Periodically, we’ve covered the chilling story of the sometimes-deadly marginalization of the LGBT community in Uganda. Journalist Andy Kopsa, whose work appears in Religion Dispatches, The American Independent and other publications, is on State of Belief with Welton this week to discuss her work tracing the route your tax dollars are taking to help fund the anti-LGBT atmosphere in Uganda.
More facts and figures on this shameful and dangerous process available at Andy Kopsa’s website.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: Andy Kopsa[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: Periodically, we’ve covered the chilling story of the sometimes-deadly marginalization of the LGBT community in Uganda. Despite the failure of the so-called Bahati “Kill the Gays” bill to pass, so far, second-class citizenship would be a step up for most of Uganda’s LGBT population. You see, this didn’t go away after the Bush administration.
Well, how has it come to this? You’ve heard Jeff Sharlet describe the unhealthy relationship between a secretive group known as “the Family” and far-right lawmakers in Washington, and the role they’ve taken in encouraging Uganda’s anti-gay climate; you’ve heard activists talk about the way some conservative religious leaders from the West actively sowed the seeds for an anti-gay crusade in Uganda that stars both government and Church figures.
But look – it even gets worse. A leading journalist who’s been covering this story on the ground in Uganda says our tax dollars, yours and mine, are directly funding some of the most egregious attacks on sexual minorities there. Here to tell us more is that journalist, Andy Kopsa, whose work appears in Religion Dispatches Magazine, The American Independent, AlterNet, and many other publications.
Andy, thanks for being with us on State of Belief Radio. It’s good to see you again.[ANDY KOPSA, GUEST]: Yes, you too. Thank you for having me. [WG]: It is almost unthinkable that everyday Americans have had a hand in creating the deadly atmosphere of hatred and intolerance LGBT people face today in Uganda – but your research shows that’s exactly what has happened. Tell us about that. [AK]: Right. I think that you kind of hit the nail on the head when you said people kind of thought that this went away with the Bush administration. Obama toned it down a bit, but it’s still happening. I went to Uganda a few weeks ago to investigate a very specific, well-funded, well-connected NGO – non-governmental organization – that has received upwards of forty million dollars since, you know, the Bush administration and still continues to receive money. They’re currently being investigated for fomenting an environment of anti-LGBT feelings through implementing PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief – Ed.) projects, whether they are sexual education programs, distributing condoms, which is required, that they are not doing – and they’re just one of many leftovers from the Bush era that are still getting funding. They just got two million dollars in July. So we need to be really aware of this. [WG]: Well, I know that since you’re working on a very specific secular NGO that you’ve got to be careful what you say here, and I don’t want you to say something you shouldn’t. But you’ve described a little bit of what they’re doing, and one of the questions that comes to me, Andy, is: what is the source of that money in government? I mean, where is it coming from? [AK]: Ultimately, it comes from the Department of Health and Human Services through the various places, but specifically, in Uganda, it’s PEPFAR and USAID. And that’s administered through the CDC. So as you can see, I’ve already named all of these organizations – that makes it very difficult to track where it’s coming from – but it’s through the CDC, which is nested in the Department of Health and Human Services. [WG]: So from our government to Uganda to an NGO that is supposed to be doing what? [AK]: This specific organization has clinics that distribute antiretroviral and preventative care. Now, the big problem is that they are doing some good with the ARV treatments – then they’re helping families that can’t afford that. But the other side of the coin is that there’s the preventative side – and that’s where they’re falling down; because in Uganda what I’ve learned and just over the course of my investigations is that prevention strategies are very tricky, because condoms – which are prescribed under PEPFAR – you have to talk about and distribute condoms, this has to be an aid available as part of the prevention program. Condoms are synonymous with bad things, you know, condoms are synonymous with sex, which we don’t want to talk about. And as you’ve said before, you know, our involvement, the evangelicals on the ground there that have created that environment, that lingers, that didn’t go away. And so they’re falling down on the prevention side of it.
