Tag Archives: uganda

Ugandan gays hope the pope will speak out on their behalf

Gay activists are hoping Pope Francis will preach tolerance toward homosexuals, and even go so far as to condemn violent attacks against gays during his upcoming visit to Uganda. Church leaders, however, are praying he’ll avoid the issue altogether.

The divergent expectations underscore the acrimonious state of the gay rights debate on a continent where homosexuality remains taboo and homosexuals are greatly despised. In Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal and where attacks against gays have forced many to seek refuge abroad or lead secret lives at home, gay leaders nevertheless hope Francis when he comes on Friday will weigh in with a firm message of tolerance.

“I see this particular pope as more progressive but I wouldn’t call him an ally like (President) Obama,” said Frank Mugisha, a prominent gay leader. “I would like to see his position very clearly because what he said came as a by-the-way when he said he can’t judge.”

Francis, who will be visiting Kenya, Uganda and the Central African Republic from Nov. 25–30, famously said “Who am I to judge?” in referring to a purportedly gay priest. He has called for a church that is more tolerant and welcoming for those on the margins, including gays.

But he has also denounced what he calls the “ideological colonization” of the developing world, a reference to the way wealthy countries and non-governmental organizations condition development aid on Western ideas about contraception and human rights.

In Africa, that can boil down to the loss of international funding for school or health programs unless they promote condom use. Some European countries such as Sweden and Norway cut finding to Uganda’s government when it passed an anti-gay bill, which had widespread support in Uganda even as the international community condemned it as draconian.

The bill was signed into law last year before a court nullified it on a technicality; an earlier version had prescribed the death penalty for some homosexual acts. Homosexuality is still criminalized under a colonial-era law banning sex acts against the order of nature.

Local church leaders said it was necessary to protect poor African children from Western homosexuals who lure them with money. They support stronger anti-gay legislation.

At a recent Vatican meeting on family issues, African cardinals were at the forefront in blocking the church’s overtures to gays and in insisting that the Catholic Church as a whole denounce this “ideological colonization,” saying wealthy countries have no right to impose their ideas on poor countries with different cultural views.

“I doubt that Pope Francis will talk about homosexuals,” said Archbishop John Baptist Odama, who heads the local conference of Catholic bishops. “There is a clear teaching of the church on homosexuality. Because the aim of it is not to promote life but to act against it, those with that tendency are called to abstinence.”

The Vatican spokesman refused last week to say whether Francis would wade into the debate, but he would be unlikely to go against the wishes of his local bishops. That’s just fine with many Ugandans, who hope Francis will avoid the subject and instead preach more broadly about improving the lives of marginalized people.

Simon Lokodo, a Ugandan ethics minister who publicly condemns homosexuals, said any statement on tolerance for homosexuals would be unpalatable to most Ugandans.

“I am praying that he doesn’t talk about this. Because it will open a Pandora’s box,” he said. “Here in Uganda the tone is different. If he is to talk about homosexuals, then let him focus on acceptance but not tolerance. We have always condemned this style of life, especially in the line of exhibitionism. It is bad enough that homosexuals are there, but let them not go ahead and expose themselves.”

Mugisha, the gay activist, believes a message of compassion from Francis might challenge local church leaders to be less hostile toward those who are openly gay.

“We want a positon that is very clear from the Vatican that says, ‘Do not discriminate, do not harm homosexuals,’ a message of tolerance,” he said.

Although the controversial law was overturned, attacks persist against gays, who face eviction by landlords when they are reported by neighbors, as well as being extorted by the police, according to activists.

A lesbian woman who works for a local rights group was recently attacked while returning home by men who banged her head against the gate, leaving her with serious facial wounds, Mugisha said. Six attacks against LGBT Ugandans were reported in October, forcing Mugisha’s group to convene an emergency security meeting, he said.

“The spiritual leaders in Uganda have actually incited the Ugandan society against gay people,” said Anthony Musaala, a Catholic priest who was suspended in 2013 after a paper he wrote exposing alleged transgressions by Ugandan priests was leaked to the local press. “Someone like Pope Francis, when he says ‘Who am I to judge,’ is very much trying to underscore the proper teaching of the church.”

‘Book of Mormon’ is worthy of all its hype — and then some

What’s so funny about religion?

Practically everything when you look at it through the eyes of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, best known for their Comedy Central series South Park. Teamed with composer/lyricist Robert Lopez, they took Broadway by storm in 2011 with The Book of Mormon, an affectionately irreverent musical about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The play racked up nine Tony Awards, along with most of the others. It’s broken box office records in New York, Los Angeles, London and Sydney, as well as numerous cities in between.

The original Broadway cast album of the show is the highest charting such recording in four decades.

Wrapped in such ribbons of hype, the Broadway national touring production of Mormon finally arrived at Milwaukee’s Marcus Center for the Performing Arts this week. This polished, energetic version of the mega-hit managed to impress despite the high expectations.

The story revolves around Elders Kevin Price and Arnold Cunningham, who are sent on a mission — a Mormon rite of passage for males between high school and college — to Uganda. Transplanting the lily white, suburban Salt Lake City lambs to AIDS-devastated, war-lord oppressed Uganda is the perfect setup for a classic fish-out-of-water comedy. Throw in some catchy, instantly familiar music, brazenly clever lyrics, a twirling, tap-dancing chorus line of gay-ish Mormon boys in white shirts and black ties, and the occasional appearance of an African man proclaiming, “I have maggots in my scrotum,” and you get the general picture.

But this finely honed play transcends the set-up, asking profound metaphysical questions about the nature of faith and the leap of logic required to maintain it.

Elder Price (played by David Larsen on Wednesday night in the first act, but replaced by Ryan Bondy in the second), is a budding Mormon star.  Popular and pious, he completed missionary training at the top of his class. He’s prayed to be assigned to his favorite place in the world — Orlando, Fla. — but Holy Father has other plans for him.

Elder Cunningham (Chad Burris) is Price’s polar opposite. Pudgy, friendless and prone to spinning fanciful yarns, he’s never even read the Book of Mormon. He hopes his missionary service will redeem him in the eyes of his disappointed father.

When the two opposites are teamed up for the trek to Uganda, the play veers into bromance territory. Cunningham thinks he’s finally found a best friend, while Price believes he can reform his floundering nebbish of a partner while saving Africans’ souls.

The birth of the duo’s friendship is celebrated in the song “You and Me (But Mostly Me),” in which Price channels his inner Gaston as he sings about the great things the two will accomplish together, thanks mostly to him.

It’s a funny, insightful song that typifies the show’s hilariously cynical musical numbers. Highlights of the playlist include “Turn It Off,” which explains how Mormons deal with upsetting feelings, such as one missionary’s homosexual longings. In “Man Up,” Cunningham buoys his confidence to preach solo after Price falls apart. The musical’s showstopper, if you can single out one, is “Spooky Mormon Hell,” which takes Price to an underworld where he’s sodomized and tormented by the likes of Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer and Genghis Khan, while evil spirits cavort around with cups of Starbucks coffee (Mormons consider caffeine consumption to be a sin).

By the end of the play, Cunningham has converted an entire village by recreating The Book of Mormon for his Ugandan audience, much as Paul recreated Judaism to make it more saleable to the pagans. In Cunningham’s version of the Mormon story, the Angel Moroni descends to Earth from the starship Enterprise, and humans are admonished to cure themselves of AIDS by having intercourse with frogs. Heaven, of course, is a place called Salt Lake City.

The most inventive number of the play is the villagers’ unexpected presentation of Cunningham’s version of The Book of Mormon to visiting LDS officials. The number is classic Parker-Stone fare, with a chorus line graphically suffering from dysentery.

The officials promptly order all of the missionaries to return home, but they defiantly decide to stay and continue their work. Their converts understand what they had missed all along — that stories in holy books are symbolic — not meant to be taken literally. Led by the Africans’ wisdom, everyone realizes that heaven is not Salt Lake City but rather a place inside their souls. Perhaps there’s a lesson there for fundamentalist adherents of all faiths.

