Initial Hearing in Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) Lawsuit Against Scott Lively

With the assistance of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) has filed a federal lawsuit against Scott Lively for his involvement in anti-LGBT efforts in Uganda. His visit to Uganda in 2009 helped facilitate the introduction of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into Uganda’s parliament. Lively is being sued under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) for persecution, a crime against humanity.

As Uganda’s parliament reconvenes in 2013, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill could appear on the agenda again. Evangelical pastors, some aligned with Scott Lively, have been using the holidays to push for the bill’s passage. The bill makes it illegal to promote social justice for LGBT people and applies the death penalty in certain circumstances.

Activists from SMUG appeared in U.S. District Court today in Springfield, MA for the first hearing on the lawsuit.

From the Cape Cod Times:

Sexual Minorities Uganda, for which Onziema works as program director, filed a civil suit March 14, with the help of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, against Springfield-area minister Scott Lively.

The group charges that Lively has committed a crime against humanity of persecution, brought under the U.S. Alien Tort Statute. Specifically, the group says Lively has — since a visit to Uganda in 2002 — waged a campaign with like-minded Ugandans to persecute people in Uganda because of their gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. The lawsuit attempts to stop Lively’s involvement in a “conspiracy to severely deprive people of their fundamental rights on the basis of their identity,” and is not based on Lively’s anti-gay speech or writings, according to the complaint.

Sexual Minorities Uganda is an umbrella organization for eight groups, each with about 30 people, who promote the rights of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, intersexuals and transgender people. Another dozen human rights groups, working on more general issues, are part of the umbrella organization as well, according to Onziema…

So far the bill has not passed in Parliament.

“They’re trying to strengthen what exists,” Onziema said of Lively and leaders in Uganda who oppose gay rights. “They feel it’s not enough.”

Lively’s work in 2009 in Uganda and his call to fight against what he called an evil, genocidal and pedophilic gay movement, according to the complaint, radically changed the attitude about gay rights in Uganda, Onziema said.

In 2010, a tabloid newspaper published an article about the sexual orientation of Sexual Minorities Uganda Advocacy Officer David Kato and others under the headline “Hang Them,” according to the complaint. Four months later, Kato was beaten to death in his home, the complaint said.

In 2012, a private training session on human rights and public health conducted by the advocacy group was raided by Ugandan government officials, who declared the gathering illegal and those who were there terrorists, the complaint said.

“We’re not going to keep having people come and brainwash our people who actually love us,” Onziema said. Onziema came out as a lesbian at age 12, and in the past seven years has identified as a transgender man.

“We wanted to hold Scott Lively accountable,” he said.

Sexual Minorities Uganda is seeking a jury trial. The group wants a judgment declaring Lively’s actions illegal and in violation of international law and fundamental human rights, according to the complaint. The group is seeking compensation and punitive damages.

A number of activists associated with Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) recently shared their stories in a photo essay in The Advocate. “This is a project of intimate storytelling,” says American-born photographer D. David Robinson. “It is not political, even if these individuals are activists and human rights defenders in Uganda. These are personal stories, and obviously just a small window onto each person’s experience of discovering their sexual orientation and learning to survive and thrive in the country they love.”

Update 1/9/2012: Interviews with activists from Uganda

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