U.S. efforts to promote gay rights abroad sparks African backlash

By Michael May

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at Roberts International Airport in Liberia. (REUTERS/Glenna Gordon/Pool)

As the Republican primaries have shown, the culture war—and particularly the battle over gay rights—has taken a back seat to bread-and-butter issues like the economy and the national debt. Not so in Africa. In fact, American evangelical groups and gay rights organizations have taken their battle overseas.

Most infamously, a few Christian evangelicals found common ground with homophobic leaders in Uganda, although they backed down when Ugandan lawmakers proposed making homosexuality a crime punishable by death. International pressure quashed that effort.

The latest salvo is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech last month in Geneva promoting international gay rights, and Obama’s declaration that the administration when look at a country’s record on the issue when doling out international aid. In Africa, where politicians and the press can be openly homophobic, this effort has been viewed as just another form of neocolonialism.

Take the report published this week in the Liberian newspaper New Dawn. Reporter E. J. Nathaniel Daygbor writes that a California-based gay rights group has promised $4 million to Alex Tyler, the speaker of the house in Liberia. The money, according to anonymous sources quoted by New Dawn, would be used to pay off lawmakers willing to pass a gay rights bill.

The story is sensational, and would be certainly newsworthy if it were true. But is it? The article says that the organization behind the bribes is the “Foundation for the Protection of Gay Rights.” If such an organization exists, they are certainly secretive: Latitude News could find no evidence online that it exists.

It seems just as plausible that lawmakers who want Tyler replaced as Speaker fabricated the story. One of the anonymous lawmakers quoted in the article said that “Tyler will have to be elected [as Speaker of the House] before even thinking about introducing such uncivilized and uncultured bill.” And, in fact, the report forced Tyler to offer this unequivocal statement to New Dawn: “I will never support gay bill because it is damaging to the survival of the country,” Tyler said.

What’s likely, and at least as interesting, is that the report is part of a backlash to the Obama administration’s efforts. And, in fact, the New Dawn followed their report on the threat of “gay rights bill” with a blistering and openly homophobic editorial condemning Obama’s actions tying gay rights to foreign aid as a “new form of subjugation that Africa should resist with unison.”

UPDATE: In the last few days, Liberian politicians continue to use the likely fabricated New Dawn report described below as an opportunity to engage over-the-top homophobic rants. A story from Liberia’s The Analyst quotes a former party leader calling for a rally against gay rights, saying homosexuality “bestial form of submission to the devil.

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