The Obama administration’s summit brought together leaders from 50 African countries, including some who have denounced LGBT people and overseen their persecution. LGBT rights took a back seat at the summit, writes the Washington Blade’s Michael Lavers, but were not completely absent. President Obama referenced “respect for the universal human rights of all people” in his opening for the summit and used similar language in its closing press conference. Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, had called for a more robust promotion of equality by the U.S. government and corporations doing business in Africa. Obama did specifically call for fair and equal treatment of “people of different races and faiths and sexual orientations” during a business forum. And Secretary of State John Kerry praised Frank Mugisha, director of Sexual Minorities Uganda during an event at the National Academy of Sciences.
After the summit, Rep. Karen Bass met with LGBT African American activists to discuss the best ways that African American LGBTs can support LGBT people in Africa. According to Frontiers LA’s Karen Ocamb, the question that dominated the discussion was asked by Pastor Kevin Sauls: “How do we as activists—as people of faith—respond to this so it’s in the long-term interests of our brothers and sisters on the continent, so they are empowered and protected?”
Uganda: Religious, Political Leaders Call For Return of Anti Homosexuality Act
Uganda’s Constitutional Court ruled on August 1 that the infamous Anti Homosexuality Act is null and void. The ruling was based on procedural issues – specifically the lack of a quorum when the bill was pushed through Parliament – rather than on its substance. Milton Allimadi of Black Star Newssuggests that the timing of the Court’s ruling was designed to take the heat of President Museveni in time for the summit in Washington.
Almost immediately, religious and political leaders began pushing for re-passage of the law. The ruling was denounced by anti-gay pastor Martin Ssempa, who said, ‘‘This ruling has got nothing to do with the will of the people. Unfortunately, it has everything to do with pressure from Barack Obama and the homosexuals of Europe.’’
Archbishop Stanley Ntagali of the Church of Uganda also called for quick re-passage of the law.
“We also hope that Parliament will take this opportunity to make clear the parts of the Bill that were ambiguous and difficult to enforce.
“I appeal to all God-fearing people and all Ugandans to remain committed to the support against homosexuality, which is contrary to God’s order, until the law protects our families, the youth and children of our country.”
Pink News reports that a group of Parliamentarians, led by the law’s author David Bahati, are pushing for an exception from parliamentary procedure in order to win quick passage. Speaker Rebecca Kadaga said this week that enough signatures from Members of parliament have been gathered to change regulations and allow Parliament to re-pass the law. But there are some indications that President Museveni and his party are moving to stall the new push.
Scott Lively, an American evangelical who has helped incite anti-gay fervor in Uganda and elsewhere, has used the occasion to praise Uganda’s Christian culture and rail against critics of the Ugandan government in typically measured fashion:
The maliciously deceitful attempt by the global “gay” movement and its media allies to paint Uganda as a pariah state filled with hateful bigots (as in the propaganda film “God Loves Uganda”), is simply a disgusting modern example of the same “blood libel” used against the Jews by the Nazis.
I am not unhappy that the Ugandan law as written has been nullified. I have always said it was too harsh and did not emphasize prevention and therapy for homosexual disorder. The law’s enactment and quick repeal conclusively demonstrate that Ugandans can think for themselves, are capable of self-governance, and do not need “enlightened” Marxists and homosexual militants from the West to shape their public policy and uphold the rule of law.
As Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin notes, Lively’s efforts to portray LGBT activists as paternalistic are undermined by his own record of portraying himself as the father of Uganda’s “pro-family” movement and celebrating his efforts there as a “nuclear bomb against the gay agenda” that would spread across the continent.
Meanwhile, James Kassaga Arinaitwe, a 2014 New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute, published in late July an opinion piece for Al Jazeera on the ways US evangelical groups are “increasingly shaping Uganda’s development policies to suit their religious agenda.” His piece touches on the impact of the “prosperity gospel,” claims that HIV/AIDS can be cured through prayer, and the power that comes with the financial resources flowing into evangelical NGOs.
Evangelical NGOs in Uganda are now bigger and better funded than most secular aid organisations. They account for more than one-fifth of all NGOs in the country. As of 2002, evangelical groups’ humanitarian operations in Uganda were already worth more than $2bn annually – a number which has doubtless grown – and they compete aggressively with secular NGOs to secure US government grants….
