Hoax Underscores Urgency for LGBT People in Uganda

Reports that the man whose head was found in a latrine in Uganda worked for a pro-gay group in the country have proven to be false. Integrity USA, a group representing LGBT Episcopalians, has confirmed that the dead man, Pasikali Kashusbe, was not associated with Integrity Uganda.

Bishop Christopher Senyonjo—recently returned from his seven-week speaking tour of the United States and Ireland—today issued a public statement on recent reports that the headless body of an Integrity Uganda member had been found in Uganda…

“I have never worked with anyone who goes by the name Pasikali in my organization. I also did not make any comments as quoted in earlier statements made by Rev. Erich Kasirye. Rev. Erich Kasirye no longer has any legitimate connection to Integrity Uganda.

Rev. Kasirye appeared as a source in the original story, but he was apparently kicked out of Integrity Uganda in 2004 for fraudulent activity according to Bishop Senyonjo. Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin believes Kasirye may be involved in the hoax.

Some believe that the story was planted by Kasirye to discredit the Ugandan LGBT community, foreign bloggers, and Integrity Uganda specifically when the story is inevitably revealed to be a fraud. Other possibilities include Kasirye’s using this story for another run at fraudulent fundraising. At any rate, it’s hard not to imagine the source of the story somehow tracing itself back to Kasirye himself in some form or fashion.

Burroway, whose reporting on Uganda since the introduction of the anti-homosexuality bill has been impeccable, issued an apology for perpetuating the false story:

To say that knowing that this web site helped to propagate that hoax is humiliating would be an understatement. We’ve worked hard at BTB in establishing our credibility, and I believe that a key component of that is also to maintain an atmosphere of transparency and accountability when we get it wrong.

The more profound damage, Burroway fears, however, is that this hoax will damage the fight for LGBT rights in Uganda.

This hoax can provide ammunition to our opponents who would try to use it as proof that LGBT people are deliberately spreading rumors and falsehoods. It can be used as a “crying wolf” case to dismiss future reports in which LGBT people are really attacked and killed. The hoax can be used as an excuse to silence LGBT people, organizations, and news outlets. It can give someone an idea for a copycat crime. It can do so many other damaging things as well, and knowing that I was a part of its spread is something that I am deeply sorry for.

Burroway is to be commended for his fine reporting on this issue. He trusted a source that had, up until now, been credible. He’s not the first serious journalist to be taken in by a scammer and he won’t be the last. I expect Burroway’s reporting on Uganda from this point to continue to be top-notch.

The story was so believable because the atmosphere in Uganda is ripe for just this kind of violence against people who are gay or lesbian or are perceived as such. With the anti-homosexuality law still pending, this issue is front and center in the country. Christian conservatives in the United States also continue to fuel the flames of homophobia in Uganda making life even more difficult for gays and lesbians there.

As The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle, Integrity USA’s Vice President for National and International Affairs noted, the hoax is a call to LGBT advocates around the world to redouble their efforts to foster full acceptance of LGBT people everywhere in the world – and most especially where they face the prospect of violence and death on a daily basis.

”This story is a wakeup call for all of us to ensure that something like it will never actually happen. The climate of fear and intimidation created by the Bahati Bill by external organizations like Exodus International and religious leadership in Uganda has increased the potential for violence against the LGBT community and their families. We cannot allow the rhetoric of misinformation and misinterpretation of Holy Scriptures to justify hatred and fear towards our fellow human beings.”

Candace Chellew-Hodge is the founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians and currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008)