Right-wing media reacted to passage of a Ugandan law imposing prison time for anyone identifying as LGBTQ by claiming that those condemning the law were imposing outside values on the African nation and suggesting that opposition from U.S. media and politicians amounted to colonialism. But the Ugandan law was at least partially spurred by Western influences, and many of the same conservative figures and outlets who made such assertions are themselves tied to Western organizations that have recently pushed anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and legislation in the African nation.
In March, the Ugandan parliament passed a law that would enforce life in prison for anyone found to identify as LGBT, while also threatening lengthy prison terms for media groups, journalists, publishers, property owners, and essentially any individuals or institutions found to be supporting, advocating, or facilitating gay rights. The country previously courted international outrage after passing a similar law in 2013, which was later struck down by a Ugandan court for procedural reasons. The new law awaits the signature of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who recently signaled that he would sign the bill into law.
American organizations’ influence on Ugandan laws criminalizing LGBTQ people
Despite assertions from right-wing media that the laws are the organic outcome of anti-gay prejudice in Uganda, political attacks on LGBTQ existence in Uganda (and a number of other African nations) are fueled by Western nations and organizations.
The first laws criminalizing homosexuality were passed during British rule of Uganda, and the current focus on imprisoning and torturing members of the LGBTQ community was at least partially sparked by a 2009 meeting between right-wing American organizations Family Life Network and Exodus International and Ugandan political and religious leaders. The 2013 law was written by a Ugandan politician employed by the Fellowship Foundation, a secretive and highly influential conservative group from America
After the law was repealed in 2014, Uganda continued to prosecute, imprison, and torture LGBTQ people under the original law passed by the British; in 2015, the prime minister of Uganda stated that the 2013 law wasn’t necessary “because we already have a law which was left by the British which deals with this issue.”
An even more extreme version of the 2013 law was reintroduced in 2020 but did not gain traction until last year, when a video purporting to be testimony from an “ex-gay” activist went viral on Twitter in Uganda. As detailed by journalist Caleb Okereke, the rhetoric in the video seems to stem in part from the 2009 meeting organized by U.S. organizations (namely the Family Life Network). As far-right Western religious groups promoted the 2013 law, extremist Pentecostal groups from the United States reportedly spent $26 million in recent years in Uganda advocating for passage of this newest bill.
Right-wing media claim condemnation of the law is colonialism
Prior to the bill’s passage, Breitbart published an article claiming it was an example of Uganda “resisting international pro-gay propaganda.” The piece was framed around supportive statements from one of the bill’s supporters. The article later asserted that the “United States has played a central role in pushing a pro-gay agenda contrary to Ugandan values.” That same article, along with one published after the law was passed, claimed that no one had been convicted of homosexuality since the country gained independence, an outright lie.
Right-wing media’s response to the bill, however, truly took shape after White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby condemned the law during a press conference and mainstream outlets criticized the measure.
Heritage Foundation fellow Delano Squires reacted to the coverage by tweeting that media were trying to force nations like Uganda and Kenya (which also criminalizes LGBTQ existence) to “bend the knee to ‘Pride’.” Squires quote-tweeted a video of Jean-Pierre denouncing Uganda’s law, writing, “Perhaps Uganda doesn’t want its culture colonized by the West again. Maybe the people there would rather fly their own flag than yours.” Squires included pictures of Pride flags as well as Jean-Pierre standing with Assistant Secretary for Health Rachel Levine (a trans woman who has been harassed by right-wing media).
On the March 23 edition of his show, The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh claimed that those speaking out against the bill were “cultural colonialists” and mocked their concern over “protecting so-called LGBTQ rights.” Walsh went on to claim that opponents of the bill “don't think that Uganda has any particular right to govern itself and have its own culture and its own way of life.”
A day later, The Daily Wire’s Michael Knowles followed Walsh’s lead, claiming on his show that “liberals paradoxically are the most inclined to impose their values on the world,” accusing Americans speaking out against the bill of “exporting … the LGBTQ flag and condoms and abortion and all the trappings of liberalism,” claiming it was “the new kind of colonialism.”
New York Post columnist Miranda Devine wrote a column criticizing U.S. condemnation of the bill and attempted to excuse the extreme anti-LGBTQ policies of nations like Uganda, Hungary, and Russia, writing that “wokery is unpopular in a lot of foreign societies” and that those nations “regard gender ideology and the LGBTQ agenda as cultural imperialism that undermines their religious and family values,” asking, “Who are we to tell them otherwise?” Devine went on to describe the fight for LGBTQ rights abroad as “boutique concerns.”
The same right-wing figures are tied to organizations pushing anti-LGBTQ sentiment in Uganda
The Daily Wire
Scott Lively helped organize the 2009 conference and met with Ugandan lawmakers to spread anti-gay propaganda, and the right-wing group Liberty Counsel represented him in a lawsuit brought by Ugandan LGBTQ activists over his part in driving the persecution of gay people in the country. Prior to Liberty Counsel’s victory in the case — that freed Lively of any civil responsibility to the Ugandan victims of the law but recognized that he had contributed to persecution in Uganda and broken international law — Farris Wilks, the billionaire fracking tycoon who co-founded and still co-owns the Daily Wire, donated $1.5 million to Liberty Counsel.
Matt Walsh bragged on March 10 that his anti-LGBTQ movie, “What Is A Woman,” was screened for a select group of United Nations representatives from Africa, including representatives from Uganda. The screening was sponsored by the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-Fam) and Family Watch International, an organization that works with and supports those responsible for anti-LGBTQ legislation in Uganda and Africa more broadly. A Daily Wire article on the screening quoted Peace Regis Mutuuzo, a Ugandan politician who supported the bill and who previously stated that Uganda “shall not tolerate homosexuality even for a day.”
Family Watch International also hosted the online portion of a conference in Uganda promoting the recently passed bill.
The American Center for Law and Justice functions as “the key organization involved in ensuring African constitutions and laws criminalize homosexuality,” and it has been one of the most influential organizations in pushing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric on African countries. As detailed by researcher Kapya John Kaoma, ACLJ hires local staff in African nations, allowing them to “hide an American-based agenda behind African faces, giving the Christian Right room to attack gender justice and LGBTQ rights as a neocolonial enterprise imposed on Africans and obstructing meaningful critique of the U.S. Right’s activities.” ACLJ has also recently represented the Heritage Foundation in federal court. ACLJ’s chief counsel, Jay Sekulow, also happens to be the lawyer who represented Trump during the Senate impeachment trial.
Lively similarly has connections to the World Congress of Families, an organization whose efforts to spread anti-LGBTQ rhetoric in Africa — including at events attended by dignitaries from Uganda — coincided with the rise of anti-gay legislation. In 2013, the group was banned from the U.S. Senate meeting room by a Republican senator for their involvement in pushing anti-LGBTQ legislation in countries like Uganda and Russia. That same year, Miranda Devine, who at the time was writing anti-gay screeds for the conservative Australian outlet The Daily Telegraph, spoke at their conference. The conference’s topics included “What Families Are Best for the Economy?” and “The Impact on Children of Legalising ‘Same-Sex Marriage’.”
Right-wing media have a pattern of invalidating casualties of LGBTQ oppression while providing cover for those driving persecution abroad
This pattern of right-wing media discounting the understandable outrage over the persecution of LGBTQ people abroad — and in the process burying their ties to those who helped make that persecution a reality — is not a new development. The same extremist evangelical organizations helped create Russia’s anti-LGBTQ movement, and when the country’s invasion of Ukraine threatened the lives of trans people, their plight also became fodder for outlets like Daily Wire.
Whether or not their intent is rooted in protecting themselves and their wealthy donors, the damage of providing cover for those perpetuating this harm is apparent. Ugandan LGBTQ activists are murdered in their homes, and LGBTQ people in Uganda are facing exile from their home country as a result of a law ushered in by Western governments and organizations.