Evangelical groups’ close ties to Ugandan government leaders have cemented their influence in my country. Charismatic humanitarian pastors like Rick Warren and evangelical NGOs such as World Vision are increasingly invited to the official forums that help to shape Uganda’s development policy.
Evangelical churches are given the official right to call themselves NGOs and apply for development aid,credit schemes, tax-free status, and government funding even if they do not directly address social issues. In contrast, secular NGOs face far tougher restrictions by the Ugandan government and are prohibited from engaging in any political or advocacy-based issues.
Most damaging, this charity model promotes the privatisation of social services for evangelical target groups over the right to health and education for all Ugandans. It strips Ugandans of dignity and bypasses the government, absolving it of responsibility. Piecemeal projects like World Vision handing out discontinued Superbowl t-shirts or Samaritan’s Purse’s shoebox gifts do nothing to strengthen or reform Uganda’s failing public institutions, but do set reinforce perceptions that NGOs provide handouts while the government does nothing.
Kenya: New Bill Calls For Public Stoning of Gays
A Kenyan “kill the gays” bill has been introduced by Edward Onwong’a Nyakeriga of the Republican Liberty Party. It would include the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” as well as lifetime jail sentences for running ‘brothels for homosexual purposes,” which Pink News suggests could be used against anyone who lives with a gay person. The Star of Kenya reports that a foreigner who commits a homosexual act would be stoned in public. According to the bill’s sponsor:
“The petition aims at providing a comprehensive and enhanced legislation to protect the cherished culture of the people of Kenya, legal, religious and traditional family values against the attempts of sexual rights activists seeking to impose their values of sexual promiscuity on the people of Kenya.
“There is need to protect children and youth who are vulnerable to sexual abuse and deviation as a result of cultural changes, uncensored information technology, parentless child developmental settings and increasing attempts by homosexuals to raise children in homosexual relationships through adoption, foster care or otherwise.”
Liberia: Christian Leaders Blame ‘Homosexualism’ for Ebola
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf announced a state of emergency, warning that “‘ignorance and poverty, as well as entrenched religious and cultural practices” are exacerbating Ebola’s spread.
The Independent reports, “Religious leaders in Liberia are claiming God has unleashed the deadly Ebola virus as a plague upon the country to punish ‘immoral acts’ taking place there, such as homosexuality.” The story says leaders from the Liberia Council of Churches met to discuss a “spiritual response” to the Ebola outbreak. “The Daily Observer reports that church leaders at the meeting unanimously agreed ‘God is angry with Liberia’ and concluded Ebola has been sent ‘as a plague’ on the country.”
Nigeria: LGBT Activist Confronts President at Summit
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who earlier this year signed an anti-gay law that has spurred violent persecution of LGBT people, was confronted at a dinner by a Micheal Ighodaro, a gay Nigerian activist and fellow at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, while he was in Washington D.C. for the summit.
Ighodaro told BuzzFeed that Jonathan replied, “The situation of homosexuals in Nigeria is delicate, but during this week the topic has come up a lot and it is something we will continue to look into, especially the attacks. If you think the law is unconstitutional you have the right to go to court and fight [to strike] it down,” which Ighodaro interpreted as a reference to similar Ugandan legislation struck down by the country’s Constitutional Court [on August 1].
Cambodia: UN Country Report Discusses Buddhism and Sexuality
The United Nations Development Programme, the US Agency for International Development, and the Office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights have published a “Country Report” on Cambodiaas part of the “Being Gay in Asia” initiative. The report provides an overview of LGBT human rights in Cambodian law and culture. This is the section on “Buddhist Perceptions of Sexuality and Sexual Behaviours.”
Theravada is the prominent form of Buddhism practiced in Cambodia. At least 96 percent of Cambodians practice Buddhism. The Pali Canon does not specifically prohibit homosexuality. Buddhist teachings are relatively free of misogyny, homophobia and transphobia. The steps of the Eightfold Path to enlightenment speak about sexual activity. The second step states, “You must renounce all pleasures of the senses.” This is thought to refer to all forms of sexual activity, and imply complete celibacy. The fourth step prohibits “unlawful sexual acts”. Buddhist commentators usually interpret such acts to refer to “rape, sexual harassment, molestation of children, and unfaithfulness to one’s spouse.”
