Landmark Case Against Christian Fundamentalist Affirms LGBTI Rights as Internationally Recognised Human Rights
FRIDAY FILE: A lawsuit filed against Scott Lively on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) over Lively’s role in inciting persecution against Ugandan citizens’ sexual orientation and gender identity will soon go to trial in the U.S.
By Rochelle Jones
AWID interviewed Frank Mugisha from SMUG, about what this means for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights in Uganda and worldwide.
In March 2012, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda(SMUG) - an umbrella organization for LGBTI rights groups in Uganda. The case is against United States (U.S.) Pastor Scott Lively, President of the right-wing, Christian ‘Abiding Truth Ministries’, who regularly and publicly denounces homosexuality. The CCR’s case frames Lively’s participation in the drafting of the anti-homosexuality Bill in Uganda and alleges “that Lively’s actions over the past decade, in collaboration with key Ugandan government officials and religious leaders, are responsible for depriving LGBTI Ugandans of their fundamental human rights based solely on their identity, which is the definition of persecution under international law and is deemed a crime against humanity.”
Being LGBTI in Uganda
Same-sex relationships are currently criminalized under the Penal Code in Uganda. Frank Mugisha, SMUG’s Executive Director and Ugandan LGBTI rights activist, says the culture in Uganda against LGBTI persons depends on many aspects, “where one stays or if one is openly LGBTI and known to the public. In some instances, there is name-calling, verbal insults, expulsion from schools and losing work. But also there is a level of tolerance especially for LGBTI persons who are well off and live in liberal neighbourhoods”.
LGBTI activists are constantly harassed and on alert. Prominent Ugandan activist, David Kato, was murdered in early 2011 after his name was published in the Ugandan ‘Rolling Stone’ Magazine in a list of 100 ‘known gays and lesbians’ under the header “Hang them”. Lesbian activist Kasha Nabagesera, who was also named in ‘Rolling Stone’ and helped establish SMUG, has been expelled from schools, received numerous death threats, and been evicted from her home simply because she is a lesbian. She successfully sued ‘Rolling Stone’ for publishing her name and inciting hatred and was recently awarded with the International Nuremberg Human Rights Award.
Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) are constantly harassed and meetings disrupted, as outlined by Human Rights Watch, who say that, “government officials at both the national and local levels have deployed an array of tactics to intimidate and obstruct the work of NGOs in certain sectors… [In particular] the office of the Minister of State for Ethics and Integrity has been leading Uganda’s aggressively homophobic agenda and violating NGOs’ rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly.”
The draft anti-homosexuality Bill
The murder of David Kato increased international attention to the controversial draft anti-homosexuality Bill which was first introduced in Ugandan Parliament in 2009 and, if adopted, would increase and broaden the penalties for same-sex relationships, including the death penalty in some cases, and penalising the ‘promotion of homosexuality’, which would seriously disrupt human rights work.
Described by Human Rights Watch in 2012 as being in “procedural flux” in Parliament, getting an accurate description of what the Bill entails, as well as where it stands, is problematic due to misinformation from government actors. Mugisha says that currently it “is still in Ugandan Parliament and still at committee level, [specifically, the] ‘Legal and Parliamentary affairs committee’. Some members of this committee have indicated that the Bill is ready to be brought up for the second reading to parliament but this has not yet happened. International and Ugandan Media have indicated that the Bill was watered down and [the] death penalty removed, however we have not seen any official parliamentary document indicating that the bill was changed, to the best of my knowledge until this happens the bill is still the same.” Mugisha claims that the government has not officially come out to oppose nor support the bill: “The government of Uganda has shown less and less interest in the Bill. Government and government officials seem to be concerned about recruiting and promotion of homosexuality, but [based] on our media talks and dialogue with government they seem to say two consenting adults should not be bothered as long as they keep it quiet and on a low key… [they] also seem to recommend that the death penalty should be removed.”
SMUG vs. Scott Lively
The case against Scott Lively is an example of the protracted campaign of persecution against LGBTI persons in Uganda - and in particular the significant role that Christian fundamentalist groups from the U.S. have played in exporting a destructive and defamatory discourse against LGBTI persons. Lively is accused of travelling to Uganda and meeting with influential political actors since 2002 to influence the anti-gay agenda there. Hosted by the Family Life Network– a Ugandan religious organization that Amnesty International says “work closely with U.S evangelicals” - Lively led a three-day conference called “Seminar on exposing the homosexual agenda” in Uganda, which was attended by religious and government officials, police officers and members of civil society. A CCR case Fact Sheet summarises his involvement:
“Lively has set out a methodology for stripping away the most basic human rights protections, to silence and ultimately disappear LGBTI persons from public life, through eliminating any political space, revoking their fundamental rights, and/or coercing them into conversion “therapy.”
Lively has also been active in Russia, where ‘anti-gay’ legislation has recently been passed. Speaking on a U.S radio program last month, Lively is quoted as saying that he indirectly assisted in the new Law being passed in Russia, and that it is “one of the proudest achievements of my career”.
Lively’s actions of inciting hatred are now catching up with him, thanks to SMUG and CCR. On August 14, 2013, a Federal Judge in the U.S. denied Lively’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which means the case will now go to trial. Mugisha is hopeful, as this is the third motion to be denied: “I am very optimistic about the case, but this is not about winning a case in court, it is about holding extreme Christians accountable for their actions, and creating attention around the spread of homophobia and stopping them. Of course the best would be to win the case and get Scott Lively to say sorry and [to] stop spreading hate.”
Mugisha says the case is sending “a very clear message that LGBTI rights are human rights and internationally recognized… The government’s response to persecution of LGBTI people has been that LGBTI persons are not persecuted, and this is dangerous because the government does not take the levels of persecution seriously hence [there is a] failure to create measures to protect LGBTI persons from hate crimes… the impact [of this case] will be huge as Ugandans will start to take LGBTI rights very seriously and treat LGBTI people equally. [They will] also be careful of some Christians and the message they bring to Uganda.”
 Taken from a statement by Boris Dittrich, Advocacy Director LGBT rights program HRW, regarding Kasha Nabagesera’s International Nuremburg Human Rights Award.