Activists blame US evangelicals for African country's upswing in anti-gay violence

Most of the people "outed" by a Ugandan newspaper as being gay are now targets of harassment, a human rights activist says.

The Ugandan tabloid Rolling Stone (no relation to the US magazine) published the first part of a list of Uganda's 100 "top homos" earlier this week. The inside page where the story ran featured the headline "Hang Them." The paper has so far published 15 names, with promises of more to come.

Activist Frank Mugisha told the BBC that one woman on the list was nearly killed when neighbors started throwing rocks at her home.

Rolling Stone's publisher, Giles Muhame, argued that he was simply trying to enforce existing laws in Uganda against homosexuality, and wasn't inciting violence.

[Muhame] said he was urging the authorities to investigate and prosecute people "recruiting children to homosexuality", before executing anyone found guilty.

He also said he was acting in the public interest, saying Ugandans did not know to what extent homosexuality was "ravaging the moral fabric of our nation", and he vowed to continue to publish the names and photographs of gay Ugandans.

Uganda's problematic relationship with gay rights came to the world's attention last year when lawmakers there proposed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which would allow the state to imprison for life and in some cases execute gay people.

After an international outcry, the bill's authors promised changes to its provisions, and it has been on hold in the legislature ever since.

Ugandan human rights advocate Julius Kaggwa says that homophobia in Uganda has been "intensified" over the past year-and-a-half due to the involvement of anti-gay American evangelicals in local politics.

Sarah Posner of ReligionDispatches reports:

That environment in Uganda has been intensified over the last year and a half, says Kaggwa, since American religious right activist Scott Lively dropped, in his words, a “nuclear bomb against the gay agenda in Uganda.” Lively, the former head of the California affiliate of the American Family Association, and an ally of the AFA’s virulently anti-gay policy director Bryan Fischer, led a three-day conference that Kaggwa says sparked a “panic” in evangelical and Pentecostal churches that the “gay agenda” was poised to cause the downfall of Ugandan families and culture. During the conference, Lively blamed gay people for the 1994 Rwandan genocide, equated homosexuality with Nazism, and more generally asserted that gay people are both predators and a foreign infiltration that undermines local values.

Kaggwa also said that, while lawmakers continue to threaten gays with harsh penalties, much of the violence against LGBT people in Uganda comes from private citizens. “To date we have more non-state violence directed at gay people,” he said.

That violence is both promoted by the government—one parliamentarian has said if he had a lesbian daughter, he would hang her—and carried out by private citizens with government complicity. If a lesbian victim of the common “corrective rape” were to go to the police station to report it, Kaggwa said, she would risk being raped again—by the police.

Last year, as the anti-gay bill was making its way through Uganda's parliament, Raw Story reported that the country's political class has forged deep links with American Christian conservatism.

[Harper's contributing editor Jeff] Sharlet revealed even more about the connections between The Family, the secretive religious group which runs the C Street house in Washington, D.C., to the Ugandan officials. Specifically, Sharlet claimed that the nation's president and his ethics minister, both key players in pushing the vicious legislation, are official members of the powerful fundamentalist Christian group.

The man who introduced the legislation, Ugandan ethics minister and member of parliament David Bahati, was has strong ties to the U.S. religious right through a group called the African Student Leadership Program. In other words, he is "one of [The Family's] key men in Uganda."

A gay rights activist who runs an anonymous blog in Uganda has said he was one of the people on the Rolling Stone list. In a column for The Guardian, he writes:

[F]or a gay Ugandan, life is not safe. Being known to be gay is tough. It is a life of reckless fear, not courage. We do what we do, not because we can, but because there is no other option. From the very first inkling of our sexuality, we learn to hide. And we do hide.

In fact, we gay Ugandans hide so well, and are gracefully camouflaged, that fellow Ugandans frequently ask themselves who the "evil gays" are. Of course, we are their kin. But they don't believe their brothers, sisters, cousins, relatives can be the "evil gays".