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John Kerry: LGBT rights discussed during Africa trip

Gay News, Washington Blade, John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry (photo public domain)

Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday said LGBT rights are among the issues he discussed during his recent trip to Africa.

“LGBT rights are human rights,” he told the Washington Blade during a Twitter town hall with the Young African Leaders Initiative Network that President Obama launched in 2010.

Kerry did not provide the Blade further details of the conversations he had with African leaders with whom he met in Ethiopia, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angola.

Ethiopia and Angola are among the African countries in which homosexuality remains criminalized. Those found guilty of same-sex sexual relations in Mauritania, Sudan and portions of Nigeria and Somalia face the death penalty.

Kerry’s trip to Africa took place against the backdrop of global outrage over a Ugandan law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

The U.S. and some European countries have cut aid to Uganda after President Yoweri Museveni in February signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill. 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 a 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 State Department last July urged Cameroonian officials to “thoroughly and promptly investigate” the murder of Eric Ohena Lembembe, a prominent LGBT rights advocate, and prosecute those who killed him. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has faced repeated criticism from U.S. officials over his anti-LGBT rhetoric and his government’s crackdown on gay advocacy groups.

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 controversy surrounding R&B singer Erykah Badu’s scheduled performance in the West African country on Saturday has brought renewed attention to the Gambian president’s human rights record.

The Ethiopian government has also faced criticism over a proposal that would have added homosexuality to a list of crimes ineligible for presidential pardons.

South Africa has extended marriage rights to gays and lesbians, but anti-LGBT discrimination and violence remain pervasive.

“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,” said Kerry during a May 3 speech in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital.

Kerry noted during the speech that he co-wrote a measure in the U.S. Senate to combat AIDS in Africa during the 1990s that became the foundation for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. He said more than 300,000 children are currently receiving antiretroviral drugs — and the number of people with HIV has dropped by a third.

“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.

Obama discussed LGBT rights in Africa during a press conference with Senegalese President Macky Sall that took place last June in Dakar, the West African country’s capital.

09
May
2014

Obama does not discuss LGBT rights at end of Africa summit

Barack Obama, United States, State Department, U.S. Department of State, U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama on Aug. 6, 2014, delivered remarks at the opening of a summit that drew nearly 50 African heads of state to D.C. (Photo courtesy State Department)

President Obama on Wednesday did not specifically mention LGBT rights during a press conference at the end of a summit that drew nearly 50 African heads of state to D.C.

“We addressed good governance, which is a foundation of economic growth and free societies,” he said during the press conference at the State Department where the gathering took place. “Some African nations are making impressive progress. But we see troubling restrictions on universal rights. So today was an opportunity to highlight the importance of rule of law, open and accountable institutions, strong civil societies, and protection of human rights for all citizens and all communities. And I made the point during our discussion that nations that uphold these rights and principles will ultimately be more prosperous and more economically successful.”

Obama again addressed the issue in response to a question from David Ohito of the Standard, a Kenyan newspaper, about freedom of the press in Kenya and other African countries.

“As is true on a whole range of issues — and I’ve said this in the past — many times we will work with countries even though they’re not perfect on every issue,” said Obama. “We find that in some cases engaging a country that generally is a good partner but is not performing optimally when it comes to all of the various categories of human rights, that we can be effective by working with them on certain areas, and criticizing them and trying to elicit improvements in other areas. And even among countries that generally have strong human rights records, there are areas where there are problems. That’s true of the United States, by the way.”

The press conference took place against the backdrop of criticism from advocates and groups, such as Human Rights First, over the lack of public discussion about LGBT rights in Africa during the three-day summit that largely focused on investment and economic development on the continent.

Obama on Tuesday referred to the need to treat “people of different races and faiths and sexual orientations fairly and equally” during a business forum that Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg co-hosted at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Southwest Washington. The president said at a White House dinner later in the day that African health workers “saving lives from HIV/AIDS” and “advocates standing up for justice and the rule of law” are among those who have inspired him and his family.

Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday specifically applauded Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, during a forum at the National Academy of Sciences in Northwest D.C.

“We will continue to stand up and speak for the rights of all persons with disabilities, and we will continue to stand up and speak out for LGBT activists who are working for the day when tolerance and understanding really do conquer hate,” said Kerry.

Homosexuality remains illegal in Uganda and more than 30 other African countries.

Those convicted of consensual same-sex sexual acts in Mauritania, Sudan and portions of Nigeria and Somalia face the death penalty.

The White House earlier this year cut aid to Uganda that funded HIV/AIDS programs and other initiatives after President Yoweri Museveni signed into law the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill under which those convicted of repeated same-sex sexual acts face life in prison. The Obama administration in June announced a travel ban against Ugandan officials responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses.

The Ugandan Constitutional Court on August 1 struck down the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, but parliamentarians appear poised to reintroduce the measure.

In spite of these sanctions, Obama during Wednesday’s press conference announced Uganda is among the six African countries with which the U.S. will partner to improve and expand peacekeeping efforts on the continent.

“We’re going to invite countries beyond Africa to join us in supporting this effort, because the entire world has a stake in the success of peacekeeping in Africa,” he said.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, who in January signed a draconian bill into law that, among other things, punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison, is among the other African leaders who attended the summit.

