January 7, 2010 at 4:13 pm EST | by Erwin de Leon
Hateful diversion

The mainstream media has finally caught up with the alternative press and blogosphere’s coverage of another kind of terrorism in Africa: the proposed codification of homophobia and legitimization of abuse of LGBT women and men. The story has even merited two articles and an editorial in the New York Times.

The New York Times editorial says:

The government’s venom is chilling: “Homosexuals can forget about human rights,” James Nsaba Buturo, who holds the cynically titled position of minister of ethics and integrity, said recently.

What makes this even worse is that three American evangelical Christians, whose teachings about “curing” gays and lesbians have been widely discredited in the United States, helped feed this hatred. Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge and Don Schmierer gave a series of talks in Uganda last March to thousands of police officers, teachers and politicians in which, according to participants and audio recordings, they claimed that gays and lesbians are a threat to Bible-based family values.

Another development from the continent which has not garnered the same attention is the arrest of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza, two men who were married in a traditional but symbolic ceremony in Malawi last month. Homosexuality is banned in the conservative country and carries a maximum prison sentence of 14 years. The couple was promptly arrested, denied bail out of “concern” for their safety, and has been subjected to humiliating medical tests to find out whether they have consummated their union or not.

The political and religious leaders of Uganda and Malawi would protest that they have the best interest of their people in mind, as clearly — at least to their superstitious and nonrational thinking — “deviant” lifestyles threaten the stability of society, not to mention their promised place in heaven. Their outdated and dangerous ideas have been encouraged and at times funded by American evangelicals and politicians.

I wonder though if crusaders like Lively, Brundidge and Schmierer, along with their powerful African collaborators, have noticed other “immoral” behavior practiced in Uganda and Malawi.

For starters, have the self-righteous fundamentalists noticed the rampant and very legal practice of polygamy in Uganda, a predominantly Christian nation? Although polygamous marriages are not legally recognized under Malawian civil marriage laws, customary laws allow men to have many wives. Last I checked, having multiple wives is not sanctioned by any major Christian denomination or sect, much less evangelical ones. Putting aside culture and biblical imperative, this practice discriminates against women, perpetuates their status as chattel, and denies them basic rights enjoyed by their counterparts in developed nations with liberal democracies.

Rather than dictating who should sleep with whom, why don’t Ugandan and Malawian leaders and their American patrons address the greater problems of poverty and disease, in part caused by the ineptitude and corruption of their governments?

Transparency International, a global network that seeks to end the devastating impact of corruption on men, women and children around the world, ranks Uganda and Malawi among the top 100 corrupt nations in the world. Not surprisingly, both countries are among the poorest. In Uganda, over 75 percent of its population live on less than $2.00 a day, and in Malawi, 90 percent of its people survive on such meager resources.

These countries’ health indicators are staggering. In 2007, Uganda had 940,000 people living HIV/AIDS, placing it 10th in the world, followed by Malawi, which then counted 930,000 adults and children living with the disease. In the same year, Uganda was the second country with the most AIDS orphans: 1.2 million. Malawi had 560,000. In Uganda, 65 out of 1,000 infants die within the first year of life due to causes such as dehydration and diarrhea. In Malawi, 89 out of a thousand babies don’t survive their first year. In Uganda, 61 out of 1,000 women die while giving birth. In Malawi, 85 out of 1,000. One can go on and on and on.

But African politicians, spurred by American evangelicals, would rather that their people forget hunger, disease and death and be diverted by the private lives of a minority and by some promise of eternal salvation. American fundamentalists in turn, would rather indulge in their inexplicable obsession with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sex than help solve the real problems that beset this country and the world. They would rather spread hate than alleviate suffering.

You can follow Erwin on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon

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