Mercedes Allen

An Open Letter to LifeSiteNews Regarding Anti-Gay Activism in Africa

Filed By Mercedes Allen | February 05, 2013 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Fundie Watch, Marriage Equality, Media
Tags: anti-gay, Human Life International, human rights abuses, international, LGBT, LifeSiteNews, Nigeria, Uganda

lsnuganda.jpgDear LifeSiteNews,

I have several questions for you about your stance on Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill and anti-gay activism taking place in Africa. I also have reasons why it is appropriate to direct those questions to you, and why it is reasonable to expect an answer.

Most people are aware of Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill (a.k.a. the "Kill the Gays" bill), which keeps coming up for debate in that nation's Parliament. It has been dubbed the "Kill the Gays bill," although there is some disagreement whether the death penalty is still included (one of the many inspirations for the legislation, American evangelist Scott Lively, believes it has been replaced by a life sentence, and has cheered this). The last public draft simply replaced the death penalty with a reference to penalties for an unrelated offense -- penalties which allow for death. Whether that penalty is implicitly, explicitly or not in the bill that will ultimately be discussed before Parliament, it also includes the following items, which the website Box Turtle Bulletin has examined clause-by-clause.

Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill

  • A definition of "homosexuality" which is so vague that almost anyone could be convicted of it;
  • A definition of "aggravated homosexuality" which is overly-broad. If the death sentence remains in the bill, then aggravated homosexuality is the charge to which it would apply. Proponents of the bill represent aggravated homosexuality as referring to pedophilia, but it actually also includes people who are afflicted with HIV (whether they were aware of it or not), who have sex with a person who has a disability (whether the act was consensual or not), and "serial" commission of any of the included and overly-vague offenses);
  • A weird "intent to commit" clause that could open any physical contact to interpretation;
  • A financial incentive for people to accuse others of trying to seduce them;
  • The targeting of friends, family and landowners for aiding / abetting LGBT people, for failing to report LGBT people, and for renting a room to LGBT people (via a strange reinterpretation of the word "brothel");
  • A 3-year sentence for officiating a same-sex marriage, and a life sentence for being in a same-sex marriage or presenting a same-sex partner as a spouse (it's not specified whether said marriage needs to occur in Uganda, but keep reading...);
  • The criminalization of advocacy for or even defending an LGBT person, with a sentence of 5 - 7 years (criminalization of LGBT advocacy has also been an objective in recent bills proposed in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others);
  • The criminalization of anyone who fails to report in under 24 hours anyone who is gay, who witnessed a same-sex wedding, who rents a room to a gay person, who advocates for LGBT people, or who commits any of the other above acts, with a sentence of up to 3 years;
  • The criminalization of any of the above offences regardless of whether or not they occur in Uganda, provided they involve a Ugandan citizen, or a portion of the offense occurs within Uganda (i.e. the "failure to report" part). Extradition demands are also included;
  • The nullification of any treaties or portions of agreements which run contrary to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill; and
  • The granting of wide, sweeping powers to the Minister of Ethics and Integrity Minister to enforce the act, effectively giving the power to initiate a witch hunt.

Male homosexuality has been illegal in Uganda since colonial British rule in the 19th Century, and is already punishable by up to life imprisonment. In 2000, wording was amended so that lesbianism could be criminalized as "gross indecency between two persons of the same sex," which carries a term of seven years' imprisonment. So all of the above are in addition to this status quo.

Public attention has been directed toward American Evangelical leaders whose intervention has stoked anti-gay sentiment in Uganda (such as Scott Lively and Don Schmierer), although they did not act alone, and things did not go quite in the direction they had intended (which appears to have been to urge Uganda to legally require gays and lesbians to undergo reparative therapy). Instead, these interventions have led to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (a private member's bill by MP David Bahati), as well as increased levels of violence toward LGBT people. This happened for two reasons: 1) because the creation of a homosexual menace provided a convenient distraction from the government's own scandals and a way to demonize its opponents, and 2) because of sensationalistic rhetoric used to frighten and enrage the Ugandan public against LGBT people. Part of the latter comes from people like Martin Ssempa, who is famed for showing clips of graphic scatological pornography to church audiences.

This campaign has been occurring not just in Uganda, but throughout the African continent. And part of that rhetoric has come from a frequent LSN -contributing and -collaborating organization.

Human Life International

Human Life International is an anti-abortion, anti-gay organization which reportedly spends a quarter of its overseas budget (which is reported to be small, but apparently effective) in sub-Saharan Africa alone, and has an affiliate in Tororo, Uganda (second citation) that it does not publicize on its website. HLI was highlighted as one of a few key groups that are significant sources of the anti-gay hatred circulating in Africa, in Political Research Associates' in-depth report, Colonizing African Values: How the U.S. Christian Right is Transforming Sexual Politics in Africa.

HLI has lobbied leaders throughout Africa on issues that fall within its mandate of "life and family," particularly on abortion (where it has had only moderate success so far) and homosexuality. It found fertile ground in the latter, and an opportunity to influence politicians. HLI has also worked with priests and bishops throughout the region to foment its particularly anti-gay worldview, and was profiled in detail in a Catholics For Choice Opposition Notes report. When the Political Research Associates (PRA) Colonizing African Values report was released, HLI spokesman Stephen Phelan acknowledged to The Guardian that it has affiliates in Africa which it provides with grants, publications and support, ironically phrasing the group's work as an anti-colonial campaign (more on this in a moment) when stating:

"We feel that it is important for us to be there because the assault on the natural African pro-life and pro-family values is coming from the United States, so we feel obliged to help them understand the threat and respond to it based on their own values and culture... We speak to the deep and natural values of our brothers and sisters in Africa, and help them resist the encroachment of very powerful western interests..."

Human Life International has an extensive and chequered history, being founded in 1981 by Fr. Paul Marx, who later attracted controversy by insinuating that abortion had a Jewish eugenics origin, among other apparently anti-semitic and racist statements. Marx was the pioneer of shock tactics that included showing graphic images of aborted fetuses to school children, and fearmongering that abortion and homosexuality would bring the end of civilization. Marx resigned amid political infighting within HLI and allegations of financial wrongdoing. HLI's affiliate in Canada lost its charitable status in 1997 for engaging in political activity, and Canada is now one of the few western nations in which the group does not have an office.

Subsequent leaders like Fr. Thomas Euteneuer would expand upon Marx' sensationalism with comparisons between stem cell research and the Holocaust, attempts to twist "bubble zone" laws so that they would allow anti-abortion activists to "counsel" people unimpeded, and wildly conflating abortion and homosexuality with demonic possession and satanism. The organization has labelled reproductive rights efforts like provision of contraception and abortion as being "ethnic cleansing" and "genocide," sometimes even putting providers at risk of violent backlash.

The regional director at work in Uganda, Emil Hagamu, frequently uses the claim that HIV and womens' health initiatives constitute attempts by western nations at colonialism in Uganda. He called a bill that proposed to provide pregnant women with access to reproductive health and rights that included contraception and selective abortion in certain circumstances in Tanzania a radical and "foreign ideology that is being imposed on our African culture whose objective is depopulation." Uganda still reels from over a century of British colonial rule, so claims of colonialism still resonate -- even if they ironically come from western theological groups seeking to spread western homophobia.

HLI's Director of Research and Training Brian Clowes has made several sensationalistic statements, including claiming that the availability of birth control and condoms increases abortions, and that sex abuse claims involving clergy were part of an "opportunistic" gay conspiracy.

HLI was also an early supporter of Paul Cameron, who proposed castration and the death penalty as ways of combating homosexuality. HLI stood by him until his comments about combating HIV by branding the face of anyone infected or even the "elimination of the carrier" drew so much negative attention that the group was forced to disinvite him to speak at a conference.

HLI's former public relations director Jason Jones is famous for alleging in 2006 that:

"Homosexuals reproduce sexually by molesting children. This creates a cycle of violence and disordered behavior that creates future generations of abusers and predators."

In June of this year, the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC) lobbied the Ugandan government to reintroduce and pass the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, even though the Vatican itself has finally stated opposition to the death penalty provision. 42% of Uganda's population is Catholic, so their support for the bill is significant. This even signaled a reversal of position by Roman Catholic Bishop of Uganda Cyprian Lwanga, who had previously denounced the bill as being contrary to "a Christian caring approach to this issue."

