This week, an official governmental committee in Uganda announced that almost all clauses in the “anti-homosexuality” bill were either unconstitutional or redundant. The death penalty, requirements for reporting family who are gay, extradition and silencing of advocacy may all be voted down. The New York Times reported that Adolf Mwesige, the head of the committee, “expected the full Parliament to vote down the bill within weeks.” Sadly, this vote will not remove the current law that allows a life sentence for being gay. However, it both confirms the power of media advocacy to make a difference and demands that we continue to advocate for the decriminalization of LGBT identity worldwide. U.S. based conservative faith groups—such as “The Family,” Rick Warren, Joyce Meyer, and Lou Engle— continue to promote theologies that condemn gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The largely conservative Anglican and Catholic population of Uganda participates in regular evangelical events led by native and foreign evangelicals, including a surprising number from the U.S. For months GLAAD has been collaborating with several coalition groups to expose these U.S. connections and mobilize faith leaders to speak out. The American Prayer Hour on February 4th was the first major effort by inclusive faith leaders to highlight the inhumanity of the proposed legislation and its connection to U.S. conservative faith groups like “The Family.” The heightened media coverage of the event communicated the urgency of the situation to President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, both of whom then condemned the bill. Conservatives like Warren and Meyer have since condemned the bill as well, and the decriminalization of LGBT identity in all countries is increasingly on the minds of faith leaders in the U.S. In a recent example of LGBT and denominational faith leaders adding to the rising chorus of voices protesting Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill, the Bishops and Elders Council of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force met on April 27th in Washington D.C. to talk with White House officials about Uganda’s bill. After meeting with officials, the group held a public witness to protest Lou Engle’s plans to export homophobic preaching to Uganda. They were inspired by Frank Mugisha of the organization Sexual Minorities in Uganda, SMUG. When Mugisha was in the United States as a guest of The Unitarian-Universalist United Nations (UU-UNO) LGBT office in April, he urged LGBT leaders in the U.S. to stop Engle from holding a mass rally in a Kampala stadium. SMUG issued a call to action, saying:
Lou Engle’s extremist and violence-laden preaching is often laced with references to gay people as being possessed by demons. During a rally for Proposition 8 in California, he called for Christian martyrs. His inflammatory speech and focus on martyrdom can easily incite people in Uganda to disregard people’s human rights…Mugisha helped motivate a growing coalition of LGBT faith groups and international LGBT leaders, who then launched a media campaign called “Stop The Call to Violence in Uganda” to end this demonization of gay people. With primary leadership from UU-UNO, International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Integrity, Metropolitan Community Church, Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, the campaign was launched with a facebook page, logo, youtube video and blogger alert. Soon bloggers were buzzing and members of Congress, who just passed a resolution condemning the proposed “anti-homosexuality” bill, were contacting HRC and GLAAD about SMUG’s action alert. As part of the effort, The Kansas City Clergy Coalition for Equality held a vigil and press conferences in Kansas City, Engle’s home town, to urge faith leaders to stand for understanding and respect. LGBT people and their families are still under extreme duress in Uganda. Frank Mugisha reported that LGBT leaders flee from house to house because of ongoing threats of violence and some have had to leave the country permanently. Many have had their photos in Ugandan newspapers with headlines describing them as “Top Homos.” They have lost their jobs and those who have HIV/AIDS are afraid to go to the clinics for fear of violence. GLAAD will continue to provide media assistance to LGBT-inclusive faith leaders who are supporting human rights across the globe and challenging the export of homophobia in the name of religion—and will keep you up-to-date on new developments.