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Obama nominates new Global AIDS office director

Barack Obama, Global AIDS, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama’s choice for the AIDS post was applauded by advocacy groups. (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

President Obama on Jan. 9 nominated Dr. Deborah L. Birx, a retired Army colonel and AIDS researcher, to replace Dr. Eric Goosby as the new U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator.

The official title of the position is Ambassador at Large and Coordinator of United States Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS Globally.

The office, which is part of the State Department, is in charge of administering the multi-billion dollar President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR.

Since its creation in 2003 by President George W. Bush and its approval by Congress, the PEPFAR program has been credited with saving the lives of millions of people with HIV/AIDS in developing countries in Africa, Asia and other places by dispensing AIDS drugs and helping host countries improve medical treatment.

Birx has served since 2009 as director of the Division of Global HIV/AIDS at the Center for Global Health, which is an arm of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She served from 2005 to 2009 as director of the CDC’s Global AIDS Programs for the National Center for HIV, STD, and Tuberculosis Prevention.

According to biographical information released by the White House, Birx served on active duty in the Army for 29 years in a wide range of medical and AIDS-related research positions. Among other posts, she served as director of the U.S. Military HIV Research Program and as director of the Division of Retrovirology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research from 1996 to 2005.

She served from 1995 to 1996 as the Walter Reed institute’s laboratory director of HIV-1 Vaccine Development and from 1994 to 1995 as chief of the Department of Retroviral Research.

Birx also served as an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina since 2012, a consultant to Walter Reed Army Medical Center since 1989, and an assistant professor at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences since 1985. She received her M.D. from Penn State University.

If confirmed by the Senate as expected, Birx will take the helm at the Global AIDS Office at a time when the Obama administration is seeking to shift some of the costs of operating the PEPFAR program to host countries under U.S. supervision. Some AIDS groups have criticized the administration for reducing funding for PEPFAR in 2010. The White House argued that although modest funding cuts were made, PEPFAR more than doubled the number of people for whom it provided life-saving drugs since Obama took office in 2009.

“We have been able to pivot the PEPFAR program from what was an emergency response that was not sustainable to a sustainable response,” Goosby told the Wall Street Journal at the time he stepped down as head of the Global AIDS Office in late October.

“Our role now is not as the person who goes in and builds clinics,” the Wall Street Journal quoted him as saying. “Now we’re watching our colleagues in countries do that themselves, and if there’s a drop in impact we are there with them strengthening the weak links.”

Goosby returned to the University of California in San Francisco, where he taught and conducted AIDS-related research prior to heading the Global AIDS Office in Washington.

The New York-based Foundation for AIDS Research known as AMFAR said it “enthusiastically welcomed” Obama’s decision to nominate Birx as the next Global AIDS Coordinator.

“Dr. Birx is an expert on HIV/AIDS who has contributed significantly to groundbreaking research throughout her illustrious career,” AMFAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost said in a statement. “She brings to the table just the right mix of technical, management and leadership skills, and a keen understanding of what needs to be done to accomplish the AIDS free generation goal reaffirmed by President Obama in his State of the Union address last year.”

10
Jan
2014

Blade staff to attend White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner

Chris Johnson, gay news, Washington Blade, Michigan

Washington Blade political reporter Chris Johnson. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

The Washington Blade, which is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year, will have a presence at Saturday night’s centennial celebration of the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.

Several Blade staffers, including editor Kevin Naff, White House reporter Chris Johnson and senior reporter Lou Chibbaro, Jr. will be there, along with the Blade’s special guest, blogger Andrew Sullivan.

The Blade was recently added to the in-town press pool, marking the first time the White House Correspondents’ Association extended the honor to an LGBT outlet. Johnson has served as the Blade’s reporter in the pool this year. Chibbaro was first credentialed at the White House during the Reagan administration but did not serve in the press pool of reporters that shadow the president when he leaves the White House.

The Blade has had a complicated history with the White House press corps. Its credentials were revoked during the second term of the George W. Bush administration but promptly reinstated when Barack Obama was sworn in.

“We’re excited to celebrate this milestone in the Blade’s long journey,” said Naff, who invited Sullivan to join the Blade contingent as a thank you for his contribution to the marriage equality movement. “Andrew was writing about marriage equality when most of today’s activists were still in the closet. He deserves our community’s gratitude and we all look forward to a fun night.”