This change appears to be at least partly due to HLI's lobbying of Catholic leaders in Uganda. Bondings 2.0 reported a teleconference with Rev. Kapya Kaoma (lead author of Colonizing African Values...) and Frank Mugisha, Executive Director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG):

"It's not true that they [Roman Catholics] are not involved," said Rev. Kaoma, noting that Human Life International has good relationships with the Catholic hierarchy. "Together with Anglican archbishops, certain Roman Catholics demanded the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda be passed."

Mugisha noted that the Catholic archbishop in Uganda did ask that the death penalty be removed from the bill, but that the Catholic Church still has not taken an official position on whether the bill should be passed.

"In Uganda, they [Roman Catholic Institution] haven't stepped up to say anything or challenge the bill," Mugisha said. He added that in fact, the Catholic bishops have joined with other Christian groups to support the bill.

Additionally, while legislators were promoting the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in 2010, HLI's Regional Director, Emil Hagamu, bragged of meeting with many of Uganda's clergy:

"The Ugandan parliament is typically African. It [the parliament, that is -- the Mission Report is careful to avoid naming the bill] strives to protect African traditional and cultural values against Western encroachment in areas such as homosexuality and same-sex unions. Uganda is the center of attraction for population control bigots. I set my foot on the soil of this country and was received by the Catholic Secretariat of the Bishops Conference staff. The Secretary General of the Catholic Bishops Conference sent a car to pick me up from Entebbe International Airport, a drive that takes 30 minutes..."

There is at least one possible incentive to do this sort of work in Africa, and it is certainly a lucrative one. Economic aid to Africa figures high in discussions of African politics and the changing social climate, and the types and amounts of funding to be had are significant. HLI and UJCC have both vied for PEPFAR funding in the past, for example. PEPFAR is an emergency fund intended to stem the spread of HIV in Africa, but due to U.S. government lifting of restrictions on proselytization, plus the imposition of bans of assistance to groups who assist sex workers and other high-risk groups, it has become increasingly seen by far right neo-conservative groups as a means to conduct ideological missionary work, through the guise of abstinence-only education.

Provisions in the Anti-Homosexuality Bill would provide theologically-driven groups the additional benefit of criminalizing LGBT advocacy or assistance, thereby removing organizations that work with another high-risk population from competition for PEPFAR and other HIV-related funding. Barring clear documentation, however, a PEPFAR motive still needs to be acknowledged as being speculative.

HLI has not been the only group working in this capacity, but it has been a prominent one. And it's possible that HLI's partners might be unaware of the results of HLI's lobbying, but it's certainly reasonable to expect a statement from its partner organizations, when this activity is pointed out.

Where LifeSiteNews Comes In

LifeSiteNews (LSN, sometimes also called LifeSite) was started as a media arm of the Canadian anti-abortion and anti-gay charity, Campaign Life Coalition. LSN has taken on outside contributors since 2011 that have included loose cannon Bradlee Dean, people from groups like Live Action, Breakpoint.org, and others. But before this influx, the website has networked with, publicized and posted articles from HLI leaders since LSN's earliest days (LSN only started tagging to index its authors in 2011), and HLI continues to be featured most prolificly among non-staff contributors.

LSN contributors include (but are not limited to) current HLI President Fr. Shenan Boquet, HLI Director of Education and Research Brian Clowes, former interim head and frequent "demographic winter" alarmist Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro-Carámbula, current VP for Missions Fr. Peter Welch, Communications Director Stephen Phelan, HLI's Regional Director in English-speaking Africa Emil Hagamu, and the occasional badly-formatted press release by former President Fr. Richard Welch (who seems to be the only HLI leader that LSN didn't like).

And when Human Life International spokespeople are not contributing to LSN, the website is often reporting HLI's leaders speeches and pronouncements with enough importance that they seem to convey an almost papal authority. LSN has even assisted disgraced former leaders of the organization escape criticism, like founder Fr. Paul Marx. LSN published Fr. Thomas Euteneuer's defense of himself plus a glowing tribute, after he resigned amid scandal involving inappropriate sexual activity with a woman upon whom he was performing an exorcism (legal documents go further to allege that the sexual activity was non-consensual).

LSN additionally publishes for and signal-boosts HLI offshoots Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), C-FAM's President Austin Ruse, and Population Research International (PRI) President Steven Mosher. Those groups formed in the wake of several HLI scandals, including the 1994 revocation of HLI Canada's charitable status for excessively engaging in political activity (which ultimately led to the organization's eventual fold in Canada in this decade).

The creation of these organizations allowed HLI to gain some indirect consultative status at the United Nations that had initially been denied, due to their notoriety. It also helped HLI to develop think-tank -style data in order to combat science on overpopulation, yet keep from being mired by the poor reputation that HLI had developed. While C-FAM and PRI were set up as apparent independent organizations, evidence suggests that they were governed to a degree (at least in the beginning) by HLI, and are meant to seek their spiritual guidance and political direction from their parent organization.

LSN's support of HLI has been highly visible with regard to the group's work in Africa.

When the government of Nigeria proposed a law to ban same-sex marriage (which was already illegal), and also make it an offense to witness, aid or abet anyone who engages in one, Human Life International published a congratulatory article which began:

Pro-life and pro-family supporters in Nigeria are rallying around a bill currently being considered in the Nigerian Senate that would prohibit same-sex "marriage" in Africa's most populous country amid threats from the United Kingdom to cut aid if countries do not protect homosexual "rights."

"Human Life International Nigeria is joining forces with other pro-life organizations and well-meaning Nigerians in mobilizing support for the defense of this bill," said Chizoba Nnagboh, Human Life International (HLI) country director in Nigeria..."

LifeSiteNews faithfully reposted the article. There was a glaring journalistic oversight, though. It failed to mention that homosexuality is already punishable by death in 12 Nigerian states, and up to 14 years imprisonment elsewhere in the country.

This was pointed out previously, and yet on Monday, LSN profiled Nigeria again in December, repeating the omission of the existing death sentence - and presenting the 14-year sentence as though it would be altogether new.

There are concerns that threats of withholding aid could aggravate homophobic violence and legislation, rather than help. But it is fair to challenge the organizations that have been stirring up this polarized sentiment and exporting western homophobia to Africa. It is also fair to challenge those who fund, promote and support those groups. LifeSiteNews has clearly done at least some of the latter.

One of LSN's own staff penned an article highlighting Uganda's refusal to bow to pressure to drop the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in 2009, but the organization later gave voice to concerns that the bill's punishments would be too severe. Thus, LifeSiteNews' own editorial perspectives have also been mixed enough to warrant clarification.

My Questions to LSN

The death penalty has been presented or at least interpreted by legislators and religious leaders in Uganda and Africa as a "Christian" solution to homosexuality. This is partly due to the influence of groups like your partner, HLI. Western organizations of faith have also not done much to condemn them, but have instead heralded Uganda as an example for other nations. This has signaled to an African public -- and to people around the world -- that killing gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and trans people is acceptable or endorsed in the eyes of Jesus Christ.

It's possible that LSN is unaware of the extent of HLI's lobbying in Africa, and the effect it has had in developing extreme legislation and propagating anti-gay hatred. But the closeness with which the groups work implies that LSN would seem to (at best) tacitly condone what their partner organization is stirring up by turning a blind eye to the result.

LifeSiteNews, you are certainly welcome to dispel this perception. This is why I invite you to answer several questions about your stance on Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill:

  1. What has LifeSiteNews done to respond to the penalties proposed in the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, and how does it intend to respond in the future?
  2. Does LSN view capital punishment as a reasonable response to homosexuality?
  3. Life sentences and extreme imprisonment durations have also been proposed in the bill. Does LSN view life imprisonment or 14-year sentences as a reasonable response to homosexuality?
  4. Does LSN support banning advocacy for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) people?
  5. What is the nature of the partnership between LSN and HLI?
  6. In light of Human Life International's influence in bringing about an environment in which the Anti-Homosexuality Bill has gained popularity, is LSN prepared to change its working arrangement with HLI?

I eagerly await your response.

(Help put pressure on LSN to respond: sign on to this petition, and ask your friends to do the same.)


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