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Uganda Antigay Sentiments Hit Close to Home


In his State of the Union Address in January 2003, President George W. Bush gave one of his more eloquent and moving speeches about his upcoming HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention program, and included specific praise for the African country of Uganda in paving the way to lower AIDS population rates on the continent. This fall, the international community, feeling helpless and stunned, watched as severe antigay legislation was introduced in Uganda on Oct. 14, which called for a life imprisonment sentence for homosexual acts and the death sentence for those engaging in homosexual activity repeatedly and for any HIV-positive person doing so.

The current law in Uganda states that anyone who identifies as a homosexual, bisexual, or transgender should be sentenced to a minimum of 14 years imprisonment. While 14 years is the stated term, being convicted as an LGBT person commonly results in a life sentence. While it has never been safe to identifying as a gay person in Uganda, the bill introduced October 14, if passed, would make a nonstraight lifestyle impossible in the African country. The new legislation calls for a life sentence as a minimum punishment for any LGBT person and further states that anyone who fails to report a homosexual to the government within 24 hours will be sentenced to three years in prison. The final part of the bill is perhaps the most shocking, given Uganda's history of HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. It states that death by hanging is the punishment for "aggravated homosexuality," which is defined as any of the following: a repeat offender of the homosexuality law, having homosexual sex when any intoxicating substance is involved (for instance, if two men meet at a bar, buy each other a drink and then have sex, both of these men would be sentenced to death,) if one engages in homosexual activity as an authority figure, and finally, having sex if you're HIV-positive.

After hearing about the new "kill the gays" legislation in Uganda, President Obama, international human rights groups (specifically Human Rights Watch), and various public figures around the world made statements against the proposed law. In fact, Christian groups, which have remained divided on issues like civil unions and gay marriage, came together to oppose the flagrant human rights violation. Still, though, among the authority figures who strictly opposed the potential law, there were a few famous and prominent faces in the crowd -- familiar faces to the Ugandan government -- who connect through a wide "family" network and are now hiding from the accusations that they may actually be connected to this disgusting and murderous legislation.

Many Americans have heard of a group led by Doug Coe called "the Family," or "C Street," and most of us are aware of their annual National Prayer Breakfast, at which the president of the United States speaks each year. The Family is an intimidating and powerful group, with a network that stretches across the globe, and "key men," as the group labels them, in dozens of countries. Three of these "key men" are David Bahati, who introduced the October 14 bill; James Nsaba Buturo, Uganda's minister for ethics and integrity, who strongly supports the bill; and Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda himself, who also has come out in full support of the bill. When the U.K. newspaper The Guardian asked about the bill, Buturo responded, "We used to say Mr. and Mrs. But now it is Mr. and Mr. What is that now? We believe there are limits to human rights." While it would be speculation to call these men "friends" with certain U.S. congressmen, there is evidence to support that they are certainly colleagues and members of the same "secret" Family.

One of the most significant rules in being part of the Family is that you're not allowed to talk about it or disclose other members' identities. There is an unspoken understanding in Washington that the Family holds meetings at a house on C Street in the capital and that some members of the Family live there for reduced rent. Further, the complex, which serves as both a church and home for Christian congressmen, was in the news recently for three residents' separate scandals. The Family practices a type of "elite fundamentalism," coined by Jeff Sharlet who is perhaps our nation's greatest expert on the group, and while the Family was founded on laissez-faire economic principles and expansionist foreign policy beliefs, it has now added cultural and social initiatives to its mission.

Sharlet claims that David Coe, son of founder Doug Coe, in an effort to explain what it was like to be a "chosen one" as part of the group, asked a young man who was new to the group, '"Let's say I hear you raped three little girls. What would I think of you?" The man guessed that Coe would probably think that he was a monster. "No," answered Coe, "I wouldn't." Why? Because, as a member of the Family, he's among what Family leaders refer to as the "new chosen." If you're chosen, the normal rules don't apply.'

In Uganda this sentiment has translated to a complete refutation of international standards of human rights. Aside from the fact that in 1986 the Family identified Ugandan president Museveni as its "key man" in Africa and, according to Sharlet, Museveni, Buturo, and Bahati are recruits of the Family, the intense secrecy of the group makes a tangible connection between the antigay legislation and the American members of The Family difficult to prove. That said, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow's recent reporting on the Family's connection to the law has led to speculation as to which congressmen might be directly involved. When Maddow called the offices of those who were potentially connected with the bill, two of them, Rep. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, and Rep. Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat, stated that they did not support the legislation but refused to relay that message to the Ugandan government.

More ominously, Republican senators John Ensign of Nevada, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, and Sam Brownback of Kansas would not comment as to whether they supported Uganda's "kill the gays" legislation. Perhaps the closest eye should be kept on Senator Inhofe, who has made 20 trips to Africa since 1999, most of them to visit President Museveni in Uganda. In addition, he was apparently present at the National Prayer Breakfast in Uganda when the idea for the "kill the gays" bill came up and was first introduced.

This February the U.S. National Prayer Breakfast will be held again. While President Barack Obama spoke at last year's event and U.S. presidents have almost always taken part, perhaps a closer examination of the Family, which runs the breakfast, should be conducted before our democratically elected president speaks in front of group that has some members who potentially advocate a flagrantly undemocratic and immoral bill in another country that aims to eliminate LGBT people in a genocidal fashion. President Obama received criticism from gays for his choice of notoriously anti-gay-rights Pastor Rick Warren to speak at the Inauguration. Since then, many gays have also criticized Obama for not upholding his promise of equal rights.

As we, the LGBT community, fight for same-sex marriage and equal rights in the United States, there is sometimes a feeling that we are helpless in aiding countries like Uganda where being gay can mean a death sentence. It is our responsibility, however, to make sure that the representatives we elect and appoint fulfill their duty to promote democracy and equal rights around the world and at the very least oppose human rights violations at home and abroad. We may be debating the right to marry for decades to come, but one thing we can never stand for is a debate or a question of the right to live and be free.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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