Last week my partner, Glen Retief, and I flew to Oslo, Norway to present at an international conference that contributed to an on-going discussion about human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in a variety of countries. The Norwegian Foreign Ministry decided three years ago to use its influence with NGOs and through diplomacy to address the plight of LGBTI people abroad. In order to do this effectively and sensitively, they have queried LGBTI groups at home and abroad.
One thing that came through loud and clear during the conference was the fact that homosexuality is NOT an European export that came with colonialism. Presenter after presenter offered evidence of same-sex love and gender variance affirmed in their lands throughout the ages as evidenced in archeology, literature and religious texts. Ruth Vanita spoke about Same-Sex Love in India (check out her anthology that includes excerpts from over 60 texts spanning more than two thousand years.)
Later in the afternoon Victor Mukasa, an LGBTI human rights activist from Uganda now living in exile in South Africa outlined the devastating effects of three American Evangelicals speaking against LGBTI rights in Uganda last spring and in spreading lies about people who are not heterosexual or gender-normative, they worsened the plight of an already oppressed group of people. As a direct result of an anti-gay conference where the three Evangelical presented, some lawmakers introduced a bill calling for the death penalty for gays in that country. Victor outlined how things were bad for LGBTI people before the interference of the three American Evangelicals, and how afterward the situation worsened and became horrendous. The Evangelicals stirred up lies, fears and hatred as they used pseudo-science and the Bible to reinforce their authority as experts. They came to colonize–to impose US-sourced ex-gay theories and treatments in Uganda.
Earlier in the day during my presentation I compared the US-based Ex-Gay Movement to the American tobacco industry. For years few questioned the tobacco industry, thinking cigarette smoking benign, but evidence emerged that proved the dangerous effects of tobacco on smokers and those near smokers in the form of second-hand smoke. Yet the tobacco industry ramped up its efforts even marketing its fatal product to young people. (Remember hyper masculine Camel's Joe Cool cartoon from the late 1990's easily recognizable to children as young as five and six.)
Because of effective anti-smoking ads and the growing awareness of the health risks associated with smoking, sales dropped dramatically in the US. More and more states in the US have banned smoking in public places in order to protect public health and safety. In response the US-based tobacco industry set its sites abroad to “developing” countries, pushing their deadly product in countries with less regulations, hooking a new generation in new lands.
Similarly the US-based Ex-Gay Movement had its heyday in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. Like the tobacco industry the anti-gay/ex-gay leaders aggressively targeted queer and questioning youth through Focus on the Family's Love Won Out conferences and Exodus International's Refuge Program operated by John Smid at Love in Action (who recently issues an apology of sorts over mistreatment of young people.) Because of sustained critique by activists, the media, medical associations and concerned citizens, most people today understand that treatments to “cure” gays are not only silly and ineffectual, but often can prove destructive. The last nail in the US-based ex-gay coffin came in the form of the APA's task force findings released this past summer making it clear that changing one's orientation is not a realistic goal and may very well cause harm.
Like the tobacco industry in the US, the promoters and providers of ex-gay theories and treatments have set their sits abroad initiating and increasing efforts in Latin America, Eastern Europe, parts of Africa (especially Uganda, Kenya and South Africa,) and South East Asia. Even the British have been surprised to see inroads of American ex-gay practice in England and Northern Ireland.
In his speech Victor expounded on the dreadful reality of these US-based efforts to undermine the health and well-being, as well at the legal security of LGBTI in Uganda and elsewhere. Those of us ex-gay survivors who had endured these treatment, know about the dangers that can come from these efforts to annihilate same-sex desire and gender variance. Victor justly named these aggressive anti-LGBTI campaign as a gospel of death and destruction.