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Kerry: LGBT rights are human rights

John Kerry, State Department, gay news, Washington Blade, GLIFAA

Secretary of State John Kerry (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian LGBT rights advocate and journalist Masha Gessen are among those who spoke at the annual Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies Pride celebration that took place at the State Department on Thursday.

“LGBT rights are human rights, and human rights are LGBT rights,” said Kerry.

Kerry during his speech highlighted a number of policy changes and other developments that have taken place since the U.S. Supreme Court last June struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act. These include the ability of gays and lesbians to sponsor their same-sex partners for immigration purposes and the recognition of marriages of foreign diplomats who are assigned to the U.S.

“That’s what it means to fight and that’s what it means to win in a battle that we all know matters enormously, not as a matter of making these things a privilege, but to make sure that they are, in fact, a right,” said Kerry.

GLIFAA, Robyn McCutcheon, gay news, Washington Blade

GLIFAA President Robyn McCutcheon (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Kerry praised GLIFAA President Robyn McCutcheon, who is the first foreign service officer to come out as transgender, for her work with the Office of Personnel Management in support of efforts to end the ban on federal employee health plans from covering gender transition-related care.

OPM last Friday announced as of next year it would no longer require federal health insurance plans to include the so-called “transgender exclusion.”

Kerry also applauded Gessen, who fled Russia last December with her wife and their three children because of the Kremlin’s ongoing LGBT rights crackdown, for “her own special perseverance and advocacy.”

“When all the repressive anti-LGBT laws in Russia threatened literally to break apart her family, she put up a fight,” said Kerry. “The government in Moscow may look at Masha as a troublemaker to contend with, but here in the United States, we know that she is a wonderful person — a mother, a journalist, an extraordinary human rights defender — and we are honored by her presence here.”

Masha Gessen, Russia, gay news, Washington Blade, GLIFAA

Masha Gessen (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The GLIFAA Pride event took place shortly after the White House announced travel bans against Ugandan officials responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses in their country.

Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline on Thursday introduced a bill that would ban officials responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses in their respective countries from entering the U.S. The gay Democrat’s proposal would also mandate the State Department to document anti-LGBT human rights abuses in its annual human rights reports.

U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) last week introduced a bill that would create a special envoy within the State Department who would coordinate Washington’s efforts in support of global LGBT rights.

“From Uganda to Russia to Iran, LGBT communities face discriminatory laws and practices that attack dignity, undermine safety, and violate human rights,” said Kerry. “We each have a responsibility to push back against a global trend of rising violence and discrimination against LGBT persons.”

20
Jun
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

Anti-LGBT crackdown continues under Russia propaganda law

Masha Gessen, Russia, gay news, Washington Blade, GLIFAA

Masha Gessen relocated her family from Moscow to New York last December. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Russian LGBT rights advocates say rates of harassment and violence have increased over the last year since a law banning so-called gay propaganda to minors took effect.

Polina Andrianova of Coming Out, a St. Petersburg-based advocacy group, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday during a Skype interview that she has been verbally accosted twice since President Vladimir Putin on June 29, 2013, signed the propaganda bill.

Andrianova said she is now afraid to hold her girlfriend’s hand in public.

“People just look at you differently,” she said. “Now they know that gays and lesbians exist, but unfortunately they also know that we are a danger to children and we’re a danger to traditional Russian values.”

Andrianova told the Blade that her organization installed security cameras in its offices last November after two masked men with air guns and baseball bats attacked gay and bisexual men who were attending a meeting at the St. Petersburg office of a Russian HIV/AIDS service organization. Bomb threats disrupted an LGBT film festival in the city a few weeks later that gay screenwriter Dustin Lance Black attended.

Andrianova said people who were “clearly not members of the LGBT community” began to attend support group meetings and other events at Coming Out’s office after the attack at the HIV/AIDS group. She told the Blade they took pictures and videos and acted in “a weird way.”

“We are pretty sure that they were going to plan some provocations,” said Andrianova.

Andrianova said local authorities have also continued to target Coming Out for violating a 2012 law that requires groups that receive funding from outside Russia to register as a “foreign agent,” even though a St. Petersburg appellate judge last July overturned a lower court’s ruling that fined her organization more than $15,000.

“That has been taking a lot of our emotional, administrative, human resources to fight these court battles,” she said. “We might actually have to close down.”

Arrests of LGBT advocates persist after Olympics

Putin signed the propaganda law slightly more than six months before the 2014 Winter Olympics took place in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

Police in Moscow and St. Petersburg arrested more than a dozen activists who tried to stage two pro-LGBT protests hours before the opening ceremony. Elena Kostynchenko, one of the advocates who was arrested in Moscow, told the Blade during a telephone interview after her release that officers threatened to sexually assault her and another women while they were in custody.

Russian authorities detained Vladimir Luxuria, a transgender former Italian parliamentarian, twice during the Sochi games after she protested the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record.

This harassment has continued since the Olympics ended.

Venues that abruptly cancelled scheduled competitions and bomb threats disrupted the Russian Open Games that drew more than 300 LGBT athletes from Russia and other countries to Moscow a few weeks after the Sochi games.

Authorities on May 31 detained several people who took part in two LGBT rights demonstrations in Moscow. A four-day camp the Russian LGBT Sports Federation, which sponsored the Russian Open Games, took place outside the capital last month without incident.

Konstantin Yablotskiy, co-organizer of the Russian Open Games, told the Blade on Monday during a Skype interview from his Moscow apartment that the principal of the school where he teaches asked him to resign twice in April.

Yablotskiy refused, but he said that administrators continue to harass him.

“They probably think that just my personal example is showing the example of non-traditional family values,” Yablotskiy told the Blade. “I don’t see how my working duties are somehow devoted with my public activity.”

Administrators of an Arkangelsk university last month fired a lecturer who is a local LGBT rights advocate after he traveled to the U.S. last fall to discuss the Kremlin’s gay rights record. Yablotskiy told the Blade that a gay man who taught at a Vladivostok university recently resigned.

“He clearly understood that there would be no chance to prolong this contract,” he said.

LGBT Russians seek asylum in U.S.

The Kremlin’s ongoing LGBT rights crackdown has prompted many gay Russians to leave the country.

The former manager of a gay nightclub in Moscow that had been attacked several times late last year told the Blade during an interview in D.C. in January that he does not want to return to Russia because he feels his life will be threatened. George Budny, a gay doctor from St. Petersburg who also fled his homeland, said his mother told him to stay in the U.S. because of the propaganda law.

Vlad, a 17-year-old gay teenager from Sochi, arrived in New York on June 23.

He said before marching in New York’s annual Pride parade with a group of LGBT Russians that authorities are now targeting his friend, who is a gay rights advocate and supported a proposed boycott of the Olympics. Vlad — who told the Blade he plans to seek asylum in the U.S. — said officials are trying to force his friend into a mental hospital.

“Russia became more homophobic after the Olympic games,” he said.

Ivan and Aleksandr, a gay couple from Murmansk who has been together for seven years, moved to the Brighton Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., last July. They applied for asylum in February with assistance from Immigration Equality.

Ivan told the Blade during an interview in Manhattan on Friday that Aleksandr was a well-known photographer in Murmansk when he came out on Twitter in February 2013. He said Aleksandr was attacked outside of their apartment after his message was reposted and screenshots of it appeared in local media.

Someone vandalized their car in May — and a burned vehicle was left in their parking space outside their apartment building two weeks later. The couple was also afraid to hold hands or kiss each other in public before they left Murmansk.

Ivan, who married Aleksandr at New York City Hall last October, said someone in Murmansk took pictures of their wedding that his husband posted onto Facebook and wrote a blog post about it. He said there were a lot of “bad comments” under the article.

“People were not friendly towards us and towards our relatives,” said Ivan. “We were scared not for ourselves because we were in a safe place at that moment here. We were scared for our families.”

Masha Gessen, a Russian journalist and prominent LGBT rights advocate, in December moved to New York with her family after a lawmaker proposed a bill that would allow the government to take children away from their gay and lesbian parents.

She told the Blade last week during a telephone interview that she did not allow her two oldest children to ride the Moscow subway alone before they left the country.

“We didn’t think that there was a very high risk of their being harassed or attacked, but there was a risk,” said Gessen. “When you’re talking about kids, that’s a totally unacceptable level of risk.”

Gessen criticizes advocates who ‘did nothing’ during Olympics

President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other American and European officials have repeatedly criticized Putin for signing the gay propaganda law over the last year.

The Kremlin’s LGBT rights record was among the factors that prompted Obama to cancel a meeting with Putin that had been scheduled to take place last September before the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg. The White House in March announced the Russian lawmaker who introduced gay propaganda bill is among the seven officials who will face sanctions for their role in the escalating tensions between Moscow and Ukraine that include the annexation of Crimea.

David Pichler, a gay U.S. diver who competed in the 1996 Summer Olympics and 2000 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and Sydney, and two staffers from Human Rights First met with Russian LGBT rights advocates in St. Petersburg and Sochi in February. Hudson Taylor, founder of Athlete Ally, highlighted efforts in support of adding sexual orientation to the Olympic charter’s anti-discrimination clause, while he was in the Black Sea resort city during the games.

The Human Rights Campaign has thus far contributed $140,000 to a fund designed to support Russian LGBT advocacy groups since Putin signed the propaganda law. The organization also continues to work with the Russian LGBT Network.

Singer Elton John last December blasted the propaganda law during a Moscow concert that he dedicated to a man whom authorities said two men tortured and killed near Volgograd in May 2013 after he came out to them. Gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts echoed John’s criticisms during a series of interviews before co-hosting the Miss Universe 2013 pageant that took place in the Russian capital last November.

Neither he nor co-host Mel B discussed the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record during the event’s broadcast.

Gessen, who spoke at last month’s Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies’ annual Pride event at the State Department, was more critical of activists who went to the Olympics and “did nothing” to highlight the Kremlin’s LGBT rights record than Roberts, whom she said “made his presence count.”

“Getting deported for being disruptive of Sochi would have been making your presence count,” she said. “Issuing a couple of press statements among the thousands of press statements that the press corps got there is a waste of money and time.”

Gessen said during the GLIFAA Pride event that she would like to see the U.S. impose sanctions against those in Russia and other countries who violate LGBT rights — similar to the travel bans against Ugandan officials the White House announced on June 20 as part of its response to the draconian anti-gay law that President Yoweri Museveni signed earlier this year. U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.); gay journalist Jamie Kirchick and Larry Poltavtsev of Spectrum Human Rights, a group that advocates on behalf of LGBT Russians, are among those who have urged Obama to use a 2012 law that freezes the assets of Russian citizens and officials directly responsible for human rights violations to punish those behind the Kremlin’s ongoing LGBT rights crackdown.

Gessen told the Blade that multinational companies that do not offer the same benefits to their LGBT employees in Russia and other countries that their U.S. counterparts receive should not “be landing” on the HRC Corporate Equality Index.

“It can make the difference between life and death for their LGBT employees in other countries,” she told the Blade. “HRC’s approach to measuring this is inadequate.”

Deena Fidas, director of the HRC Workplace Equality Program, told the Blade on Tuesday her organization in 2015 will evaluate “all businesses with global operations” based on whether LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies are consistent with their employees in the U.S. and abroad.

“We foster trusting relationships with major employees of all stripes, but do not rely on trust alone to validate our information,” she said.

Russia, Ukraine, New York City Pride, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT Russians and others from Ukraine and other former Soviet republics march in the New York Pride parade on June 29, 2014. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

02
Jul
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

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

State Dept. official: Anti-gay laws ‘not consistent’ with African values

Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

A State Department official on Wednesday said anti-gay laws in Uganda and other African countries are “inconsistent” with the continent’s core values. (Image public domain)

A State Department official on Wednesday said anti-LGBT laws in Africa are “not consistent” with the continent’s core values.

“We certainly see it as that is not consistent with core African values; core African values of respect for human difference and diversity,” said Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary for the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, during a Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights forum at the National Press Club in D.C.

Malinowski noted that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and other African heads of state who support anti-LGBT laws are “resurrecting and building upon a set of laws that were imposed on Africa by colonial powers” during the 19th and 20th centuries.

“That irony seems to be lost on them,” said Malinowski.

Malinowski’s comments come ahead of a summit with African heads of state that will take place in D.C. next week.

The Council for Global Equality, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and other advocacy groups on July 25 urged President Obama to highlight LGBT rights during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

“In the lead up to the African leaders summit, this is a time that we and members of civil society and the U.S. government really has to think about how we are addressing sexual minority rights issues overseas, particularly in Africa,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.

Museveni in February signed a law under which those who are convicted of repeated same-sex sexual acts face life in prison. Jonathan a few weeks earlier signed a bill that, among other things, punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage in Nigeria with up to 14 years in prison

The White House subsequently cut aid to Uganda that funded HIV/AIDS programs and other initiatives. The Obama administration last month announced a travel ban against officials who are responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses in the East African country.

Both Museveni and Jonathan are among the 32 African heads of state who have received invitations to attend next week’s summit.

“The American government has come out very strongly in Uganda,” said Richard Lusimbo of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group. “Let’s not forget our brothers and sisters in Nigeria.”

Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal in 37 African countries. Homosexuality remains punishable by death in Mauritania, Sudan and portions of northern Nigeria and Somalia.

Secretary of State John Kerry in February said he was “deeply troubled” when Gambian President Yahya Jammeh compared gay men to “vermin” during a speech that commemorated his country’s independence from the U.K. Cameroon and Zimbabwe are among the other African countries that have faced criticism from the U.S. and other nations over crackdowns on LGBT rights advocates and other issues.

“We know that there are thousands of people across the African continent who are standing up for an end to violence and for full equality for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Shawn Gaylord of Human Rights First in a press release that announced the release of a report on LGBT rights in Africa that his organization wrote with the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

African LGBT rights advocates continue to accuse Scott Lively and other U.S. evangelicals of stoking homophobic and transphobic attitudes on the continent.

The Center for Constitutional Rights in 2012 filed a federal lawsuit against Lively on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda that accuses the Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate of exploiting anti-gay attitudes in the East African country before Parliamentarian David Bahati in 2009 introduced the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill. The measure — which Museveni signed — once contained a proposed provision that would have imposed the death penalty upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

U.S. District Judge Michael A. Posner last August ruled Sexual Minorities Uganda’s lawsuit can move forward.

“There is a need to support us in this kind of work we are doing by holding accountable your fellow citizens,” said Lusimbo.

Media reports indicate the Ugandan Constitutional Court on Thursday could potentially issue a ruling in a case that challenges the Anti-Homosexuality Law.

Malinowski told the Blade at the end of the National Press Club forum that he and Kerry discussed the anti-gay statute with Ugandan Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa last month, two days after his unanimous election as president of the 2014 U.N. General Assembly.

“We conveyed our very strong views about the need for this law to go away for our relationship with Uganda to improve,” said Malinowski.

31
Jul
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

LGBT rights take back seat at Africa summit

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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)

LGBT rights largely took a back seat to economic issues during this week’s summit in D.C. that drew nearly 50 African heads of state.

President Obama on Tuesday broadly mentioned LGBT rights as he spoke with Takunda Chingonzo, a 21-year-old Zimbabwean entrepreneur, 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.

Obama during a speech at the same event announced the U.S. had pledged an additional $33 billion to promote investment and further economic development in Africa.

“Some of the incredible cultures of some of our U.S. businesses that do a really good job promoting people and maintaining a meritocracy, and treating women equally, and treating people of different races and faiths and sexual orientations fairly and equally, and making sure that there are typical norms of how you deal with people in contracts and respect legal constraints,” said Obama. “All those things I think can then take root in a country like Zimbabwe or any other country. Hopefully, governments are encouraging that, not inhibiting that.”

Obama said during a White House dinner on Tuesday that he and his family have been “inspired by Africans — ordinary Africans doing extraordinary things.”

“Farmers boosting their yields, health workers saving lives from HIV/AIDS, advocates standing up for justice and the rule of law, courageous women asserting their rights, entrepreneurs creating jobs, African peacekeepers risking their lives to save the innocent,” he said.

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Secretary of State John Kerry spoke at the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit on Tuesday. (Photo courtesy of the State Department)

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.

“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. “We will do so because we know that countries are stronger and more stable when people are listened to and given shared power.”

LGBT rights were not specifically included in the agenda of the summit itself that took place at the State Department on Wednesday.

“We have the opportunity to strengthen the governance upon which economic growth and free societies depend,” said Obama before he opened the gathering. “Today we can focus on the ingredients of progress: Rule of law, open government, accountable and transparent institutions, strong civil societies and respect for the universal human rights of all people.”

Homosexuality remains criminalized in more than 30 African countries.

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

The White House subsequently cut aid to the East African country 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 on Friday struck down the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, arguing parliamentarians passed it last December without the necessary quorum.

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

Museveni and Jonathan are among the African leaders who attended the White House dinner.

The African leaders, along with Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, who described gay men as “vermin” during a February speech that commemorated his country’s independence from the U.K., are among those who posed for pictures with Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama as they arrived.

“As the relations between Africa and the United States of America has evolved for centuries with significant impact on the economic and social well-being of our peoples, we believe that this summit is appropriate and laudable,” said Jammeh in a lengthy statement provided to reporters at the U.S. Institute for Peace on Wednesday. “It provides the platform and opportunity to move to a higher level of mutually beneficial cooperation between the United States and the countries of sub-Saharan Africa.”

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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)

The National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International, the Council for Global Equality and more than a dozen other advocacy organizations late last month urged Obama to highlight LGBT rights during the summit.

“In the lead up to the African leaders summit, this is a time that we and members of civil society and the U.S. government really has to think about how we are addressing sexual minority rights issues overseas, particularly in Africa,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, during a pre-summit forum at the National Press Club in downtown Washington on July 30.

Obama discussed LGBT rights in Africa during a press conference with Senegalese President Macky Sall in June 2013 that took place in Dakar, the West African country’s capital, the day after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act. Kerry in May touched upon anti-LGBT discrimination during a speech he made in the Ethiopian capital.

“This summit has provided and will continue to be a forum for candid discussions with African leaders on a range of issues, including on LGBT rights,” Ned Price of the National Security Council told the Blade on Tuesday.

Bloomberg — who backed efforts to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples in Maryland and New York — earlier in the day told the Blade his views in support of LGBT rights “are well known” and he has “never been shy about them.”

He nevertheless stressed it is “not our job to go and try to promote things that I think countries should adopt.”

“I can do that in America as an American,” Bloomberg told the Blade. “I just think that it sort of steps a little bit over the bounds to go into another country and try to change their values. I’m not shy about expressing mine.”

Chalwe Mwansa, a Zambian LGBT rights advocate, is among the 500 fellows with the White House’s Young African Leaders Initiative who met with Obama last week.

Mwansa told the Blade on Tuesday during a telephone interview from New York where he is interning with IGLHRC that he is “very, very grateful” to the Obama administration for its public support of LGBT rights in Africa.

He nevertheless said he wished that summit organizers had done more to highlight LGBT rights on the continent.

“We’re Africans; we have our national identities,” Mwansa told the Blade. “There hasn’t been much space, there hasn’t been much platform for the inclusion of LGBTI people.”

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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)

06
Aug
2014

John Kerry: LGBT rights discussed during Africa trip

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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