WATCH: Ugandan LGBT Group Gets Its Day in U.S. Court
A federal judge heard opening arguments Monday in a first-of-its-kind case brought by LGBT organization Sexual Minorities Uganda against antigay American minister Scott Lively, in an effort to hold Lively responsible for conspiring with religious and government leaders to persecute LGBT people in the East African nation. More than 100 supporters of Uganda's LGBT population packed the courtroom and demonstrated outside the courthouse in Springfield, Mass., where they were joined by a smaller number of Lively supporters, according to media reports.
Monday's arguments centered around Lively's motion to dismiss the case on the basis of First Amendment guarantees of free speech. The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights advanced the argument that Lively's decade-long collaboration with religious and political leaders in Uganda to oppress LGBT people there is punishable under the Alien Tort Statute, which gives "survivors of egregious human rights abuses, wherever committed, the right to sue the perpetrators in the United States," according to the Center for Justice and Accountability.
District court judge Michael A. Ponsor expressed doubt about the connections between Lively's odious speech and the official persecution of LGBT people in Uganda, where Parliament is set to once again consider the so-called Kill the Gays Bill when it reconvenes in February. But the judge also reserved judgment on Lively's request to dismiss the case, according to Springfield's Republican newspaper.
"I'm frankly struggling to see what behavior beyond expressive behavior" of Lively's violated international law, said the judge, reports the Republican.
Pepe Julian Onziema, a transgender Ugandan, human rights advocate, and SMUG's advocacy and policy officer, flew to Springfield to attend the hearing.
"Coming face to face with the man who has caused us so much pain is important to me," Onziema told dozens of supporters outside the courthouse. "We want him held accountable for escalating homophobia and persecution in Uganda. This case is about making it clear to people who have exported their hate agenda to Uganda that their actions have a very real effect on us and they must stop."
Huff Post Live hosted a conversation on Tuesday with Onziema; the Center for Constitutional Rights' head legal counsel, Pam Spees; Paul LeGendre, director of the Fighting Discrimination program at Human Rights First; filmmaker and director of God Loves Uganda Roger Ross Williams; and, from the other side, Harry Mihet, senior attorney for Liberty Counsel, which is representing Lively in the suit. Liberty Counsel has a prominent antigay record and is the legal arm of Liberty University, founded by the Reverend Jerry Falwell.
Watch the interview below to find out what the atmosphere is like for LGBT people in Uganda, why Onziema, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and other advocates are optimistic about the case, and to hear Mihet's pitiful defense of his client's exported hate. For more on Uganda, including first-person stories from several LGBT activists in the country, Onziema among them, click here.