever encounter, has an op-ed in the New York Times about anti-gay violence in his home country of Uganda. He thanks Hillary Clinton for speaking out on the subject and the Obama administration for making the human rights of gays and lesbians an important aspect of our diplomatic efforts. And he makes this interesting point:
Many Africans believe that homosexuality is an import from the West, and ironically they invoke religious beliefs and colonial-era laws that are foreign to our continent to persecute us.
The way I see it, homophobia — not homosexuality — is the toxic import. Thanks to the absurd ideas peddled by American fundamentalists, we are constantly forced to respond to the myth — debunked long ago by scientists — that homosexuality leads to pedophilia. For years, the Christian right in America has exported its doctrine to Africa, and, along with it, homophobia. In Uganda, American evangelical Christians even held workshops and met with key officials to preach their message of hate shortly before a bill to impose the death penalty for homosexual conduct was introduced in Uganda’s Parliament in 2009. Two years later, despite my denunciation of all forms of child exploitation, David Bahati, the legislator who introduced the bill, as well as Foreign Minister Henry Okello Oryem and other top government officials, still don’t seem to grasp that being gay doesn’t equate to being a pedophile.
In May, following criticism from the West and President Yoweri Museveni, the bill was shelved. But the current parliament has revived it and could send it to the floor for a vote at any time. Meanwhile, the bill’s influence has been felt in Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon, all of which have recently stepped up enforcement of anti-gay laws or moved to pass new legislation that would criminalize love between people of the same sex.
A veil of silence enforced by thuggish street violence and official criminalization is falling over much of Africa. Being a gay activist is a sacrifice. You have to carefully choose which neighborhood to live in. You cannot go shopping on your own, let alone go clubbing or to parties. With each public appearance you risk being attacked, beaten or arrested by the police.
I remember the moment when my friend David Kato, Uganda’s best-known gay activist, sat with me in the small unmarked office of our organization, Sexual Minorities Uganda. “One of us will probably die because of this work,” he said. We agreed that the other would then have to continue. In January, because of this work, David was bludgeoned to death at his home, with a hammer. Many people urged me to seek asylum, but I have chosen to remain and fulfill my promise to David — and to myself. My life is in danger, but the lives of those whose names are not known in international circles are even more vulnerable.
But remember, by using diplomatic leverage to keep these people from being killed, the Obama administration is trying to impose “special rights.”