The mostly young actors in the touring production are universally flawless. There’s not a missed dance step, a flubbed punch line or an off-pitch tone among them. The choreography is fresh and very athletic.

The standout in this cast of standouts is golden-voiced Candace Quarrels as Nabulungi, a beautiful young woman of the village. Her innocence and longing for something to believe in provide a human connection with the audience amid all the antics. With grace and charm, she grounds the play in its meaning.

The Tony Award winning sets by Scott Pask are relatively simple but serviceable and they easily accommodate a cast that seems literally to be about the size of a small village.

Despite the comically shocking situations and edgy lyrics and dialogue, this is an old-fashioned musical in style, laced with homages to musicals from Broadway’s golden era that seasoned audience members will recognize. The Book of Mormon is one of the most entertaining shows you’re ever likely to see. This is one that you’ll regret missing.

On stage

The Book of Mormon continues at Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., through May 31. For tickets, go to marcuscenter.org. You can enter a lottery for $25 tickets on the day of performance.

Court voids Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

Uganda’s Constitutional Court has ruled that the Anti-Homosexuality Act is “null and void” because not enough representatives were in the room for the vote when it was passed by Parliament in December 2013.

The measure had been put into force in March and led to a sharp increase in arbitrary arrests, police abuse and extortion against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Amnesty International, which documented the impact of the measure, said many people in Uganda lost their jobs, were left homeless and also forced to flee the country.

The human rights group said on Aug. 1 that the striking down of the act is a step toward stopping state-sponsored discrimination.

“Even though Uganda’s abominable Anti-Homosexuality Act was scrapped on the basis of a technicality, it is a significant victory for Ugandan activists who have campaigned against this law. Since it was first being floated in 2009, these activists have often put their safety on the line to ensure that Ugandan law upholds human rights principles,” said Sarah Jackson, Africa deputy regional director at Amnesty International.

“We now hope that this step forward translates into real improvements in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people in Uganda, who have been trapped in a vicious circle of discrimination, threats, abuse and injustice for too long.”

Benjamin Bashein, acting executive director of ACRIA-AIDS Community Research Initiative of America, said, “ACRIA has seen first-hand how anti-gay laws, such as the one overturned in Uganda this morning, fuel homophobia, stigma, and the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Uganda’s law is devastating in how it punishes HIV-positive people with life in prison. As our recent research in the country has shown (see Huffington Post piece below), Uganda faces significant obstacles in addressing its HIV crisis, and this decision today is a step in the right direction.”

Section 145 of Uganda’s Penal Code, which criminalizes “carnal knowledge of any person against the order of nature, remains in force and in the past has been used to persecute LGBT people.

Despite pushback, Obama promotes gay rights in hostile regions of the world

President Barack Obama’s administration has taken the U.S. gay rights revolution global, using American embassies across the world as outposts in a struggle that still hasn’t been won at home.

Sometimes U.S. advice and encouragement is condemned as unacceptable meddling. And sometimes it can seem to backfire, increasing the pressure on those it is meant to help.

With gay Pride parades taking place in many cities across the world this weekend, the U.S. role will be more visible than ever. Diplomats will take part in parades and some embassies will fly the rainbow flag along with the Stars and Stripes.

The United States sent five openly gay ambassadors abroad last year, with a sixth nominee, to Vietnam, now awaiting Senate confirmation. American diplomats are working to support gay rights in countries such as Poland, where prejudice remains deep, and to oppose violence and other abuse in countries like Nigeria and Russia, where gays face life-threatening risks.

“It is incredible. I am amazed by what the U.S. is doing to help us,” said Mariusz Kurc, the editor of a Polish gay advocacy magazine, Replika, which has received some U.S. funding and other help. “We are used to struggling and not finding any support.”

Former President George W. Bush supported AIDS prevention efforts globally, but it was the Obama administration that launched the push to make lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights an international issue. The watershed moment came in December 2011, when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went to the United Nations in Geneva and proclaimed LGBT rights “one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time.”

Since then, embassies have been opening their doors to gay rights activists, hosting events and supporting local advocacy work. The State Department has since spent $12 million on the efforts in over 50 countries through the Global Equality Fund, an initiative launched to fund the new work.

Just weeks after the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act last June, consular posts also began issuing immigrant visas to the same-sex spouses of gay Americans.

One beneficiary was Jake Lees, a 27-year-old Englishman who had been forced to spend long periods apart from his American partner, Austin Armacost, since they met six years ago. In May Lees was issued a fiance visa at the U.S. Embassy in London. The couple married two weeks ago and are now starting a new life together in Franklin, Indiana, as they wait for Lees’ green card.

“I felt like the officers at the embassy treated us the way they would treat a heterosexual couple,” said Armacost, a 26-year-old fitness and nutrition instructor. “It’s a mind-boggling change after gay couples were treated like legal strangers for the first three centuries of our country’s history.”

Some conservative American groups are outraged by the policy. Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, calls it “a slap in the face to the majority of Americans,” given that American voters have rejected same-sex marriage in a number of state referendums.

“This is taking a flawed view of what it means to be a human being _ male and female _ and trying to impose that on countries throughout the world,” Brown said. “The administration would like people to believe that this is simply ‘live and let live.’ No, this is coercion in its worst possible form.”

The American efforts are tailored to local conditions, said Scott Busby, the deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the State Department. Ambassadors can decide individually whether to hoist the rainbow flag, as embassies in Tel Aviv, London and Prague have done, or show support in other ways.

While some gay rights activists say support from the U.S. and other Western countries adds moral legitimacy to their cause, it can also cause a backlash.

Rauda Morcos, a prominent Palestinian lesbian activist, said local communities, particularly in the Middle East, have to find their own ways of asserting themselves. She criticized the U.S. and Western efforts in general to help gay communities elsewhere as patronizing.

While some gay rights activists say support from the U.S. and other Western countries adds moral legitimacy to their cause, it can also cause a backlash.

Rauda Morcos, a prominent Palestinian lesbian activist, said local communities, particularly in the Middle East, have to find their own ways of asserting themselves. She criticized the U.S. and Western efforts in general to help gay communities elsewhere as patronizing.

“It is a colonial approach,” she said. “In cases where it was tried, it didn’t help local communities and maybe made things even worse.”

An extreme case has been Uganda, which in February passed a law making gay sex punishable by a life sentence. In enacting the bill, President Yoweri Museveni said he wanted to deter the West from “promoting” gay rights in Africa, a continent where homosexuals face severe discrimination and even attacks. In response, the U.S. imposed sanctions and Secretary of State John Kerry compared the policies to the anti-Semitic laws in Nazi Germany and apartheid in South Africa.

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin has waged an assault on what he considers the encroachment of decadent Western values and the government last year banned “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations among minors,” making it a crime to hold gay rights rallies or to openly discuss homosexuality in content accessible to children. Afraid for their security, some Russian gay advocates try to keep their contacts with Western officials quiet.

The official U.S. delegation to the recent Winter Olympics in Russia included three openly gay athletes. Soon after that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow opened its basketball court for the Open Games, an LGBT sporting event which had been denied access to many of the venues it had counted on. The U.S. Embassy also operates a website where Russian gay and lesbians can publish their personal stories.

Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, praised the U.S. policy but said there have been missteps along the way, citing a 2011 U.S. embassy gathering in Pakistan that prompted a group of religious and political leaders to accuse the U.S. of “cultural terrorism.”

And in Senegal a year ago, President Macky Sall bluntly rebuked the visiting Obama for urging African leaders to end discrimination against gays. Sall said his country was neither homophobic nor ready to legalize homosexuality, and in an apparent jab at the U.S., he noted Senegal abolished capital punishment years ago.

“The response in the local press was voluminous praise of the Senegalese president, maybe not actually for his stance on LGBT rights, but for effectively asserting Senegal’s sovereignty, yet the two became intertwined,” Stern said.

Busby, the State Department official, denied that increased harassment by governments is ever the consequence of U.S. advocacy, instead describing it as “a cynical reaction taken by leaders to advance their own political standing.”

In some countries, like Poland, the U.S. efforts are a catalyst for change.

