Blog Theme: Civil Rights and Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill – Interview with Jeff Sharlet

Interview with author Jeff Sharlet

In this interview, we discuss our shared recollections of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009, the Netflix documentary The Family, liberty of conscience, and evangelicals in relationship to Donald Trump.

This is second in a series of interviews marking 15 years of blogging. I started blogging in July 2005. The first interview with Michael Coulter is here.

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009

On March 2, 2009 I posted a article about an ex-gay conference in Kampala, Uganda. Three Americans, Scott Lively, Don Schmierer, and Caleb Brundidge, had been invited by Stephen Langa of the Family Life Network to speak on the topic of homosexuality. Scott Lively told the crowd that gays were behind the Nazi takeover of Germany and subsequent Holocaust. Don Schmierer told them that homosexuals were disturbed by poor parenting and that they needed therapy, and Caleb Brundidge, a client of reparative therapist Richard Cohen was there to show that the ex-gay therapy worked.

That was the first of hundreds of articles about Uganda and the effort of that nation’s Parliament to make homosexuality a capital offense (The Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009). I don’t think it is too far fetched to say that Box Turtle Bulletin and this blog became key thorns in the side of Ugandan and American proponents of the bill. Jim Burroway and I (incidentally both originally from Portsmouth, OH) wrote nearly every day about some aspect of the bill and kept the story alive.

Because of my strong opposition to the bill and the kindness of Bob Hunter (as well as other Fellowship members), I attended the National Prayer Breakfast in 2010. There, I interviewed Fellowship Foundation leader Doug Coe. That was one of a handful of interviews he granted over the course of his life. A summary of it was published in Christianity Today later that year. Coe put the Fellowship on record as opposing the bill in Uganda.

When the Ugandan members of the Prayer Breakfast movement learned of American opposition, they felt betrayed by Coe and the Americans. They persisted with their efforts to pass the bill. As Jeff and I discuss in the interview above, the Ugandan members seemed to believe American evangelicals were afraid to really speak their minds. The Ugandan proponents of the bill seemed convinced that American Christians really supported their efforts, and it was their Christian duty to set a tone the world could follow.

Despite the Ugandan’s belief, I don’t believe the American Fellowship supported the bill. At the time (December, 2009), Jeff wrote a guest post for my blog which outlined his belief that the American Fellowship opposed it. In my rare interview with Doug Coe, he made it clear that he and the Fellowship opposed the bill and criminalization for homosexuality anywhere. Furthermore, at the National Prayer Breakfast, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton spoke directly to the Ugandan people and by name opposed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. I don’t think the opposition could get any clearer than that.

I was in the African suite watching Obama’s and Clinton’s speeches on television when they condemned the bill at the 2010 National Prayer Breakfast. It was silent in the suite as the African delegation watched. Afterwards, some were stunned, some were angry. Some still believed that some Americans had to say those things in public, but may privately support them. However, they could not deny that the American Fellowship opposed the bill.

Through years of parliamentary maneuvering, the bill moved and then stalled. Sessions ended without action, but finally it passed at the end of 2013 session. The President of Uganda Yoweri Museveni proclaimed that he would not sign the bill if scientists could convince him that being gay was innate. He claimed to want to know if being gay was a choice.

At that point, at the request of others lobbying against the bill, Jack Drescher and I wrote a letter summarizing the research on sexual orientation in layman’s terms. The letter was signed by over 200 scholars and researchers from all over the world. Museveni acknowledge the effort but also convened his own panel of “experts.” They returned a letter which allowed him to sign the bill.

In August 2014, the bill was struck down as unconstitutional by Uganda’s Constitutional court due to the fact that the Parliament did not have a quorum in place when the bill was passed. A five year story of ups and downs came to an end with that decision.

Jeff Sharlet

Jeff and I became friends as we compared notes over what American interests and influences might be at work in this Ugandan mess. As I noted in the interview, he went to Uganda on one occasion (I think he asked me to go along but I can’t be sure of my recollection on that). His report of that trip was a lengthy write up in Harper’s.

In the interview, we discussed the background of the Netflix documentary, The Family. I had the good fortune to be included in three of the five episodes of that series.

Jeff has an inspiring sense of fairness and is a captivating writer. I don’t know of anyone outside of Uganda who worked harder to expose the truth relating to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill than Jeff. I am grateful and humbled by the kind and overly generous remarks from him in this interview. Thanks to Jeff for doing it. I hope you benefit from our discussion as much as I did.

Additional Reading

Scientific Consensus Statement

History of Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill – NPR

My Salon series about a Nevada church who dropped support of a Uganda missionary over the bill

Straight Man’s Burden – Harpers

The Bill Inspired by American Evangelicals – The Atlantic

All of my posts about Uganda

All of my post about the Fellowship Foundation (aka The Family) and the National Prayer Breakfast

All 15 Years of Blogging Interviews

 

Image: Jeff Sharlet’s Twitter Page

Uganda Watch: David Bahati Vows to Press Ahead with His Anti-Gay Bill

Recently, a delegation from the Kennedy Center visited Uganda and spoke with various politicians, including mover of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, David Bahati. In this NTV clip, Bahati sounds resolved to continue with his crusade.

Parliament is currently on recess, subject to the Speaker’s recall.
Bahati continues to frame his bill as a child protection measure despite the fact that existing laws already cover offenses against minors. Moreover, every gay organization in Uganda supports penalties for child molestation.

Uganda Watch: Bahati questioned about death of MP; Museveni outlines position on gays

Bahati under scrutiny

David Bahati finds himself in the spotlight again but this time not for his Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Rather he is under some scrutiny over his alleged relationship with a murder suspect. The Observer has the story:

Almost a week after Cerinah Nebanda’s death, David Bahati, the anti-gay bill sponsor, finds himself thrust into the unviable limelight as a person of interest in the death of the Butaleja woman Member of Parliament.

Until now, Bahati was known and has struggled to keep attention on his anti-gay draft legislation that has caused an uproar in the international community.

But on Wednesday, Nebanda’s family fingered Bahati as the link between Cerinah and her alleged boyfriend Adam Kalungi, who is a key suspect and still on the run. Bahati, in a statement issued yesterday, roundly denied that claim. Here is how Bahati’s name came to the fore.

Read the rest of the story at the link above. It appears that President Museveni and Bahati are giving different accounts of Bahati’s knowledge of the suspect.  It is hard to say whether this development will hamper the author of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Museveni outlines position on gays

President Yowari Museveni outlined his position on gays in Uganda earlier this week.  At the installation of Catholic Archbishop Ntagali, Museveni said

“I have been telling these people (pro gay activists) that nobody will kill or prosecute them for being homosexual, but there should be no promotion of homosexuality,”

It is not clear what Museveni means by promotion. However, in the current Anti-Homosexuality Bill this section relates to promotion:

13. Promotion of homosexuality.

(1) A person who –

(a) participates in production. procuring, marketing, broadcasting, disseminating, publishing pornographic materials for purposes of promoting homosexuality;

(b) funds or sponsors homosexuality or other related activities;

(c) offers premises and other related fixed or movable assets for purposes of homosexuality or promoting homosexuality;

(d) uses electronic devices which include internet, films, mobile phones for purposes of homosexuality or promoting homosexuality and;

(e) who acts as an accomplice or attempts to promote or in any way abets homosexuality and related practices;

commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a line of live thousand currency points or imprisonment of a minimum of five years and a maximum of seven years or both fine and imprisonment.

(2) Where the offender is a corporate body or a business or an association or a non-governmental organization, on conviction its certificate of registration shall be cancelled and the director or proprietor or promoter shall be liable on conviction to imprisonment for seven years.

The free speech implications of this section are clear. Ugandans will have to watch what they say and it is easy to see how the section could be abused by those in power.

 

Uganda Watch: No Business Today; Bahati Talks about the Bill

Due to the death of a former MP, Uganda’s Parliament will not consider any business today. Instead, they will take the day for a memorial to former MP Atenyi Deo Zabasaija.

Yesterday, Melanie Nathan spoke to David Bahati about his anti-gay bill. You can read that interview here. Bahati again claims that there is new draft of the bill sans death penalty which he will read in Parliament soon. However, when a Ugandan asks Parliament for a copy of the bill, the 2009 version is handed out. The report may suggest the removal of hanging but this suggestion does not guarantee that the Parliament will agree to it. Also, it is possible that the language has been changed but the penalty remains — as occurred in May, 2011.

The bill might make it on the agenda tomorrow but I doubt it will be acted on because the contentious oil issues have not yet been resolved.

Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill Appears on Parliament’s To-Do List

The Anti-Homosexuality Bill is listed on today’s order paper under the heading of “Notice of Business to Follow.”

NOTICE OF BUSINESS TO FOLLOW 

  1. MOTION FOR A RESOLUTION OF PARLIAMENT TO URGE GOVERNMENT TO BAIL OUT SEMBULE STEEL MILLS LTD FROM THE INTENDED SALE OF ITS PROPERTIES
  2. PRESENTATION, CONSIDERATION AND ADOPTION OF THE REPORT ON THE ADHOC COMMITTEE INVESTIGATING THE ENERGY SECTOR
  3. THE ANTI-HOMOSEXUALITY BILL, 2012

4.         THE PUBLIC ORDER MANAGEMENT BILL, 2012

5.         REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY ON THE STATUS OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY IN PUBLIC UNIVERSITIES

6.         REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY ON THE AFRICAN SPACE RESEARCH PROGRAM (ASRP)

7.         REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON NATIONAL ECONOMY ON THE REQUEST BY GOVERNMENT TO BORROW SDR 87.1 MILLION (USD 135.0M) FROM THE INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATION (IDA) OF THE WORLD BANK GROUP FOR FINANCING OF THE WATER MANAGEMENT AND DEVELOPMENT PROJECT (WMDP)

8.         REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON THE NATIONAL ECONOMY ON THE STATE OF THE ECONOMY

9.         PETITION AGAINST THE OFFICIAL RECEIVER OF UGANDA ELECTRICITY BOARD (UEB) AND UEB (IN LIQUIDATION) FOR NON-PAYMENT OF GRATUITY

KAMPALA

21ST NOVEMBER 2012

The bill reached this level of attention back in May, 2011 but time ran out before the bill was debated. There is now plenty of time for this bill to come to the floor prior to the planned December 15 recess.

Uganda’s Speaker of Parliament Wants Anti-Homosexuality Bill Debated Next Week

So says the Monitor.

The Speaker of Parliament has directed the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee to present the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2011 on the floor of Parliament.

The committee chairperson, Mr Stephen Tashobya, passed on Ms Rebecca Kadaga’s directive to committee members yesterday as he summoned them to attend next week’s session in person “to have the Bill concluded”.

In her November 13 letter, the Speaker advised Mr Tashobya to be mindful of what she said was the high demand by the public to address homosexuality.

“I write to reiterate my earlier instruction to your committee to expeditiously handle the review of the report on the Bill. As you are aware, there is high demand by the population to address the escalating problem of promoting and recruiting minors into homosexuality,” the letter reads in part.

“This is therefore to inform you that I shall place the Bill on the Order Paper immediately after conclusion of the Oil Bills,” she wrote. Parliament is concluding consideration of the Petroleum (Exploration, Production and Development) Bill as the House breaks off for Christmas recess on December 15, which suggests that after the Bill is hopefully completed by next Tuesday, MPs can expect to debate and probably pass the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Mr Tashobya said his committee had “a working document [ready] because we had a lot of responses during the public hearings.” The Bill was presented as a Private Members’ Bill by Ndorwa West MP David Bahati in the 8th Parliament and has since become a subject of international discussion, with a number of Western countries threatening to cut aid to Uganda if it is passed.

The working document is a report left over from the 8th Parliament and makes very few changes in the anti-gay bill.  I wrote about the committee report in May, 2011:

A paper designated as the final report of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee was leaked last Thursday, just ahead of Friday’s final session. I have good reasons to believe that the report did come from the committee although I cannot say for certain that the report would have been presented on the floor of the Parliament had the bill gotten that far. You can read the report, converted to a .pdf, by clicking here.

To help see what a revised bill would have looked like, I compared the original Anti-Homosexuality Bill with the report. This version makes the changes called for in the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee report (Click the link). In this version the sections crossed out were in the original bill and those underlined are the ones suggested by the committee.

Even after the changes, the penalty for private, consensual  same-sex intimacy would still be life in jail and the death penalty would remain since it is the penalty provided for aggravated defilement in Uganda. Clauses 4, 7, 8, 14, 16 & 17 were deleted but a new penalty for participating in the marriage of a same-sex couples. Presumably, this would discourage ministers from performing the ceremonies. Even if the bill had been amended in the manner suggested by the committee, the bill would have defined homosexual behavior in a way that criminalized the most modest forms of intimacy with either life in prison or death for HIV positive individuals.

According to the Monitor report, the Speaker wants to have the second reading of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill after the Petroleum Bills are completed. According to today’s agenda, the oil bills were debated in today’s session (click here to read the order paper for today). The listing of business to come does not list the AHB but according to the Monitor, Kadaga is going to put it on the order paper for sometime next week.

 

Uganda now says it doesn’t discriminate against gays; AP says the bill has been shelved

Which part of this post’s headline do you believe?

Here is the link to the AP article in the Washington Post.

Simon Lokodo appears to be in a bit of trouble now that he has broken up a couple of legal meetings of LGBT people. It appears that Lokodo had the green light to harass gays but now he is on his own.

I am aware that Stephen Tashobya, the committee chair of the committee where the bill sits thinks there are better things to do than mess with the anti-gay bill. However, it is just wrong, as the AP article says, to say that the bill has been shelved. Why do so many reporters rush to do something with the bill that the Parliament has not done?

In short, I don’t believe either part of my headline.

Here is a link to the Government statement.

 

Uganda to ban NGOs over gay rights

The crackdown continues:

KAMPALA (Reuters) – Uganda said on Wednesday it was banning 38 non-governmental organisations it accuses of promoting homosexuality and recruiting children.

Homosexuality is illegal in Uganda, along with more than 30 other countries in Africa, and activists say few Africans are openly gay, fearing imprisonment, violence and losing their jobs.

Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo told Reuters the organisations being targeted were receiving support from abroad for Uganda’s homosexuals and accused gays and lesbians of “recruiting” young children in the country into homosexuality.

More coverage of police crackdown on gay rights meeting; anti-gay bill may be considered this session

Freedom of association, freedom of speech; these are precious freedoms that Ugandan gays do not have. And if David Bahati gets his way, very soon, Ugandan LGBT people may not have freedom to live.

Note Bahati at the end of the video. He says Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee Chair Stephen Tashobya has assured him that the bill will be acted on in the next session.

Folks, it looks like it is time to wake up again.

Police break up LGBT conference in Uganda

Uganda’s police with nothing better to do…

KAMPALA — Ugandan police on Monday raided a gay rights workshop in Kampala and questioned activists attending the gathering, rights campaigners said.

East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, the organisation behind the workshop, said that police interrupted the meeting and began questioning participants at the event, including activists from Canada, Kenya and Rwanda.

The police forced their way into some of the activists’ hotel rooms, the group said in a statement.

The training workshop was intended to bolster the local gay community’s abilities to report rights abuses, the statement said.

Activists condemned the police action and said it represented a growing trend.

From NTV Uganda: