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Ugandan official says ‘kill the gays’ bill ‘not being reconsidered’

Fires back at UNCF leader; compares country’s anti-gay policies to U.S. sodomy laws

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Uganda’s ambassador to the United States blasted the head of the United Negro College Fund for sending him an “incendiary” letter last week asking him to discuss an anti-homosexuality bill introduced in the Uganda Parliament in his scheduled speech at a Martin Luther King Day event sponsored by the Fund.

Ambassador Perezi K. Kamunanwire responded to that letter by withdrawing as keynote speaker at the King Day event, held Monday morning in Greenbelt, Md. In his own letter, he said United Negro College Fund president and CEO, Michael L. Lomax, “blindsided and startled” him with Lomax’s Jan. 12 letter raising the issue of the anti-homosexuality bill.

In addition, Kamunanwire claims in the letter that the Ugandan Parliament is not planning to reconsider a bill that would impose the death penalty for homosexual acts.

The ambassador, a former college professor who has taught at U.S. universities, said in his letter that he had been invited to speak on education-related issues at the King Day event.

Lomax said in his letter to Kamunanwire that he raised the issue of reports of anti-gay persecution in Uganda after receiving an inquiry from the Washington Blade and others asking why his organization invited a Ugandan official to speak at a King Day commemoration.

“Following a brief telephone conversation with Dr. Lomax in which I expressed concern that changing the topic would distract from our shared commitment to honor Dr. King’s legacy and advance the discussion of education equality, it was clear from his discourteous and insulting tone that I was no longer welcome,” Kamunanwire said in a Jan. 15 letter to William F. Stasior, chairman of the board of directors of the United Negro College Fund.

Kamunanwire sent a copy of his letter to Stasior to the Blade along with an email message expressing concern about the Blade’s story reporting he had withdrawn abruptly as a speaker for the King Day event. The Blade story cited a press release from the United Negro College Fund announcing Kamunanwire’s withdrawal as speaker.

“My staff at the Embassy of the Republic of Uganda, and members of the Ugandan American community, brought your article to my attention,” he said in his email to the Blade. “In an effort to clarify my decision to withdraw as keynote speaker from the UNCF’s 29th Anniversary Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast fundraiser, I am sharing a letter which was sent to the chair of the UNCF board,” he said.

“This will be my only statement on the matter, as I withdrew my name so as not to distract from the importance of the King holiday and education equality,” he said. “It is my hope that the Washington Blade will report this matter fairly.”

Lomax and a spokesperson for the United Negro College Fund didn’t immediately respond to calls from the Blade seeking their response to Kamunanwire’s criticism of Lomax.

In his Jan. 12 letter to Kamunanwire, Lomax said, “We are dismayed at present polices in Uganda (and in many other African nations) criminalizing sexual orientation, and we view with alarm the draconian penalties, including the death penalty, that the Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill would impose if passed.”

Kamunanwire replied in his letter to UNCF board chair Stasior that Lomax’s assumptions that Uganda’s existing laws and policies result in anti-gay persecution were false.

“It is important to note that Uganda does not have such policies,” he said, adding that the bill in question was introduced by a single member of the Uganda Parliament and was never officially debated or passed.

“[A]nd contrary to popular belief, it is not being reconsidered,” Kamunanwire said in his letter. “This has been explained to the U.S. government, Department of State, and several other concerned parties to their satisfaction,” he said.

The New York Times and international human rights activists reported in October that the Uganda Parliament voted to reopen a debate on the anti-homosexuality bill, which was first introduced in 2009. Some of the activists cited a report by Uganda’s Daily Mail newspaper as saying that Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga confirmed that the bill had been sent to several committees for consideration last October and could be brought to a vote.

A spokesperson for the State Department couldn’t be reached for comment early Monday to verify Kamunanwire’s assertion that U.S. officials were satisfied that the anti-homosexuality bill was not being taken up again. President Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton expressed concern last year over reports of anti-gay persecution in Uganda following the murder of a prominent Ugandan gay rights activist in the activist’s home.

“As is the case with several members of the British Commonwealth, the outdated anti-sodomy laws in the Ugandan penal code were inherited from our British colonizers,” Kamunanwire said in his letter, in referring to existing law in Uganda.

“Quite similarly, there are dormant anti-sodomy laws on the books in fourteen U.S. states, including Virginia where the UNCF makes its home,” he said.

Kamunanwire was referring to a decision by legislatures in some states to leave their sodomy laws on the books following the 2003 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Lawrence vs. Texas, which overturned state sodomy laws that criminalized sodomy between consenting adults in private. Legal experts have said the state sodomy laws remaining on the books cannot be enforced under the Supreme Court ruling.

 

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7 Comments

7 Comments

  1. Patrick

    January 18, 2012 at 1:00 am

    Thank Mr. Ambassador for standing your ground. You represented our country well by not pandering to the gay lobby. I am Ugandan, have lived in Uganda all my life and have never seen a gay person harassed. We have gay bars where they freely meet and hook up. Why should we always have to explain ourselves all the time. The West is being taken for a ride by unscrupulous Africans wishing to remain there by saying they are gay. I usually laugh when straight people turn out to be gay and in fear of ‘persecution’ when their visas expire.

    • AndyP

      January 22, 2012 at 10:11 pm

      If that is the case then why not do away with the existing laws in Uganda that can potentially see homosexuals jailed for many years? Why have laws on the books that are not enforced, or can be arbitrarily enforced against homosexuals by corrupt officials?

  2. Harry Underwood

    January 18, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    As an SGL African American, I found the ambassador’s raising of the fact that it was the British who put the anti-sodomy laws in place as showing his own knowledge of Uganda’s colonial history. I’ll concede that.

    The issue, then, is for the ambassador to also learn or explain how such laws, where enforced and however installed, do not help the citizens of the country beyond giving them a scapegoat for pervasive ills.

    Not everything that was brought by the British to Africa was good or beneficial, and I don’t consider the British state, with its history, to be the best arbiter of morality or law. I personally wish that the British government would apologize for its role in the spread of such laws and the resulting damage done to societies.

    I also hope that more Ugandans begin to realize this as well, not to say that there aren’t already.

  3. Morgan

    January 19, 2012 at 6:45 am

    As for the dormant sodomy laws on the books in several US states, it’s time for the gay equality federation organizations and gay activists in general to push for removing these dormant sodomy laws from the books of whatever states that still have dormant sodomy laws. The 2003 SCOTUS decision in Lawrence vs. Texas striking down US sodomy laws rendered these sodomy laws impotent. However, since they are still lying dormant on the books of several states, sometimes the various Frothy Mixes living in those states behave as if their states’ sodomy laws are in force and enforceable when in reality they are just dormant in their areas. There are those antigay nutballs whose belief springs eternal that these archaic sodomy laws should be revived. (even if that flies in the face of and contradicts the 2003 SCOTUS decision striking these sodomy laws down throughout the parts of the US where these laws were in effect up to the time of that SCOTUS decision). And so that individual states can’t get illegally attempt to revive their sodomy laws, it’s high time as late as 2012 for a push by pro-gay activists gay and straight alike….. in all those states with dormant sodomy laws on the books… to purge those dormant sodomy laws ONCE AND FOR ALL from the books whereever they exist. This is a new year in a new century and time for this country to update itself and to free itself of its anti-gay past same as countries here and there on different continents are doing as the years go by.

  4. steven kasiko

    January 20, 2012 at 5:08 am

    Remove laws that are used to harass detain people because of being gays need to protect all people regardless of their sexuality.we want the government to throw away the anti gay bill and remove all laws that criminalize gays

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Texas

Texas House approves anti-trans youth sports bill

HB 25 now heads to state Senate

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GenderCool Project leader and Trans activist Landon Richie (Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

Texas House Republicans were able to push through the anti-trans youth sports measure Thursday evening after hours of emotional and at times rancorous debate, passing the bill in a 76-54 vote along party lines.

Under the provisions of Texas House Bill 25, all trans student athletes in grades K-12 will be prohibited from competing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity. The bill will now head to the Senate, where it is expected to pass.

The Texas Tribune reported that the University Interscholastic League, which governs school sports in Texas, already requires that an athlete’s gender be determined by the sex listed on their birth certificate. Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 has said the bill would simply “codify” existing UIL rules.