The embassy there financed a 2012 visit to Warsaw by Dennis and Judy Shepard, the parents of Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming college student who was tortured and murdered in 1998.

A group of parents who heard their story were so shaken by the Shepards’ tragedy that they founded a parental advocacy group, Akceptacja, which is fighting homophobia. The parents are now reaching out to their lawmakers personally, in what advocates say is the conscious adoption of an American strategy of families of gays and lesbians appealing to the hearts of officials.

“The killing of Matthew Shepard represents the fear I have that my son could be hurt for being gay,” said Tamara Uliasz, 60, one of the group’s founders. “I realized that what happened in Wyoming could happen here.”

U.S. bans Ugandan officials over gay rights abuses

The U.S. is imposing visa bans on Ugandan officials who are involved in corruption and are violating the rights of gay people and others.

The Obama administration did not identify the targeted officials.

Uganda passed a law in February that strengthened criminal penalties for gay sex and made life sentences possible for those convicted of breaking the law.

Human rights groups have reported a surge in rights abuses of gay people since the law took effect.

“LGBT rights are human rights and the steps taken today make clear that the United States will take action to defend those rights,” U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power said in a statement. “The discriminatory law in Uganda that criminalizes homosexual status should be repealed, as should laws and policies in the more than 76 countries around the world that criminalize homosexuality. We will do everything we can to work with governments and our non-government partners to end anti-gay discrimination around the world.”

The U.S. already has said it would discontinue or redirect several million dollars in assistance to Uganda. The Pentagon also canceled a training exercise in Uganda.

Anglican minister ostracized in Uganda for accepting gays

Young men sing hymns and recite the Bible before the Rev. Christopher Senyonjo gives a sermon on human sexuality. When the service is over some go to his desk, one by one, for counselling no other Ugandan religious leader is known to offer gays.

Dressed in a purple shirt and white collar that highlight his Anglican faith, Bishop Senyonjo doesn’t organize his Sunday evening prayers for homosexuals only. But his sermons attract many gays who are familiar with his sympathetic views in a country where other Christian preachers have led Uganda’s anti-gay crusade.

For ministering to homosexuals, Senyonjo has become estranged from Uganda’s Anglican church. He was barred from presiding over church events in 2006 when he wouldn’t stop urging his leaders to accept gays. The parish that he once led doesn’t even acknowledge his presence when he attends Sunday services there, underscoring how his career has suffered because of his tolerance for gays in a country where homosexuals -and those who accept them – face discrimination.

“They said I should condemn the homosexuals,” he said, referring to Anglican leaders in Uganda. “I can’t do that, because I was called to serve all people, including the marginalized. But they say I am inhibited until I recant. I am still a member of the Anglican church.”

In a statement earlier this year, the head of the Anglican church in Uganda, Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, said the church was committed to offering “healing and prayer” for individuals “who are confused about their sexuality or struggling with sexual brokenness.”

Senyonjo disagrees with that stance, arguing that because “in every society there is a small number of people who have homosexual tendencies,” gays can’t be expected to change their sexual orientation.

The short, stocky 82-year-old cleric is a reassuring presence for Ugandan homosexuals pummeled by rampant anti-gay sentiment across the East African country. Many gays in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, have fled their homes to places they deem safer, Senyonjo said on a recent Sunday as he waited for the first congregant to arrive at his makeshift church, the size of a small office. One man quietly took a seat, then two more. In the past, Senyonjo noted, many more people have been in attendance, perhaps indicating that some gays are now too afraid to even attend his service.

Homosexuality was largely an unspoken subject in Uganda before a lawmaker, saying he wanted to protect Ugandan children from wealthy Western homosexuals, introduced a bill in 2009 that originally proposed the death penalty for some homosexual acts. The legislation, widely popular in Uganda but condemned abroad as draconian, allows up to life imprisonment for homosexual acts. In signing the bill last month, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said he wanted to deter the West from promoting homosexuality in Africa.

