MONEY UNLOCKS THREATS: UGANDAN LGBTQ PEOPLE AT RISK

Annie Clark
 | 
Alturi Contributor

In 2013, Uganda passed one of the harshest anti-LGBTQ laws in the world. Under the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which took effect in February 2014, conduct between same-sex individuals was now punishable by life imprisonment. An earlier draft of the bill had proposed the death penalty. Although the country’s Constitutional Court later overturned the 2014 law, the last decade has only seen further curtailing of LGBTQ rights in Uganda, in part due to increased influence from Christian evangelical groups in the United States.

Evangelical Influence in Uganda

American evangelicals Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge, and Don Schmierer began hosting conferences in Uganda in the spring of 2009, where they described LGBTQ people as a threat to children and families. Lively, who had authored books such as Seven Steps to Recruit-Proof Your Child: A Parent’s Guide to Protecting Children from Homosexuality and the “Gay” Movement, spoke to the Ugandan parliament in that same year, where he described homosexuality as a “disease” that the LGBTQ community in the United States was spreading to children.1

Those same groups are still at work in Uganda today. Last year, American evangelical organizations Family Watch International and Abiding Truth Ministries were pivotal influences in the passing of Uganda’s 2023 Anti-Homosexuality Act, providing both financial support and an ideological framework. Family Watch International, classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, reportedly offered training to politicians and diplomats from Uganda and other African countries on extremist anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. Some of the same politicians in attendance at those trainings would go on to support the 2023 law, which mandates punishments for same-sex conduct ranging from life imprisonment to the death penalty.2

The Biden Response

The Biden administration’s response to Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Law sent a clear message to Uganda and the international community that it would not support a country in active commission of anti-LGBTQ oppression. The administration has sanctioned a Ugandan government official accused of human rights abuses, reduced foreign aid to Uganda, and withdrawn the country’s eligibility for the African Growth and Opportunity Act, according to a fact sheet released by The White House in December 2023.3 

These were valuable and essential steps to influence a rollback of Uganda’s anti-LGBTQ legislation. It is our responsibility as a nation to address the progress needed domestically, as much as we demand a strong government response to anti-LGBTQ oppression abroad. Continued work is still necessary to combat the recent sweeping of anti-trans legislation. We cannot ignore the influence that evangelical activists continue to have on our politics and, in turn, the lives of marginalized groups such as LGBTQ people. Awareness and action are needed to combat this, especially by government organizations and officials.

Promoting Accountability 

This action could look like the IRS implementing a better process for vetting organizations that apply for nonprofit status. A 2013 controversy revealed that the IRS more intensely scrutinized groups applying for non-profit status by flagging phrases in their applications such as “green energy,” “medical marijuana,” “Tea Party,” and “patriots.” This process targeted both conservative and liberal-leaning groups and highlighted the questionable practice of selecting organizations for further scrutiny based solely on soundbite-like phrases in their applications. Examining the purpose of organizations seeking non-profit status is good, though a meaningful outcome is unlikely without scrutiny of the organization’s work.

Family Watch International is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit with tax-exemption benefits and the legitimization of a government stamp of approval. A 2020 report from CBS News found that over 90 white supremacist, anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, and anti-LGBTQ organizations are registered with the IRS as 501(c)(3) nonprofits.4

The legitimization that comes with a nonprofit status may be what has allowed the Fellowship Foundation, an evangelical Christian organization and registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit, to be involved with Washington DC’s annual National Prayer Breakfast for decades, in partnership with members of Congress and featuring the President as a keynote speaker.

Several members of the Fellowship Foundation (also referred to as The Family and The Fellowship) have supported Ugandan government officials behind anti-LGBTQ legislation both in 2009 and last year. Congress officially ended its partnership with the Fellowship in 2023, though concerns remain around the extent of the Fellowship’s current involvement with the National Prayer Breakfast. A report from the organization Americans United found that several members of the new National Prayer Breakfast Foundation, a nonprofit run by members of Congress and the official sponsor of the annual event, still had close ties to the Foundation. 

Barring anti-LGBTQ evangelical organizations from being granted nonprofit status or involvement in government events would only be a first step but a crucial one in reducing their revenue and countering their political influence.

Footnotes

 

 

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