International House of Bigotry

02/25/2011 04:31 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In recent posts, I have described my grief and outrage at the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Uganda. Publicly outed, threatened, beaten and killed, they are now targeted by the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill, or the Kill the Gays Bill sponsored by MP David Bahati. Perhaps you have seen Bahati's chilling interviews with Rachel Maddow. It is less likely that you have seen or heard the anti-gay rhetoric of the U.S.-based ringleaders of the movement to eradicate gay people from Uganda. These instigators fly under the radar here in the United States and, when challenged about their influence in Uganda, reply, as Pastor Lou Engle did: "Today, America is losing its religious freedom. We are trying to restrain an agenda that is sweeping through the education system. Uganda has become ground zero."

Engle is one of the leading voices against the LGBT community. Head of a right-wing, dominionist evangelical organization The Call and Kansas City's International House of Prayer, he is on record speaking in praise of Uganda's "courage" and "forthrightness" in advancing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

On Sunday (Feb. 20), members of the Human Rights Campaign, Soulforce and EQUAL went to his church in Kansas City and took 70,000 signatures on a petition to ask Engle to stop contributing to spiritual and physical violence against LGBT people.

He is directly linked to a well orchestrated strategy developed by the American anti-gay right, to make Uganda an international training ground to teach violent exclusion, discrimination and grassroots anti-gay activism. Having demonstrated that the case against societal acceptance of LGBT people can be won outside U.S. borders, the radical right hopes to renew the oppression of LGBT people in the United States under a sympathetic, right-wing Republican Congress.

I believe that this strategy will fail to rebound in the United States unless we choose to fall asleep at the wheel. The Ugandan efforts are nothing more than an international reprise of the infamous anti-gay campaign that began with Anita Bryant's efforts to repeal a Florida nondiscrimination ordinance in the late 1970s, based on the lie that gay people are out to recruit children into "deviant" sexual behavior. Rev. Jerry Falwell carried her cause forward, advancing the myth that gays must recruit children due to their inability to reproduce. Anti-gay political figures such as Sen. Jesse Helms attempted to encourage discrimination in schools, offices and other institutions, and to restrict pro-gay speech. And ministries further enabled it by teaching vulnerable youth that homosexuality is a flaw that can be "mended" through so-called "ex-gay" programs.

These efforts have been fiercely resisted, and with much success. While we are still a long way from full equality, the evidence of our success is apparent: poll after poll shows that acceptance of LGBT people and their rights is higher than ever before. The tide has already turned here, and though much remains to be done, I believe and hope and pray there is no possibility of the U.S. reverting to a pre-Lawrence v. Texas status quo, let alone a pre-Stonewall one.

But such is not the case in Uganda, where thanks to the efforts of misinformed Christians as Engle, LGBT people must live their lives in fear.

It is simply wrong for U.S.-based religious leaders to manipulate the Ugandan people. It is well documented that there was no interest in the persecution of LGBT people in Uganda until U.S. evangelists started a mission of hate campaign within their borders.

That is why we confronted this bigotry at its source, at the doors of Engle's church. Like the prophets of old who stood outside the temple and called out the sin within, we witnessed to Engle's harm to the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. We called out Engle's falsehoods at the International House of Bigotry that his House of Prayer has become. And, we made it clear that we will continue to educate the public about Engle's involvement in the Kill the Gays efforts in Uganda and the harm of his ex-gay ministries around the world.

He has a choice: he can do what is merciful and just and compassionate, or he can risk turning his successful ministry into an International House of Cards.

It is time that anti-gay evangelicals realize that just as we have fought back against bigotry here, we can do so in Uganda. If people of faith are exporting anything outside our borders, it ought to be hope, not hate.