May 3, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
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.

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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