Jonathan and Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, who described gay men as “vermin” in a speech earlier this year, are among the African heads of state who posed for pictures with Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama as they arrived at the White House dinner.

Washington Blade, State Department

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan at the White House on Aug. 5, 2014. (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Yoweri Museveni, White House, Uganda, U.S.-Africa Leaders' Summit, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at the White House on Aug. 5, 2014. (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

Washington Blade, Barack Obama, Gambia

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet Gambian President Yahya Jammeh at the White House on Aug. 5, 2014. (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

07
Aug
2014

Obama fails to protect gay Saudi diplomat

John Kerry, State Department, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Saudi Arabia, gay news, Washington Blade

US Secretary of State John Kerry met with the King of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. (Photo public domain)

By ALI AL-AHMAD & MATTHEW MAINEN

The United States must demonstrate that when Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of America’s commitment to defending the rights of “our LGBT brothers and sisters around the world,” he was serious. No stronger message can be sent by granting asylum to former Saudi diplomat Ali Asseri, who has been unable to return to Saudi Arabia since being outed by colleagues at the Los Angeles consulate in 2010.

Protecting the rights of foreigners under the jurisdiction of their respective states is a daunting task, but when those foreigners find themselves in the United States, protection is relatively straightforward and imperative. Those from the Gulf States, however, often find that foreign policy considerations can dangerously encroach upon domestic decisions.

The United States rarely takes steps against the Gulf’s status quo, which includes refusing the presence of those perceived as disrupting or otherwise failing to conform to the regimes archaic social orders. This is perhaps best evidenced by the cases of three of Bahrain’s most prominent civil rights activists: Hassan Mushama, Abdul-Hadi Khawaja and Abdul-Jalil al-Signace. The former two were outright stripped of their U.S. visas while the latter’s visa was not renewed. All three now sit in jail with life sentences and have fallen victim to torture.

Whereas some allies, such as Israel, can expect prominent and harsh public criticism, the Gulf States are virtually immune. Substantial criticism is almost exclusively buried in ponderous and largely ignored State Department publications.

This is intentional. For too long, Washington has operated under a flawed belief that pushing for modest social reform in friendly despotic regimes will lead to a rupture in relations. Even if this line of reasoning had a modicum of credibility in the past, the Gulf States now find themselves so dependent on the United States in balancing Iran that they cannot afford retaliation.

Just as successive administrations have comfortably applied pressure on Israel regarding matters related to its internal affairs, so too can the Obama administration apply this strategy elsewhere in the region. Making clear to Saudi Arabia that sustaining a threatening environment for LGBT people will not bring about an unfriendly coup.

In fact, an argument could be made that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt can partially be attributed to a lack of Western support for organizations espousing liberal values. Granting Asseri asylum would demonstrate to Saudi Arabia that it can no longer expect most favored nation status in avoiding censure.

Rather than doing this, however, the United States has gone out of its way to deport Asseri, the first Arab and Muslim diplomat to come out as gay. At his mid-February hearing in Los Angeles, the U.S. government attorney insisted on deporting Asseri to Saudi Arabia and promised that she will appeal any decision by the judge to grant him asylum, a rare act in such cases.

When the judge was about to begin the hearing, the government attorney claimed that she was not ready as she was allegedly missing some relevant documents. This appears to have been a deliberate attempt to delay the case at least one more year. The court date was set more than two years ago, enough time for the U.S. government to be more than ready.

The United States simply does not want to make a move that would embarrass the Saudi monarchy, especially at a time when relations are tense due to Obama’s decision to pursue negotiations with Iran in addition to failing to attack Syria.

It is no secret that consecutive American administrations have been ignoring the various human rights violations by the Saudi monarchy, but to ignore American laws to please an autocratic monarchy that kills gay people is beyond reprehensible.

Asseri’s case does not bode well for Americans if their government places a greater importance on pleasing a foreign power than upholding domestic values. This case has been a failure for Obama’s personal credibility on gay rights issues and human rights in general.

Ali al-Ahmad is director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs. Matthew Mainen is a policy analyst at the Institute for Gulf Affairs.

13
May
2014

Obama criticized for welcoming anti-LGBT African ‘dictators’

Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Yoweri Museveni, White House, Uganda, U.S.-Africa Leaders' Summit, gay news, Washington Blade

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama greet Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at the White House on Aug. 5, 2014. (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

President Obama is facing criticism over his decision to invite anti-LGBT African heads of state to the White House earlier this week.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, Cameroonian President Paul Biya and his wife are among those who posed for pictures with Obama and first lady Michelle Obama during a White House dinner on Tuesday.

“Rolling out the literal red carpet for some of Africa’s longest serving dictators that clearly do not respect the fundamental human rights of their citizens will always paint an unfortunate picture of the U.S. and our relationship with the continent,” Jeffrey Smith of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights told the Washington Blade on Thursday. “It provides easy ammunition to critics who claim the U.S. is only interested in working with those who lend a hand in the fight against terrorism, like Uganda, or those who sit on vast oil reserves, as in Nigeria.”

