Three months ago, I travelled to Atlanta with other Colgate students to attend the 25th annual Creating Change conference. Being surrounded by thousands of other queer rights advocates was an electrifying and incredibly moving experience. The conference offered a plethora of sessions that addressed pertinent topics such as queering children’s literature, asexuality and more. I was particularly impacted by a session that explored homophobia around the world. There are currently 76 countries in the world that still criminalize homosexuality, and 10 countries where the punishment for “homosexual acts” is life in prison or death. The poster child for this is injustice is, of course, Uganda.
Like many other countries in sub-Sahran Africa, same-sex relationships are illegal. However, in 2009, David Bahati, a member of the Ugandan parliament, submitted the infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill which takes homophobia to a whole new level. Often referred to as the “Kill the Gays Bill,” this legislation would extend the reach of criminalization domestically and also target Ugandans in same-sex relationships living outside the country. Those found guilty of engaging in homosexual acts were to be punishable by death. NGOs, companies and individuals who know of, or are allies to LGBTQ individuals, would also be punished.
What’s interesting about Uganda, as well as other countries that have adopted similar legislation, is that the funding and support for these anti-queer measures come from outside the country. In fact, U.S. evangelical Christians have been the driving force behind the anti-gay agenda throughout Africa, South America, Central America and other regions. Scott Lively, a U.S.-based evangelical minister whose congregation has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has been traveling to Uganda since 2002. Lively and other U.S. evangelical ministers organized a conference in Uganda entitled the Seminar on Exposing the Homosexual Agenda. He contributed large portions of legislation to the “Kill the Gays Bill” and has been an influential anti-gay leader in Uganda. Lively has also travelled to over forty other countries where he has been establishing evangelical ministries and preaching against the gay rights movement.
The U.S. evangelical-fueled measures around the world are clear examples neocolonialism in action. Although some might argue that promoting LGBTQ rights around the world is also an example of cultural imperialism, they are forgetting one key thing: queer rights are human rights. Love is love, and one should never be punished for sexual orientation. We, as allies of the movement, must advocate for those who are being stigmatized, thrown into jail and at risk of losing their life because of their identity.
Colgate encourages us to be global citizens, and it’s hard to deny we live in an increasingly globalized world. As such, I find it odd that despite the vehement anti-queer legislation in Uganda, Colgate continues to send students and faculty there on extended studies and other academic trips. At the most very basic level, students should be made aware of the anti-queer legislation before they travel with Colgate to this country-or any country- that is so aggressively and dangerously homophobic.