No distinction is made between homosexual and heterosexual behaviour—both must be free from harm; with mutual consent; the breaking of a commitment to another person is not involved; and sexual behaviour must be carried out with the intention to express affection with respect, and give pleasure to each other. These precepts apply irrespective of one’s gender or sexual orientation. The same principles are used to evaluate all relationships and sexual behaviour, heterosexual or homosexual. The Dalai Lama very recently expressed support for gay marriage, though noted legalization of such unions was a matter for each country to decide.
During the 2012 LGBT Pride celebration, the festivities ended with a blessing at a pagoda. The head of the Toul Dombong Khous pagoda said, “…Buddhism has never been in conflict with issues of sexuality or gender identity… Our Buddha taught us to love each other, to help each other and not to discriminate against each other…”
Saudi Arabia: Prison and 450 Lashes for Gay Man Entrapped by Religious Police
News outlets reported in late July that a 24-year-old Saudi Arabian man was sentenced to three years in prison and 450 lashes for “promoting the vice and practice of homosexuality.” He was reportedly entrapped by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice when he tried to use twitter to meet other men.
Iran: Two Gay Men Reportedly Executed; Iranian LGBT Refugees Flock to ‘Tehranto’
A website devoted to human rights in Iran reported that two men charged with sodomy were among six executions carried out on August 6.
Four prisoners were hanged publicly in the city of Shiraz (Southern Iran) today August 6. According to the official website of the Iranian Judiciary in Fars province two of the prisoners were sentenced to death charged with sodomy. These prisoners were identified as “Abdollah Gh. Ch.” and “Soleiman Gh. Ch.” . Since there was no mention of rape in the report there is possibility that these men were sentenced to death for sexual relationship with the same sex….
Iran Human Rights (IHR) strongly condemns today’s executions. Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, the spokesperson of IHR said: “We urge international condemnation of today’s barbaric executions. There is a possibility that two of the men executed today were charged with sentenced to death for sexual relationship with other men. Iranian authorities should be held accountable for these inhumane acts”.
Iran’s chief justice claimed (not very credibly) this week it is “a lie” that the country executes homosexuals, but confirmed that Iran does not recognize homosexuality as a human right. “We cannot abandon the Quranic teachings for the sake of your human laws that are being implemented in European countries.”
In a fascinating related story, the Daily Beast’s Nina Strochlic reports that Toronto “has emerged as the unofficial capital for gay Iranian refugees,” noting that among the city’s attractions is a gay-friendly mosque. Among the reasons many refugees are choosing “Tehranto” over the U.S. are Canada’s stronger legal protections and social services.
Israel: Govt Angers Orthodox With Immigration Policy on Same-Sex Couples
With a cease-fire in the conflict in Gaza holding for the moment, Israel’s Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar told immigration authorities on Tuesday not to differentiate between married gay and straight couples, allowing Jews to immigrate with their non-Jewish same-sex spouses, according to Pink News. “Israel does not permit gay couples to marry in the country, but recognizes same-sex marriages if they were performed legally abroad.” Pink News quotes Sa’ar saying “The gates of Israel will be opened before every Jew and his family without discriminating against his lifestyle.” The Jerusalem Post reports, “Reaction from the haredi world was however swift and scathing, with ultra-Orthodox MKs speaking out against the decision and haredi groups in the US also voicing intense criticism.”
“This wretched decision will have a boomerang effect against the intentions of [Gidon] Sa’ar who wants to ‘bring back the children to their land’, and many good Jews will be disgusted by the state and will be distanced from the Land of Israel,” said United Torah Judaism MK Meir Porush.
