May 9, 2014 | by Michael K. Lavers
John Kerry: LGBT rights discussed during Africa trip

Gay News, Washington Blade, John Kerry

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.

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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