So I’ll give you an example. I went to a clinic in Kampala, and I was allowed to do a drop-in and just showed up, and was taken into a room where supposedly there were supposed to be condoms there. Now, the woman that was helping me didn’t want to talk about condoms, she actually told me when I asked, I asked her: “Do you distribute condoms here? “ And she said: “Oh, we’re suspicious of those things” – which was just, you know, kind of sent a chill up my spine, because that’s part of the, you know, there’s a large chunk of the budget that’s for prevention. And also they were supposed to be able to provide me with their sexual education curriculum, which they couldn’t do. And I don’t think that that’s a coincidence. I think that that’s a direct product of their ideology. And so another thing, too, that you and I have spoken about is this idea of separation of Church and State, time and place, and some of those issues; and I’m a big fan of the Virgin Mary, but there was a lot of religious iconography around, which is concerning to me because it’s a federally-funded space that should be – you know, Kampala has Muslims and every religion – so they’re falling down on a couple of things. I think, from my personal experience, the prevention, very clearly, very clearly.[WG]: Andy, I mean, this is stunning. How long has this been going on? [AK]: Oh, years. Twenty – I mean, we can trace abstinence back to, you know, Reaganish, right? So that’s where we go; but it really got teeth under Bush. [WG]: I see. [AK]: And you know, a lot of people tell me, when I’m talking about these things, is that that’s old news; but I think that we really have to see how that was constructed to understand what’s still in place today, and what’s still being funded today. These things have not disappeared. A lot of the outright faith-based funding has, because there’s been an outcry or because there’s been investigative reporting around it. But, you know, transparency and oversight of these organizations is abysmal here, and it’s even worse there. So that’s how these things keep going. And it’s a long tradition, so, you know, years; years and years and years. [WG]: On the other side of all this is the claim by Uganda to reject help from any NGO that “promotes homosexuality.” You brought with you a recording of your interview with the Ugandan minister of ethics and I want to play a little excerpt of this for our listeners and then ask you to describe what we’re going… No, why don’t you do it now? Tell us what we’re going to hear. [AK]: You’re going to hear a bit – there’s a couple bills that are set to be taken up in October, and the one that I was asking – it’s Father Simon Lokodo, who’s a defrocked priest who is the head of the Ministry of Ethics. And so I had asked him about the specific bill called the, I’m not sure of the name, but it’s essentially, the way he described it, was a bill that expels NGOs that are gay-friendly. And so he supposedly had a list of thirty-eight organizations. I’d asked him: “Can I see these thirty-eight?” because he admitted that there were probably some American groups among them. He said it wasn’t any of my business, and I said: “But, you know, sir, this hasn’t become law yet,” and he said: “I don’t care.” You know, and this could be political rhetoric, this could be grandstanding but I don’t think it’s insignificant, because he speaks as Minister of Ethics and Integrity for Uganda. [WG]: Now let’s listen to what our guest heard.
[Tape]: Simon Lokodo: If they have got a linkage with LGBT – today they’re not operational in Uganda. Andy Kopsa: But the bill hasn’t been voted on yet. Lokodo: I don’t care. Kopsa: Ok. Lokodo: I don’t care.[WG]: Andy, what else did you hear from Simon Lokodo that was noteworthy? [AK]: Ah, I asked him very directly about the idea of LGBT rights as civil rights, and he said that it was, quote, “rubbish;” that that idea is not Ugandan in nature, that that’s an American idea. He also told me that – and I’m going to paraphrase this, but – it was just, the whole thing was surreal, but he told me that they are being poisoned, that the US is feeding them food but it’s laced with poison; and this is all within the context of homosexuality. And he also told me something that I made sure that I got clear. It was that he was happy to walk away from PEPFAR and USAID. And I said, “Well, that’s, you know, that’s something.”
But another thing that I think it’s important to understand here that came up in that interview – and I think that you probably listened to it all – but he, we can’t underestimate the involvement of the Musevenis, the president and first lady. He told me – Lokodo told me as well that on all of these things, on all of the “civil rights is rubbish” and these kinds of things and expulsion of NGOs that are gay friendly – he said, you know, Mrs. Museveni and I are in lock step over this. And, you know, she has a lot of power for a first lady – she’s also an MP. So whether or not it’s political grandstanding – because I got that sense from him, he was very much wanting to be the next Bahati and be splashed all over the western media – whether or not it’s that, or genuine, is almost immaterial. It’s what he’s putting out. And it’s how we have enabled that, and continue to enable that, by funding numerous organizations that are under investigation right now.[WG]: I hope that you can tell me that someone in the US government is looking into this. [AK]: I can’t tell you that right now. [WG]: No one is looking into this? [AK]: No, I can’t comment on that right now. [WG]: Oh, you can’t comment. Oh, Ok that’s better; so there may be somebody looking into it. [AK]: Yeah. But you know, nothing’s going to get done until after the election, unfortunately, because we’re in that… We are an election society, so we don’t talk about these issues as much as we should. [WG]: Oh my goodness, yeah. But that goes right to one of the last questions I want to ask. But talk about the way these kinds of political shenanigans impact the lives of people in Uganda. [AK]: That was the most disturbing part. There is so much that is disturbing about this but… I spent a day with a trans woman. Her name was Mich, and she had been beaten terribly in a hate crime – which doesn’t exist in Uganda because there is no hate crime, because LGBT persons don’t have rights. So I spent the day with her, with