Latin America: American Evangelicals Pushing Aggressive Culture War Politics
Earlier this summer, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Council – headed by Rev. Samuel Rodriguez – announced it was merging with Conela, a Latin American evangelical group. Reutersreported this week, “Losing the fight against same-sex marriage at home, leading U.S. Evangelical Christians are joining in the culture wars in Latin America as cheerleaders for opponents of gay legal partnerships, abortion and pornography.” Reuters notes that Rodriguez colleague Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel traveled to Peru to support Julio Rosas, an evangelical lawmaker who is blocking a bill that would allow gay civil unions:
“I expected a strong reaction from the Catholic Church, but I didn’t expect Evangelicals to be so aggressive,” said the bill’s author, Carlos Bruce, who came out publicly as gay while promoting the legislation. “I think it’s the first time the Evangelical church has such a strong political presence” in Peru.
Critics accuse Staver and Rodriguez of trying to repeat the performance of visiting U.S. Evangelicals who urged church and government leaders in Uganda to crack down on gay activism. That led to the African country banning homosexuality in February, a move that was rejected by the constitutional court this month.
Both Staver and Rodriguez boasted to Reuters about their political goals.
Staver says he wants the new U.S.-Latin American group to expand into the Caribbean, boost operations in Mexico and train pastors throughout Latin America, starting in Peru in 2015, on how to conduct political campaigns….
“Yes, I can’t deny that we are asking Evangelicals in Mexico to rise up and become very engaged and to defend Biblical truth and religious liberty to stand up for family and faith,” [Rodriguez] told Reuters.
Uruguay: Progressive Advances Fueled by Intersectional Organizing
The Guardian on August 1 published a look political organizing in Uruguay, the “tiny country” that “has been blazing a liberal trail across Latin America.”
In the past six years, Uruguay has introduced ground-breaking legislation on abortion, drugs, transsexual rights, and same-sex marriage and adoption.
While President José “Pepe” Mujica and his centre-left Broad Front coalition have been making international headlines for their sweeping reforms – which led to Uruguay being crowned country of the year by the Economist magazine in 2013 – less well known is that up to 3,000 civil society activists have been the driving force behind the country’s extreme makeover.
“Just 10 years ago, these laws would have been unthinkable,” Michelle Suárez, a member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) group Ovejas Negras, or Black Sheep, said when the legislation was passed. Suárez, the country’s first transgender law graduate, drafted the proposal for the equal marriage bill passed by parliament last year and worked on legislation that granted equal adoption rights to same-sex couples in 2009.
Activist groups were surprised at Mujica’s “courage” in making Uruguay “the first country in the world to make it legal to grow, sell and consume marijuana.” The Guardian says the wide-ranging changes have been won by a “more collaborative approach to social activism in Uruguay.”
Formerly disparate organisations representing women, young people, students and LGBT citizens have been joining forces to reach a wider audience and gain political influence.
“Until the 1990s, [LGBT] groups’ concerns were limited to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity,” Diego Sempol, a history professor and member of Ovejas Negras, says. “But people are not only excluded for being gay, lesbian or trans, but for being an unemployed gay [person], a black lesbian or a poor trans woman.”
The gay pride parade of the 1990s, which attracted about 300 people, evolved into the diversity march in 2005, which focused on a range of issues affecting minority and marginalised groups. Last year, it was attended by an estimated 30,000 people, and “is now an event nobody wants to miss”, says Celiberti.
According to the sociologist Diego Pieri, rights groups were keen to collaborate “once they were able to identify our common enemy: conservative Uruguay and its hypocritical, intolerant structures”….
The separation of church and state in Uruguay took place as early as 1917, meaning that religious values have, perhaps, had less influence on politics in the predominantly Catholic country than in other parts of Latin America.
Even with all the progress, activists say, there is still work to be done:
Decades of persistent and collaborative campaigning by rights groups have paved the way for Uruguay to become a more open, integrated and tolerant society, but, say activists, there is no room for complacency. Much more needs to be done to achieve equality, particularly in rural communities. “If two boys kiss each other in some of Montevideo’s suburbs or in the countryside, they could still be at serious risk of physical violence,” Sempol says.
Azerbaijan: Teen Reportedly Set on Fire by Parents
An 18-year old was reportedly set on fire by his parents after they found out he was gay. “While it is not illegal to be gay in Azerbaijan, the strong Muslim culture makes it very difficult to be out an live openly,” according to Gay Star News, which reports that a gay rights leader in the capital Baku died in an apparent suicide earlier this year.