However, UIL recognizes any legally modified birth certificates. That policy could accommodate someone who may have had their birth certificate changed to match their gender identity, which can sometimes be an arduous process.

HB 25 would not allow recognition of these legally modified birth certificates unless changes were made because of a clerical error. It’s not clear though how it will be determined if a birth certificate has been legally modified or not. According to the UIL, the process for checking student birth certificates is left up to schools and districts, not the UIL the Tribune reported.

“To say that tonight’s passage of HB 25 is devastating is an understatement. For the past 10 grueling, exhausting, and deeply traumatic months, trans youth have been forced to debate their very existence—only to be met by the deaf ears and averted eyes of our state’s leaders,” Landon Richie, a GenderCool Project leader, University of Houston student and Transactivist told the Washington Blade after the vote.

“Make no mistake: This bill will not only have detrimental impacts on trans youth, who already suffer immense levels of harassment and bullying in schools, but also on cisgender youth who don’t conform to Texas’s idea of ‘male’ or ‘female.’ To trans kids everywhere: you belong, you are loved, you are valued, you are deserving of dignity, respect, care and the ability to live freely as your true and authentic selves, no matter where you are. We will never stop fighting for trans lives and a future where trans kids are unequivocally and unwaveringly celebrated for who they are,” Richie said.

“The cruelty of this bill is breathtaking, and the legislators who are pushing it forward are doing irreparable harm to our state. Texas is a place where people value freedom and respect for diversity. This bill is a betrayal of those cherished values, and future generations will look back on this moment in disbelief that elected officials supported such an absurd and hateful measure,” Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights told the Blade. “The families of these kids deserve better, and the burden is now on the rest of us to do everything in our power to stop this dangerous bill now,” he added.

During the debate on the measure, state Rep. James Talarico, (D-Round Rock), a former middle school teacher, began his remarks by apologizing to the trans kids and families who have gone to the Capitol time and time again this year. He tells the chamber he speaks now as a legislator, and educator, and a Christian.

He quoted Republican Rep. Valoree Swanson, R-Spring, the author of HB 25 who said “if one girl wins a game, it’s worth it.” He says he has a different moral yardstick. “If one trans kid dies for a trophy, this bill is grotesque.”

He ended speaking to his “fellow believers” in the chamber. “The worst part in these hearings have been in hearing the Bible used against trans kids to support these bills. Even tonight, ‘God’s law’ was used to present an amendment.” He then quoted the first two lines of the Bible, where God is referred to with two different Hebrew words, one masculine/one feminine. “God is non-binary.” He then prevented an interruption in the chamber and continued telling trans kids that he loves them.

Fellow Democratic state Rep. Jessica González, (D-Dallas County), vice-chair of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus asked the chamber how many trans Texas kids they are willing to hurt. She reminded her fellow representatives that cisgender women and girls will also be hurt by the bill. She shared a personal story about being outed in high school by a friend, having her locker, home, and car vandalized and losing all of her friends. “Kids are cruel.”

González told lawmakers that her brother encouraged her to try out for soccer, and she was bullied with comments like “shouldn’t she be trying out for the boys’ team.” She went from feeling a bit accepted to being an outsider again. She then reflected on carrying those feelings into adulthood and said that this bill will have long-term affects on trans kids. She asked legislators to listen to the stories of the trans kids who have bravely testified, saying kids will contemplate suicide or complete suicide.

Representative Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), told the chamber that some representatives can’t wrap their heads around knowing that there is no problem but there is *real* harm to trans kids, and for whatever reason, that’s not enough it seems to stop moving these bills.

He said that he has heard “if they already have mental health issues and suicide ideation, this can’t make it worse” and “if the debate is harming them, let’s just vote.” The he breaks down the Texas statute’s definition of bullying, telling lawmakers, “The bullying statute doesn’t have an intent requirement. It doesn’t matter if you don’t mean to cause them harm. We are bullying these students. Know that by law … our own definitions and our own words, we are. And we don’t have to.”

“Texas lawmakers voted today to deliberately discriminate against transgender children. Excluding transgender students from participating in sports with their peers violates the Constitution and puts already vulnerable youth at serious risk of mental and emotional harm,” Adri Perez, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas said in a statement to the Blade.

