February 28, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
State Dept. denounces ‘rising violence’ against LGBT people worldwide
John Kerry, United States Department of State, LGBT, United Nations General Assembly, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry participates in an LGBT ministerial event in New York last September during the U.N. General Assembly. (Photo courtesy of the State Department.)

LGBT rights feature prominently in the 2013 Human Rights Report the U.S. State Department released on Thursday.

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.”

Kerry further stressed the aforementioned anti-gay laws “contribute to a global trend of rising violence and discrimination against LGBT persons and their supporters.”

“They are an affront to every reasonable conscience,” he said.

Individual country reports also contain LGBT-specific information.

The report notes the Indian government challenged a December ruling from the country’s highest court that recriminalized homosexuality. A Belizean LGBT advocacy group continued to challenge the Central American country’s colonial-era sodomy law in 2013.

The State Department highlighted Chilean authorities “appeared reluctant” to investigate and prosecute anti-LGBT attacks, even though the South American country’s hate crimes law includes both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

The report also noted Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, “continued to be outspoken in promoting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons” in Cuba in 2013. Ignacio Estrada Cepero, founder of the Cuban League Against AIDS, and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) are among those who continue to criticize Mariela Castro and her father’s government over the country’s human rights record.

“Non-government rights activists asserted that the government had not done enough to stop harassment of LGBT persons,” reads the State Department report. “Several unrecognized NGOs promoted LGBT issues and faced government criticism, not for their promotion of LGBT issues, but for their independence from official government institutions.”

Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the State Department, on Thursday noted a group of partygoers stabbed a cross-dressing Jamaican teenager to death outside Montego Bay last July.

“LGBT conduct is criminalized in nearly 80 countries worldwide,” said Zeya. “Even when these laws are not enforced, their mere existence creates a climate of fear and sends a message to the broader population that it’s permissible to discriminate against LGBT persons in housing, in employment, in education and that it’s permissible to beat or kill or torture someone simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The State Department issued the report three days after the Obama administration announced it had begun a review of its relationship with Uganda after the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.

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.

“We agree when Kerry said, ‘the United States government best advances its national interests when its policy choices are rooted in consistent adherence to human rights principles,” said Robyn Lieberman of Human Rights First after the State Department issued its report. “As the secretary (Kerry) said, ‘countries that deny human rights and human dignity threaten our interests, and countries that practice these rights create opportunities.’ We agree and believe that the publication of the Country Reports should serve to inform the formation of policies that can contribute to solutions that the human rights violations described in the report are so badly in need of.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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