White Christian nationalists are exporting homophobia and pushing antigay laws in Africa

OPINION: Uganda just enacted one of the world's strictest laws against homosexuality. White Christian nationalists from the United States have spent millions of dollars in Uganda to pass that law.

white Christian nationalists, Uganda anti-gay law, theGrio.com
In this Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014 file photo, a Ugandan man is seen during the third Annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride celebrations in Entebbe, Uganda. Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni recently signed one of the strictest anti-gay bills criminalizing homosexuality. (AP Photo/Rebecca Vassie, File)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

White Christian nationalists are exporting their American culture wars to Africa and getting people killed with “kill the gays” laws, and we see what they are doing. 

Uganda — which had already criminalized sexual relations between members of the same sex — has passed one of the most draconian anti-LGBTQIA laws in the world. The law punishes the crime of homosexuality with up to life in prison and the death penalty for aggravated homosexuality, which is same-sex relations with children, HIV-positive people or other vulnerable people. Attempted aggravated homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years in prison by the law signed by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. And while more than 30 African countries prohibit same-sex marriage, Uganda has gone further in punishing gay people than any of these nations with its latest legislation, even in its now watered-down form

But the recent law enacted in Uganda to imprison and execute LGBTQIA people did not happen in a vacuum. White Christian nationalists, including those who support Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, have spent millions of dollars in Uganda to pass that law. White fundamentalists have been spending years in Uganda to pass laws that punish gay people, and they are taking it to other African countries.

Ugandan media have been weaponized to promote a homophobic narrative and accuse LGBTQ+ organizations of luring and recruiting young children. And while antigay laws can be traced back to European colonization, with anti-sodomy laws punishable by death, white Christian nationalists from the U.S. are exporting a type of fake anticolonial homophobic narrative that paints homosexuality as uniquely Western, part of the moral decadence of the West and associated with pedophilia and the targeting of children to justify the use of government-sponsored violence. 

Between 2007 and 2020, more than 20 American evangelical Christian groups spent $54 million in Africa $20 million in Uganda — “to influence laws, policies, and public opinion against sexual and reproductive rights,” including fighting against sex education, abortion rights, contraception and LGBTQIA rights. The amount spent in Africa is part of a $280 million “dark money” empire the Christian Right has built around the world.

And these white evangelical groups have power. Evangelical NGOs made up 20% of nonprofits in Uganda in 2014 and controlled $2 billion. Since the days of the AIDS crisis that claimed millions of lives in Uganda and other African nations, white missionaries have influenced attitudes towards homosexuality as deviant sexual behavior.

Uganda anti-gay laws, white Christian nationalists, theGrio.com
Solidarity with Uganda supporters during the Gay Pride Parade on July 01, 2023 in London, England. Pride in London is an annual LGBT+ festival and parade held each summer in London. (Photo by Peter Nicholls/Getty Images for Pride In London)

Among those evangelicals who kicked off the antigay effort in Uganda in the early 2000s is Scott Lively. Lively, who was highlighted in the 2013 PBS documentary “God Loves Uganda,” blames the Holocaust on homosexuality in the Nazi Party and has written books about “pro-homosexual indoctrination” of children. And Lively spoke to the Ugandan parliament in 2009 on legislation to target its LGBTQIA community.

Meanwhile, such laws are endangering the lives of Ugandans, causing people to flee for their lives and go into hiding. What is taking place in Uganda and other African countries is nothing short of neocolonialism.   

“When the missionaries came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land,” said Desmond Tutu. White Christian nationalists interfering in the domestic affairs of African countries and destroying the human rights of African people — similar to how they are making the lives of Black folks in America a living hell — is very much about the white man’s Bible.

Imperialism isn’t only colonization and extraction of resources, and the white man’s Bible was always instrumental in softening up the minds of Black and indigenous people while the White colonizers took the land and resources.

This time around, the evangelicals have actually rebranded their oppressive anti-decolonization policies as being in opposition to neocolonialism. Criminalizing and scapegoating LGBTQIA people as a legacy of Western sinfulness, white fundamentalists are assisting African leaders in opening the door for other human rights violations and deprivations for African people. 

And there is no question that in the U.S. — where a MAGA U.S. Supreme Court just endorsed discrimination against same-sex couples while Republican politicians, insurrectionist Proud Boys and the Ku Klux Karens at Moms for Liberty target trans children and mobilize against LGBTQ events — the right has a taste for homophobic and transphobic genocide.  

Pastor Tom Ascol of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., who delivered the invocation at Gov. DeSantis’ second inauguration, approved of the Ugandan law on Twitter. “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. —Leviticus 20:13” Ascol tweeted, adding “Was this law God gave to His old covenant people “horrific and wrong”?” 

History shows us that these laws stripping people of their rights and humanity and criminalizing their identity do not stop with the LGBTQIA community. Leaders in Uganda and throughout Africa should not collaborate with white supremacist interlopers or participate in the oppression of their people. The folks who never meant us any good in America are taking it worldwide, and they are staying true to form in Uganda.

David A. Love, theGrio.com

David A. Love is a journalist and commentator who writes investigative stories and op-eds on a variety of issues, including politics, social justice, human rights, race, criminal justice and inequality. Love is also an instructor at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information, where he trains students in a social justice journalism lab. In addition to his journalism career, Love has worked as an advocate and leader in the nonprofit sector, served as a legislative aide, and as a law clerk to two federal judges. He holds a B.A. in East Asian Studies from Harvard University and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He also completed the Joint Programme in International Human Rights Law at the University of Oxford. His portfolio website is davidalove.com.

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