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US Court Dismisses Uganda LGBTI Case, but Affirms Rights

Group Sued US Christian Evangelist for Role in Promoting Ugandan Anti-Gay Law

An asylum seeker from Uganda covers his face with a paper bag in order to protect his identity as he marches with the LGBT Asylum Support Task Force during the Gay Pride Parade in Boston, Massachusetts June 8, 2013. © 2013 Reuters

The lawsuit – filed in a US court by a Ugandan LGBTI group against the homophobic Christian evangelist Scott Lively – was a David versus Goliath case. Although a judge dismissed the case this week on jurisdictional grounds, the stone fired from the group’s slingshot left its mark on Lively.

Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), an umbrella group of Ugandan LGBTI organizations, partnered with the US-based Center for Constitutional Rights to sue Lively in his home state of Massachusetts, for crimes against humanity. The suit detailed his role in promoting Uganda’s now defunct Anti-Homosexuality Act, which provided for draconian penalties for same-sex conduct and LGBTI activism, and led to evictions of LGBTI people from their homes and denial of access to health care.

Judge Michael Ponsor of the US District Court in Springfield, Massachusetts, said Lively aided “a vicious and frightening campaign of repression against LGBTI people in Uganda.” However, he ruled that the case could not be tried in the US, as Lively’s actions took place entirely in a foreign territory.

Still, Judge Ponsor strongly denounced Lively’s activities: “This crackpot bigotry could be brushed aside as pathetic, except for the terrible harm it can cause. The record in this case demonstrates that the Defendant has worked with elements in Uganda who share some of his views to try to repress freedom of expression by LGBTI people in Uganda, deprive them of the protection of the law, and render their very existence illegal.”

Furthermore, the judge held that Lively’s actions violated international law:

“Anyone reading this memorandum should make no mistake. The question before the court is not whether Defendant’s actions in aiding and abetting efforts to demonize, intimidate, and injure LGBTI people in Uganda constitute violations of international law. They do.”

The dismissal of the case should be cold comfort for Lively and his ilk. While the case was unsuccessful in terms of securing a US-based civil prosecution, it highlights the iniquitous role of US-based extremist groups in fueling homophobia abroad. Such groups should think twice about participating in the persecution of vulnerable minorities, in violation of international law.

As Frank Mugisha, SMUG’s executive director, put it: “This case is a win for SMUG. The court’s ruling recognized the dangers resulting from the hatred that Scott Lively and other extremist Christians from the US have exported to my country. By having a court recognize that persecution of LGBTI people amounts to a crime against humanity, we have already been able to hold Lively to account and reduce his dangerous influence in Uganda.”

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