Ugandan homosexuals say the new law was encouraged by some United States evangelicals who wanted to spread their anti-gay agenda in Africa and Senyonjo says that it isn’t a baseless allegation. One day in 2009, he said, he attended a workshop at a Kampala hotel where he heard an American evangelical, Scott Lively, speak strongly against homosexuality. Lively, who has previously told The Associated Press he advised therapy for gays but denies urging severe punishment, has since been sued in federal court under the Alien Tort Statute that allows non-citizens to file suit in the U.S. if there is an alleged violation of international law.

The enactment of Uganda’s new anti-gay law has spread fear among homosexuals, forcing many to flee to so-called “safe houses” where their new neighbors don’t know they are gay. Such houses tend to be single rooms that are more likely to be locked up day and night because of safety concerns. One gay couple, playing cards inside their room, said they fled an angry mob in their former neighborhood. Another couple, bored from spending so much time indoors, plotted how to flee Uganda when their travel documents are ready. Many are jobless and without prospects in the Kampala slum where they live.

Ugandan gay leaders say the anti-gay measure has encouraged public anger against homosexuals. One Ugandan cleric who strongly opposes homosexuality has announced plans to hold a mass rally in Kampala on Monday to thank Uganda’s leaders for passing the anti-gay measure despite Western pressure. The day after the measure was enacted, a Ugandan tabloid printed the names and some photos of people it said were Uganda’s “200 Top Homos.” That list included Senyonjo as an alleged gay “sympathizer,” but he says he wasn’t rattled by the publication and is urging gays not to be “intimidated.”

Senyonjo’s opposition to discrimination against gays has earned him the status of “an elder” in the eyes of the country’s beleaguered gay community, said Pepe Julian Onziema, a prominent gay leader in Uganda who has known Senyonjo for many years. “Our relationship is one of giving support to each other. The backlash that we receive is equally the same,” said Onziema, who added that Senyonjo has taken “a very courageous and brave stand.”

Senyonjo said he lives off “gifts” from his children and friends after his pension was severed as “a kind of punishment” over his pro-gay activities.

“They (church leaders) cut off my pension,” he said. “It is very difficult even for my family. But I know the truth and it has made me free.”

The father of 10 children, Senyonjo sometimes finds it necessary to assert his heterosexuality. A young man recently testified in an Anglican parish that Senyonjo had been a witness to his homosexual past. The man, who now says he is heterosexual, said Senyonjo was part of a group with whom he traveled to neighboring Kenya to attend a workshop on gay rights. That “humiliating” event, Senyonjo recalled, may have led some people to believe he is secretly gay, and the cleric said he was glad his wife wasn’t in church that day.

“I am heterosexual,” he said on the recent Sunday he ministered to three young men.

Senyonjo’s sermon that day focused on what he said was the lack of knowledge about human sexuality. “You counsel them and you find that’s what they really are  . . .  homosexuals,” he said. “You can’t say, `Don’t be that.’ If someone is an African and you say that they are not African, then you are not doing something right.”

Associated Press journalist Rebecca Vassie in Kampala, Uganda, contributed to this report.

The whole world is watching

It is very painful to read about the terrible injustices inflicted on LGBT people in countries outside the U.S.

In Uganda, a new law imposes a 14-year sentence for anyone engaging in same-sex relations. Repeated “offenses” can bring life in prison. In Nigeria, mobs attacked gay people after the adoption of a similar statute. In India, the second-most populous country in the world, the high court has just reinstituted the criminalization of sodomy. a Russian law penalizes the mere expression of LGBT identity.

It’s frustrating to feel there is little we can do to help our brothers and sisters living under oppressive systems. However, there are several ways we can work to effect change.

One is by speaking out. Every voice raised for justice, however small, helps to transform attitudes and policies. we can also support the outstanding organizations that are working to defend the human rights of minorities worldwide. Most of us have heard of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. They are non-profit organizations dedicated to ending torture, to freeing prisoners of conscience — people imprisoned for their identities or beliefs — and to securing the rights of racial, ethnic and sexual minorities.

