Today marks the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO) when momentum to advance marriage equality in the United States is rapidly moving forward, while U.S. evangelicals have shifted their focus to exporting hatred toward LGBTQ people internationally.
Martin Luther King famously noted in his Letter from Birmingham Jail that “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” This is particularly true of LGBTQ people in many places around the world whose fates are tied more closely together through the actions of one particular set of actors: extremist U.S. evangelicals in the business of exporting a virulent anti-gay agenda.
While 2013 has been a year of once unthinkable strides forward in the U.S., with rapidly shifting public opinion and breakthroughs on marriage equality, a look beyond our own borders reveals a different, but related trend in the opposite direction. In the very week that President Obama proclaimed our national journey towards freedom went through “Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall,” the Russian Duma passed a bill – by a vote of 390 — 1 – which would criminalize advocacy by and on behalf of LGBT people. While these events may seem unrelated, a deeper look uncovers a disturbing relationship between the advances in civil rights in the U.S. and the growing efforts to criminalize LGBTQ existence in Eastern Europe, Africa and Latin America.
Anti-gay extremists in the U.S. who have long devoted themselves to fear-mongering about the “homosexual agenda” have sought new markets abroad. As Rev. Dr. Kapya Koama, the leading researcher of this phenomenon, put it in the American Prospect, “It is homophobia, not homosexuality, that is being imported to the [African] continent by neocolonialists with an agenda: to spread U.S. culture wars worldwide.”
Exhibit A is Rev. Scott Lively, president of Abiding Truth Ministries. In the U.S., his organization is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, but in Uganda, Lively has been free from such baggage and has marketed himself as an expert on homosexuality. He has worked with prominent clerics and government officials there since 2002 to advance his rights-erasing strategies, and in 2009 headlined an influential conference titled “Seminar on Exposing the Homosexual Agenda.” The notorious Anti-Homosexuality Bill (aka the “Kill the Gays” bill) was introduced shortly afterwards, and Lively boasts of the effect of his work in Uganda, saying that it had the effect of a “nuclear bomb.” Lively, who describes LGBTQ people as evil, genocidal, brutal and above all as child predators, has as his aim the criminalization of advocacy for LGBTQ rights and works to strip away the most fundamental human rights from them. In Uganda, both state repression and extra-legal violence have been on the rise as a result of the anti-gay strategies Lively has helped orchestrate. What Lively is doing in Uganda is the very definition of persecution. Sexual Minorities of Uganda (SMUG), which has been a primary target of this persecution, is suing Scott Lively for his role in this persecution; the Center of Constitutional Rights (CCR) is representing them.
While the destructive role of U.S. evangelicals in Uganda has gotten some attention, Uganda is just the tip of the iceberg. Lively himself has been active in several Eastern European countries. His “Letter to the Russian People” urged Russians to “criminalize the public advocacy of homosexuality” – the very thing the Russian Parliament has now voted to do. In Latvia, he co-founded a virulently and violently anti-gay organization, Watchmen on the Walls, which is known for its anti-gay demonstrations where gays and lesbians are pelted with bags of excrement. In Moldova, he played a crucial role in defeating anti-discrimination legislation.
Lively is just one of the players in this cottage industry. Kaoma has published two reports through Public Research Associates on the subject of evangelical extremists’ interference in Africa, noting their involvement in constitutional or legislative efforts to crack down on LGBTQ people in Kenya, Liberia, Namibia, Nigeria, Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile, the anti-gay American Center for Law and Justice, a Pat Robertson outfit, has recently expanded its international presence from Africa to South America, where it has set up shop in Brazil. These anti-gay evangelicals’ efforts, as Lively’s work exemplifies, go beyond fighting civil rights advances to eradicating basic, fundamental rights for LGBTQ people.
Those in the U.S. committed to the full civil and human rights of all people, including LGBTQ people, have a particular obligation in this situation. It’s not our fault that these anti-gay fanatics are peddling hate and oppression elsewhere, but as we are tied together in a single garment of destiny, it is very much our responsibility to speak out and do all we can to keep them from doing further harm. LGBTQ people around the world are fighting for their lives and their rights on their own terms on their own turf. Standing in solidarity with them, our most useful contribution to their struggles is to address the American origins of the attacks on their rights and existence.
This piece is one in an ongoing series of articles that the Center for Constitutional Rights is contributing to The New Civil Rights Movement about their legal work, which addresses some of the most important civil rights and civil liberties of our time.
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