Some 80 countries criminalise consensual homosexual sex. Over half rely on “sodomy” laws left over from British colonialism. But many are trying to make their laws even more repressive. Last year, Burundi’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza, signed a law criminalising consensual gay sex, despite the Senate’s overwhelming rejection of the bill. A draconian bill proposed in Uganda would dole out jail sentences for failing to report gay people to the police and could impose the death penalty for gay sex if one of the participants is HIV-positive. In March Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, who once described gay people as worse than dogs or pigs, ruled out constitutional changes outlawing discrimination based on sexual orientation.
This has, he argues, coincided with an influx of conservative Christians, mainly from America, who are eager to engage African clergy in their own domestic battle against homosexuality. David Bahati, the Ugandan MP who proposed its horrid bill, is a member of the Fellowship, a conservative American religious and political organisation. “Africa must seem an exciting place for evangelical Christians from places like America,” says Marc Epprecht, a Canadian academic who studies homosexuality in Africa. “They can make much bigger gains in their culture wars there than they can in their own countries.” Their ideas have found fertile ground. In May this year, George Kunda, Zambia’s vice-president, lambasted gay people, saying they undermined the country’s Christian values and that sadism and Satanism could be the result.
The problem goes beyond Africa and is more than one of state-sponsored homophobia. In Iraq, for example, homosexuality is legal. But in 2009 Human Rights Watch described the persecution that men suspected of being gay there face, including kidnappings, rape, torture and extrajudicial killings. In the aftermath of the 2003 invasion, there has been a growing fear of the “feminisation” of Iraqi men. The Mahdi Army, a Shia militia, has played on these fears and, claiming to uphold religious values and morality, offered violent “solutions”. Members of the Iraqi security forces have also been accused of colluding in the violence.The most disturbing part of this to me are the religious justifications used for such outright targeted persecution. It seems that many religious groups, while not exactly condoning the violence of some governments and other groups, unwittingly lend justification to them through their spiritual "battle against homosexuality".
How will Baha'i's avoid falling into this trap? How will we uphold such principles as the unity of the human race, and the abolition of all prejudice, while also holding certain beliefs on sexuality that might be used by others as a pretext for persecution? Clearly we cannot be held responsible for the behavior of others, but it will be increasingly important as Baha'i's to champion the basic human rights of people everywhere, whether they be the Baha'i's imprisoned in Iran, or gay activists imprisoned in Uganda. I think part of this involves engaging this as a topic for discussion in our Baha'i communities in terms including socially constructed identity, biology, spirituality, human dignity/rights, and personal experience. We need to build up a deep reservoir of empathy. Otherwise, I fear many of us will mistake our spiritual beliefs with homophobic beliefs, the latter of which serves to dehumanize the other person. I thought Bryan's recent post was a thoughtful and brave way to get the conversation started. We need more of this.
As recently reported in the NYT, american evangelicals stoking homophobia in Uganda in the name of "curing" homosexuality, leading to proposed legislation to hang homosexuals http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/04/world/africa/04uganda.html?_r=1