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John Kerry speaks to Ugandan president over anti-gay law

Gay News, Washington Blade, John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry s (photo public domain)

Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday expressed the United States’ “deep disappointment” with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni over his decision to sign his country’s so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.

The State Department said Kerry noted to Museveni during their telephone call that his decision to sign the measure “complicates the U.S. relationship with Uganda.”

“He also raised U.S. concerns that this discriminatory law poses a threat to the safety and security of Uganda’s LGBT community, and urged President Museveni to ensure the safety and protection of all Ugandan citizens,” said the State Department. “The two also discussed the law’s negative impact on public health efforts including those to address HIV/AIDS, as well as on tourism and foreign investment in Uganda.”

Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the State Department, described the law as “very regressive” and “very disturbing” during an interview with the Washington Blade on Friday.

“It complicates our relationship with Uganda,” said Zeya. “We have deep concerns about the law posing a threat to the safety and security of the LGBT community, but also the safety and protection of all Ugandan citizens.”

Kerry spoke with Museveni on the same day the State Department released its 2013 Human Rights Report that, among other things, documents anti-LGBT discrimination and violence around the world. Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, met with U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power earlier this week to discuss the signing of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and his inclusion in a tabloid’s list of the country’s “200 top homos” it published on Feb. 25.

The Obama administration is currently reviewing its relationship with Uganda after Museveni signed the anti-gay measure into law.

“The community is very scared, very worried,” Dickson Mujuni of the RPL AIDS Foundation told the Blade earlier on Friday during a telephone interview from Kampala, the Ugandan capital. “They’re underground.”

28
Feb
2014

State Dept. dodges questions on Saudi LGBT rights record

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

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with Saudi King Abdullah. (Photo public domain)

A State Department spokesperson on Monday declined to say whether Secretary of State John Kerry specifically discussed Saudi Arabia’s LGBT rights record during his meeting with the country’s king late last month.

Jen Psaki told the Washington Blade during her daily press briefing that the focus of the meeting with King Abdullah that took place in the city of Jiddah on June 27 was “really about the dire situation” in Iraq with a group of Sunni extremists who have taken control of wide swaths of the country in recent weeks.

“That doesn’t mean that we don’t raise human rights issues — including LGBT rights issues — with a range of countries at many opportunities,” said Psaki. “As you know we have a very active embassy on the ground with a range of senior officials on the ground, but I don’t have any other specific readouts.”

Psaki at the beginning of the briefing highlighted Waleed Abul-Khair, a prominent Saudi human rights lawyer who received a 15-year prison sentence and a 15-year travel ban from a Jiddah court on Sunday as the Associated Press reported.

“The United States is troubled by the 15-year prison sentence, travel ban and steep fine handed down on human rights lawyer and activist Waleed Abul-Khair,” she said. “We urge the Saudi government to respect international human rights norms, a point we have made to them regularly.”

Psaki directed the Blade to the State Department’s website when asked to provide statements from the last year that specifically address Saudi Arabia’s LGBT rights record.

“We also issue an annual report on human rights, where we outline any concerns we have about every country,” she added. “We don’t hold back in that regard.”

Psaki was pressed further on whether she feels the U.S. efforts to urge the Saudi government to respect “international human rights standards” have produced any tangible results.

“It’s important to continue to highlight issues where we have concerns,” she said. “That’s why we issue statements and why we talk about them from the briefing and why the secretary raises them.”

The State Department’s 2013 Human Rights Report notes consensual same-sex sexual acts remain punishable by death in Saudi Arabia under the kingdom’s interpretation of Islamic Shariah law.

The same report notes it is illegal for men “to behave like women” or wear women’s clothing. The State Department also documents incidents of anti-LGBT violence and discrimination in employment, housing and access to education and health care.

The report said that Saudi authorities in 2012 announced that gay men, “tomboys” and “emos” — those who wear tight clothing — would not be allowed to attend public schools and universities in the kingdom until they changed their “appearance and behavior.” The State Department said the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice or the “religious police” that enforces Shariah law in Saudi Arabia announced it would enforce this rule on “girls who adopt masculine appearances” and those “emulating the ‘emo’ subculture.”

The Blade’s efforts to reach LGBT rights advocates in Saudi Arabia were unsuccessful.

Oren Adaki and David Andrew Weinberg of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a D.C. think tank, note in their June 26 op-ed in the Blade that a textbook used in Saudi high schools says the most important debate about gay men is the best way to kill them.

The two men wrote that a Saudi imam said during a March 28 sermon at the Grand Mosque in Mecca that homosexuality “violates the sanctity of Allah, kills chastity and slaughters virtue.” He made this and other anti-LGBT statements on the same day President Obama met with Abdullah in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

Kerry in a July 1 statement welcomed Saudi Arabia’s $500 million pledge to help fund the response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Iraq as civilians flea areas of the country of which Sunni extremists have gained control.

U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Joseph Westphal in April issued a statement that celebrated the ninth anniversary of Abdullah’s ascension to the throne.

“We commend you for your far-sighted leadership of the kingdom and look forward to continuing our cooperation for the benefit of both the American and Saudi people,” said Westphal.

Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker in March led what a State Department press release described as a “senior-executive” delegation to Saudi Arabia “to highlight bilateral trade opportunities.”

A 140-member Saudi delegation in May traveled to Houston to attend a trade show for the oil and gas industry.

Lesbian Houston Mayor Annise Parker, who married her partner of more than two decades, Kathy Hubbard, in January, won re-election last November for a third term in office.

“Our government is turning a blind eye as Saudi Arabia throws gay men in jail, tells lesbians that they are not entitled to an elementary-level education and teaches in school books that the only worthwhile debate about homosexuals is how best to murder them,” Weinberg told the Blade in response to Psaki’s comments. “This shocks the conscience.”

08
Jul
2014

Zimbabwe president threatens to expel pro-LGBT diplomats

Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe, Africa, gay news, Washington Blade

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. (Photo public domain)

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Friday threatened to expel foreign diplomats who promote LGBT rights from his country.

“We did not fight for this Zimbabwe so it can be a homosexual territory,” said Mugabe in a speech that marked his country’s independence from the U.K. in 1980 as the New Zimbabwe newspaper reported. “We will never have that here and if there are any diplomats who will talk of any homosexuality, just tell me. We will kick them out of the country without any excuse. We won’t even listen.”

New Zimbabwe noted Mugabe also said his country will resist efforts to decriminalize homosexuality. The website reported the Zimbabwean president also referred to the U.S. and other Western countries that blasted Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for signing a bill into law in February that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

The White House cut foreign aid to Uganda after Museveni signed the measure into law. The World Bank also postponed a $90 million loan to the Ugandan government that would have bolstered the East African country’s health care system.

“They say they want you to believe that if a man gets another man and they have a homosexual relationship, they have human rights to do so,” said Mugabe as New Zimbabwe reported. “That act is inhuman. It’s not human and human rights cannot derive from acts which are inhuman. That does not exist in jurisprudence.”

Mugabe’s comments come less than a month after he described homosexuality as “inhuman” during an event in Harare, the country’s capital, that commemorated International Women’s Day.

The Zimbabwean president has repeatedly faced criticism from LGBT rights advocates and others over his anti-gay rhetoric.

Mugabe told supporters last July ahead of his country’s presidential election that authorities should arrest gays and lesbians who don’t conceive children. The Zimbabwean president during the same event criticized President Obama over his support of marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Mugabe described gays and lesbians who took part in a Harare book fair in 1995 as “dogs and pigs.” He reportedly said during a speech at a teacher’s college in the city of Masvingo last June that gay men and lesbians should “rot in jail.”

The State Department in August 2012 criticized the Zimbabwean government after police arrested more than 40 members of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe, a local LGBT advocacy group, inside their Harare office. Authorities confiscated computers and pamphlets from the organization a few days before the arrests.

Zimbabwean police reportedly stopped a Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe workshop last month.

“The United States remains committed to the people of Zimbabwe,” said Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday in a statement that marked Zimbabwean Independence Day. “We will continue to support all Zimbabweans as you seek a more democratic, prosperous and healthy future.”

18
Apr
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

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 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

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

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