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Exporting Homophobia

News & Features | October 5, 2014

On March 25, 2014, eight candidates for Massachusetts governor sat behind a long table on the stage of Boston Public Library’s Rabb auditorium. Only two contenders were missing and the house was packed. The subject up for discussion: how each candidate would address the needs of their LGBTI constituents if they became governor.

“As governor, I would ban LGBT propaganda to children,” replied Lively. For a moment, the crowd looked confused. Then the condemnatory laughter started. Lively shot back, “You are never going to stop AIDS until you stop treating homosexual sodomy as a civil right and start treating it as a form of conduct to avoid.” The greying attorney is best known for co-writing the Holocaust revisionist book, The Pink Swastika, in which he claims that gay men were in fact the chief perpetrators, rather than victims. Further discrediting Lively, civil rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center officially labeled his church a hate group after he used the pulpit to call for the criminalization of homosexuality. Even other vocal anti-LGBTI groups are hesitant to associate with Lively, viewing him as a figure on the fringe. A total outsider in the realm of Massachusetts politics, nobody in the audience viewed Lively as a real threat to their rights.

While the crowd at the library essentially laughed him off stage, the atmosphere was entirely different in 2009 when Lively took the stage in Kampala, Uganda to speak to thousands of lawmakers, teachers, and police officers about what he called “the gay agenda.” The speech came as the keynote address of a three-day conference put together by the Uganda-based Family Life Network, a group with strong ties to US conservatives and Christian rights leaders. Leaders of the group introduced Lively as a “man of God” and “expert” on homosexuality. He soon launched into a fear-mongering speech that would have lasting repercussions on the country’s legal system and public opinion on LGBTI rights.

At the center of Lively’s talk was a clear and frightening message: if Ugandans didn’t act soon, more and more of their children would be “converted” into homosexuals through the abuse of older, predominantly foreign gay men. “There’s a whole network of people ready to simply inculcate you and enfold you into their world,” said Lively. “They want more and more people in their world because they are in a campaign to change everything,” he added. He went on to explain that “the gay movement is an evil institution that’s goal is to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity” that would lead to “social chaos and destruction.” Lively continued, “They have taken over the United Nations, the United States government, and the European Union. Nobody has been able to stop them so far. I’m hoping Uganda can.”

When a moderator asked one Ugandan attendee about Lively’s speech, he said he knew that “there is a movement that is behind the promotion of homosexuality. I have never heard of that. But then I got to know that there is a force behind homosexuality that we need to attack also with force.” While homosexuality has been illegal in Uganda for over 100 years—according to a law first established by its British colonizers—the extent of the persecution faced by LGBTI individuals before Lively’s visit pales in comparison to what came after.

Lively’s arguments rely on cultivating fear in his audiences by painting a dramatized picture of society imperiled by homosexuality. The causal links that connect his argument are more or less nonexistent, but his calculated emotional appeals have a record of inciting fear on a mass scale. Several days after the conference ended, Lively met with top Ugandan lawmakers to sketch the blueprint of what would become the Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009. The language of the bill closely mirrored Lively’s main talking points and threatened LGBTI Ugandans with death. Subsequently, criticism from Western leaders and international NGOs pressured lawmakers to reduce the punishment to sentencing ranging from 14 years to life imprisonment. Lively’s outsized role in influencing legislation behind the scenes to augment persecution against LGBTI Ugandans parallels the way British missionaries originally criminalized LGBTI identities through colonial penal codes.

In the years following Lively’s conference, even before the bill passed parliament in December 2013, LGBTI rights activists in Uganda were confronted with a rising tide of violence. In October 2013, a popular Ugandan tabloid ran the headline, “100 Pictures of Uganda’s Top Homos Leak,” including names and addresses of the nation’s leading LGBTI rights activists. Three months later, leading activist David Kato was beaten to death in his home. The repression intensified in February 2012, when the state’s minister of ethics led a police raid on a conference for LGBTI activists in a hotel in Entebbe.

Meanwhile, Lively continued to incite fear abroad as he worked with legislators in Latvia to draft more anti-LGBTI legislation behind the scenes. In a move condemned by several Western heads of state and international NGOs, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signed the bill into law in February 2013. Following the law’s implementation, Lively attempted to whitewash his record of involvement with the bill by publishing an open letter criticizing Ugandan lawmakers for insisting on jail time for LGBTI individuals. Instead, he claimed that he only advocated for “rehabilitation,” a statement clearly contradicted by videos documenting his speeches in Uganda. Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), an umbrella group for the country’s LGBTI activists, was never going to let Lively off the hook. In March 2012, the organization partnered with the New York-based firm Center for Constitutional Rights to file a federal lawsuit against Lively, alleging that his “active participation in the conspiracy to strip away fundamental rights from LGBTI persons constitutes persecution.” Again, Lively tried to find a way out by submitting a motion to dismiss the charges, but his motion was denied.

As his trial drags on, Lively is also facing well-organized opposition from members of his own community. Springfield’s Stop the Hate and Homophobia Coalition, a grassroots network of activists based in Lively’s community, has worked closely with SMUG to bring Lively’s actions to light. In an interview with the Tufts Observer, Cathy Kristofferson, a leading member of the Stop the Hate, offered valuable criticism of aspects of the international response to Uganda’s anti-LGBTI laws.

Kristofferson explained how the White House’s June decision to cut foreign aid to Uganda—including slashing funding for public health projects—as a penalty for the law, is viewed by Ugandan activists as counterproductive and harmful to the population of the country as a whole. “Just about the worst possible thing would be another group of White westerners coming in and telling the people of Uganda how they should deal with this problem,” she said. Instead, she emphasized the approach SMUG and her coalition have taken together over the past few years. Ugandan activists within the country have determined which measures are effective and which are counterproductive in opposing the government’s policies. Stop the Hate has also worked to bring Ugandan activists to speak in the US. “This has to be behind the scenes diplomacy,” Kristofferson said.

Last month, Uganda’s constitutional court ruled the Anti-Homosexuality Act unconstitutional because it passed without quorum. Its backers are already pressing legislators to reintroduce the bill in order to pass it again. Amidst the legal battle that will surely surround the law, it will remain important to hold Lively responsible for the integral role he played in its genesis. If not, he threatens to continue manipulating foreign governments behind the scenes with devastating consequences.