By Sunnivie Brydum
Originally published on Advocate.com March 19 2014 4:23 PM ET
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry Tuesday announced plans to send American scientists to Uganda in an effort to counteract the flawed "science" cited by Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni when he signed into law the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which imposes lifetime prison sentences for multiple instances of same-sex sexual activity between consenting adults and criminalizes anyone who "aids or abets" homosexuality or LGBT people.
When Museveni signed the law last month, he pointed to a so-called scientific report from antigay Ugandan lawmakers "with medical backgrounds" who concluded that homosexuality was partially innate but mostly influenced by environment and active recruitment.
"There are those who engage in homosexuality for mercenary reasons on account of the underdeveloped sectors of our economy that cause people to remain in poverty," Museveni said at the bill signing ceremony. "And then there are those that become homosexual by both nature [genetic] and nurture [upbringing]. … Can somebody be homosexual purely by nature without nurture? The answer is: 'No.' No study has shown that. Since nurture is the main cause of homosexuality, then society can do something about it to discourage the trends. That is why I have agreed to sign the Bill."
But as out MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow noted on her eponymous show Tuesday evening, the harsh antigay attitudes of many Ugandan lawmakers were directly influenced by American evangelicals who traveled to the East African country in 2009 to hold a conference on the evils of LGBT people. One of the key speakers at that conference, Massachusetts minister (and gubernatorial candidate) Scott Lively, is currently facing international persecution charges alleging crimes against humanity for his role in motivating Ugandan lawmakers to violently oppress LGBT people there.
"After American antigay evangelical activists exported their views to Uganda back in 2009, holding them out as the latest in American science on this issue of how God can make you straight, can the U.S. government undo that damage now by exporting actual scientists to try to clean up the mess that those other Americans left behind?" asked Maddow at the close of Tuesday's show. "Our government is apparently about to embark on a rather fascinating experiment in real science and real diplomacy in a faraway country that a number of Americans had a real hand in really, really screwing up."
At a University Town Hall meeting at the U.S. State Department hosted by BuzzFeed Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry said he spoke with Museveni recently and that the Ugandan president expressed willingness to consult with U.S. experts on, presumably, the science behind homosexuality. "He committed to meet with some of our experts so that we could engage in a dialogue as to why what he did could not be based on any kind of science or fact, which he was alleging," Kerry said, according to BuzzFeed's report. "And he welcomed that and said 'I'm happy to receive them, and we can engage in that conversation,' and that's what we're going to do. That's a sort of tailored approach to that particular place, and maybe we can reach a point of reconsideration."
Secretary Kerry, former Secretary Hillary Clinton, and President Obama have all outright condemned the law, and after it was formally signed, Kerry announced that the U.S. had launched an "internal review of our relationship with the Government of Uganda." Since then, several European nations have cut aid to Uganda's Justice Sector, the World Bank indefinitely delayed a $90 million healthcare loan scheduled to go to the country, and, according to some reports, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cut a portion of its health aid slated to help Ugandans fight HIV and AIDS.
But anonymous congressional sources downplayed the significance of those reported cuts to Ugandan health aid funding from the CDC, reported by Reuters last week.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, members of Congress told BuzzFeed that they have been left "in the dark" about any looming cuts to Ugandan aid in response to the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act. Officials within the Obama administration told BuzzFeed that the CDC cuts to Ugandan health aid, characterized by Reuters as the "first concrete move in response to the passing of an anti-homosexuality law," were actually scheduled to expire before the antigay bill became law and were not renewed for other reasons, unrelated to the law's passage. Those officials also disputed the accuracy of Reuters' report that the funds being cut would limit Uganda's access to antiretroviral medication used to treat HIV and AIDS.
Since the law passed, LGBT Ugandan activists have reported numerous instances of violence and discrimination directed at LGBT Ugandans. Frank Mugisha, a prominent Ugandan activist and executive director of advocacy group Sexual Minorities Uganda, told Michelangelo Signorile Tuesday that he has been made aware of at least 50 Ugandans who have been victims of violence and discrimination. The outspoken activist, who has been traveling outside of Uganda to rally support for the nation's embattled LGBT populace, also said he's fearful, "paranoid," and unsure if he'll be arrested when he returns to his home country, since his promotion of LGBT equality has been made illegal by the law's enactment.
As passed, the Anti-Homosexuality Act imposes lifetime prison terms on those convicted of "aggravated homosexuality," which the law defines as those who engage in repeated instances of same-sex sexual contact, any such contact where one person is HIV-positive, a minor, mentally disabled, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Anyone charged with the offense must undergo a medical examination — which in practice is usually a forcible anal examination — and HIV test, regardless of the individual's consent.
The law also imposes harsh sentences on those convicted of aiding, abetting, or conspiring to engage in homosexuality — including providing housing, support, or affirmation to an LGBT person or organization. As a result, LGBT Ugandans have been evicted from their homes, with landlords citing the Anti-Homosexuality Act as the primary reason for their eviction.
Additionally, the law declares that any person or organization performing a same-sex marriage is liable to lose their licensure and spend as many as seven years in jail. The law also enumerates the numerous ways in which the "promotion of homosexuality" is forbidden, clamping down on individuals, organizations, and media outlets that discuss LGBT identities, and provides for extradition of Ugandan nationals who violate the law abroad.
Ugandan attorneys, opposition lawmakers, and activists have filed a constitutional challenge to the law, arguing that it violates several fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Ugandan constitution and supposedly protected by international law and conventions on human rights.
Watch Maddow's latest report below: