It's a cold night and the car park in Bratislava is lit only by the neon lights from a supermarket. This is where Romana, a prominent gay rights activist was lured after a phone call from a woman who suggested they meet up. In fact, lying in wait were six shaven neo-Nazis. "It was fucking terrifying", she tells us. Romana escaped by running into the supermarket but she says many of her LGBT friends have suffered attacks: "The situation is getting worse and no-one's listening to us..."
These assaults all took place in the run up to a referendum to enshrine a ban on same sex marriage into the constitution of Slovakia, a member of the European Union since 2004. The attempted attack on Romana followed a pattern established in Russia after that country passed its controversial anti-propaganda law in 2013. Our film for Dispatches, Hunted, exposed the way gay men would be entrapped on the pretext of setting up a date and then beaten and humiliated in attacks dubbed as 'safaris' by the vigilante gangs responsible. Since then, a series of international organisations, including the UN and Amnesty International, have highlighted the link between anti-gay legislation and persecution of LGBT minorities.
But the wave of such legislation around the world is no co-incidence. It's being supported by a wealthy network of American evangelical Christian organisations. For them, last month's historic ruling by the US Supreme Court allowing same sex marriage in all fifty states is not so much a loss as a setback. Their campaign to preserve marriage as a union between one man and one woman, far from abating, is gathering momentum as they look abroad to support laws that curb the rights of gay people who live far from the United States.
In Uganda, where the anti-homosexual Act was passed in December 2013, we met Jackson Mocasa and his partner Kim who were attacked by an angry mob for being gay. They were woken in the night and beaten. They managed to escape, only to be arrested by police and charged with engaging in sex acts against the laws of nature. The case against them was eventually dropped, but their troubles are far from over. Jackson told us: "Before the law I was OK, now after the passing of the law I lost everything. We are even desperate, nowhere to sleep, nowhere to eat, do you understand?"
One of the most prominent supporters of the law was the firebrand American pastor, Scott Lively. In 2009 he told a Ugandan audience that the gay movement is "an evil institution." He advised the Ugandan parliament on how to take the legislation forward. Scott Lively's activities abroad have led him into trouble at home; he's facing civil action in America for crimes against humanity in an ongoing case. I went to meet him at his base, a coffee shop in the town of Springfield in Massachusetts. It's called the Holy Grounds and doubles as his church. Lively pours scorn on the reports linking anti-gay legislation to a rise in homophobic attacks. Lively is not alone in distancing himself from the violence routinely meted out to gay people in countries which pass laws curtailing their freedoms.
For many years he has been linked to an organisation called the World Congress of Families, an umbrella organisation for conservative religious groups that promote traditional family values. They boast combined total budgets of almost 200 million dollars a year and have established links in 80 countries around the world. But their headquarters could not be more unassuming. The WCF is based in the small city of Rockford in Illinois, an hour and a half's drive through the endless suburbs of Chicago, in the heart of the American Midwest. At a modest white clapboard house I meet Larry Jacobs, the group's managing director. His greeting is friendly enough but the exchange turns frosty when I question him about his support of the Russian anti-propaganda law, and he insists he has no responsibility for the legislation. I remind him that he'd spoken in support of it, suggesting otherwise it would imperil children. He said: "After it was passed we attempted to clarify and defend the provisions of protecting children." I asked if he felt responsible for the surge in homophobic violence that followed the law. He repeated: "We support the protection of children."
Our investigation also showed that an associate of the World Congress of Families is increasing its influence throughout Europe. The Alliance Defending Freedom provides legal support wherever they consider Christian beliefs are under attack. And they got involved in the Slovakian referendum this year, hiring a prominent MP in the country, Daniel Lipsic, to write an amicus brief. We discovered that the Alliance Defending Freedom is increasingly active in challenging human rights legislation in many European countries. During 2012 and 2013, they spent around a million dollars in Europe. The ADF defends its work, telling Dispatches that Mr Lipsic was involved "because of his high profile within Slovakia and his expertise in constitutional law."
But Romana, and other members of the gay community there, are feeling persecuted and demoralised. She tells us that recent attacks led one member of the gay community to commit suicide.
Hunted: Gay and Afraid, Channel 4 Dispatches, Thursday 23rd July at 11.05pm.Suggest a correction