Anti-Homosexual Bill In Uganda Causes Global Uproar
The Proposed Bill Could Punish Homosexuals Who Marry With Life In Prison
By DAN HARRIS, KATIE HINMAN and ALMIN KARAMEHMEDOVIC
March 10, 2010
Standing onstage in black velvet robes, despite the stifling heat in the open-air church, Pastor Martin Ssempa's face is a mask of disgust.
"Anal licking!," he shouts, directing the crowd's attention to the images of hardcore gay pornography that he's projecting via his laptop. "That is what they are doing in the privacy of their bedrooms."
"Everything having to do with eating of poop…heterosexuals do not eat poop," Ssempa said. "And if they do, they are misguided, they are not real heterosexuals. We don't practice, that's an abomination. It's like sex with a dog, sex with a cow; it's evil."
Homophobia In Uganda
Ssempa's animated style has made him one of the most popular preachers in the African nation of Uganda. But it's his virulent homophobia that's put him at the center of an international uproar. The pornographic images, which reduced some of the churchgoers to tears, were meant to whip up support for a bill under consideration in Uganda that would make some gays and lesbians eligible for the death penalty.
The bill was introduced several months after a visit by several American evangelicals, who spoke at a conference called the "Seminar on Exposing the Homosexual Agenda."
One of them was Scott Lively, a pastor from Springfield, MA, who believes that countries like Uganda can still protect themselves from what he sees as the scourge of the gay agenda.
"These are good Christians; better Christians than there are here in the states," says Lively. "They care about each other. And I think the reason they're pushing so hard on this law is that they don't want to see what happened to our country happen over there."
He told the conference's audience, made up of teachers, social workers, and politicians that "even though the majority of homosexuals are not oriented towards young people, there's a significant number who are. And when they see a child from a broken home, it's like they have a flashing neon sign over their head."
Lively, who is the president of Defend the Family, is also the author of a book called "The Pink Swastika", which argues that the Nazi Party was a homosexual movement.
Uganda to Consider Passage of The Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009
"If you deny and reject the design of your own body," he told the conference, "and you engage in conduct that is self-evidentiary wrong and harmful to you, then you're going to receive in your body the penalty which is appropriate. Can anyone say AIDS?"
Also at the seminar were two American men who claim gays and lesbians can be healed, including Caleb Brundidge, a minister who says he lived as a gay man for ten years.
"I say that no one is born gay and anyone who wants to change can," said Brundidge, who works for the International Healing Foundation. "No one that has same sex attraction, they didn't choose to have that. I'm living proof. Change is possible. I changed from that lifestyle to the one I'm in now. That's not a gay lifestyle, it's a straight lifestyle."
Brundidge was joined by Don Schmierer, who serves on the board of Exodus International, another group that works with people who want to reverse their homosexual attractions. Schmierer declined to be interviewed by ABC News.
While there, the three American Christians also met with members of the Ugandan parliament.
Months later, a bill was introduced called The Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009.
The bill creates a new category of crime called "Aggravated Homosexuality," which calls for death by hanging for gays or lesbians who have sex with anyone under 18 and for so-called "serial offenders."
The bill also calls for seven years in prison for "attempt to commit homosexuality," five years for landlords who knowingly house gays, three years for anyone, including parents, who fail to hand gay children over to the police within 24 hours and the extradition of gay Ugandans living abroad.
The bill's sponsor, David Bahati, now insists the death penalty only applies to homosexual pedophiles.
"The whole thing has been distorted, " he said. "And we know that some copies of the bill have been circulated on the Internet, which are incorrect."
Bahati defends the bill's stringency. "Well it can sound tough to some people but it's acceptable to our community here. Remember that here in Uganda, 95 percent of our population does not support homosexuality."
"But also we know that we live in a global family where in America they accept homosexuality as a human right. In Uganda we don't. In America, it is illegal to be a polygamist. Here in Uganda, it is cherished in some cultures. So that is the nature of the global family," he said.
"So things that are acceptable in some societies are not acceptable in others. But we have mutual respect. But this bill was proposed by Ugandans for Ugandans. We think it is good for us, we think it is good for Uganda."
Gay Ugandans Speak Out
Val Kalende, a lesbian, said it's dangerous just to walk down the street. "Just the other day a colleague of mine was detained and questioned by police," she said. "Every time you come back home safe, you thank God you are safe. But then you don't know what's going to happen the next day."
Kalende said that while Uganda has always been a homophobic country, things got worse after the conference the American evangelicals spoke at.
"So those guys should be held accountable for what is happening to us," she said. "And I hope that the people in America can hold these guys accountable for what is going to happen to us if this bill ever passes."
Gay-rights groups and governments all over the world are up in arms over the proposed bill. President Obama has called it "odious", and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a call to the Ugandan president urging him to table it.
The American evangelicals who spoke at that event in Uganda back in March are now rushing to distance themselves from the bill.
"I do not agree with that bill at all," said Brundidge. "That's not why I went there at all."
Lively also claims he had no idea the bill was coming, and denies any responsibility for it, despite the fact that he compared his visit to Uganda to a nuclear bomb exploding.
"I'm proud of that, and I hope that the nuclear bomb spreads across the whole world, against the gay movement " he said. "Against this attempt to overthrow the family-based society and replace it with sexual anarchy. That's harmful to everyone. That doesn't mean I hate homosexuals. That doesn't mean I want everyone to be thrown in jail."
And he repudiated the notion that he empowered the Ugandan parliament to introduce the legislation. "Do you think that these people did not already have an opinion, a strong opinion, on homosexuality?" he asked. "It's a very racist perspective. It's the colonial mind-set all over again."
That's an argument echoed by the main proponents of the bill in Uganda.
"It's offensive to me," said Ssempa. "It's offensive to me that every time a black man does something good, you have to say that a white man told us to do it. That's really offensive to me. We feel that even those Americans who came here, they are wimps. And they have been blamed for this law. They've all screamed no, we have nothing to do with it. Why don't we accept that Africans can make an anti-homosexuality law? Why do you have to blame somebody else?"
The Blame Game
Among those caught in the blame game: American evangelical megastar Rick Warren, who was once a friend of Ssempa's, and who invited him to California to speak at his Saddleback Church.
Warren has since ended his relationship with Ssempa, and has also repudiated the bill, delivering this message to Ugandan pastors on YouTube.
"It is my role to correct lies, errors, and false reports when others associate my name with a law that I had nothing to do with, completely oppose and vigorously condemn," he said.
"I think that Rick Warren is misguided," said Ssempa. "I think he is typical of some American Christians who are petrified of homosexuals in America."
But the outrage in the West may mean the bill gets watered down or even killed. The Ugandan parliament will hold hearings on it later this month.
As for Lively, he says if they drop the death penalty, he'll actually endorse it. Whether the bill passes or not, the culture wars – both at home and abroad – promise to continue raging on.