The anti-homosexual bill being considered by the Government of Uganda has already cost the favor of supporters around the world because of its draconian punishments, including the death penalty and long prison sentences for homosexuals or those who refuse to report homosexual behavior. However, the blowback for Uganda may go much farther than critical remarks and calls for the government to drop its legislation.
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee’ Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness, is threatening to push for Uganda to be suspended from African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) benefits because the anti-homosexual law violates AGOA requirements. Such provisions require that beneficiary countries not engage in “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”
Uganda was an original beneficiary of AGOA, exporting tens of millions of dollars in agricultural products, such as coffee and cotton, and minerals, such as cobalt and copper. It used to be unlikely that an AGOA beneficiary who had a good relationship with the United States to be suspended absent a civil war or serious human rights problems. Even in the case of Cote d’Ivoire, which was suspended due to its civil war, powerful American interests worked to shorten the suspension. However, President Barack Obama just removed three countries from the AGOA process: Guinea, Madagascar and Niger. President Obama’s determination to support human rights abroad (as mentioned in the State of the Union speech) likely will mean a termination of AGOA benefits for Uganda if the anti-homosexual law is approved.
Wyden said he plans to sponsor new law to preclude countries that fail to adequately respect sexual orientation and gender identity as human rights from benefitting from any U.S. trade preference program. Such an amendment to U.S. trade law would be problematic for Muslim and African nations taking a strict interpretation of Koranic or Biblical law. Too broad an interpretation of “adequate respect” for sexual orientation and gender identity would bar many nations from U.S. trade preference programs, particularly if transgendered people are included in the protections.
There is vigorous support for the Ugandan anti-homosexual bill inside the country and not just as a counter to international criticism. Reverend Esau Omara, a senior Christian leader in Uganda, has promised to make any legislator opposing the bill pay for his or her opposition in the next elections. Sheikh Ramathan Mubajje, a senior Muslim cleric, is calling for gays to be rounded up and banished to an island until they die. This harsh rhetoric has led to gays being outed in various media and physical attacks on gays.
Ugandans, like many citizens of African and Muslim countries, feel homosexuality is against God’s law. However, such feelings have usually not flared into violence or virulent opposition as is being seen today in Uganda. Apparently, three American evangelicals helped to stir up hatred of the “gay agenda” in Uganda during a spring 2009 visit to the country. Scott Lively, author of books against homosexuality; Caleb Lee Brundige, a self-professed former gay man who now conducts sessions to convert gays to heterosexuality, and Don Schmierer, a board member of Exodus International, an organization devoted to promoting redemption of homosexuals through Christian faith, warned Ugandans that the gay movement was an evil institution. They presented stories of homosexuals sodomizing children and turning the country’s marriage-based, conservative society into a culture of sexual promiscuity.
Such arguments are often made here in the United States to oppose gay marriage and other extensions of rights to homosexuals, but few in this country go to the extremes of people elsewhere in the world. In the United States, even conservative Republicans do not advocate violence against homosexuals or prison sentences for anyone failing to report homosexual behavior. No American President – from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama – would be noncommittal about such harsh legislation as Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has been.
Americans who feel they are in the same camp as Museveni and his countrymen regarding homosexuality are finding that passions run deep on this issue in Africa. What works in America can backfire in Africa, to possibly tragic ends if the Uganda law is passed.
How will the three Americans who stirred this brew of hatred feel if their handiwork results in the deaths of gay men and women and the jailing of those who refuse to consign them to harsh punishment? If they don’t want to experience that guilt, they better join with others to work against this Ugandan bill, which will be debated later this month or early next month. Time is running out for their redemption as well as the life and safety of Ugandan homosexuals.