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Kerry: U.S. ‘deeply troubled’ over Gambian president’s speech

Gay News, Washington Blade, John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry says the United States is “deeply troubled” by the anti-LGBT rhetoric that Gambian President Yahya Jammeh used in a Feb. 18 speech (photo public domain).

Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday said the U.S. is “deeply troubled” over the anti-LGBT rhetoric that Gambian President Yahya Jammeh used during a speech that commemorated the country’s independence from the U.K.

Jammeh described gay men as “vermin” in remarks he gave in Banjul, the West African country’s capital, on Feb. 18. The Gambian president also said during his speech the acronym LGBT “can only stand for leprosy, gonorrhea, bacteria and tuberculosis; all of which are detrimental to human existence.”

“All people are created equal and should be able to live free from discrimination, and that includes discrimination based on sexual identity and sexual orientation,” said Kerry. “We call on the government of the Gambia to protect the human rights of all Gambians, and we encourage the international community to send a clear signal that statements of this nature have no place in the public dialogue and are unacceptable.”

Jammeh’s comments come less than six months after he said during a speech at the U.N. General Assembly that homosexuality is among the three “biggest threats to human existence.”

Gambia, which is sandwiched between Senegal, is among the more than 70 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Feb. 14 announced he will sign a controversial bill that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of same-sex sexual acts in his country. A draconian measure that bans same-sex marriages, gay “amorous relationships” and membership in an LGBT advocacy group in Nigeria became law last month.

The Human Rights Campaign on Wednesday urged Kerry to recall U.S. ambassadors to Uganda and Nigeria in response to the aforementioned issues.

“The Ugandan and Nigerian governments’ decisions to treat their LGBT citizens like criminals cannot be accepted as business as usual by the U.S. government,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “We urge Secretary Kerry to recall both ambassadors for consultations in Washington to make clear the seriousness of the situation in both countries.”

LGBT people in Cameroon, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia and other African countries also continue to face systematic violence widespread discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

“It is all our responsibility to end hate and to end violence,” said Thandeka “Tumi” Mkhuma, a lesbian South African activist who was raped in 2009, during a U.N. panel last December that commemorated the 65th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Yahya Jammeh, Gambia, gay news, Washington Blade

President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia. (Photo courtesy IISD/Earth Negotiations Bulletin; courtesy Creative Commons)

20
Feb
2014

Obama administration to ‘review’ relationship with Uganda

Barack Obama, Global AIDS, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Johnson contributed to this article.

24
Feb
2014

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

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 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

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

Kerry acknowledges Pride month

Sen. John Kerry has been tapped to become the next secretary of state (photo public domain)

Secretary of State John Kerry (photo public domain)

WASHINGTON—Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday issued a statement acknowledging LGBT Pride month.

“44 years after Stonewall, we see incredible progress in the fight to advance the human rights and fundamental freedoms of LGBT people, both here in the United States and globally,” he said. “Protecting universal human rights is at the very heart of our diplomacy, and we remain committed to advancing human rights for all, including LGBT individuals.”

The statement comes against the backdrop of same-sex marriage advances in Uruguay, New Zealand, Brazil, France and the United Kingdom that have taken place in recent weeks.

Kerry also acknowledged anti-LGBT discrimination, persecution and violence remain endemic in many countries across the world.

“LGBT persons must be free to exercise their human rights — including freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of assembly and association — without fear of reprisal,” he said.  “Human rights and fundamental freedoms belong to all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

06
Jun
2013

State Department criticizes Russia over gay rights

Washington Blade, Gay News, State Department

Uzra Zeya (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

A senior State Department official on Wednesday said the U.S. government has grown increasingly concerned about anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in Russia.

Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, spoke to the Washington Blade in an interview at her Foggy Bottom office hours after the Russian Duma unanimously approved a bill that would ban foreign same-sex couples and single people from nations that allow same-sex marriage from adopting Russian children. The U.S. LGBT group All Out earlier on Wednesday said authorities fined Coming Out St. Petersburg, a Russian LGBT advocacy group, 500,000 rubles ($15,000) under a “foreign agent” law the Kremlin is using to sue gay rights organizations.

The Russian Duma on June 11 passed a separate measure that would ban the “promotion of homosexuality” to minors.

The State Department in January criticized Russian lawmakers who supported the bill on its first reading.

“We are absolutely against any legislation that prohibits same-sex consensual relations and we speak out against it and so it’s a consistent position,” Zeya said. “We’re very concerned by the overall direction in Russia. It is something that we have communicated directly to the Russian government.”

Two men allegedly sodomized Vladislav Tornovoi with empty beer bottles and set his body on fire near Volgograd on May 10 after he reportedly came out to them as gay. Authorities on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s Far East said three men stabbed and trampled a gay man to death a few weeks later before they set his car on fire with his body inside.

Authorities on May 24 arrested Nikokai Alekseev, co-founder of Moscow Pride, and 29 other LGBT activists who tried to hold a Pride celebration outside Moscow City Hall. Police also arrested dozens of advocates who tried to stage a kiss-in outside the Duma before lawmakers approved the “promotion of homosexuality” to minors measure.

Zeya declined to say whether President Obama raised the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting on Monday at the annual G-8 summit that took place in Northern Ireland.

Zeya: State Department seeks to reach “directly at grassroots”

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011 proclaimed “gay rights are human rights” during a landmark speech she gave in Geneva to commemorate International Human Rights Day. Obama on the same day issued a presidential memorandum that directed government agencies that implement American foreign policy to promote LGBT rights in the countries in which they work.

In addition to talking about Russia, Zeya noted to the Blade the Global Equality Fund — a public-private partnership that includes Finland, Iceland and the John Evans Foundation founded by C-SPAN co-founder John Evans — has spent more than $4 million in 25 countries since its 2011 inception to directly support activists and underrepresented groups. The USAID-backed LGBT Global Development Partnership with the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute, the Swedish International Development Corporation Agency and other groups will contribute $11 million over the next four years to advocacy groups in Honduras and other developing countries.

30 Colombian LGBT rights activists attended the partnership’s first training that took place in Bogotá, Colombia, from May 29-June 2.

“It’s about reaching directly at the grassroots in the countries concerned,” Zeya said. “We still have a situation where nearly 80 countries have laws prohibiting or basically making homosexuality illegal. This is an uphill battle that we have to continue to fight and we’re looking to bring more partners in on this so you can’t say this is exclusively an American agenda or a U.S. government agenda, but in fact this is a common effort to support universal rights and equality.”

Zeya also spoke to the Blade immediately after Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at Gays and Lesbians In Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA)’s annual Pride event at which Georgia Congressman John Lewis and National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling spoke. Obama earlier in the day specifically mentioned gays and lesbians during a speech he delivered at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

“It shows the president’s commitment to LGBT equality, but also that we view LGBT rights as just part of universal rights as the secretary (Kerry) said,” Zeya said. “We heard that in a very compelling and heartfelt way from Sec. Kerry that this has been a life-long commitment and he’s committed to this struggle. He recognizes how far we’ve come and in some ways how shocking some of the past sort of debate on this issue, but he’s totally committed to going forward so I think we have a real synergy between both the president and the secretary in determination to move ahead.”

20
Jun
2013

Kerry: U.S. has obligation to defend LGBT rights abroad

Gay News, Washington Blade, John Kerry

Secretary of State John Kerry (photo public domain)

Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday said the United States has a “moral obligation” to defend LGBT rights abroad.

“We have a moral obligation to decry the marginalization and persecution of LGBT persons,” he said during Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA)’s annual Pride event at the State Department in Foggy Bottom. “We have a moral obligation to promote societies that are more just, more fair and tolerant.”

Kerry spoke hours after President Obama specifically referenced gays and lesbians in a speech he delivered at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin.

The former Massachusetts senator’s comments also come against the backdrop of increased anti-LGBT violence and discrimination in Russia, Ukraine, Nigeria and other countries.

He referenced French advocates whom he said successfully stood up against a “very bitter” and “very divisive” opposition against the country’s same-sex marriage law in response to a question from GLIFAA member Doug Morrow who is on post in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev about how to respond to anti-gay legislation and homophobic rhetoric from government officials and religious leaders.

“We got to be out there showing up in places where progress on LGBT rights has been slower and harder to achieve,” Kerry said. “Using our tools of development and diplomacy actually leverage our efforts forward in this endeavor. And we remain focused on this and will, because American leadership requires promoting universal values.”

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011 proclaimed “gay rights are human rights” during the landmark speech she gave in Geneva to commemorate International Human Rights Day. President Obama on the same day issued a presidential memorandum that directed government agencies that implement American foreign policy to promote LGBT rights in the countries in which they work.

Kerry pointed to the 2011 adoption of a United Nations resolution in support of LGBT rights, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the nomination of three gay men to ambassadorships last week as examples of the administration’s ongoing commitment to gay issues abroad. Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, told the Washington Blade after Kerry’s speech the Global Partnership Initiative that includes public and private partners has spent more than $4 million in 25 countries to directly support activists and underrepresented groups since its 2011 inception.

“Your work is so important,” Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality said during the GLIFAA event after Kerry’s speech. “It’s literally saving lives and building up real people around the world.”

The GLIFAA gathering also took place ahead of the expected U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.

“I fought too long and too hard against discrimination based on race and color not to be against discrimination based on sexual orientation,” Georgia Congressman John Lewis said during the event. “No government — be it state or federal — should be able to tell a person who they can love and not love, who they can marry and not marry.”

Kerry, who was among the 14 U.S. senators who voted against DOMA in 1996, said he is hopeful the justices will strike down the law that then-President Bill Clinton signed.

He cited the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s election to the U.S. Senate last fall as examples of the progress he said this country has seen on LGBT-specific issues. Kerry noted, however, the lack of immigration rights for bi-national couples is an example of the work he said that remains to be done.

“We have to say, as we gather here today, that we still do have a distance to travel,” he said. “Far too many women and men and families are still denied equality under our laws.”

20
Jun
2013

Report documents anti-LGBT discrimination, violence in Africa

Uganda, Kill the Gays bill, gay news, Washington Blade

Protesters gather outside the Ugandan embassy in Northwest D.C. in December 2012 to protest the country’s “Kill the Gays” bill. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Amnesty International on Monday issued a report that documents increased anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in Africa.

The report — “Making Love a Crime: Criminalization of Same-Sex Conduct in Sub-Saharan Africa — notes 38 African countries continue to criminalize consensual same-sex conduct. These include South Sudan, Liberia and Burundi.

The Nigeria House of Representatives late last month passed a measure that would criminalize what Reuters described as same-sex “amorous relationships” and marriages and memberships in a gay rights group. Those convicted under the proposal that President Goodluck Jonathan has yet to sign into law would face up to 14 years in prison.

Mauritania, Sudan and portions of northern Nigeria and Sudan impose the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of consensual same-sex sexual acts. Ugandan lawmakers have faced criticism over the so-called “Kill the Gays” bill that would impose the death penalty upon anyone convicted of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

The Amnesty International report further notes at least seven LGBT South Africans were murdered between June-Nov. 2012 because of their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.

It also documents police officers in Cameroon who subjected those they detained under the country’s anti-homosexuality law to forced anal exams. Michel Togué, a lawyer who advocates on behalf of gay Cameroonians, discussed these and other human rights abuses during an interview with the Washington Blade earlier this year in D.C.

“Gay people are not seeking everyone to approve of their behavior,” he said. “They are seeking freedom.”

Widney Brown, director of law and policy for Amnesty International, stressed African governments have a responsibility to protect the rights of their LGBT citizens.

“These attacks — sometimes deadly — must be stopped,” Brown said. “No one should be beaten or killed because of who they are attracted to or intimately involved with.”

Amnesty International released its report less than two days before President Obama is scheduled to leave D.C. for a week-long trip to Africa that will include stops in Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania.

The White House and the State Department have repeatedly spoken out against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill.

Secretary of State John Kerry last week responded to a question during Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA)’s annual Pride event in Foggy Bottom about “a marked increase in anti-gay legislation and homophobic statements” by government officials and religious leaders in Nigeria, Uganda and other countries. The State Department in August 2012 criticized the Zimbabwean government after police arrested dozens of activists inside the offices of Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe (GALZ,) an LGBT rights organization, in Harare, the country’s capital.

“When they raid our offices they think they are going to find pornographic materials,” a GALZ member told the Blade during an exclusive interview earlier this year in D.C. “When they come in there, they find it is a resource center. People are busy working.”

The Obama administration and British Prime Minister David Cameron have both suggested the allocation of international aid should hinge upon a country’s record on LGBT rights.

Amnesty International cites progress on LGBT issues in Africa

In spite of the continued human rights abuses against LGBT Africans, Amnesty International’s report notes progress in many countries across the continent.

Cape Verde, Mauritius, São Tomé and Príncipe and the Seychelles have decriminalized homosexuality over the last decade. Botswana and Mozambique are among the African countries that have banned anti-gay employment discrimination in recent years.

Same-sex couples have been able to marry in South Africa since 2006.

African countries have responsibility to ‘protect, not prosecute’

The Amnesty International report contains a number of recommendations on how it feels African governments can eliminate discrimination and violence against their LGBT citizens. These include repealing laws that criminalize or “otherwise impose punitive sanctions on consensual same-sex conduct,” abolishing the death penalty and eliminating anti-LGBT discrimination in the judicial system.

“As the chorus for recognition grows stronger and stronger, African states have to stop denying that homophobia is a human rights issue and recognize that LGBTI rights are an integral part of the human rights struggle,” Brown said. “It is their responsibility to protect, not persecute.”

24
Jun
2013