Gays without borders

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The gay news from Africa gets more frightening every day.

In Uganda, a member of Parliament said he would hang his son if he learned that he is gay.

He said this while the Ugandan Parliament debated an anti-gay bill imposing harsh penalties for homosexuality – including the death penalty.

In Malawi, a gay couple faces 14 years in prison because they held an engagement party. There, gay marriage is not just illegal (meaning, not allowed) – it is criminal.

And in Kenya, mob violence greeted fake reports of the marriage of two gay men. Rioters destroyed computers and other equipment in an AIDS clinic. They beat more flamboyant men in the street. And they went house to house in a witch hunt to find gay men, arrest them and beat them.

The American reaction to this – even the gay American reaction – tends to be one of two things. We’re indifferent. Or we’re horrified, but blame American Christians and expect them to fix it.

We blame American Christians because some extremists encouraged fear of gays within the Ugandan government. Some have taken responsibility for that; some have not.

But it is not enough anymore for the gay community to stand by while our African brothers and sisters are rousted from their homes, beaten senseless, arrested and killed.

We cannot sit back and expect our homegrown American extremists to make it better. After all, they might have been responsible – or at least instigated – the situation in Uganda, but Kenya’s horrors were incited by local Muslim clerics.

Instead, we must do what we can. And we can do a lot.

On the homefront, we can use our political power to ensure that African gays and lesbians who are in danger in their home countries find political asylum here. And when they get here, we can help them find homes, jobs, education.

We can pressure our leaders to make public statements against anti-gay violence (Barack Obama, of Kenyan heritage and beloved in Africa, would be a particularly effective spokesperson).

And we can encourage our congressional leaders to tie the billions of dollars of HIV/AIDS funding that we send to gay-friendly education efforts. If Republicans can add pro-life strings, why can’t we add pro-gay ones?

But I think we can be even more creative than that.

Christians, after all, didn’t have pull in Uganda because they made a speech. They have influence because they have spent millions of dollars in Africa – on AIDS, yes, and also on infrastructure, on food aid, on personnel to educate and heal and help. They send missionaries to live among the people. They recruit.

It is time we did the same.

We need Gays Without Borders. We need to start pooling our talent and resources and assisting developing countries.

After all, gays and lesbians – lesbians in particular – tend to gravitate toward non-profits. We are social workers, doctors, nurses, teachers. Why shouldn’t we put that knowledge to use to help Africans? Who knows how to organize the medical establishment (or lack thereof) to fight AIDS better than gays and lesbians? Who can tend to AIDS patients better or with more empathy?

And we wouldn’t help just gay Africans, either. Christian relief groups don’t just help Christians. Instead, the idea is to be a model – and to encourage a certain way of thinking. In our case, that way of thinking would be: Gay is OK.

Many Africans think of gay people as being perverted. They think of us as an underground sexual cult of some kind. But Gays Without Borders could show them first hand that we are a people to be respected, emulated, idolized.

We are scared and horrified by the news coming out of Africa. It is time we did something about it.

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