Nikki Mawanda, a transgender advocate from Uganda who is currently seeking asylum in the U.S., also questioned Obama’s decision to invite Museveni to the White House.

“It’s basically beyond proper,” Mawanda told the Blade on Thursday. “It shows us the president is very comfortable with what Museveni is doing and basically they can sit and mingle.”

The dinner took place during a three-day summit in D.C. attended by nearly 50 African heads of state.

Obama on Tuesday referred to gay rights during a business forum that Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker and former New York City Mayor Bloomberg co-hosted at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Southwest Washington. The president said at the White House dinner that African health workers “saving lives from HIV/AIDS” and “advocates standing up for justice and the rule of law” are among those who have inspired him and his family.

Obama did not specifically mention LGBT rights during a Wednesday press conference at the end of the summit.

Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday specifically applauded Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, during a forum in Northwest D.C.

The Human Rights Campaign is among the organizations that urged Obama to highlight LGBT rights during the summit.

“The summit was a unique opportunity to engage with African leaders and their delegations on the importance of preserving the fundamental human rights of LGBT Africans,” HRC Director of Global Engagement Ty Cobb told the Blade in response to a question about Obama inviting Museveni and other anti-LGBT African heads of state to the White House. “What matters most is whether the United States’ commitment to championing the rights of LGBT Africans was reinforced.”

Homosexuality remains criminalized in more than 30 African countries.

Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz is among the African heads of state who attended the White House dinner, even though those convicted of consensual same-sex acts in his country face the death penalty.

Museveni in February signed into law the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill under which those convicted of repeated same-sex sexual acts face life in prison.

The White House subsequently cut aid to Uganda that funded HIV/AIDS programs and other initiatives. The Obama administration in June announced a travel ban against Ugandan officials responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses.

The Ugandan Constitutional Court earlier this month struck down the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, but parliamentarians plan to reintroduce it.

Jonathan in January signed a draconian bill into law that, among other things, punishes those who enter into same-sex marriages in Nigeria with up to 14 years in prison. Jammeh a few weeks later described gay men as “vermin” in a speech that commemorated Gambia’s independence from the U.K.

Cameroonian authorities since 2010 have prosecuted dozens of people under the country’s penal code that imposes a sentence of up to five years in prison for anyone convicted of same-sex sexual activity.

The State Department in July 2013 condemned the murder of Eric Ohena Lembembe, a prominent Cameroonian LGBT rights advocate.

In spite of the African country’s anti-LGBT rights record, Cameroonian First Lady Chantal Biya’s distinctive hairstyle has generated buzz in some gay circles.

A post to Logo’s website on Wednesday describes her as the “so-fabulous-it-hurts first lady of Camerooooooooooooon” with hair “piled high to the heavens.”

“Like much of Africa, Cameroon has criminalized homosexuality, which is ironic considering she looks like a drag queen,” it reads. “With Chantal and her hubby, Cameroonian President Paul Biya, in D.C. for the Africa summit, let’s look at La Biya’s ridiculously epic eleganza.”

Obama on Tuesday announced his administration has pledged an additional $33 billion to promote investment and economic development in Africa. The president at the Wednesday press conference said Uganda is among the six African countries with which the U.S. will work to improve and expand peacekeeping efforts on the continent.

“The political reality is that bilateral relationships are more complicated than a single issue,” International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission CEO Jessica Stern told the Blade. “The truth is the White House invitation does create one more opportunity for President Obama to engage President Museveni on this concern. What we actually do believe was inappropriate was civil society having to push for access to the summit, when CEOs and corporations — which have huge impact on people’s lives too — had open entree.”

Mawanda said he understands the need for his country to maintain diplomatic ties with Washington.

“That is the right move,” he told the Blade. “For me the issue is what they are talking about.”

Ned Price, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, on Thursday defended the White House’s record on LGBT rights in Africa.

“The Obama administration has long spoken out — including with our African partners — in support of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals,” he told the Blade. “The summit provided an opportunity to continue these conversations.”

Smith remained critical.

“The Obama administration, and those who come thereafter, need to seriously rethink our partnerships across the continent,” he said. “We need to work more cooperatively and proactively with Africa’s democratic standard-bearers who promote and protect basic human rights, including LGBT rights, not those who consistently and brazenly undermine them.”

08
Aug
2014

Supporters mark global day against homophobia, transphobia

International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, Hong Kong, gay news, Washington Blade

A poster promoting the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia in Hong Kong (Photo courtesy of Bess Hepworth/Pink Season HK)

LGBT rights advocates in more than 120 countries will commemorate this year’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) with a series of vigils, conferences and other events.

Geena Rocero, a transgender Filipino fashion model who founded Gender Proud, a trans advocacy group, is among those who are scheduled to take part in an IDAHOT event outside of Manila, the country’s capital, that the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines has organized. Rocero on Thursday also participated in a candlelight vigil in Hong Kong that local LGBT rights advocates organized.

The Rainbow Pride Foundation, a Fijian LGBT advocacy group, on May 10 held its own candlelight vigil at a church in Suva, the Pacific island nation’s capital. Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education on the same day held a “conga against homophobia” in the Cuban capital as part of a series of events throughout the country that will commemorate IDAHOT.

The Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays on Friday will hold a symposium at a hotel in the Jamaican capital that will examine challenges that LGBT people in the Caribbean country continue to face. María Eugenia González, co-founder of the Georgia Safe Schools Coalition, is scheduled to attend an anti-bullying conference in the Peruvian city of Iquitos on May 21.

So-called rainbow flash mobs are scheduled to take place in at least 11 Russian cities on May 17. An estimated 100 people are expected to gather in Khabarovsk to release rainbow colored balloons in an IDAHOT demonstration that city officials have allowed to take place.

Svetlana Zakharova of the Russian LGBT Network told the Washington Blade earlier this week that her colleagues are “willing to defend their rights” in spite of the Kremlin’s ongoing crackdown on LGBT rights. These include a 2013 law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors.

“Whatever the difficulties, many LGBT (people) and their supporters in Russia are looking forward to participating in the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia,” said Zakharova.

Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays Executive Director Dane Lewis had a similar view, noting anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain pervasive in the country.

“We need to begin to have discussions about the layers of stigma and discrimination experienced by LGBT Jamaicans and the challenges faced by those who identify as Christians,” he said.

Kate Montecarlo Cordova, chair of the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines, noted to the Blade that LGBT Filipinos lack legal protections and access to health care. She said hate crimes and speech, anti-trans harassment and bullying in the predominantly Muslim portion of the country that includes the island of Mindanao often go unreported.

“We, from the transgender community, feel that the IDAHOT celebration is important in our advocacy and in our lives,” said Cordova.

The Mexican government this year is officially organizing IDAHOT for the first time.

Enrique Torre Molina, an LGBT rights advocate and blogger in Mexico City, told the Blade earlier this week that he is hopeful that President Enrique Peña Nieto will speak at an IDAHOT event.

The British Council Mexico on Friday hosted an event that government officials, local LGBT activists and journalists attended.

“The conversation will go beyond the government’s official position and public policy on the subject of homophobia,” said Molina. “Fighting homophobia and promoting respect is, at the end, a task that concerns us all.”

The Finnish government on Thursday announced it will increase its contribution to the Global Equality Fund, a public-private partnership founded by C-SPAN co-founder John Evans that seeks to promote LGBT rights, by one million Euros. A State Department press release noted that Helsinki will continue to work with the governments of Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, the Arcus Foundation and other groups to “build on our shared commitment and partnership to advance freedom, equality and dignity for all.”

“Today of all days, we are reminded that the cause of justice can and must triumph over hatred and prejudice,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. “This is a day of action for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities and their allies all over the world. It is time to reaffirm our commitment to the equality and dignity of all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Gays, trans people gain rights in 2013

IDAHOT first took place on May 17, 2005, to commemorate the World Health Organization’s decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder.

This year’s commemoration takes place against the backdrop of significant progress in the LGBT rights movement in the U.S., Europe, Latin America and other regions of the world.

Ten U.S. states, Brazil, Uruguay, France, England, Wales and New Zealand have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples over the last year. The U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act.

The Dutch Senate last December approved a bill that would allow trans people to legally change the gender on their birth certificates and other official documents without undergoing sterilization and sex reassignment surgery. A similar measure advanced in the Chilean Senate earlier this year.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley on Thursday signed a bill that bans anti-discrimination in his state. A similar measure took effect in neighboring Delaware last year.

The Indian Supreme Court last month issued a landmark ruling that recognizes trans people as a “third gender.”

Jamaican and Belizean judges last year heard lawsuits challenging their country’s laws that criminalize homosexuality. A Lebanese judge in March struck down the Middle Eastern nation’s anti-sodomy statute in the case of a trans woman who faced charges for allegedly having a relationship with a man.

Gay Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel was sworn into office last December. Angélica Lozano, a former Council woman in the Colombian capital, in March became the first openly LGBT person elected to the South American country’s Congress.

LGBT rights crackdowns continue in Africa, Russia

In spite of this progress, anti-LGBT violence and discrimination remain pervasive in many parts of the world.

The U.S. and several European countries cut aid to Uganda after the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, in February signed into a law a bill that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in January signed a draconian anti-gay bill that, among other things, bans membership in an LGBT advocacy group and punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison.

The 2014 Winter Olympics took place in Sochi, Russia, in February against the backdrop of criticism over the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record.

Police arrested 10 activists who held rainbow and Russian flags as they sung the country’s national anthem near Moscow’s Red Square just before the games’ opening ceremony began. Authorities earlier in the day arrested four Russian LGBT rights advocates in St. Petersburg as they marched with a banner in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s anti-discrimination clause.

The Indian Supreme Court late last year recriminalized homosexuality — it announced in April it will consider a motion to reconsider the controversial decision. A new Brunei legal code that punishes those convicted of homosexuality by stoning them to death has sparked global outrage that includes calls to boycott hotels the Bruneian government owns.

A report the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission released earlier this week found discrimination and violence against lesbians, bisexual women and trans people in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the Philippines and Japan remains pervasive. Grupo Gay da Bahia, a Brazilian LGBT advocacy group, noted more than a quarter of the 338 reported LGBT homicide victims in Brazil in 2012 were trans.

Carlos Vela of the Homosexual Community of Hope in the Loreto Region (of Perú) told the Blade that one LGBT person a week is murdered in the South American country. This violence continues to take place, even as Peruvian lawmakers debate a bill that would allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions.

“It is the most extreme expression of systematic violence,” said Vela, referring to the murders of LGBT Peruvians.

Jasmine Kaur of Oceania Pride, which took part in the May 10 candlelight vigil in the Fijian capital, noted homophobia, anti-LGBT hate crimes and violence is “quite strong for the LGBTIQ community” in the South Pacific country. She said the Fijian constitution includes a non-discrimination clause, but it is “flawed.”

“The bill of rights has many limitations,” said Kaur. “It is not one that can guarantee its citizens protections.”

The Human Rights Campaign on Thursday released a report that documents advances and setbacks in the global LGBT rights movement over the last year.

“Despite entrenched homophobia and transphobia in many nations around the world, the global fight for LGBT equality made historic gains in 2013,” said HRC Director of Global Engagement Ty Cobb. “At the same time, last year included horrific new anti-LGBT laws as well as alarming trends in anti-LGBT harassment and violence. These serve as important reminders of the many challenges ahead and the tremendous amount of work left to be done.”

Henness Wong, a Hong Kong activist who helped plan IDAHOT events in the former British colony, said the climate for the city’s LGBT residents is slowly beginning to improve in spite of lingering institutional and cultural homophobia and transphobia.

“Hong Kong is definitely safer than Brunei who will stone gays,” said Wong.

16
May
2014

Did Obama do enough at Africa summit?

Washington Blade, State Department, African Leaders Summit

President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama greet Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan at the White House on Aug. 5, 2014. (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

There was a lot of discussion last week during and after the African Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. over whether President Obama mentioned LGBT rights enough and whether he should have rolled out the red carpet for some of the African leaders at the White House.

In a Washington Blade column, Jeffrey Smith of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights is quoted as saying, “Rolling out the literal red carpet for some of Africa’s longest serving dictators that clearly do not respect the fundamental human rights of their citizens will always paint an unfortunate picture of the U.S. and our relationship with the continent. It provides easy ammunition to critics who claim the U.S. is only interested in working with those who lend a hand in the fight against terrorism, like Uganda, or those who sit on vast oil reserves, as in Nigeria.”

It seems to me this may be the view of Smith but is not the view of most of the world. Rather, in the long run, not working with and developing closer relationships with these countries would do harm to our ability to champion civil and human rights for everyone.

We learned long ago we cannot change the world by simply waiving a wand or wishing it so. Even in our own country we have a long way to go before everyone has their full civil and human rights. So should other countries that may be more advanced in these areas than we are say they won’t talk to or invite our president to dinner? This approach makes no sense.

Many years ago there were those who said we shouldn’t be talking to China and it took the unlikely leadership of Richard Nixon to change that. He understood that to disregard one billion people made no sense and if we could have political and economic relations with China we were better able to have some influence on their people and leadership to bring about change. China has come a long way since that time and still has a long way to go. But through ongoing relationships and economic ties, the United States can claim to have helped move things forward for many people in China.

I hope that the stronger political and economic ties the president forged during the African summit will make a difference in many of the African nations that lag so far behind us in providing human and civil rights for their people. Those ties will give us more clout to pressure them on these issues in the future.

The foreign policy of the United States must always include a strong civil and human rights plank and that must be an important part of our dealing with nations around the world. But that doesn’t mean it will be part of every conversation or on every agenda. Those complaining that President Obama or members of his administration didn’t bring up LGBT rights often enough during the summit, or at all in his final statement on the African summit, are wrong to chastise him for that. LGBT rights or for that matter civil and human rights for all people, were not the focus of this summit. As it was, the president had a hard enough time getting any attention to the summit due to the Ebola epidemic; the Israel/Hamas fight; and the ISIS attacks in Iraq.

I have often criticized this administration for being too slow to move on LGBT issues and when they did using them for political purposes. But we have made more progress domestically on LGBT issues than in any previous administration. In addition, this administration has placed a strong focus at USAID to advance LGBT issues around the world and these initiatives often occur out of the spotlight. USAID is working to include LGBT human and civil rights issues in our dealings with foreign governments and their people. That work had the strong support of Hillary Rodham Clinton when she was Secretary of State and support continues under Secretary John Kerry. Their support has translated into initiatives advanced by Claire Lucas, senior adviser for Public-Private Partnerships in the Office of Innovation and Development Alliances (IDEA) and she and USAID staff have received support for their efforts from Rajiv Shah, USAID administrator.

Progress on civil and human rights for all people is always too slow because while we fight for those rights suffering continues. So while these issues may not be on the agenda at every meeting they must continue to be a focus that underlies all that we do.

13
Aug
2014

Ugandan foreign minister elected president of U.N. General Assembly

Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT rights advocates continue to criticize the election of Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa as president of the U.N. General Assembly (Image public domain)

Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa continues to face questions and criticism from LGBT rights advocates and their supporters after his unanimous election as president of the U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday.

The Associated Press reported that Kutesa has close ties to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law in February that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. The news agency notes that Kutesa’s daughter is married to the Ugandan president’s son.

Kutesa has also faced corruption and bribery allegations, as the AP reported.

Marianne Møllmann, director of programs for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, told the Washington Blade that Kutesa’s role as president of the U.N. General Assembly once he officially takes office in September is to “shepherd the assembly through a year of priorities, with respect for the U.N. Charter and the guiding principles of the organization.” She noted 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Women’s Conference that focused on the expansion of rights to women around the world.

“Sam Kutesa will not be able to help the General Assembly do its job without dealing with the damaging gender stereotypes that fuel homophobia and transphobia,” Møllman told the Blade. “We wish him the best of luck, and certainly will be most willing to support him in that endeavor.”

New York Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand both criticized Kutesa’s election. The Human Rights Campaign urged Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss Uganda’s LGBT rights record with Kutesa during their meeting earlier on Thursday.

The State Department did not immediately tell the Blade whether Kerry raised the issue during his meeting with Kutesa. Spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters during her daily press briefing on Thursday that it “would certainly be a disappointing step” if Uganda pursued its “public anti-gay agenda” at the U.N.

“We have been clear about our views on Uganda’s anti-homosexuality act,” said Psaki. “We believe it undermines human rights and human dignity for all persons in Uganda, and certainly if that were to be taken to a larger scale that would be greatly concerning.”

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power also specifically highlighted LGBT rights rights in her statement responding to Kutesa’s election.

“The U.N. Charter places respect for human rights and dignity at its core, and it is the job of the General Assembly — and its president — to uphold these principles,” said Power. “At a time when girls are attacked by radical extremists for asserting their right to an education; representatives of civil society are harassed and even imprisoned for their work; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are endangered for who they are, including by discriminatory laws, the work of the United Nations to advance equality, justice, and dignity for all could not be more urgent. In the face of these challenges, all of us working in and at the United Nations should recommit to vigorously defending these core principles.”

Uganda receives nearly $300 million each year through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to fight the epidemic in the East African country. Kampala in 2013 received more than $485 million in aid from the U.S.

The U.S. and a number of European countries cut aid to Uganda in response to Museveni’s decision to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The World Bank initially delayed a $90 million loan to the Ugandan government that had been earmarked to bolster the East African country’s health care system, but Kampala eventually received the funds.

LGBT rights advocates and HIV/AIDS service providers have come under increased pressure from Ugandan authorities since the Anti-Homosexuality Bill became law.

Police in April raided a U.S.-funded HIV/AIDS service organization in Kampala it said recruited teenage boys and young men “into homosexual practices.” Nikki Mawanda, a trans Ugandan advocate, told the Blade during an interview a few weeks later that anti-LGBT discrimination and violence has increased since Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

“It looks like the community-at-large has taken on the role of doing vigilante [justice,]” he said. “Since the law was signed on the 24th of February, people felt that they should implement the law even before it was gazetted.”

Museveni has repeatedly criticized the U.S. and other donor countries over their decision to cut aid.

A Ugandan government spokesperson did not return the Blade’s request for comment on the controversy surrounding Kutesa’s election as president of the U.N. General Assembly.

“I’m not homophobic,” Kutesa told reporters after his election as the AP reported. “I believe that I’m (the right) person to lead this organization for the next session.”

The U.N. in 2011 adopted a resolution in support of LGBT rights.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon over the last year has repeatedly spoken out against anti-LGBT discrimination and violence — including in a speech he gave during an International Olympic Committee meeting in Sochi, Russia, that took place a day before the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Retired tennis champion Martina Navratilova and Brooklyn Nets center Jason Collins are among those who took part in a panel on homophobia and transphobia sports that took place at the U.N. last December on the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The U.N. last July launched a global LGBT rights campaign that features Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin, Bollywood actress Celina Jaitly and other celebrities.

13
Jun
2014

Kerry says U.S. ‘deeply concerned’ about Nigeria anti-gay law

Gay News, Washington Blade, John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry says the United States is “deeply concerned” about the Nigeria anti-gay law (photo public domain).

Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday the United States is “deeply concerned” about a draconian anti-gay measure signed into law in Nigeria that includes punishments of up to 14 years in prison.

“The United States is deeply concerned by Nigeria’s enactment of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act,” Kerry said. “Beyond even prohibiting same sex marriage, this law dangerously restricts freedom of assembly, association, and expression for all Nigerians.”

According to Reuters, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed the measure on Monday. It contains penalties of up to 14 years in prison and bans not only same-sex marriage and same-sex “amorous relationships,” but also membership in LGBT rights groups.

Kerry’s said the Nigeria law is “inconsistent” with country’s international legal obligations and “undermines” democratic reforms as well as human rights protections within Nigeria’s constitution.

“People everywhere deserve to live in freedom and equality,” Kerry concludes. “No one should face violence or discrimination for who they are or who they love. We join with those in Nigeria who appeal for the protection of their fellow citizens’ fundamental freedoms and universal human rights.”

The national assembly had passed the measure last May, but the Nigerian president reportedly had delayed signing it into law.

A White House official said Kerry’s statement on the anti-gay law “reflects our views,” but referred to the State Department for more information.

Kerry’s full statement follows:

STATEMENT BY SECRETARY KERRY

Deep Concern with Nigeria’s Enactment of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act

 

The United States is deeply concerned by Nigeria’s enactment of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act.

Beyond even prohibiting same sex marriage, this law dangerously restricts freedom of assembly, association, and expression for all Nigerians.

Moreover, it is inconsistent with Nigeria’s international legal obligations and undermines the democratic reforms and human rights protections enshrined in its 1999 Constitution.

People everywhere deserve to live in freedom and equality.  No one should face violence or discrimination for who they are or who they love.

We join with those in Nigeria who appeal for the protection of their fellow citizens’ fundamental freedoms and universal human rights.

13
Jan
2014

Pro-LGBT Colombian president re-elected

Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia, gay news, Washington Blade

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (Photo by Antonio Cruz of Abr; courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Pro-LGBT Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos on Sunday won re-election in the second round of voting in his country’s presidential election.

Santos defeated former Finance Minister Óscar Iván Zuluaga by a 51-45 percent margin with slightly more than 4 percent of the 15,341,383 total ballots cast left blank.

Santos, who highlighted during his campaign the ongoing peace process between his government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia known by the Spanish acronym FARC that has staged a decades long guerrilla war, specifically acknowledged his LGBT supporters after declaring victory against Zuluaga as Andrés Duque of Blabbeando reported. Colombia Diversa, a Colombian LGBT advocacy group, said rainbow flags were inside the incumbent’s campaign headquarters.

Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed Santos’ victory over Zuluaga, a close ally of former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe who opposes peace talks with the FARC.

“We congratulate President Santos on his victory, as well as the Colombian people and electoral officials on a peaceful and orderly election,” said Kerry in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with President Santos and his administration to advance our bilateral relationship and to continuing to support the Colombian government and people as they pursue a negotiated end to the conflict there.”

Santos last month publicly backed marriage rights for same-sex couples during a Google hangout the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo hosted ahead of the first round of the South American country’s presidential election that took place on May 25.

“Marriage between homosexuals to me is perfectly acceptable and what’s more I am defending unions that exist between two people of the same sex with the rights and all of the same privileges that this union should receive,” he said. “If these unions are called marriage or not is secondary to me. For me it is important that they have their rights.”

Zuluaga indicated his opposition to the issue in a candidate questionnaire that Colombia Diversa published on May 15.

“I respect the sexual inclination of people and their privacy, but I do not agree with marriage between partners of the same sex, nor adoption,” he said. “I agree that you should have a legal framework that respects inheritance rights, civil rights and social security for same-sex partners.”

The Colombian Constitutional Court in 2011 ruled that same-sex couples could legally register their relationships in two years if lawmakers did not pass a bill that would extend to them the same benefits heterosexuals receive through marriage.

The Colombian Senate in April 2013 overwhelmingly struck down a same-sex marriage bill.

Several gay and lesbian couples in Bogotá, the Colombian capital, and other cities have exchanged vows since the Constitutional Court’s deadline passed last June. Inspector General Alejandro Ordóñez Maldonado has challenged the rulings that allowed them to marry.

The Impact Litigation Project at American University Washington College of Law and the New York City Bar Association in April filed briefs with the Constitutional Court in a case brought by two gay couples challenging Ordóñez’s efforts to nullify their marriages.

Colombian Vice President Angelino Garzón, who will leave office in August, earlier this month discussed the progress his country has made towards LGBT rights during a meeting in New York with Charles Radcliffe, senior human rights adviser for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner. These include the passage of a gay-inclusive anti-discrimination law in 2011 and the 2012 appointment of a transgender woman, Tatiana Piñeros, to run Bogotá’s social welfare agency.

Colombia Diversa and other Colombian LGBT advocacy groups and activists have been critical of Santos’ administration for what they maintain is its silence during the same-sex marriage debate. They nevertheless welcomed his re-election.

16
Jun
2014

State Dept. pledges to raise concerns over Nigeria anti-gay law

Department of State, gay news, Washington Blade

The State Department says the United States does ‘regret’ passage of the anti-gay law in Nigeria. (Photo public domain)

State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said on Monday the United States “will keep raising” concerns about Nigeria’s new anti-gay law, but maintained the relationship between the two countries will continue.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Harf said the State Department does “regret” the signing of the legislation by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan as she emphasized the country has a right to pass legislation through the democratic process.

“We just don’t support any legislation that institutionalizes discrimination against one select group of people, and I think one of the key reasons we are opposed to this is that the law goes far beyond prohibiting same-sex marriage,” Harf said. “It restricts freedom of assembly, association and expression for all Nigerians.”

As Secretary of State John Kerry noted in a statement earlier in the day, Harf said the law is “inconsistent” with the country’s international legal obligations and rights under its constitution.

“Obviously, we’ll keep raising these issues when they come up,” Harf said. “We’ve made our position on this very clear. It may make some work in the country harder to do, but we clearly have a relationship there that’s an important one, and we’ll continue working together.”

The law bans not only same-sex marriage and same-sex “amorous relationships,” but also membership in LGBT rights groups.

The Associated Press reports it’s now a crime in the country “to have a meeting of gays, or to operate or go to a gay club, society or organization.” Further, entering into a same-sex marriage contract or civil union is punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment.

During the briefing, Harf conceded that she didn’t immediately have a lot of information about the law, such as which international obligations it violates and whether the State Department had any prior knowledge Jonathan would sign the measure. Although she said she hasn’t heard any talk about possible sanctions against the country or a potential loss of aid as a result of the law, Harf said she’d have to double check.

But Harf was able to confirm that State Department officials were in contact with a variety of principals in Nigeria prior to the signing of the legislation.

“Since the law was in draft form, we’ve been in continual contact with the Jonathan administration, the National Assembly and a wide variety of Nigerian stakeholders,” Harf said. “Our conversations have been focused on our concerns that portions of the law, again, appear to restrict Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association — provisions that we’ve been very clear we do not support.”

Harf wasn’t able to immediately identify who was representing the United States in those talks, including whether it was a senior diplomat or someone in a lower position.

According to the Associated Press, Nigeria is one of the top crude oil suppliers to the United States. A report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration indicates the U.S. oil imports from Nigeria are decreasing, but the United States imported 161,558 barrels of oil from the country in 2012.

News that the anti-gay legislation was signed in Nigeria is breaking after earlier reports a man in Cameroon died after being previously jailed for texting a same-sex partner and the Uganda parliament approved its own anti-gay legislation.

Harf said she wasn’t immediately able to say whether the State Department is concerned about an anti-gay trend in Africa, but maintained the Obama administration supports LGBT rights everywhere.

“We’ve talked about it elsewhere — whether it’s Russia, here or elsewhere — that we believe that LGBT rights are human rights, there’s no place for discrimination anywhere, such as this,” Harf said.

A partial transcript of the exchange between the Blade and State Department follows:

Washington Blade: Secretary Kerry issued a statement earlier today saying he’s “deeply concerned” about the passage of the anti-gay law in Nigeria, which contains punishments of up to 14 years in prison. Will passage of that law impact U.S.-Nigeria relations?

Marie Harf: Well, we did release a statement, and I would just note that we do regret that this bill, passed by Nigeria’s national assembly. was signed into law on Jan. 7.

Obviously, we respect the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the prerogatives of its national assembly to pass legislation. We just don’t support any legislation that institutionalizes discrimination against one select group of people, and I think one of the key reasons we are opposed to this is that the law goes far beyond prohibiting same-sex marriage.

It restricts freedom of assembly, association and expression for all Nigerians. It’s inconsistent with Nigeria’s international legal obligations and undermines the democratic reforms and human rights protections enshrined in Nigeria’s constitution.

Obviously, we’ll keep raising these issues when they come up. We’ve made our position on this very clear. It may make some work in the country harder to do, but we clearly have a relationship there that’s an important one, and we’ll continue working together.

Blade: You just said it’s inconsistent with Nigeria’s international legal obligations. To which obligations are you referring?

Harf: I can check specifically with our attorneys and see what they intended with this part of the statement. Obviously, freedom of assembly, association and expression are topics we talk about a lot in terms of legal obligations, and also, anti-discrimination obligations as well. I can check if there’s more legal specifics to share.

Blade: Were there any conversations between State Department officials and Nigeria prior to the signing of this legislation?

Harf: There were. Let me what I have here. Since the law was in draft form, we’ve been in continual contact with the Jonathan administration, the National Assembly and a wide variety of Nigerian stakeholders. Our conversations have been focused on our concerns that portions of the law, again, appear to restrict Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association — provisions that we’ve been very clear we do not support.

Blade: And who was representing the United States in those talks?

Harf: I can double-check and see who the specifics there are. I don’t have that in front of me.

Blade: The statement that the secretary put out was embargoed until an announcement from the Nigerian government. Did the State Department know this law was going to be signed beforehand?

Harf: I can check on that. Obviously, we’ve been discussions since it was in draft form and it passed. We were in discussions with the administration. I’m happy to check on that. Obviously, we allow governments to speak for themselves before we speak publicly about things as well.

Blade: Could sanctions or a loss of aid be on the table as a result of this law?

Harf: I haven’t heard talk of any of that. I’m happy to check with our folks. Again, we’ve made very clear what our position is on this, and I just don’t have a ton more on it. So, I know you probably have ten follow ups, but I’m happy to take them and see if I can answer them, but then we’ll move on.

Blade: Let me ask you one last question then. The news is breaking just after a man in Cameroon died after being sentenced for being gay and after Uganda passed its own anti-gay legislation — the parliament there. Is the State Department concerned about a larger trend in Africa about passage of anti-gay legislation?

Harf: I’m happy to check with our folks and see if there’s a trend that they’re concerned about. We speak very clearly for LGBT rights across the globe. We’ve talked about it elsewhere — whether it’s Russia, here or elsewhere — that we believe that LGBT rights are human rights, there’s no place for discrimination anywhere, such as this. So, we’re very clear whether it’s Africa or somewhere else that this is something we feel very, very strongly about. President Obama and the secretary have all made very clear statements to that regard. And I’m happy to check if there’s more details on this if you have more follow-ups.

13
Jan
2014