January 19, 2018 at 6:19 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Advocates urge Pence to raise anti-LGBT crackdown in Egypt

Mike Pence, gay news, Washington Blade

Vice President Pence is scheduled to arrive in Egypt on Jan. 20, 2018. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Advocacy groups this week once again urged Vice President Pence to raise Egypt’s anti-LGBT crackdown when he visits the country.

The Human Rights Campaign in a press release notes Pence on Saturday is scheduled to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Cairo “as the country’s LGBTQ people face brutal human rights abuses.” HRC Global Director Ty Cobb in a statement also notes Pence’s record against LGBT rights, which includes Indiana’s controversial religious freedom law that he signed in 2015 when he was the state’s governor.

“Unless Pence uses the opportunity to forcefully speak out against these human rights abuses, the U.S. risks emboldening the Egyptian government’s assault on LGBTQ people and Pence will — once again — reaffirm his position as one of the most anti-LGBTQ politicians in the U.S.,” said Cobb. “The deafening silence from this White House on human rights abuses in Egypt and around the globe must end. This is a moment that demands moral leadership.”

Egyptian police last September arrested seven people who waived a rainbow flag during a Cairo concert that featured Mashrou’ Leila, a Lebanese rock band with an openly gay lead singer who publicly advocates for LGBT rights.

Dozens of LGBT Egyptians have reportedly been arrested since the concert, with many of them undergoing so-called anal tests to determine whether they engaged in same-sex sexual activity. Egyptian lawmakers last October introduced a bill that seeks to criminalize the country’s LGBT community.

An Egyptian court earlier this month released two of the seven people who were arrested during the Mashrou’ Leila concert. Advocates nevertheless insist the government’s anti-LGBT crackdown continues.

“I urge you to communicate to the Egyptian government that the persecution of the LGBT community is only heightening U.S. government concerns about the suppression of basic freedoms for all Egyptians,” said Human Rights First President Elisa Massimino in a letter she sent to Pence on Dec. 18.

Pence was scheduled to travel to Egypt and Israel last month. He postponed the trip because of the vote on a tax bill in Congress.

“I urge you to condemn the continuation and escalation — including efforts to pass a new law criminalizing homosexuality — of these attacks,” said Massimino in her letter to Pence. “I also urge you to call for the immediate release of all of those detained on charges related to supporting homosexuality and an end to the vilification of LGBT people in the state-controlled media.”

“A clear position against this crackdown would give valuable support to a vulnerable group subjected to cruel and arbitrary repression and would also demonstrate U.S. support for universal values as an indispensable element of our relationship with an important regional partner,” added Massimino.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have urged the Egyptian government to end the crackdown. U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and more than 70 other members of Congress last month called upon Pence to raise the issue with Egyptian officials.

President Trump has yet to publicly comment on the crackdown. A Pence spokesperson has yet to return the Washington Blade’s request for comment on whether the vice president plans to raise it with el-Sisi.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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