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Pressure and backlash

The West sees the resistance as a challenge. Some Western countries— especially the United States under Obama and the United Kingdom under British Prime Minister David Cameron—elevated LBGT rights to prominence as a foreign policy issue. As the Associated Press put it in a June 28, 2014, story, “President Barack Obama has taken the U.S. gay rights revolution global, using American embassies across the world to promote a cause that still divides his own country.” Before then, at a meeting of the Commonwealth heads of government in 2011, Cameron threatened that the U.K. would withhold aid from countries that did not liberalize their policy towards homosexuality.

The diplomatic offensive furthered the perception that the LGBT lifestyle is a Western cultural phenomenon. So, the offensive largely backfired and provoked a backlash. Critics compare it with the “gunboat diplomacy” of the colonial era. Then, non-Western countries were forced to accept terms of trade and other relations under threat of invasion.

Rather than the intended effect, the pressure produced widespread defiance and denunciation by African political leaders and

All things decadent are Western 49 commentators. Then Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was especially caustic. During a lavish ceremony to observe his 88th birthday in 2012, he took pains to urge the youth to shun Western values, especially same-sex marriage.

“We reject that outright and say to hell with you,” Mugabe said in a nationally televised address, referring to Western diplomats. “You are free as a man to marry a woman and that is what we follow. That’s what produced you and me. This kind of insanity is now part of [European and American] culture” (Associated Press, February 25, 2012). In another even more caustic comment, Mugabe mockingly invited Obama to come to visit Zimbabwe so that he could marry him.

Some countries responded to the strong-arm diplomatic pressures by stiffening or instituting criminal laws against homosexuality. The Nigerian Senate, for example, hastily introduced a bill that called for 14 years of imprisonment for any public display of homosexuality, such as intimate kissing by persons of the same sex. The bill was signed into law in 2014. In Uganda, the law stipulates a life sentence for homosexuality, and that was a watering down from the death penalty.

Elsewhere, some countries are a lot more circumspect in their laws. In Russia, for example, the law does not prohibit homosexuality per se, but forbids activities that “promote” homosexuality to children. Notable among such activities are LGBT rallies. But the law has been interpreted much more broadly. Before releasing Elton John’s biopic “Rocketman” in Russia in May 2019, for example, the distributors edited out all sex and kissing scenes between men. Though the movie about the gay pop star is rated for viewers 18 and older, Paramount and its Russian distributor explained that the scenes were cut to comply with Russian law.

The pressure and pushback are creating an odd alignment against Western crusaders for LGBT rights. Because of the adverse impact, some spokespeople for the LGBT communities in these countries have criticized the strong-arm tactic. “It is a colonial approach,” Rauda Morcos, “a prominent Palestinian lesbian activist” is quoted by the AP (June 28, 2014) as saying. “In cases where it was tried, it didn’t help local communities and maybe made things even worse.” Morcos argued that it would be much more effective to let local gay communities assert themselves in their cultural contexts.

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