Crossing Borders: Challenges of Containing Homophobia
A March 1 New York Times story examined the challenges for the U.S. and other nations working through the United Nations to promote LGBT equality as a human right, and their limited ability to influence countries like Uganda and Nigeria that are adopting stronger anti-gay laws.
The U.S. State Department’s 2013 Human Rights Report was released. The Washington Blade examines the treatment of LGBT rights in the document:
The report specifically references draconian anti-gay measures that Ugandan and Nigerian lawmakers approved last year – their country’s presidents signed them into law earlier this week and last month respectively. The State Department also notes up to 200 people may remain incarcerated in Cameroon under the country’s sodomy law.
The report further highlights Russian President Vladimir Putin last June signed a bill into law that bans gay propaganda to minors.
“From Nigeria to Russia to Iran, indeed in some 80 countries the world over, LGBT communities face discriminatory laws and practices that attack their basic human dignity and undermine their safety,” said Secretary of State John Kerry as he unveiled the report in D.C. “We are seeing new laws like the Anti-Homosexuality Bill enacted by Uganda and signed into law by President Museveni earlier this week, which not only makes criminals of people for who they are, but punishes those who defend the human rights that are universal birthright.”
The Blade also reports:
The State Department’s Global Equality Fund since 2011 has spent more than $4 million in 25 countries to directly support LGBT advocates and underrepresented groups. USAID last April unveiled a public-private partnership with the Swedish International Development Corporation Agency, the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute and other groups that will $12 million over the next four years to LGBT activist organizations in Honduras and other developing countries – the initiative’s first two trainings took place in the Colombian cities of Bogotá and Cartagena last May and August respectively.
Seven LGBT rights advocates from Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Perú, Ecuador, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic recently visited D.C., New York, Texas and California as part of the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program. Activists from Latvia, Serbia, Russia, Georgia, Zimbabwe, Kenya and other countries have traveled to the U.S. over the last year.
BuzzFeed’s Lester Feder also takes a global look at what he calls a new cold war over human rights, in which Russia becomes a more important ally to politicians like Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.
The recent showdowns over anti-gay laws — from Russia, in the run-up to the Olympics, to Uganda and Nigeria in the new year — followed a period in which some of the largest and wealthiest nations in the world granted federal recognition to same-sex couples’ marriages. The United States, United Kingdom, France, and Brazil are just the largest nations that granted national recognition to same-sex couples’ marriages in the last year. Domestic LGBT movements triumphed by making the case that LGBT rights are fundamental rights, and they now want to see the same conviction incorporated into foreign policy.
This movement, though, is happening in a world where more than 80 countries worldwide still criminalize homosexuality, and it seems likely that this number will grow. There already are efforts to duplicate Russia’s anti-LGBT “propaganda” laws in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and there are attempts to emulate Nigeria and Uganda’s new laws in other African countries. With a single decision by the Indian Supreme Court in December, homosexuality was recriminalized in a nation home to 1.23 billion people.
Dominoes are going down fast in both directions, and the governments and institutions that haven’t fully engaged on the question are going to have to choose which way to fall.
Feder says that the recent passage of anti-gay laws in Uganda and Nigeria reflected the countries’ internal political pressures. For example,
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan had his own domestic pressures. He’s seen key defections from his People’s Democratic Party, and he is trying to hold onto his job while the country is facing a bloody insurgency from rebels in the north. The legislation had deep support among both of the country’s main religious groups, Christians and Muslims, and he needed backing in both constituencies if he is going to hold onto his job.
In an interview with DailyXtra, Graeme Reid, director of Human Rights Watch’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program, also discussed the geopolitics of LGBT issues, saying that Museveni prefers Russia as a partner because it doesn’t seek to impose human rights conditions on the relationship. Regarding tensions in Ukraine, Reid noted that Russians have positioned themselves as champions of “traditional values” internationally, in opposition to the pro-LGBT equality European Union. On the other hand, he said many LGBT activists had to be discreet in their involvement in Ukrainian protests, because of the involvement of right-wing anti-gay groups.
In another story, Feder reports on a rise in anti-gay sentiment spreading from Uganda into neighboring Kenya, where homosexuality is technically illegal but where people have not generally faced persecution for their sexuality. Human rights advocates worry that recent debates in Nigeria and Uganda are being picked up by politicians in other countries.
Human Rights Watch’s Monica Tabengwa, who is based in Nairobi, said she is optimistic that countries like Kenya and Zimbabwe, where LGBT rights have already been extensively debated, won’t follow Uganda’s path. She is more concerned about countries in West Africa, in Nigeria’s shadow. It is the military and economic powerhouse in its neighborhood, and its smaller and weaker neighbors — some with Islamist movements — might be more influenced by Nigeria’s law.
The State Department announced that Russell Feingold, Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, “will travel to London and The Hague this week to meet with donor partners, including with the Great Lakes Contact Group. He intends to discuss next steps in supporting the Peace, Security, and Cooperation Framework peace process, including Angola’s facilitation of a regional dialogue during its chairmanship of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, implementation of the Nairobi Declarations, and Uganda’s alarming Anti-Homosexuality Law.”
Uganda: Vatican Official Opposes Law, Ugandan Bishops Reserve Judgment
On March 4, in the midst of continued tabloid “outings,” Sexual Minorities Uganda marked its tenth anniversary. SMUG is the group suing Scott Lively with the assistance of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
On the same day, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, criticized Uganda’s law, saying “homosexuals are not criminals” and do not deserve to be incarcerated. Last week, the country’s Catholic bishops reaffirmed their opposition to homosexuality, but reserved judgment on the law, saying they would not be able to comment until early March.
Simon Lokodo, a former Catholic priest who is now the State Minister for Ethics and Integrity in Uganda, in a heated interview with British comedian and gay-rights activist Stephen Fry, seemingly implied that men raping girls is more natural than, and morally preferable to, consensual homosexual activity. He threatened to have Fry arrested for promoting homosexuality.
Business Week reported last week, “Uganda’s shilling fell the most since March 2012 against the dollar after donors started cutting aid after President Yoweri Museveni signed a law that imposes life sentences on some homosexual acts.”
Cameroon: Church Contributes to Brutal Climate for LGBT People
Andy Kopsa reports in The Nation that Cameroon has escaped the international spotlight “even though it has been quietly arresting, charging and imprisoning gay people under article 347 of the penal code for years.”
The brutalization and imprisonment of LGBT persons in Cameroon is rampant in the villages, not just the big cities. A woman who works with a human rights organization in Cameroon told me recently that she gets at least “four calls a week” from LGBT persons in the rural areas, typically reporting familial abuse, abuse by the authorities, jailing and subsequent bribery by officials for their release….
The Catholic Church has played a major role in fomenting anti-gay hate, in a country that is 39 percent Catholic. In a Christmas sermon a few years ago, former Archbishop Victor Tonye Bakot called same-sex marriage “a serious crime against humanity.” He continued, “We need to stand up to combat it with all our energy. I am particularly thankful to our local media that has been spreading this message of it as a criminality against mankind.”
Shortly after these statements, Bakot stepped down; some insiders in Cameroon suggest his dismissal came directly from the Vatican. Bakot’s resignation seemed like encouraging news. But activists in the local community told me that the Catholic Church of Cameroon has since crafted an anti-gay prayer that proclaims LGBT people an abomination to God, written it into the official catechism and continues to preach it from altars around the nation during mass.
Nigeria: Anglican Church Officials Required to Take Anti-Gay Oath
In Nigeria, where a new law expanding criminal penalties for homosexuality has led to violence against LGBT people, the Anglican Church of Nigeria is reportedly forcing people seeking official church positions to swear an anti-homosexualiy oath.
“I declare before God and his Church that I have never been a homosexual/bisexual or have repented from being homosexual/bisexual and I vow that I will not indulge in the practice of homosexuality/bisexuality.
“If after this oath I am involved, found to be, or profess to be a homosexual/bisexual against the teachings of the Holy Scriptures as contained in the Bible I bring upon myself the full wrath of God and subject myself willingly to canonical discipline as enshrined in the constitution of the Church of Nigeria, so help me God.
United Kingdom: Echoes of U.S. Freedom to Discriminate Debate
While Americans debated “religious freedom” or “freedom to discriminate” laws, a British politician, Lewes councilor Donna Edmunds, got into hot water suggesting that business owners should be free to refuse to provide services to women and gays. After an outcry, she said she regretted her comments: “I in no way endorse any form of discrimination. I believe in cutting red tape for business and I also strongly believe in an individual’s personal and religious freedoms, but I stand against any form of prejudice.” Edmunds is a candidate for the European Parliament.
Vatican: Pope Francis Open to Considering Civil Unions?
Pope Francis made news when he suggested in a newspaper interview that he might be open to supporting some form of civil unions as a means, for example, of ensuring that people have access to health care. Francis reaffirmed the church’s position that marriage is between a man and a woman, but he said “We have to look at different cases and evaluate them in their variety.” The US Conference of Catholic Bishops has opposed domestic partnerships and civil unions as well as marriage equality.
Dalai Lama: Same Sex Marriage OK, Anti-Gay Bullying Not OK
In an interview with Larry King, the Dalai Lama suggested individuals should follow the teachings of their own faith traditions on matters of sexuality. Otherwise, he indicated, individuals are free to engage in different kinds of sex as long as it is safe and consensual. Asked about same-sex marriage, he said it was up to the laws of each country, but that he, personally, is OK with it. He condemned anti-gay abuse and bullying as violations of human rights.
Germany: Evangelical Lutheran Church Allows Same Sex Couples in Pastoral Housing
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northern Germany will allow pastors in committed same-sex relationships to share church residences with their partners, reports Gay Star News. The couple must be registered as partners. The decision gives more conservative congregations leeway to opt out of having gay clergy. According to the story, “The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northern Germany will vote at a summit next year on whether to officially accept the celebration of same-sex unions in its churches – though many member churches already do.”
Ethiopia: Political and Religious Groups Join for Anti-Gay Rally
A report in Horn Affairs on Tuesday says that a youth group affiliated with Ethiopia’s ruling party is teaming up with a religious group to organize an anti-gay rally in the country’s capital at an unspecified date. It says the Addis Ababa Youth Forum and Weyneye Abune Teklehaimanot, described as an association of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, are planning “to hold a mass demonstration in the capital to protest against Lesbians, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual (LGBT) and the violence that is being committed against minors.”
The report says that Weyneye Abune Teklehaimanot has produced a video “associating same-sex practice with the advent of an anti-Christ, which Christians believe to be a sign of ‘the end of the world.’” And it says the youth forum’s chairman says the rally has the backing of government agencis such as “the Addis Ababa City Culture and Tourism Bureau, Addis Ababa Labor and Social Affairs Bureau, Women, Youth and Children Affairs Bureau and the Addis Ababa Police Commission.”
Associating homosexuality with pedophilia has become a recurrent theme in the Ethiopian private press that frequently publishes interviews of Dr. Antonious Seyoum and articles allegedly sponsored by him. Antonious is head of an NGO named United for Life, which is widely believed to be funded by American Evangelicals in contravention of Ethiopian laws restricting foreign finance on policy advocacy activities.
Lebanon: Court Rules Against Anti-Gay Law
The Daily Star of Lebanon reported this week on a legal ruling it said “rubbishes anti-gay law” in the country.
The latest edition of The Legal Agenda, a quarterly magazine published by the non-governmental organization of the same name, reported Tuesday that, in January, Judge Naji al-Dahdah cleared a transsexual woman of having a same-sex relationship with a man, an act criminalized under Article 534 of Lebanon’s penal code.
“It’s a big step; it shows we’re moving in the right direction,” said Georges Azzi, a prominent activist for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights who is also the co-founder of Helem, a Lebanese group that has long been campaigning to change the law….
Dahdah ruled that Article 534, which criminalizes “unnatural sexual intercourse,” did not provide a clear interpretation of what was considered unnatural.
The verdict relied in large part on a December 2009 ruling by Judge Mounir Suleiman that consensual homosexual relations were not against nature and could therefore not be prosecuted under Article 534.
Spain: Court Recognizes Parental Right of Same-Sex Partner
Spain’s Supreme Court ruled that the a woman whose partner had given birth to a child as a “joint project” should be considered one of the child’s parents after the couple broke up.