Africa

God, Gaga, and John Kerry on the Dark Continent

March 25, 2014

Yoweri Museveni

The West used to send Bible-waving missionaries to Africa to try and pry open the natives”€™ eyes to the truth. Now it sends scientists.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has said he will dispatch scientific experts to Uganda to try and convince its president, Yoweri Museveni, that homosexuality is not a choice”€”as Museveni seems to believe”€”but is rather an inherited genetic trait.

So we have gone from foisting God to shoving Gaga down Africans”€™ throats”€”it’s the Lady Gaga Gospel about gays being “€œBorn This Way”€ that the Dark Continent’s inhabitants are now being pressured to embrace. We used to teach them, among other Biblical things, that it’s a sin to sleep with a member of the same sex; now we tell them that it’s a sin to think it’s a sin to sleep with a member of the same sex.

Kerry announced his plan to use science to help deliver Ugandans from their ignorance during a BuzzFeed-moderated debate at the State Department this week. Gay-rights activists are cheering this as a victory for enlightenment. He is taking a “€œstrong and intelligent approach“€ to Ugandan leaders”€™ recent legal assaults on the rights of homosexuals, says website The New Civil Rights Movement.

But how enlightened, really, is Kerry’s claim that science can prove homosexuality is a genetic or biological characteristic with which people are born?

Herein lies the massively ironic rub: In taking this “€œgay is natural”€ stance, Kerry is echoing an attitude to homosexuality that is older and more backward than President Museveni’s talk about gayness being a choice.

“€œIn the early to mid-20th century, it was moralists and reactionaries who insisted gayness was some genetic twist, though back then they referred to it as the “€˜gay germ”€™ rather than “€˜gay gene.”€™”€

Museveni, in an irony that will no doubt make the homo-hater want to take a very long shower, is more in line with the original gay-liberation movement when he talks up the “€œchoice”€ element of homosexuality, whereas Kerry’s scientific stuff harks back to a darker, pre-liberation view of gayness as an inherent thing that can be studied, measured, and potentially eradicated. Yep, it’s possible Kerry has a more archaic view of gayness than Museveni does.

Museveni is extremely intolerant of homosexuality. Last month he signed into law a deeply disturbing bill that makes having gay sex punishable by life imprisonment.

The bill defines homosexual acts very broadly, so that even touching another person “€œwith the intention of committing the act of homosexuality”€ could potentially land you in jail for life. The bill punishes freedom of thought and speech, too, making it a crime, punishable by seven years in jail, to promote homosexuality or to set up a gay-rights organization. It is a repugnant, misanthropic law.

But that doesn”€™t mean that all opposition to it, or to Museveni’s claim that homosexuality is a “€œmatter of choice,”€ is by definition good and progressive. Museveni has outraged Western liberals not only by enacting a law that strips Ugandan homosexuals of their dignity and liberty, but also by daring to question what has become an article of faith in influential Western circles in recent years: namely, that some people are born gay, just as surely as others are born female or black or with ginger hair.

Strikingly, Museveni says he has changed his mind on homosexuality in recent years: Where he says he used to think gayness was an “€œinborn problem,”€ a “€œgenetic distortion,”€ he now says he has realized it is a chosen lifestyle. Is it not very odd that supposedly enlightened Westerners should chide Museveni for saying this and implicitly insist that he go back to seeing homosexuality as a “€œgenetic distortion”€ like many in the West now do?

The idea that homosexuality is a fixed, birth-inherited trait, an inescapable quirk of a person’s genes, has been gaining ground in the West for more than two decades. It has moved from a claim made in dense studies by scientists to being a truism of popular culture”€”consider the pro-gay-marriage Australian ad in which an ultrasound technician tells a pregnant woman: “€œYou”€™re having a lesbian!”€ No one seemed to balk at the notion that a fetus is capable of any kind of sexual feeling, whether of the gay or straight variety.

The view of homosexuality as a genetic thing might be popular, but that doesn”€™t make it right or decent. You”€™d never know it from the speedy spread of the “€œBorn This Way”€ outlook across the cultural landscape, but there’s still much controversy and doubt around the idea that homosexuality is determined by nature rather than being influenced and shaped by a person’s environment, experiences, desires, and, yes, possibly his or her choices.

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