Comedian and actor Joel McHale will emcee Saturday’s event, which is being broadcast on CNN from 8-11 p.m. President Obama is scheduled to speak. You can follow Blade observations at @washblade or @chrisjohnson82.

02
May
2014

Obama administration to ‘review’ relationship with Uganda

Barack Obama, Global AIDS, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

The Obama administration on Monday said it is reviewing its relationship with Uganda after the country’s president signed a bill into law that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

“The United States will undertake a review of its relationship with Uganda,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told the Washington Blade during his daily press briefing. “I don’t have any outcomes to predict to you because we’re undertaking a review now.”

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki reiterated Secretary of State John Kerry who said in a statement the U.S. has begun “an internal review of our relationship with the government of Uganda to ensure that all dimensions of our engagement, including assistance programs, uphold our anti-discrimination policies and principles and reflect our values.”

Psaki told the Blade during her daily press briefing the review “means a range of things.” She did not specifically say whether it would include cutting any of the $400 million in annual aid the United States gives to the East African country each year, recalling U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Scott DeLisi or sanctions.

“We’re looking at a range of options,” she told the Blade.

Obama said in a Feb. 16 statement his administration has “conveyed” to Museveni that signing the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law “will complicate our valued relationship with Uganda.” National Security Advisor Susan Rice has also spoken directly with the Ugandan president on the issue, but Psaki told the Blade she did not know whether Kerry and Museveni have discussed the controversial measure.

“As President Obama stated, this legislation is not just morally wrong,” said Kerry in a statement. “It complicates a valued relationship.”

Carney told the Blade he could not provide a timetable as to when the administration would complete the review of its relationship with the East African country.

Uganda is among the more than 70 countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized.

Ofwono Opondo, a spokesperson for the Ugandan government, on Monday chastised Western governments and media outlets whom he said were “blackmailing” his country over the Anti-Homosexuality Law. He said they “should swallow their pride.”

“Africans do not seek to impose their views on anybody,” said Museveni in a Feb. 18 statement. “We do not want anybody to impose their views on us. This very debate was provoked by Western groups who come to our schools and try to recruit children into homosexuality. It is better to limit the damage rather than exacerbate it.”

Museveni described gays and lesbians as “mercenaries” as he signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law at his official residence in Entebbe. He also said oral sex can cause worms, Hepatitis B and other sexually transmitted diseases–a document the anti-gay Coalition for Advancement of Moral Values (CAMOVA) sent to Ugandan parliamentarians last year lists “oral anal sex” as among the “horrors of homosexuality.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights in March 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against Scott Lively on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT rights group, that accuses the evangelical Christian of exploiting homophobic attitudes in the East African country and encouraging lawmakers to approve the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Judge Michael A. Posner of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts last August ruled the lawsuit can proceed.

“No person should be forced to live in dread of discovery simply because of who they are and who they love–an atmosphere of violent persecution now officially embraced by Uganda’s laws,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a statement. “The backwardness of the new law is damaging Uganda’s international reputation and could jeopardize progress in fighting HIV/AIDS, attracting foreign investment and promoting tourism.”

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who met with Museveni last month during a trip to the East African country, also urged the Ugandan president not to sign the bill into law.

“I certainly disagree with the controversial legislation that Uganda may enact in the coming days,” the Oklahoma Republican told the Blade last week. “As I’ve said before, it is my hope that the country will abandon this unjust and harsh legislation.”

Chris Johnson contributed to this article.

24
Feb
2014

BREAKING: Obama to sign executive order barring anti-LGBT job bias

Barack Obama, ENDA, United States of America, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

President Barack Obama (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

President Obama is set to sign an executive order that would bar anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among federal contractors.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Blade on Monday the new directive is in line with Obama’s pledge to make 2014 a year of action and use his “pen” to take administrative action if Congress fails to act.

“The president has directed his staff to prepare for his signature an executive order that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” the official said. “The action would build upon existing protections, which generally prohibit federal contractors and subcontractors from discriminating in employment decisions on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This is consistent with the president’s views that all Americans, LGBT or not, should be treated with dignity and respect.”

The executive order was one of the last remaining initiatives that LGBT advocates had sought from the Obama administration in the aftermath of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal, discontinued defense of the Defense of Marriage Act in court, coming out for marriage equality and submitting a brief in the case against California’s Proposition 8.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, called the decision “a major step forward” in improving the lives of LGBT people.

“Now millions of people will have the economic security they need to provide for their families,” Carey said. “Through his actions, the president has demonstrated again his commitment to ending discrimination. We thank all the organizations who have worked so hard to make this piece of history. This decision is good for LGBTQ people, good for our economy and good for America.”

According to a 2012 study from the Williams Institute, as many as 16.5 million people would receive protections under the executive order because they work for federal contractors. However, the number of LGBT people within this group is  smaller — about 400,000 -600,000.

Outgoing White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had faced questions about whether Obama would sign the executive order from multiple media outlets, especially LGBT media including the Washington Blade, since April 2011. Each time, Carney has said the administration prefers the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would bar anti-LGBT workplace discrimination among many public and private employers, not just federal contractors.

Following a high-level meeting between LGBT advocates and the senior adviser to the president Valerie Jarrett in April 2012, Carney announced that the administration wouldn’t issue the executive order “at this time.” But that didn’t stop LGBT advocates from continuing to call for and demonstrate on behalf of the executive order.

Vice President Joseph Biden told The Huffington Post just last month he sees no “downside” to issuing an executive order against LGBT discrimination, although he maintained legislation remains the best path. Nonetheless, Biden’s words triggered speculation that an executive order from would soon follow, much like his endorsement of marriage equality, which preceded Obama’s just days earlier.

On Monday, the White House official told the Blade that Obama continues to support the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, but noted the U.S. House has not yet acted to pass the legislation following a bi-partisan vote of 64-32 to approve the bill in the U.S. Senate late last year.

“No current federal law adequately protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers from employment discrimination,” the White House official said. “That’s why the president has long supported federal legislation to explicitly prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Last November, the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with strong bipartisan support. However, the House has failed to act on this important legislation.”

It wasn’t immediately known when Obama would formally pen his name to the executive order. He’s scheduled to speak this week at a Democratic National Committee gala for the LGBT community in New York City and to speak at a Pride reception at the White House on June 30.

Asked by the Blade whether there could be a scenario in which Obama would drop plans to sign the executive order, the White House official replied, “The president’s intentions are clear.”

It also wasn’t immediately known whether Obama would sign a new executive order or simply amend Executive Order 11246, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion and national origin among federal contractors who do more than $10,000 a year in business with the federal government.

The White House official pushed back in response to a question over whether the decision to sign the order reflects an assessment that ENDA won’t pass by the end of this Congress.

“We do not believe executive action and congressional action are mutually exclusive,” the official said. “By prohibiting discrimination against LGBT workers by federal contractors, we would be doing our part to expand opportunity for every hard-working American, regardless of who they are or who they love. We continue to hope the House will follow the bipartisan lead of the Senate and pass legislation. But we’re not going to wait any longer for them to do so.”

Despite the continued push for ENDA, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told the LGBT Equality Caucus in January there’s “no way” it will come up before Election Day, although participants in the meeting expressed a sense that a vote may take place in the lame duck session of Congress.

On the same day the Blade learned about this development, the Human Rights Campaign published new polling data demonstrating strong public support for federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in the workforce.

According to the national survey by TargetPoint Consulting, 63 percent of those surveyed favor a federal law that protects gay and transgender people from employment discrimination, while only 25 percent oppose it. The poll was conducted June 6-10 among 1,200 registered voters.

A 2011 poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research had similar results regarding the executive order itself and found 73 percent of likely voters would support it.

Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, praised Obama for his plans and said the House needs to follow suit by taking up ENDA.

“The reality is that many LGBT workers still remain vulnerable to employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity,” Harkin said. “Without the enactment of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, it remains perfectly legal to do so in many states across the country. The House should take up and pass ENDA, which was approved with bipartisan support both in the HELP Committee and on the Senate floor.”

The White House official said the executive order builds on Obama’s record on LGBT issues — and would precede more work on behalf of the LGBT community.

“From signing an inclusive Hate Crimes law to passing the Affordable Care Act, from reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act with provisions to protect LGBT victims to ensuring equality in federal housing, we have taken many important steps forward,” the official said. “While work remains to ensure that all Americans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, are equal under the law, we look forward to continuing to make progress in the months and years ahead.”