“There is no evidence that transgender kids pose any threat. It is indefensible that legislators would force transgender youth and their families to travel to Austin to defend their own humanity, then blatantly ignore hours of testimony about the real damage this bill causes. Trans kids and their families deserve our love and support—they’ve been fighting this legislation for months. Texans will hold lawmakers accountable for their cruelty,” she added.

The statewide LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Texas in a tweet after the vote said; ” We will not stop fighting to protect transgender children.” Then added “We’ll continue to educate lawmakers—replacing misinformation with real stories—and demand the statewide and federal nondiscrimination protections we need to prevent further harms.”

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LGBTQ Youth web resource gone after Texas GOP candidate complained

Removal of the LGBTQ youth resource webpage appeared to be strictly political the Houston Chronicle reported

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Anti-LGBTQ Republican Don Huffines (Screenshot via Twitter)

AUSTIN – A late August video tweet from a wealthy Dallas-based real estate development company executive and conservative Republican gubernatorial challenger, blamed fellow Republican incumbent Texas Governor Greg Abbott for endorsing an LGBTQ+ agenda, because of the existence of a state online resource webpage for LGBTQ youth.

Within hours it was pulled down by the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services, (DFPS) the agency responsible for the page.

In an article published Tuesday, the Houston Chronicle reported that Don Huffines claimed tax dollars were being used to “advocate for transgender ideology.” Huffines also went on to say that DFPS was publishing “disturbing information about our youth.”

“They’re talking about helping empower and celebrate lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, ally, non-heterosexual behavior. I mean really? This is Texas. These are not Texas values. These are not Republican Party values, but these are obviously Greg Abbott’s values,” 

A message on the website states that the previous content is now under review.

According to the Chronicle, the website for the Texas Youth Connection, a division of Family and Protective Services that steers young people to various resources, including education, housing and those on its LGBTQ page as they prepare for life after foster care. It was replaced by a message that states, “The Texas Youth Connection website has been temporarily disabled for a comprehensive review of its content. This is being done to ensure that its information, resources, and referrals are current.”

LGBTQ+ activists and advocates are furious. Among the resources on the page for LGBTQ+ youth were critical information including for housing and information for suicide prevention and crisis assistance.

GenderCool Youth Leader, Trans rights activist and University of Houston student Landon Richie told the Blade Tuesday;

“This is deplorable. To Governor Abbott, LGBTQ+ youth are nothing more than pawns on a political chessboard. Despite his cries of protection and fairness in justification of this session’s unprecedented attacks on LGBTQ+ — especially trans — youth, it has never truly been about any of those things; it has always been about his power.

Now more than ever, LGBTQ+ youth deserve safety, protection, support, and affirmation from the state — this year alone, the Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support, as a result of this legislative session. LGBTQ+ youth deserve better than to be treated like they are as easily discardable as a webpage,” Richie said.

Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights reacted telling the Blade in an emailed statement:

“Helping LGBTQ youth and their families prevent suicide is not a partisan issue, and any elected official who seeks to make it one has lost any sense of shame. This action by Governor Abbott is appalling and will needlessly harm vulnerable children and families who urgently need support.”

Removal of the page appeared to be strictly political the Chronicle reported.

Patrick Crimmins, the department spokesman, told the Chronicle that the review “is still ongoing” but declined to answer questions seeking more detail about why the website was removed or whether it had anything to do with Huffines.

But Family and Protective Services communications obtained through a public records request show that agency employees discussed removing the “Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation” page in response to Huffines’ tweet, shortly before taking it offline,” the paper wrote.

More telling was the events leading the page’s removal said the paper:

Thirteen minutes after Huffines’ video went up, media relations director Marissa Gonzales emailed a link to Crimmins, the agency’s communications director, under the subject line “Don Huffines video accusing Gov/DFPS of pushing liberal transgender agenda.”

FYI. This is starting to blow up on Twitter,” Gonzales wrote.

Crimmins then queried Darrell Azar, DFPS’ web and creative services director, about who oversees the page. “Darrell — please note we may need to take that page down, or somehow revise content,” he wrote.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ youth weighed in on the Chronicle’s reporting in an emailed statement to the Blade.

LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the child welfare system — and those who have been in foster care report significantly higher rates of attempting suicide. It is unconscionable that the Texas state government would actively remove vital suicide prevention resources from its website for the sole purpose of appeasing a rival politician. Mental health and suicide prevention are nonpartisan,” said Casey Pick, Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs. “This story sends a terrible message to LGBTQ youth in Texas and will only contribute to the internalization of stigma and shame. We should be expanding access to support services for this group, not erasing what resources LGBTQ youth have to reach out for help.” 

The Chronicle reported that the deleted webpage also included links to the Texas chapters of PFLAG, a nationwide LGBTQ organization; a “national youth talk line” to discuss gender and sexual identity and various other issues; and LGBTQ legal services.

Huffines said the page also linked to a website operated by the Human Rights Campaign, a politically active LGBTQ advocacy group that he called “the Planned Parenthood of LGBT issues.”

Data on Texas:

  • Between January 1 and August 30, 2021, The Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts (calls, texts, and chats) from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support. More than 3,900 of those crisis contacts (36%) came from transgender or nonbinary youth.
  • Crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas seeking support have grown over 150% when compared to the same time period in 2020.
  • While this volume of crisis contacts can not be attributed to any one factor (or bill), a qualitative analysis of the crisis contacts found that:
    • Transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas have directly stated that they are feeling stressed, using self-harm, and considering suicide due to anti-LGBTQ laws being debated in their state.
    • Some transgender and nonbinary youth have expressed fear over losing access to sports that provide important acceptance in their lives.

Additional Research: 

  • The Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ youth (13-24) seriously consider suicide each year in the U.S. — and at least one attempts suicide every 45 seconds.
  • The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, with more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth having seriously considered. 

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Colorado first state to require transgender care as essential health benefit

Biden officials sign off on change for state insurers

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Colorado has become the first state to require transition-related care for transgender people as essential health coverage.

Colorado has become the first state in the country to include transition-related care for transgender people as part of the requirements for essential health care in the state, the Biden administration announced on Tuesday.

As part of the change, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services approved the state’s request to provide gender-affirming care in the individual and small group health insurance markets as part of Colorado’s Essential Health Benefit benchmark.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said in a statement the change is consistent with the Biden administration’s goal of eliminating barriers faced by transgender people in access in health care, including transition-related coverage.

“Health care should be in reach for everyone; by guaranteeing transgender individuals can access recommended care, we’re one step closer to making this a reality,” Becerra said in a statement. “I am proud to stand with Colorado to remove barriers that have historically made it difficult for transgender people to access health coverage and medical care.”

According to HHS, Colorado plan will require insurers to cover a wider range of services for transgender people in addition to benefits already covered, such as eye and lid modifications, face tightening, facial bone remodeling for facial feminization, breast/chest construction and reductions, and laser hair removal.

In addition to these changes, Colorado s also adding EHBs in the benchmark plan to include mental wellness exams and expanded coverage for 14 prescription drug classes, according to the HHS. These changes, per HHS, will take effect beginning on Jan. 1, 2023.

CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure said in a statement health care should be “accessible, affordable and delivered equitably to all, regardless of your sexual orientation” (notably leaving out gender identity from that quote).

“To truly break down barriers to care, we must expand access to the full scope of health care, including gender-affirming surgery and other treatments, for people who rely on coverage through Medicare, Medicaid & CHIP and the Marketplaces,” Brooks-LaSure said. “Colorado’s expansion of their essential health benefits to include gender-affirming surgery and other treatments is a model for other states to follow and we invite other states to follow suit.”

According to the Washington Post, Biden administration signed off on the change before officials made the announcement Tuesday in Denver in an event with Gov, Jared Polis, the first openly gay man elected governor in the United States.

Katie Keith, a lawyer and co-founder of Out2Enroll, is quoted in the Washington Post as saying despite the change significant issues remains for transgender people in health care.

“There’s been significant progress, but we’ve seen exclusions by some health plans — it got worse under the Trump administration — and that’s why it’s important to see states like Colorado stepping up to fill those gaps,” Keith is quoted as saying.

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