Global Health Justice

September 20, 2023

Missionaries of Hate:  U.S. Christian Right Group Enflames Homophobia in Uganda

Ugandan Dr. Frank Mugisha exposes the U.S. backers of the 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Act. He accuses American “conservative anti-gay activists” of fearmongering in Uganda that has led to its LGBTQ criminalization laws. He outlined how this happening when interviewed on the Rachel Maddow in May, 2023.

Many people in the Global North were shocked by the inhumanity of Uganda’s new anti-homosexual law. It was well-reported internationally that on May 2 Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Act that makes homosexuality punishable by life imprisonment and “aggravated homosexuality” punishable by death. Less well known is how an American organization fanned the anti-gay hatred and promoted the legislation.  Rachel Maddow’s interview with Frank Mugisha, a brave Ugandan gay rights activist, revealed that the culprit is the anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion Christian Right group Family Watch International, based in Gilbert, Arizona. It has close ties with Mr Museveni and Ugandan legislators and others in East Africa.

Dr. Mugisha is the Executive Director of SMUG (Sexual Minorities Uganda) that was outlawed in 2022. SMUG is fighting the new law and is helping Ugandans who are targeted. Information about SMUG’s work can be found at  Dr. Mugisha noted that “this legislation, in my words, and I’ve said it many times, it is here to erase the entire existence of an LGBTQ person in Uganda, but also it radicalizes Ugandans into hatred of the LGBTQ community, and where are they seeing that happening?”.

Dr. Mugisha noted that, like other former British colonies in the region, Uganda was burdened with statutes that maintain that homosexuality is an offense punishable by life imprisonment. After independence, bills were built on that. Further bolstering these findings, Vanity Fair journalist Caleb Ecarma writes that American evangelicals spent more than $20 million fighting LGBTQ rights in the country between 2007–2020 and participated in a series of popular antigay lectures in Uganda. A few attempts at stern anti-gay legislation failed court scrutiny but the strictures are maintained in the new Act.

For her part, Rachel Maddow traced the connection between anti-LGBTQ legislation in the US and Uganda, identifying the same anti-LGBTQ activist organizations behind both. “Arizona [legislators] lined up behind a measure that would discipline teachers and open them up to lawsuits if they don’t tell parents everything a student tells them,” said Maddow.

The legislators who introduced this bill, among others, consulted with the same Arizona agency, Family Watch International, which is designated as a LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The group does most of their work spreading disinformation about sexuality, gender identity and gender expression overseas. More recently, in Uganda.

“In March of this year, just weeks ago, this Arizona group was one of the key organizers of a conference in Uganda that hosted lawmakers, that hosted elected officials from more than a dozen countries in Africa at this conference,” Maddow said.

The host continued by saying that lawmakers from these countries promised to push anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion legislation in their home countries.

Sharon Slater, the president of Family Watch International has ties to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s wife, Janet K. Museveni, and anti-gay minister, Martin Ssempa who was in strong support of Uganda’s original LGBTQ criminalization bill imposing the death penalty, according to Maddow.

“I recently had the honor of meeting with Ms. Sharon Slater, President of Family Watch International, & her team. They attended the first African Regional Inter-Parliamentary Conference in Uganda, focusing on global challenges that threaten African families & values,” Janet K. Museveni tweeted on April 4. …

“If this law is passed, we will definitely see many get arrested. We will see many LGBTQ persons leave the country. So many of the LGBTQ community members are already fleeing the country. They’re trying to go to neighboring Kenya, which is not safe as well, but they feel they would be safer in Kenya than being imprisoned in Uganda,” Mugisha said. Mugisha is a well-known and regarded Ugandan LGBTQ activist. Mugisha and his colleagues are at risk of the dangers this bill poses, especially after openly opposing the legislation Monday night.

“I could end up getting arrested,” Mugisha reminds Maddow and viewers.

In a call to action, Maddow asks Mugisha what impact outcry from US legislators and the Biden Administration would have on stopping the 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Law.

“It would make a very big difference if Americans spoke directly to our authorities, and told them how dangerous this legislation is for the LGBTQ community here and how this legislation is going to make the LGBTQ community unsafe living here in Uganda, and how this legislation is a gross violation of human rights of LGBTQ persons,” Mugisha responded. “Yes, it would make a very big difference.


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