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Lively Dispute

A lawsuit targets an anti-gay minister in Springfield.

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Thursday, March 22, 2012

Last Wednesday, a group of social justice activists marched on the Springfield coffee house opened in 2010 by the notorious anti-gay evangelical minister Scott Lively.

But first, they gathered at the federal courthouse just up State Street from the coffee shop to mark the filing of a lawsuit against Lively "for the decade-long campaign he has waged, in coordination with his Ugandan counterparts, to persecute persons on the basis of their gender and/or sexual orientation and gender identity," in the words of the suit.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda, or SMUG, described as a coalition of groups that advocate for gay, bisexual and transgender people. The Ugandan government has received much attention for its virulently anti-gay positions, including a bill proposed in 2009 that would criminalize homosexuality, carrying, in some cases, the death penalty. A revised version of the bill now before the Parliament, while still harsh, reportedly has dropped the death penalty provision.

Lively has achieved a degree of notoriety in the U.S. for his anti-gay speeches and writings, which argue that there's a gay agenda to "recruit" young people and contend that homosexuality is a condition from which people can "recover." His publications include a book, The Pink Swastika, that asserts that the Nazi party was dominated by homosexuals. That thesis earned Lively a 2010 appearance on The Daily Show, in which he argued that Hitler built his army with gay men, recognizing that they were more "savage" than "natural men."

The interview was vintage Daily Show, from the mock-serious tone of the interviewer to the visual jokes (photos purporting to show the secret Nazi "Pink Shirts") to the ridiculous statements the show invariably manages to tease out of its interview subjects (Lively: "I would have loved to be hanging out on the beach someplace, but instead I got stuck dealing with homosexual Nazis"), all to the laughter of the studio audience.

But there's nothing funny about Lively's connections to Uganda, where he traveled in 2009 with other evangelical ministers to speak at an anti-gay conference leading up to the controversial bill. Lively subsequently attempted to distance himself from the death penalty provision, writing that while he supports Ugandan efforts to fight the "homosexualization" of the country, he felt the law should "emphasize rehabilitation over punishment" and that "the punishment that it calls for is unacceptably harsh."

The removal of the death penalty from that bill notwithstanding, the climate in Uganda has not improved for gay and transgender people. Last year, David Kato, a leader in that country's gay rights movement, was brutally murdered in what activists say was a homophobic attack. And last month, Ugandan government officials broke up a gay rights conference, prompting the organizer to go into hiding.

At last week's Springfield march, activists wore black and carried flowers as symbols of mourning for victims of homophobic violence.

The lawsuit, which seeks a jury trial, was filed by Northampton attorney Luke Ryan, along with two attorneys from New York's Center for Constitutional Rights. Lively told the Springfield Republican that he'll fight the suit.

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