Amnesty and Human Rights Watch played important roles in exposing the brutality of the apartheid regime in South africa, the “disappearances” of liberal opponents of the military juntas in Chile and Argentina, and the myriad injustices of the Russian gulag. Their efforts contributed to bringing those abuses to an end. Today, anti-LGBT laws in Russia, Africa and Asia are also a focus of their work.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission is wholly devoted to LGBT rights. The commission works with local organizations around the world to document and publicize human rights violations against LGBT people. It nurtures LGBT advocacy groups in countries where education and advocacy is most needed. The commission has non-governmental organization (or NGO) status at the united Nations, which enables it to submit testimony regarding LGBT rights to U.N. agencies.

The websites of these groups include reports about global conditions for LGBT people. They include links to petitions and emails you can send to authorities and information about events held in the U.S. to raise awareness. You can sign up for email alerts and make financial contributions.

If you are a student in high school or one of our state colleges, ask your school to host a speaker from one of these organizations. They can also schedule a speaker with direct experience of LGBT oppression overseas. If you are part of a faith community, get your congregation to sponsor an event or hold a special collection for these groups.

Above all, don’t believe your humble efforts won’t matter or that you have no right to speak about the supposed “cultural practices” of other countries or religions. When American feminists condemned female genital mutilation several decades ago, they were called racists and cultural imperialists. Today, nearly everyone recognizes that cruel practice as torture, and NGOs work cooperatively with village elders in Africa and asia to eradicate it.

Hatred and oppression of LGBT people are not cultural practices to be respected. They are human rights abuses based on ignorance and malice. Those of us with the knowledge and resources to speak up have a responsibility to do so.

World Bank delays loan to Uganda over anti-gay law

The World Bank has postponed a $90 million loan to Uganda over its anti-gay law that has drawn widespread criticism from Western governments, the United Nations and rights groups.

A bank spokesman said this week that the loan was intended to help the East African nation strengthen its health systems.

He said the bank division that lends to the private sector wants to ensure that the development objectives of the project would not be adversely affected by the enactment of the new law.

President Yoweri Museveni signed the bill earlier this week, saying he wanted to deter Western groups from promoting homosexuality in Africa.

The measure calls for life in prison for those convicted of engaging in gay sex.

Kerry: Signing of anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda is tragic

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni has signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.

Amnesty International, the global human rights group, called the measure “a draconian and damaging piece of legislation.”

“This deeply offensive piece of legislation is an affront to the human rights of all Ugandans and should never have got this far,” said Michelle Kagari, Africa deputy director at Amnesty International. “This legislation will institutionalize hatred and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Uganda. Its passage into law signals a very grave episode in the nation’s history.”

Kagari added, “The Anti-Homosexuality Bill will further criminalize consensual sexual activity between adults of the same sex, with some offences carrying life imprisonment. It also includes offences such as ‘promotion of homosexuality’, which will directly impact human rights defenders and healthcare providers. It makes a mockery of the rights enshrined in the Ugandan constitution.”

Human rights activists have condemned passage of the bill, as have a number of political leaders, including President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

The White House press secretary, in a statement released on Feb. 24, said, “Instead of standing on the side of freedom, justice and equal rights for its people, today, regrettably, Ugandan President Museveni took Uganda a step backward by signing into law legislation criminalizing homosexuality. As President Obama has said, this law is more than an affront and a danger to the gay community in Uganda, it reflects poorly on the country’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its people and will undermine public health, including efforts to fight HIV/AIDS. We will continue to urge the Ugandan government to repeal this abhorrent law and to advocate for the protection of the universal human rights of LGBT persons in Uganda and around the world.”

Kerry, in a statement released from the White House, said, “This is a tragic day for Uganda and for all who care about the cause of human rights. Ultimately, the only answer is repeal of this law. The United States is deeply disappointed in the enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda. For the four years since the bill was introduced, we have been crystal clear that it blatantly violates human rights obligations that Uganda’s Human Rights Commission itself has recognized are enshrined in Uganda’s Constitution.”

The secretary of state called the signing of the bill a “dangerous slide backward in Uganda’s commitment to protecting the human rights of its people and a serious threat to the LGBT community in Uganda.”

He also said, “We are also deeply concerned about the law’s potential to set back public health efforts in Uganda, including those to address HIV/AIDS, which must be conducted in a non-discriminatory manner in order to be effective.”