Ugandan minister raids gay-rights workshop

Uganda's parliament has taken up once more a bill that imposes tough sentences on homosexuals. A raid on a gay-rights workshop may show government support for the bill. 

As Uganda’s parliament begins discussions once more on an antihomosexuality bill, the Ugandan minister of ethics has accompanied police to shut down a workshop in Entebbe for gay rights activists and to arrest its organizer.

During the raid of the workshop, organized by Freedom and Roam Uganda, Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo told participants to leave or he would order the police to use force.

"I have closed this conference because it's illegal,” Mr. Lokodo was quoted as saying by the Daily Monitor, a Ugandan newspaper. “We do not accept homosexuality in Uganda. So go back home."

Public assembly of gay people is not a crime under Ugandan law, although homosexuality itself is. Bans against homosexuality in Uganda, and in many other countries of Africa, go back as far as the British colonial government, which was guided heavily on social issues by Christian missionaries. A few African countries, such as South Africa, have stripped away colonial-era prohibitions against homosexuality, but other countries, such as Uganda, are working in the opposite direction, adding heavier penalties to the laws that currently exist.

The current antihomosexuality bill under consideration would impose the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” committed by “serial offenders.” The bill made its first appearance in 2009, but was withdrawn last year after significant pressure from donor nations such as the United States, Britain and Sweden. President Obama called the bill “odious.”

Amnesty International condemned the raid of the gay-rights workshop and called on the Ugandan government to “end its outrageous harassment of people involved in lawful activities.”

“This is an outrageous attempt to prevent lawful and peaceful activities of human rights defenders in Uganda,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s secretary general in a statement. “The government of Uganda must protect all people against threats, violence, and harassment irrespective of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”

In its raid, the Ugandan government attempted to arrest the workshop’s organizer, Kasha Jacqueline Nabagasera, a prominent gay-rights activist. Her name was among those of other gay-rights activists named in an Oct. 2, 2010, Ugandan tabloid newspaper exposing “Uganda’s top homos.” The article called for the 100 named gay activists to be hanged. One of those activists, David Kato, was subsequently bludgeoned to death at home in what some consider to be a hate crime.

There is some speculation that the Ugandan debate over homosexuality is largely an extension of an American evangelical push over cultural values and faith. The anti-gay bill, proposed by parliamentarian David Bahati, came into being shortly after the visit by three prominent American evangelicals at a workshop on confronting homosexuality in 2009. Uganda is also the country that dozens of more conservative American Episcopalian congregations have shifted their allegiances to after the more liberal Church of England allowed the ordination of women and gay people as priests.

But Rev. Scott Lively, who, along with two other American preachers, spoke with the Ugandan parliament about homosexuality in 2009, told National Public Radio that he was merely asked to give background on homosexuality in America, and had nothing to do with the anti-gay bill that his visit supposedly inspired.

I don't have any special power to influence these people. They asked for my opinion, and I gave it. It's pretty racist to suggest that the Africans have no will of their own to produce public policy to suit their own values and that three little-known and not very influential figures from America could come in and basically dominate this process. I mean that's - it's pretty racist.

We don't have that kind of influence. We simply gave our opinion, and if it was true that our opinion was so weighty, then they would have backed off immediately upon hearing that all of us say that we don't agree with what they did.

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