A U.S. federal court has held for the first time that persecution on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is a crime against humanity that can form the basis of a lawsuit in the United States.
In a 79-page order published Wednesday, federal trial court Judge Michael Ponsor of Massachusetts cleared the way for a lawsuit to proceed against global anti-gay crusader Scott Lively. The suit was brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of the LGBTI rights organization, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG).
In addition to its larger implications, the ruling means that Lively could be held accountable, under the Alien Tort Statute, for his role in catalyzing the anti-gay attitudes in Uganda that helped produce legislation to punish homosexuality with the death penalty.
The lawsuit alleges that Lively—who began visiting Uganda in 2002—helped “engineer” legislation that had become known as the “Kill the Gays” bill because it would punish homosexuality with the death penalty. The legislation was introduced in the Ugandan parliament in 2009, shortly after Lively and other U.S. religious conservative activists participated in a conference on the “homosexual agenda” in the Ugandan capital of Kampala.
The “gay agenda … is the re-creation of society on a different moral foundation and the problem with that is that moral foundation will lead to social chaos and destruction,” Lively said at the conference, where he also met with Ugandan lawmakers. He equated homosexuality with pedophilia and called for “doing everything in our power to protect people from acquiring” same-sex attraction.
Lively bragged shortly after the event that “our campaign was like a nuclear bomb against the ‘gay’ agenda in Uganda.”
Ponsor noted, “After going to Uganda in 2009,” according to the complaint, “[Lively] continued to communicate from the United States through Martin Ssempa to members of the Ugandan Parliament about the legislation proposing the death penalty for homosexuality.” Ssempa, a Ugandan pastor, is one of the most vocal anti-gay activists in the country.
In denying Lively’s attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed, Ponsor concluded:
[Lively]’s intentional activities, according to the Amended Complaint, succeeded in intimidating, oppressing, and victimizing the LGBTI community. Indeed, as noted, according to the Amended Complaint [Lively] acknowledged that his efforts made him instrumental in detonating “a nuclear bomb against the ‘gay’ agenda in Uganda.”
[A]ll these allegations will need to be proved at trial to entitle [SMUG] to a verdict, and they may not be. But, as this lengthy discussion demonstrates, they are sufficient, as allegations, to state a claim for the commission of a crime against humanity against [Lively].
Lively began getting widespread attention for his anti-gay work following the publication of The Pink Swastika in 1995, a book that argued that gay men were responsible for the Holocaust.
He has also been very active in Eastern Europe through Watchmen on the Walls, a group he co-founded in 2007. He claims to have done a “50-city tour of the former Soviet Union” in 2006 and 2007 to call for laws restricting LGBTI rights. He recently suggested this trip planted the seed for Russia’s new law against “homosexual propaganda,” saying that this legislation should be a model for the rest of the world to “protect the society from being ‘homosexualized.’”
The case by the Center for Constitutional Rights and Sexual Minorities Uganda is being brought under the Alien Torts Statute, which allows U.S. courts to review charges of crimes against humanity. With the green light from Ponsor, the case will now proceed.
J. Lester Feder is a BuzzFeed contributor and 2013 Alicia Patterson journalism fellow.