News

Africa's Anti-Gay Laws Spark Accusations and Denials in US

Evangelical pastor Rick Warren, 23 Jun 2009
Evangelical pastor Rick Warren, 23 Jun 2009
Nico Colombant

Anti-gay laws sweeping through East Africa have sparked a debate in the United States about the possible influence of American evangelical leaders and lawmakers with strong ties in that region.  U.S. activists are also shedding new light on the risks that gays face in East Africa. 

In his book called The Family, American journalist Jeff Sharlet criticizes a group of influential American Christian leaders and conservative lawmakers with close ties to politicians in East Africa.

He accuses them of treating some of the countries they deal with as social and political experiments.

"It has become sort of a Frankenstein's monster and is the family going to take responsibility for the empowerment they have given to some of these politicians?," asked Jeff Sharlet.

In his book, Sharlet specifically refers to politicians in Uganda proposing an anti-gay law that would criminalize homosexuality.  The law, which could be passed within weeks despite international condemnation, includes possible punishment by death.
 
Anti-gay laws were recently passed in Burundi, are being discussed in Rwanda, and could soon be expanded in Kenya and Tanzania.

The American group Sharlet calls The Family is also known as The Fellowship.  It organizes an annual National Prayer Breakfast with the U.S. president and foreign guests, but besides that activity shuns publicity and does not openly list its members.

But Sharlet says more American reporters are looking into the group and its alleged ties to Africa.  These include helping African politicians with money so they can push socially conservative agendas.

"We see reporters in Iowa, in Pennsylvania, and in Oklahoma, going to their elected representatives who have a link to this whole thing and saying 'tell us about the link'," he said. "They are not accusing them of anything, they are saying, 'You have a relationship with the Ugandan government, what is the nature of that relationship?  And, are you going to use that influence to oppose this legislation that seems to be supported by some of your allies?'"

Religious leaders like Rick Warren have also been under the microscope.  He is the senior pastor of the California-based Saddleback church, which is active in both Uganda and Rwanda.

After being questioned about his role by U.S. media, Warren issued a video message on the Internet, denying his support for the law in Uganda.

"As an American pastor, it is not my role to interfere with the politics of other nations, but it is my role to speak out on moral issues and it is my role to shepherd other pastors who look to me for guidance, and it is my role to correct lies and errors and false reports when others associate my name with a law that I had nothing to do with, [and which] I completely oppose and I vigorously condemn," said Rick Warren. "I am referring to the pending law under consideration by the Ugandan parliament, known as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill."

Rwanda's parliament is also working to pass a law which would criminalize homosexuality but Warren has yet to address his church's role in that matter.  In 2005, he called Rwanda a "purpose driven nation."  Warren went with dozens of American evangelicals to hold meetings with government ministers, lawmakers and donate materials to churches across Rwanda.
 
Several American lawmakers who have been linked to the Fellowship, like Nevada Senator John Ensign have called the Ugandan law proposal "outrageous".  But others like Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, who went to Uganda in 2004, have said they do not know enough about the bill to comment.

The executive director of the U.S.-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Cary Alan Johnson, welcomes some of the questions now being asked.

"It is a debate that has to happen and we are glad it is happening," said Cary Alan Johnson. "Rwanda and Uganda are both countries with deeply spiritual people and as of late we have understood that some of the more conservative elements in the United States have been funding the most violent and homophobic discourses about homosexuality."

Johnson says those seeking to push an agenda should understand the consequences of their actions.  He warns anti-gay laws could worsen already high HIV levels in east Africa.

"The impact of these laws on HIV prevention is extremely worrisome to us," he said. "Laws we are talking about in Uganda, Rwanda, will make it impossible for groups to do HIV education that targets men who have sex with men or that targets bisexual people and we know that there is a strong impact of HIV on this community and on society in general."

Lisa Laurel Weinberg, from the Massachusetts Lutheran Social Services Human Rights Protection Project, says the situation is already very difficult.  In her other job as an asylum attorney, she recently helped a young Ugandan woman win asylum to the United States.  The woman's apartment had been raided by police while she was inside with her girlfriend.

"The police broke in and brought them to the police station and raped them in what is called a corrective rape," said Lisa Laurel Weinberg. "It is when males of authority try and correct lesbianism through rape."

But Weinberg warns trying to fight the new laws from the outside is very complicated.

"I got an e-mail yesterday that said be really careful and check with Ugandans before you do any advocacy from the West, because us imposing our values, they are really sensitive to the whole colonialism history, so that the email cautioned be careful what you do and let it come from them," she said.

Some prominent politicians and journalists in East Africa have called homosexuality the "white man's disease."  Pro-gay groups in the region, which are mostly underground, say they are becoming increasingly afraid to ask for help, and believe outside interference could worsen the persecution they face.  
 

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs