News / Africa

Activists Say Ugandan Homophobia Fueled by American Religious Right

From left, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, filmmaker Roger Ross Williams and Rev. Kapya Kaoma from the film "God Loves Uganda" pose for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on January 20, 2013 in Park City, Utah.From left, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, filmmaker Roger Ross Williams and Rev. Kapya Kaoma from the film "God Loves Uganda" pose for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on January 20, 2013 in Park City, Utah.
x
From left, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, filmmaker Roger Ross Williams and Rev. Kapya Kaoma from the film "God Loves Uganda" pose for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on January 20, 2013 in Park City, Utah.
From left, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo, filmmaker Roger Ross Williams and Rev. Kapya Kaoma from the film "God Loves Uganda" pose for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on January 20, 2013 in Park City, Utah.
A new movie called "God Loves Uganda" has been stirring controversy at the Sundance Film Festival.  The documentary accuses the American religious right of exporting homophobia to Uganda, and examines its impact on Ugandan politics.

The Sundance Film Festival wrapped up over the weekend, but one film is still making waves.  “God Loves Uganda” is a documentary that charges that conservative religious groups in the United States have been working to demonize gays in Africa, and specifically, in Uganda.

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo says that Westerners have been encouraging anti-gay sentiment in Uganda since colonial times.  Senyonjo, who makes an appearance in the film, is one of the few Ugandan religious leaders who accepts homosexuality.

“Even the laws which were brought here by the British, the sodomy laws," said Senyonjo. "People have been keeping these laws, even making them worse, after we had become independent.  And in Britain they are dismantling these laws, because they are coming to understand better.”

The plight of Uganda’s gay community has come to the world’s attention in recent years thanks to a bill currently before parliament, informally known as the “Kill the Gays” bill, which originally included the death penalty for certain homosexual acts.  Senyonjo links the bill to a visit by American evangelical preacher, Scott Lively.

“When Scott Lively came over here, I attended what he was talking about at the Triangle Hotel, and after that he met a number of politicians," said Senyonjo. "After all these meetings, then the bill was drafted, which was really anti-homosexuality.  And this has caused a lot of violence in some communities.”

The Ugandan member of parliament who proposed the bill, David Bahati, says it is “insulting” to suggest that Ugandans’ attitudes toward homosexuality are imported, and denies that the bill has anything to do with American influence.

“The bill before parliament is a Ugandan bill meant to address the current problems in Uganda, problems of promotion of homosexuality and other related issues," said Bahati. "It has always been an insult to say that we cannot identify the problems facing our nation and address them, we have got to be told by people from outside.”

But Ugandan gay activist Frank Mugisha says the language of the bill is suspiciously similar to that used by Lively himself.

“The preamble of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill [from] 2009 -- these are talking points from Scott Lively’s teachings when he was here in Uganda in 2009," said Mugisha. "Most of the words that are used, these are not Ugandan words.  You can see that this language is borrowed.  Words like ‘recruiting’, words like ‘promotion of homosexuality’, these are things that, in Uganda, are not referred to when you’re talking about sexuality.”

Part of what makes them so powerful, says Mugisha, is that American preachers do more than just preach.  They also support the poor.  He points to one American-led Pentecostal church in Uganda, which boasts tens of thousands of followers.

“Watoto Church - they support hundreds of orphans," said Mugisha. "So there is no way a gay activist like myself is going to compete with Gary Skinner, who is the owner of the church, in saying, ‘Ugandans, you should listen to me, you should not discriminate against anyone because of their sexual orientation’, when someone who is feeding the orphans is telling them homosexuality is an abomination.”

But at the end of the day, says Bishop Senyonjo, it is not just a question of money.  Americans have grown less tolerant of the homophobic messages of their own right-wing preachers, he says, while Uganda’s conservative, religious society has been much more receptive.

“These people, I think they have a gospel they want to preach," said Senyonjo. "They think they are planting a seed here, where the ground is still able to have seeds germinate.  So [they] plant more churches.  And they’re excited to see that many people seem to be going to them.  They think they are doing the right thing.”

Nor, he says, are they likely to stop at Uganda.

“From what I understand, Uganda is just a testing ground," said Senyonjo. "They are trying to go everywhere in Africa.  They think Africa is still fertile for this kind of preaching.”

The anti-homosexuality bill could be debated as early as February, when Uganda’s parliament reconvenes.

You May Like

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid