April 8, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
State Department identifies LGBT abuses overseas

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. State Department published its annual report on Friday evaluating the state of human rights overseas and revealing that LGBT abuses continue to persist in many places abroad.

Introducing the findings in a media appearance Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the report “usually generates a great deal of interest” among those following human rights and said she hopes the new report will do so again this year.

“Societies flourish when they address human rights problems instead of suppressing them,” Clinton said. “And we hope that this report will give comfort to the activists, will shine a spotlight on the abuses, and convince those in government that there are other and better ways.”

The report details the status of human rights in 194 countries over the course of 2010 and marks the 35th year in which the State Department has produced the findings, which are required by congressional mandate.

Clinton drew particular attention to the report’s identification of abuses against LGBT people overseas and said monitoring this activity is a part of the mission for the State Department.

“Because I believe, and our government believes, that gay rights are human rights, we remain extremely concerned about state-sanctioned homophobia,” Clinton said.

In addition to unveiling the report, Clinton also announced the launch of a new State Department website: humanrights.gov. The site is set to assemble reports, statements and other updates from around the world and is intended to become a depository of global human rights information.

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, commended the State Department for publishing the findings and said the LGBT reporting “continues to be robust.”

“The introduction to the report cites an escalation of violence, persecution and discrimination against LGBT persons as one of three alarming human rights trends in the world last year,” Bromley said. “They note that this also translates into a denial of economic opportunity for many LGBT individuals.”

Bromley added the report demonstrates Clinton has made LGBT rights one of the State Department’s top priorities and said he looks forward to this continued U.S. engagement.

“That is due to the secretary’s leadership, but also to the many committed human rights officers in the State Department and in U.S. embassies around the world who are now actually meeting and interacting with LGBT human rights activists on a regular basis,” Bromley said.

The State Department details the condition of LGBT people in the countries examined in the report under the heading “Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.”

Among the abuses against LGBT people that the State Department identifies take place in countries where hostility based on sexual orientation and gender identity is well known or has been previously reported by media outlets.

In Uganda, where homosexual acts are already illegal, legislation was pending that would have instituted the death penalty for gays, although the bill reportedly has been shelved. Still, the State Department finds continued discrimination and a lack of legal protections for LGBT people.

“LGBT persons were subject to societal harassment, discrimination, intimidation, and threats to their well-being during the year,” the report states. “Individuals openly threatened members of the LGBT community and their constitutional rights during several public events.”

For example, the report cites a march that Pastor Martin Ssempa led in April against homosexuality in which participants openly threatened LGBT people.

Additionally, the State Department notes that in October a local tabloid published the names, pictures, and, in some cases, places of residence of LGBT activists under the headline “Hang Them.” According to the report, the Uganda High Court on Nov. 1 issued an injunction blocking the tabloid from publishing further information on homosexuality until the resolution of pending litigation filed by LGBT activists.

The State Department also finds continued abuses against LGBT people in Iran, where the punishment for homosexual acts is death.

The report states the country censored all materials related to LGBT issues and the Special Protection Division, a volunteer unit of the judiciary, monitored and reported “moral crimes.”

“In some cases security forces raided houses and monitored Internet sites for information on LGBT individuals,” the report states. “Those accused of sodomy often faced summary trials, and evidentiary standards were not always met.”

According the State Department, gays in Iran are sometimes “pressured” to participate in reassignment surgery “to avoid legal and social persecutions in the country.” Conditions for transgender people in Iran are seen as more favorable than they are to gays — although transgender people still face hostility.

According to the State Department, police in April found a 24-year-old transgender woman known as Mahsa strangled in her apartment. Her two brothers confessed to killing her on moral grounds.

“Although the brothers were sentenced to prison time of eight years and three years, respectively, the sentences included suspended jail time, which reduced their actual sentence in prison to three years and one year, respectively,” the report states.

The report also finds abuses against LGBT people in countries where hostility toward the LGBT community is less reported.

For example, in Honduras, the State Department says that no discriminatory law exists based on sexual orientation, but “social discrimination against persons from sexual minority communities was widespread.”

“Representatives of NGOs focusing on sexual diversity rights asserted that throughout the year security forces killed and abused their members,” the report states. “The prosecutor often encountered serious difficulties in investigating suspicious deaths of LGBT persons because the victims had concealed their identity or sexual orientation.”

Still, the report states that LGBT people in Honduras have successfully organized demonstrations against discrimination in the country. Among the events was a demonstration in Tegucigalpa to raise awareness about homophobia and a government-authorized Pride celebration at San Pedro Sula. It was not known if the police provided sufficient protection for participants at these events.

The report also identifies human rights abuses against LGBT people in places where the rights of LGBT people are sometimes seen as higher than they in the United States — such as in Western Europe, where many countries allow same-sex marriage and nationwide relationship recognition is available to LGBT people.

In the United Kingdom, for example, the report finds LGBT people enjoy protections against human rights abuses and notes that the nation’s law prohibits discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation.

The report finds that dozens of Pride celebrations took place with no interference by the authorities and local police forces are more actively aware of bias-motivated crimes against LGBT people.

“The law encourages judges to impose a greater sentence in assault cases where the victim’s sexual orientation is a motive for the hostility, and many local police forces demonstrated an increasing awareness of the problem and trained officers to identify and moderate these attacks,” the report states.

But the report notes that LGBT people in the United Kingdom aren’t completely free from human rights abuses. The State Department cites an increase in the number of forced marriages of LGBT teenagers and a recent report stating that foreign gays seeking asylum experience “significant disadvantages” because of sexual orientation.

“[NGO] Stonewall claimed that, by ‘fast tracking’ these more complex cases and denying them quickly, UKBA staff did not give applicants time to talk openly about their sexual orientation,” the State Department states.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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