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Meet the American Pastor Behind Uganda's Anti-Gay Crackdown

Scott Lively has stirred up hate from Moscow to Kampala. Watch him in action.

| Mon Mar. 10, 2014 6:30 AM EDT

During his Ugandan trip, Lively also addressed more than 50 members of parliament. The following week, Langa's Family Life Network convened a follow-up seminar. As attendees filtered into the meeting room, they passed a table stacked with Lively's writings and DVDs of his conference speech. The purpose of the gathering, the moderator explained, was to review the lessons from the conference and "come up with a way forward." He asked attendees to share their recollections from the previous week's event. A stocky young man in a purple Oxford stood up. "The man of God told us about the origin of all this," he recalled, according to video footage provided by Political Research Associates. "He said there is a movement that is behind the promotion of homosexuality, and it's called 'gay movement.' He told us it is more serious than we have ever thought. For me, I have never heard of that. But then I got to know that there is a force behind homosexuality that we need to attack also with force." This was followed by a flurry of incendiary claims, many of them inspired by Lively's speech.

By the time Langa took the stage, about an hour into the proceedings, the crowd was in a frenzy. The Ugandan pastor held up a copy of The Pink Swastika, and rehashed Lively's inflammatory theories. In a crude variation on Lively's take on the history of the gay movement, he claimed the first gay-rights organization in the United States was founded by German-American soldier named Henry Gerber, who had been stationed in pre-Nazi Germany and later became a child molester. (In reality, there is no evidence that Gerber had inappropriate relations with children).

Langa's speech only fed the public's rage, and audience members rose to their feet to demand government action. Eventually, the director of research for Uganda's parliament, Charles Tuhaise, took the floor. He argued that the problem was the nation's colonial-era anti-homosexuality laws, which made it difficult to punish gay activists. "It does not define its terms. It is totally vague and ineffective," he explained. Tuhaise opined that parliament needed to "draft a new law that comprehensively deals with this issue—the gay agenda as we have seen it."

Shortly after the meeting, attendees marched down to parliament and petitioned lawmakers to stiffen punishment for homosexuality. By late April 2009, the first draft of Uganda's anti-gay bill, authored partly by longtime Lively associate Martin Ssempa, was circulating. Its preamble echoed Lively's arguments about the threats gays supposedly pose to society. ("Research indicates that homosexuality has a variety of negative consequences including higher incidences of violence, sexually transmitted diseases, and use of drugs…") The bill made homosexuality punishable by life in prison, and it created a new category of offense, "aggravated homosexuality," for repeat offenses or cases when one partner is underage or HIV positive. This was punishable by death.

Lively claims that he never called for such harsh punishments. When Ssempa consulted him on an early draft of the legislation, he says he suggested softening the penalties and adding a provision to encourage "rehabilitation." But by this time, the animosity he helped plant had apparently taken on a life of its own. According to correspondence that Lively reprinted on his website, the Ugandan parliament rebuffed his suggestions, based largely on his own arguments about the dangers of homosexuality. "I admire the courage of my friend Dr. Lively, because he has stood up to homosexual intimidation for so long as a lone voice," Tuhaise, the Ugandan parliament's research director, wrote in a letter to Ssempa. But, he argued, Uganda needed the harshest possible deterrents to prevent Western gay activists from indoctrinating children and dominating the "whole culture."

In one sermon, Lively went as far as claiming that the gay rights movement was actually seeking the right "for adult men to have sex with boys."

While Uganda's parliament ultimately stripped out the death penalty, it also added harsh new provisions. Under the version of the bill that would eventually be signed into law, even touching someone of the same sex with romantic intent was a crime punishable by life in prison in certain cases. Renting a room to a homosexual or "aiding and abetting" him in any form could land a person in prison for seven years. Some US religious conservatives, including Lou Engle of The Call, initially appeared to laud the legislation. But most reversed course and came out against it after the deafening international outcry. Lively continued to voice tepid support. When asked by a reporter in 2010 if he would support the bill minus the death penalty, he replied: "I would not have written the bill this way. But what it comes down to is a question of lesser of two evils…I think the lesser of two evils is for the bill to go through."

As the bill inched toward passage, the situation for gay Ugandans deteriorated. Newspapers printed the names, addresses, and photos of suspected homosexuals, triggering a wave of vigilante violence. In January 2011, Sexual Minorities Uganda's founder David Kato was beaten to death with a hammer, after his picture was splashed across the front of a Kampala tabloid, under the headline "Hang Them." The group issued a statement blaming the murder on "hatred planted in Uganda by U.S. evangelicals in 2009." Lively has dismissed these allegations and offered his own theory about the motive behind the murder, namely that Kato "was killed by a 'gay' lover, as was the case with another homosexual activist…Carlos Castro was castrated with a corkscrew by his boyfriend and bled to death in his hotel room.”

A similar pattern has played out in other countries where Lively has promoted anti-gay legislation. In 2006, he teamed up with a politically connected Latvian pastor, Alexey Ledyaev, to form an international anti-gay organization called Watchmen on the Walls, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has dubbed a hate group. (For more on Watchmen, see Box Turtle Bulletin). That summer, Lively traveled to Latvia, where he lectured at universities, met with lawmakers, and preached at Ledyaev's New Generation church. As in Uganda, Lively claimed that Western activists—in this case backed by the European Union—were trying to infiltrate Latvian society and spread homosexuality, especially to children. In one case, he went as far as claiming that the gay rights movement was actually seeking the right "for adult men to have sex with boys."

During his visit, Latvia's First Party, which has deep ties to Ladyaev's church, introduced legislation barring "homosexual propaganda." (The bill initially failed, but it was recently reintroduced). That same summer, Latvia's lone gay rights group, Mozaika, held the nation's second gay-pride gathering. Hundreds of protestors—many of them wearing T-shirts from a New Generation spin-off called "No Pride"—turned out to heckle them and pelt them with eggs and feces.

After Latvia, Lively embarked on a 50-city tour of Russia and former Soviet republics, sponsored by Ledyaev's church, which had roughly 200 congregations and a regional TV channel. As Lively wound his way from the Baltics to Siberia, he pressed officials to outlaw the "public advocacy of homosexuality" and agitated against anti-discrimination laws.

Eight of the nine countries he visited eventually weighed nationwide bans on "homosexual propaganda," and five—including Russia—either have bills pending or have passed them into law. Lively takes partial credit for this development and calls Russia's controversial gay propaganda ban his "proudest accomplishment." Some mainstream family values organizations active in the region accuse Lively of exaggerating his clout. "The influence of Scott Lively in the Russian debate is a creation of his own imagination," Allan Carlson, president of the World Congress of Families, barked when an activist asked him about Lively during a Capitol Hill press conference last fall. (For more on the World Congress of Families, see "How US Evangelicals Helped Create Russia's Anti-Gay Movement.")

But activists in several Eastern European countries that Lively visited say his influence has been considerable. "To this day, Latvian politicians are using his arguments about the secret gay agenda to homosexualize society and steal the children," says Mozaika's executive director, Kaspars Zalitis. "Most Latvians condemn homosexuality. We believe Lively and Ledyaev are one of the main reasons for this. Every gay person in the country knows Ledyaev's rhetoric, which he borrowed from his American friend."

As his inflammatory ideas bear fruit abroad, Lively has renewed his attention to the home front, where he's campaigning for governor of Massachusetts. He admits that it would "take a miracle from God" to land him in the governor's mansion. "My purpose really is just to have a platform to articulate my views so people can hear them," he explains. Lively has also partnered with another radical anti-gay crusader, Peter LaBarbera of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, to create a new group called the Coalition for Family Values, which will work with organizations around the globe to push a hard-line anti-gay agenda. So far, Lively says, more than 75 organizations have signed on, including a few US heavyweights, such as the American Family Association.

At a press conference announcing the group's formation late last month, Lively praised Russia for "providing much-needed leadership in restoring family values." When a young gay Russian man, who wore as "Lively is Deadly" button, stood up to protest, Lively drowned him out. "Every time the pro-family people come forward to speak the truth from our perspective, we are interrupted by homo fascists," he seethed, before summoning security to drag the protestor away.

The following week, Uganda's president signed the nation's draconian anti-gay bill into law, and the popular Ugandan tabloid Red Pepper printed names, photographs, and home addresses of 200 alleged homosexuals, touching off a new wave of anti-gay vigilantism. Ugandan gay activists say attacks and harassment​ are becoming commonplace, with religious leaders in the Kampala suburbs calling for gays to be burned and beaten over public address systems. But Lively remains unrepentant. "The gay movement has really brought this on themselves," he told NPR during a recent interview. "You know, white male homosexuals from the United States and Europe going into these African countries because the age of consent laws are low and able to take these, you know, young, teenage boys and turn them into rent boys for the price of a bicycle…When you're taking these boys and messing with them in a culture like Uganda…they're just asking for trouble."

Click here to read Scott Lively's response.

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