India: Cabinet Moves Against LGBT Adoption
India’s cabinet has reportedly moved to block same-sex couples from adopting children, a move that could also bar single LGBT individuals from becoming adoptive parents. According to Live Mint,
The cabinet took the decision on Wednesday while considering amendments to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000, a government official said. However, the draft Bill, which also covers rehabilitation and adoption of children, does not mention disallowing same-sex couples from adopting. The current law allows unmarried men and women above the age of 30 to adopt. Single LGBT Indians are not specifically barred from adopting, but whether the cabinet decision will change this will become clear whenever the Bill is tabled in Parliament.
Australia: ‘Living With the Enemy’ and ‘Leaning’ Toward Marriage Equality?
Beginning next month, Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service will broadcast “Living with the Enemy,” a reality show featuring a right-wing anti-gay Anglican minister sharing a home with a married gay couple for ten days. The couple was married in New Zealand.Meanwhile, the Advocate reports:
According to Australian Marriage Equality, the organization leading the fight for equal marriage rights Down Under, polls show 72 percent of Australians favor legalizing same-sex marriage. In fact, the group reports today that Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is leaning toward tacit support for changing law to allow for same-sex marriage. In fact, recently, Abbott tolerated Australian citizens marrying inside British consulate offices on Australian soil and did not ask the consul general to stop the nuptials.
Also in Australia, a school chaplain and youth outreach officer was “stood down” from both posts after sharing an image with a Camille Paglia quote that read in part, “Homosexuality is not ‘normal.’”
Chile: Civil Union Bill Moves Forward
Last week a Chilean Senate committee unanimously approved a civil unions bill, setting the stage for a vote in the full Senate. As we have previously reported, President Michelle Bachelet is a supporter of marriage equality. Last year saw the first election of an openly gay person to the Chilean Congress.
Russia: Activist Detained For Solo Protest
The St. Petersburg Times reported that LGBT rights activist Kiirill Kalugin was detained on August 2 “within seconds” of unfolding a rainbow flag with the inscription, “My freedom protects yours.” Kalugin was released three hours after being detained without charges having been filed. The paper reported that Kalugin was assaulted by an anti-gay protestor as he was being seized by the police.
The anti-gay protester who assaulted Kalugin introduced himself to onlookers as Timur Isayev from the “Islamic” NGO Deistviye (Action). He was not detained by the police and instead gave a brief interview to the media present on scene, describing St. Petersburg as “hell for homosexuals.”
Isayev then headed to the police station where Kalugin was taken and filed a formal report against him, accusing him of violating the law prohibiting the “promotion of non-traditional sexual relations to minors.”
Kalugin said he picked “Airborne Troops Day” to protest both the lack of civil freedoms and growing militarism in Russia.
“All this has grown so much that it has already started spreading into the neighboring states. The same people, who cried ‘Death to gays’ and hailed the laws banning ‘gay propaganda’ and restricting public assemblies, ended up shouting ‘Crimea is ours’ and going to Donetsk and Luhansk.”
Jamaica: Independence Day Protests Against Buggery Law
We have reported on U.S. evangelicals backing resistance to the repeal of Jamaica’s colonial era “buggery” law. Last week, on Jamaica’s Independence Day, equality activists protested the country’s anti-gay laws in Jamaica, London, and New York.
Vietnam: US Embassy Hosts Harvey Milk Foundation as Pride Celebrated
LGBT activists in Hanoi held their third Pride celebration. On August 4, the U.S. Embassy hosted a forum on “The Intersection of LGBT Inclusive Diversity and Economic Prosperity,” featuring Stuart Milk of the Harvey Milk Foundation.
This up-date of news from the web-site ‘Religious Dispatches’ in the U.S. lists the latest moves internationally to either repeal or enact punitive laws against homosexuals.
Sadly, it is likely that the Anglican Church in Kenya will seek to support the current move to stone homosexuals in that country. This follows the action taken by the Anglican Archbishop in Uganda to seek the overturning of a movement by the Ugandan Government to repeal Anti-Homosexual laws in Uganda.
Thank God there are governments around the world who abhor the punitive anti-homosexual laws being passed in other countries. There can be no room for homophobia or discrimination on grounds of gender in God’s world today.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand