Monday, January 4, 2010

It's Official: The New York Times Recognizes the Ugandan Situation

It’s official. The situation facing gay citizens of Uganda—the possibility that this African nation will enact the death penalty for gays—really does exist. Blogs like Box Turtle Bulletin have been talking about this situation for months now. Rachel Maddow has commented on it extensively at her MSNBC news show (see here and here).

And now the New York Times has taken notice of the Ugandan situation, and of the involvement of American right-wing evangelists in creating this situation.

So the Ugandan situation is official. It exists. It demands a response.

(And that in itself is a news story, isn’t it—the slowness of major media outlets in the U.S. either to pick up on a story of a nation on the verge of making being gay a capital crime, and/or the refusal of those outlets to notice the responsibility of some religious groups in the West for this development? The slowness with which the media have been willing to touch this story says much about the considerable homophobia that remains embedded in our mainstream media, and about the media’s deference to right-leaning religion with cozy ties to powerful, monied interest groups.)

Yesterday, the New York Times published an article by Jeffrey Gettleman detailing the role of American evangelical leaders in helping to set the stage for the legislation now pending in Uganda—though, as some readers on the blog thread following Gettleman’s article have noted, it conspicuously does not note the involvement of the powerful American religio-political group The Family in Uganda, involvement extensively documented by author Jeff Sharlet in his recent book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, documentation covered by Rachel Maddow in her hard-hitting coverage of the Ugandan story.

As Gettleman reports, the Ugandan legislation that would impose the death penalty for homosexual behavior was introduced a month after American evangelical leaders Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge, and Don Schmierer held a three-day conference in March 2009 in Uganda’s capital. At that conference, these religious leaders told Ugandans that the “gay agenda” had targeted their country, that gay men rape teen-aged boys, and that the gay movement is evil and seeks to undermine “marriage-based society” and its institutions.

Messrs. Lively, Brundidge, and Schmierer now seek to disavow their responsibility for fanning the flames of anti-gay hatred in Uganda. Gettleman quotes Schmierer to say that he’s shocked to hear Ugandans are now contemplating the death penalty for gays, and “[t]hat’s horrible, absolutely horrible. Some of the nicest people I have ever met are gay people.”

In a subsequent article in today’s edition of the Times, Gettleman reports on what gay Ugandans have been experiencing due to the precipitous spike in anti-gay hatred following the evangelists’s visit to their country last March. As Gettleman notes, gay citizens of the country report that being gay in Uganda now is “quite problematic.”

Gettleman quotes a member of parliament, Kassiano E. Wadri, who says that he detests gays and when he encounters a gay person, he thinks, “You need to break him.” Wadri’s sentiments are echoed by Uganda’s minister of ethics and integrity, James Nsaba Buturo, whom Gettleman quotes in yesterday’s article. Buturo’s stance on gay human beings and human rights: “Homosexuals can forget about human rights.”

Which, sad to say, seems to be pretty much where the Vatican also wants to come down on the issue of human rights for gay persons. When France presented a declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity to the United Nations in December 2008 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the U.N.’s Declaration of Human Rights, the Vatican refused to endorse the statement supporting human rights for gay persons.

And as the Clerical Whispers blog is reporting today, though a Vatican official told a U.N. committee in December 2009 that the Vatican opposes “violation of homosexual persons’ human rights”—a statement many commentators believed to be a reference to the Ugandan situation—the Vatican has once again flip-flopped on the issue of human rights for gay persons. It did so recently when Pope Benedict sent a statement of support to a Spanish rally seeking to block legal recognition of civil unions for same-sex couples.

The Vatican’s position on human rights seems clear: the Catholic church is for human rights. Unambiguously. Universally.

Except, come to think of it, when gays are involved. Which doesn’t seem too very different, all things considered, from the position of the Ugandan minister of ethics and integrity: “Homosexuals can forget about human rights.”

The graphic, from Warren Throckmorton's blog, shows Lively (2nd from left), Brundidge, and Schmierer meeting with Stephen Langa (last person on right) of the Family Life Network, who has been key to the legislation to impose the death sentence on gays, and an unidentified Ugandan woman in Kampala in March 2009.