16
Jun
2014

LGBT issues not discussed during Obama meeting with Francis

Pope Francis, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Pope Francis met with President Obama at the Vatican on Thursday. (Photo by Agência Brasil; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

President Obama on Thursday did not raise LGBT-specific issues with Pope Francis during their meeting in the Vatican.

“I would say that the largest bulk of the time was discussing two central concerns of his,” Obama told reporters after the meeting. “One is the issues of the poor, the marginalized, those without opportunity and growing inequality.”

Obama said he and the pontiff discussed immigration reform and the possibility of a papal trip to the U.S. The president stressed there was also “some specific focus” during their 50 minute meeting on the Middle East – and specifically Syria, Lebanon and the fledgling peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

“The theme that stitched our conversation together was a belief that in politics and in life the quality of empathy, the ability to stand in somebody else’s shoes and to care for someone even if they don’t look like you or talk like you or share your philosophy – that that’s critical,” said Obama. “It’s the lack of empathy that makes it very easy for us to plunge into wars.”

Obama said he did not discuss the Affordable Care Act – and specifically exemptions for religious institutions during his meeting with Francis. The president noted to reporters he “briefly” discussed the issue with Archbishop Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s chief diplomat.

A Vatican press release described Obama’s meeting with Francis as “cordial.” The Holy See noted “views were exchanged on some current international themes.”

“It was hoped that, in some areas of conflict, there would be respect for humanitarian and international law and a negotiated solution between the parties involved,” said the press release.

The Vatican noted Obama and Francis discussed “questions of particular relevance for the church in that country, such as the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection, as well as the issue of immigration reform.”

“Finally, the common commitment to the eradication of trafficking of human persons in the world was stated,” added the press release.

LGBT rights advocates earlier this week pressed Obama to discuss the Vatican’s opposition to marriage rights for gays and lesbians, a Ugandan law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts and other issues.

“At a time when members of the LGBT community are being arrested, attacked, and ‘outed’ in situations that make them vulnerable to violence, there is a real urgency for U.S. leadership,” said Human Rights First President Elisa Massimino and Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, in a letter they wrote to Obama before he traveled to Europe earlier this week. “There is particular value for Pope Francis to raise this issue publicly in Uganda because his words will reverberate throughout Africa and worldwide at this time, and we hope he would raise these issues consistently.”

Obama on Wednesday referenced gay rights during a speech to European and NATO allies in Brussels against the backdrop of the escalating tensions between Ukraine and Russia.

“Instead of targeting our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, we can use our laws to protect their rights,” said the president.

Dignity USA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke told the Washington Blade on Friday she feels there is “probably a nice compatibility between” Obama and Francis on immigration and income inequality-related issues. She added she feels Secretary of State John Kerry and his Vatican counterpart likely discussed differences over the Affordable Care Act, LGBT rights and other topics.

“I certainly hope that the Obama administration continued to be clear about its position that LGBTQ justice issues are part of their human rights initiatives and that they’re really committed to global equality,” said Duddy-Burke.

Esteban Paulón, Argentina, LGBT Federation of Argentina, gay news, Washington Blade

Esteban Paulón (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)


LGBT Federation of Argentina President Esteban Paulón expressed disappointment that Obama did not specifically discuss LGBT-specific issues with the pope who was the archbishop of Buenos Aires before he succeeded Pope Benedict XVI last year.

“Even though we did not have high expectations, we believed that within the context of the meeting President Obama would have brought to the table his administration’s concern that it has expressed, and that we have shared, about the climate of hostilities towards lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in many parts of the world,” Paulón told the Blade on Friday. “In many of those countries this persecution happens with the support, or at the very least with the complicity and silence, of the Catholic hierarchy.”

LGBT Catholics have welcomed Francis’ more moderate tone on marriage, homosexuality and other gay-specific issues since he succeeded Benedict. The church’s position on the aforementioned topics has not changed in spite of the Argentine-born pontiff’s more conciliatory tone.

29
Mar
2014

Cartoon: Joan Rivers

Joan Rivers, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade cartoon by Ranslem)

08
Jul
2014

Obama nominates black lesbian to serve on federal judiciary

President Obama nominated a black lesbian on Thursday to the federal judiciary. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

President Obama nominated a black lesbian on Thursday to the federal judiciary. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Obama added to his list of openly gay judicial appointments on Thursday by naming a black lesbian to serve on the federal court.

Obama nominated Staci Michelle Yandle for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois on Thursday as part of a group of four nominees.

“I am pleased to nominate these distinguished individuals to serve on the United States District Court bench,” Obama said in a statement. “I am confident they will serve the American people with integrity and a steadfast commitment to justice.”

Yandle, who was recommended by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), will need confirmation from the U.S. Senate before she’s seated on the bench.

In a statement, Durbin called Yandle an “excellent candidate” to serve on the federal judiciary in Illinois.

“She will bring a wealth of knowledge and litigation experience to the position,” Durbin said. “I am pleased that President Obama has nominated her today. I will be working with Senator Kirk to see her nomination approved by the Senate.”

The U.S. Senate has already confirmed a total of eight openly gay judges to the federal bench, and Obama named seven of the them. If confirmed, Yandle would be the first openly gay person to serve Illinois on the federal judiciary.

In an interview with Trial Associate in July, Yandle said she thinks the plaintiff bar can be more diverse “whether you are talking about ethnic, gender, or sexual orientation diversity” — a rule she said could apply to any profession.

“The plaintiff bar needs to be more embracing of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community,” Yandle said. “When I first started practicing, for a while I did not feel comfortable acknowledging my sexual orientation because I didn’t want it to cost me my job. I wanted to be judged on my merit and my merit alone. Many members of the LGBT community still have that fear. We are a traditional profession that is conservative in many ways.”

According to a bio provided by the White House, Yandle has served as a solo practitioner in southern Illinois since 2007, where she focused her practice on civil litigation in federal and state court. She received her law degree in 1987 from the Vanderbilt University and her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois in 1983.

Yandle has also engaged in public service, serving by appointment on the Illinois Gaming Board from 1999 to 2001 and on the Illinois Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in the 1990s.

LGBT advocates praised the Yandle nomination for its potential to add diversity to the federal judiciary.

Michael Cole-Schwartz, a spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign, was among those praising Obama for his choice.

“The nomination of Staci Michelle Yandle is further evidence that the administration is committed to building a judiciary that reflects the diversity of our country,” Cole-Schwartz said. “She is a highly qualified nominee who will serve with distinction.”

Denis Dison, spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said the confirmation of Yandle to the federal judiciary would enhance the diversity of the courts.

“Our government, including the judiciary, works best when it benefits from the perspectives and experiences of all Americans, so we applaud the president’s effort to increase diversity on the federal bench,” Dison said. “Staci Yandle’s nomination is also a reminder of the enormous talent, professionalism and diversity that exists within the American LGBT community, and we congratulate her on this achievement.”

But Yandle wasn’t the only openly LGBT nominee that Obama named on Thursday. Shamina Singh, executive director for the MasterCard Center for Inclusive Growth, was nominated for a seat on the Board of Directors of the Corporation for National & Community Service

Yandle wouldn’t be the first openly lesbian African American to serve on the federal judiciary. That distinction belongs to Deborah Batts, whom the Senate confirmed during the Clinton administration in 1994 for a seat on the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York.

It’s also not the first time that Obama has nominated an openly LGBT black person to serve on the federal judiciary. In November 2012, Obama nominated William Thomas for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

However, after initially recommending the nominee, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) objected to Thomas and held up the nomination. After no action was taken on the nomination over more than a year, Obama didn’t renew his recommendation of Thomas at the start of the year.

In related news, another openly LGBT judicial nominee advanced in the Senate on the same day that Obama named Yandle for a seat on the federal courts.

The Senate Judiciary Committee reported out Judith Levy, whom Obama nominated in July for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, by voice vote as part of a group of 32 nominees. She currently serves as an assistant U.S. attorney in Michigan.

D’Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the LGBT Bar Association, praised the committee for moving forward with the Levy nomination and urged the full Senate to confirm her.

“Just as women, African Americans, Latinos and others have made our judicial system stronger through their expertise and experiences, openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender judges and attorneys also ensure our courts reflect our country,” Kemnitz said. “We now call on the full Senate to vote on Levy’s nomination without delay.”

16
Jan
2014

Kerry touches upon LGBT rights in Ethiopia speech

Gay News, Washington Blade, John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry (photo public domain)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday briefly touched upon LGBT rights during a speech he gave in the Ethiopian capital.

“Africa’s potential comes from the ability of its citizens to make a full contribution, no matter their ethnicity, no matter who they love, or what faith they practice,” he said at an Addis Ababa park.

Kerry also noted during the speech that he co-wrote a measure in the U.S. Senate to combat AIDS in Africa during the 1990s that later became the foundation for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

He noted more than 330,000 children are now receiving antiretroviral drugs — and the number of people with HIV has dropped by a third. Kerry also visited an Addis Ababa hospital earlier in the week that hung a banner reading “Ethiopia and the United States of America investing in a healthy future together.”

“We are on the cusp of witnessing the first generation of children who will be born of AIDS-free because of what we have learned to do,” he said.

Kerry’s Ethiopia speech took place during a week-long trip to Africa that has included a visit to the war-torn country of South Sudan. He is scheduled to visit the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola before returning to D.C. next week.

African countries face continued criticism over anti-gay laws

The U.S. and some European countries have cut aid to Uganda after President Yoweri Museveni in February signed into law a bill that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. A raid of a U.S.-funded HIV/AIDS service organization in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, last month sparked additional criticism and outrage among LGBT rights advocates and Western governments.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed a draconian bill into law that punishes those who enter into same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison. The statute also prohibits anyone from officiating a gay union, bans same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership in an LGBT advocacy group.

The murder of Eric Ohena Lembembe, a prominent Cameroonian LGBT rights advocate, last July underscored pervasive anti-gay persecution and violence in the country.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has faced repeated criticism from the State Department over his anti-LGBT rhetoric and crackdown on gay advocacy groups.

South Africa is among the countries that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples, but discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression remain pervasive.

Kerry in February said the U.S. was “deeply troubled” over the anti-gay rhetoric that Gambian President Yahya Jammeh used during a speech that commemorated his country’s independence from the U.K. The Ethiopian government has also faced criticism over a proposal that would have added homosexuality to a list of crimes ineligible for presidential pardons.

“The issue of gays and lesbians, and how they’re treated, has come up and has been controversial in many parts of Africa,” President Obama told reporters last June during a press conference with Senegalese President Macky Sall in Dakar, the West African country’s capital. Senegal is among the more than 70 countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized. “So I want the African people just to hear what I believe, and that is that every country, every group of people, every religion have different customs, different traditions. And when it comes to people’s personal views and their religious faith, et cetera, I think we have to respect the diversity of views that are there.”

It is not immediately clear whether Kerry discussed Ethiopia’s LGBT rights record while in Addis Ababa.

03
May
2014

Ugandan president signs draconian anti-gay bill

Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT advocates hung this poster outside the Ugandan embassy in Northwest D.C. on Feb. 24 in response to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill the country’s president signed into law earlier in the day. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Sturtz)

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Feb. 24 signed a bill into law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

“I have failed to understand that you can fail to be attracted to all these beautiful women and be attracted to a man,” Museveni told reporters as he signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill at his official residence in Entebbe, according to Agence France-Presse. “That is a really serious matter. There is something really wrong with you.”

Museveni described gays and lesbians as “mercenaries” who are actually “heterosexual people but because of money they say they are homosexuals.” The Ugandan president also said oral sex can cause worms, Hepatitis B and other sexually transmitted diseases.

“The mouth is for picking food, not for sex,” said Museveni, according to Agence France-Presse. “We know the address for sex. That address (the mouth) is not for sex. The mouth is for eating not for sex. The mouth is engineered for kissing.”

Museveni’s decision to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill sparked widespread outrage among LGBT rights advocates and Western governments.

Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, scoffed at Museveni’s previous claims that he sought “scientific opinions” on whether people were “born homosexual.” The activist is among the list of “200 top” gays whose names a Ugandan tabloid published on Tuesday.

Museveni in a Feb. 18 statement that rebuked President Obama’s criticisms over the Anti-Homosexuality Bill specifically cited the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights President Kerry Kennedy – with whom he met last month – for sending him information from U.S. scientists who said “there could be some indications that heterosexuality could be congenital.” Museveni said scientists from the Ugandan Ministry of Health and two other agencies came to a “unanimous conclusion” that “homosexuality, contrary to my earlier thinking, was behavioral and not genetic.”

“President Museveni’s scientific inquiry is a smokescreen for what is truly going on: political homophobia at its worst,” Mugisha told the Washington Blade on Feb. 24. “Last month the president said he would not sign this fascist bill. But now, it seems he has sold us out for the votes of his party. It is politics – plain and simple – all at the expense of LGBTI Ugandans.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the law “violates a host of fundamental human rights” that Uganda’s constitution guarantees. Kennedy added Ugandan lawmakers and Museveni have decided to “criminalize an already vulnerable population rather than safeguarding equality in the country.”

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who met with Museveni last month during a trip to Uganda with four other American lawmakers, also urged the Ugandan president not to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.

“I certainly disagree with the controversial legislation that Uganda may enact in the coming days,” the Oklahoma Republican told the Blade last week after Museveni announced his plans to sign the controversial measure. “As I’ve said before, it is my hope that the country will abandon this unjust and harsh legislation.”

White House to ‘review’ relationship with Uganda

The Obama administration has begun “a review” of its relationship with Uganda in response to Museveni’s decision to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told the Blade on Feb. 24 the review “means a range of things.”

She did not specifically say whether it would include cutting any of the more than $485 million in aid the U.S. provided to Uganda last year for global health, military, poverty reduction and other programs. Psaki also did not tell the Blade whether this review would include recalling U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Scott DeLisi to Washington for consultations or sanctions.

“We’re looking at a range of options,” she told the Blade.

The Center for Constitutional Rights in March 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against Scott Lively on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda that accuses the evangelical Christian of exploiting homophobic attitudes in the East African country and encouraging lawmakers to approve the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Judge Michael A. Posner of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts last August ruled the lawsuit can proceed.

A document the anti-gay Coalition for Advancement of Moral Values (CAMOVA) sent to Ugandan parliamentarians last year that the Blade exclusively obtained lists “oral anal sex” as among the “horrors of homosexuality.” Lively is among the three prominent American evangelicals who attended a 2009 summit that CAMOVA organized titled “Exposing the Homosexuals’ Agenda” – Parliamentarian David Bahati several months later introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that at the time contained a death penalty provision for anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual relations.

Lively described the Center for Constitutional Rights as a “Marxist law firm from New York City” during a Feb. 21 press conference at the National Press Club in downtown Washington where he and other anti-gay advocates announced the creation of a new organization designed to combat the global LGBT rights movement. The American evangelical who is running to succeed outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick categorized the Anti-Homosexuality Bill to the Blade on Feb. 24 as “overly harsh on its face,” but “typical of African criminal law across the country.”

“Poor countries with limited criminal justice systems tend to rely on the harshness of the letter of the law to be a deterrent to criminals,” said Lively. “In practice, the sentencing is usually pretty lenient. Kenya, for example, has the death penalty for burglary, but burglars are definitely not being executed there.”

Mugisha and other LGBT rights advocates are expected to petition Uganda’s Constitutional Court to overturn the law.

26
Feb
2014

Anderson Cooper shilling for Bush

Anderson Cooper, CNN, gay news, Washington Blade

CNN’s Anderson Cooper introduced a faux documentary on George H.W. Bush on Sunday night. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

CNN on Sunday night aired a “documentary” about former President George H.W. Bush on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

It was a glowing tribute to the nation’s 41st president filled with testimonials from notables, including President Obama, Bill Clinton and 39 other friends and family members. What was missing was a warning that what viewers were about to see was propaganda masquerading as journalism.

As noted by the always spot-on David Zurawik, the program —  titled “41ON41” —was paid for by the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation and one of its producers worked as a speechwriter for Bush in the White House.

As Zurawik wrote, “Our national history belongs to all of us, and while there is nothing wrong with a rich and powerful family putting up money to create this kind of birthday gift for one of its members, it is not OK for a channel with the word ‘news’ in its title to try and present it to millions of Americans as a “documentary’ or ‘history.’”

If your head hasn’t exploded yet, it gets worse. The whole sorry mess was introduced by gay CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, who seemed not to mind being used in a propaganda effort to bolster the reputation of Bush, a former CIA director and the vice president during the Reagan administration’s abysmal response to the burgeoning AIDS epidemic. Bush’s own record on LGBT issues is fairly sparse and he recently attended a gay wedding. But his legacy is more complicated — especially to the gay community ravaged by AIDS during his tenure in office — than was alluded to in CNN’s so-called “documentary.”

Shame on Cooper, CNN and its president Jeff Zucker for blurring the lines so shamelessly between journalism and propaganda. CNN has shown that its programming is now for sale to the highest bidder and its anchors, including the gay ones, will do anyone’s bidding if the price is right.

16
Jun
2014