Uganda's Harsh Anti-Gay Legislation Has American Links

While activists around the world criticize pending legislation in Uganda they call the “kill the gays” bill, some Americans are being outed for their connections to those involved in the proposed statute. The latest is Richard Cohen, who claims he has successfully counseled thousands of gays to become straight. He was sliced, diced and grilled Tuesday night by Rachel Maddow on her MSNBC program.

Homosexuality has long been illegal in Uganda. But that country’s parliament is expected to vote soon on a bill that would make penalties harsher. Among its provisions: men and women convicted of having sex with somebody of the same gender would receive, at a minimum, a life sentence. Those having homosexual sex more than once, or with a minor, could get the death penalty. Anybody knowing of homosexual activity who does not report it, could be sentenced to prison.

Cohen is the founder of the International Healing Foundation. He describes himself as a former homosexual who converted to heterosexuality and has been married for 27 years and is the father of three children. He claims people aren’t born homosexual, but become attracted to the same sex due to a combination of psychological and environmental factors. People with “unwanted same-sex attraction” can therefore be counseled into becoming heterosexual, he says.

In March, one of Cohen’s “sexual reorientation coaches” went to Uganda to speak to parliament and at an anti-gay conference, where he said gays can change their sexual behavior. Weeks later, the anti-gay bill was drafted. On her show, Maddow showed a video clip of one of the leading proponents of the Uganda bill holding up Cohen’s book, Coming Out Straight, and summing up some of its conclusions as proof that the Ugandan legislation is necessary. That book includes a number of questionable statistics about gays that Cohen attributed to Paul Cameron, an anti-gay zealot who has published numerous pseudo-scientific studies about homosexuality over the years. Cameron has been booted out of the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association. After being prodded by Maddow, Cohen said he would delete those statistics before the next edition of his book is printed. He emphatically added that he opposes the Ugandan bill. “We believe in tolerance and love for all people.” But Maddow pointed out that Cohen’s book and those bogus statistics are being used by the bill’s proponents to argue for its passage.

Even more embarrassing for Cohen was when Maddow, reading from another of his books, Gay Children, Straight Parents, recounted factors he listed as causes of homosexuality — race, adoption, divorce, religion and death of a parent among them. “Race? That’s not in there,” a surprised Cohen said. Yes it is, Maddow assured him, on page 75. Oops. “How does race make you gay?” she asked. “It doesn’t,” Cohen conceded.

Cohen isn’t the only American feeling some heat over the Ugandan anti-gay bill. Activists have been pressuring California megachurch pastor and author Rick Warren to denounce the legislation. Warren once worked closely with a Ugandan preacher who is a high-profile anti-gay activist there. And an Iowa  gay rights group called One Iowa is conducting a petition drive demanding that one of that state’s senators, Chuck Grassley, denounce the Ugandan bill. Grassley was targeted because he’s a member of an organization called The Family or The Fellowship, a secretive fundamentalist group of high-ranking government, military and business officials in America and abroad with ties to Uganda legislators thought to support the anti-gay bill.