her blackened and bloodied eye, and a group of human rights defenders, and we were in a car driving around Kampala trying to get her medical attention, police attention, and to find witnesses. This affects LGBT people on the ground to an extent that I don’t think people really understand. I think that we all got really upset – and rightfully so – when, like you had mentioned, Jeff Sharlet exposed some of these things, but I think that people believe that that has gone away. What resulted from that, from us trying to do all those things is that we were whisked away – and it sounds crazy when I talk about it, but we were whisked away – in this sort of clandestine series of meetings with people from foreign embassies that I can’t mention at hospitals I can’t mention, and going to look for witnesses at the bar where she was brutalized, and having the bartender tell us that nobody was working there anymore that was there that night – and it was only two days ago. Going to the police station and being asked: “Is this a boy or a girl?” instead of, you know, what can we do to solve this crime. And so at the end of the day what happened was is that Mich has now left Kampala because she can’t get a case filed, because in Uganda for LGBT persons, if there is a crime that smacks of hate crimes – they’re given a warrant by the police, and told to go get justice, essentially, for themselves. And so that’s the reality. And so every day, according to my sources and people on the ground, there’s a couple of these beatings each week that do not get reported, because there’s only partial media freedom there, and because of this kind of stench that lingers around this. [WG]: If this is happening with American money in Uganda, it could be happening anywhere in the world. [AK]: It is happening. [WG]: It is happening in other places too? [AK]: Yes, of course it is. But the thing is that, you know, it’s because these organizations, the organization that I had mentioned earlier has branches here; they teach sexual education here. And so there’s that stigma that – not sexual education, I’m sorry, abstinence only until marriage, which is heterosexual marriage, which is a Christian ideal of marriage that can be very stigmatizing. But they have places in a lot of Sub-Saharan Africa, it’s a very ripe testing ground – but they’re also going into places like Moldova all of a sudden. Which I think, by the way, is not – it’s important to mention that Scott Lively, which I think your audience probably is aware of, went into Uganda but also recently went into Moldova. So I don’t think that it’s inconsequential that all of these things… And again, this is just one organization. [WG]: Right. Yeah and I hope that we hear more as you’re able to tell more. One last question: what you’re doing is working in very complicated, mixed-up institutions that are not doing what they say that they’re supposed to be doing. What makes you get up in the morning and start back doing it? [AK]: Because I’m very stubborn that way. I just, you know, I have a very serious problem with things that are done in our name. For some people it’s different causes; for me it’s how we fund these organizations that are supposed to be, you know, religious or God-like – and espouse hate. And that’s a really hard term; but I get up in the morning because I could turn around and go back to Kampala tomorrow and tell more of their stories because they don’t get out. So that, and I’m just incredibly stubborn, I think. [WG]: Well I’m glad you’re stubborn; I hope you’ll keep writing and keeping us in mind as a medium through which to share what you’re finding.
I’ve been speaking with journalist Andy Kopsa, who’s working on exposing the way US taxpayer-funded, taxpayer-funded NGOs are contribution to the deadly anti-gay atmosphere in Uganda. You can read what Andy’s writing on her website, andykopsa.com, and in publications including Religion Dispatches Magazine.
Andy thanks so much for being with us today on State of Belief Radio.[AK]: I want to thank you for continuing to bring attention to this issue, thanks.
State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America – the most religiously diverse country in the world – while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong – wrong for America and bad for religion.
Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a religiously pluralistic world.
Author of more than 20 books, including First Freedom First: A Citizen’s Guide to Protecting Religious Liberty and the Separation of Church and State, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy leads the national non-partisan grassroots and educational organization Interfaith Alliance and serves as Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana.
In addition to being a prolific writer, Dr. Gaddy hosts the weekly State of Belief radio program, where he explores the role of religion in the life of the nation by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America, while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Dr. Gaddy provides regular commentary to the national media on issues relating to religion and politics. He has appeared on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show and Hardball, NBC’s Nightly News and Dateline, PBS’s Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and The Newshour with Jim Lehrer, C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, ABC’s World News, and CNN’s American Morning. Former host of Morally Speaking on NBC affiliate KTVE in Monroe, Louisiana, Dr. Gaddy is a regular contributor to mainstream and religious news outlets.
While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Dr. Gaddy emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many leadership roles, he is a past president of the Alliance of Baptists and has been a 20-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance and member of the World Economic Forum’s Council of 100. Rev. Gaddy currently serves on the White House task force on the reform of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Dr. Gaddy served in many SBC leadership roles including as a member of the convention’s Executive Committee from 1980-84 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-77.
Dr. Gaddy received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Jackson, Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.