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U.S. envoy meets Ugandan leaders over anti-gay bill

State Dept. reiterates concerns over legislation

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Department of State, gay news, Washington Blade

The top U.S. diplomat in Africa met over the weekend with leaders in Uganda to express concerns about an anti-gay bill pending before the country’s parliament that could be headed for a vote as soon as this week, according to the State Department.

Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokesperson, said during a daily briefing Monday that Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson met with high-profile leaders in Uganda “over the weekend” and raised concerns about the bill, which among other things would punish homosexual acts with life in prison. The questioning was initiated by the Washington Blade.

“As we have regularly said, we call on the parliament of Uganda to look very carefully at this because Uganda’s own Human Rights Council has made clear that if this were to pass, it would put the country out of compliance with its own international human rights obligations,” Nuland said. “And so, Assistant Secretary Carson had a chance to make that point again and our strong opposition to this, to the president, to the parliament and to key decision makers in Uganda.”

Nuland also affirmed media reports from last week that the legislation has passed out of the Legal & Parliamentary Affairs Committee, saying, “Our understanding is that a version of the bill has now passed the committee in Uganda.”

Carson spoke with these leaders on the same Africa trip where he’s meeting with Museveni as well as other leaders in the area in an attempt to end violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

It wouldn’t be the first time Carson has raised concerns about the bill with Uganda President Yoweri Museveni. In 2009, the Washington Blade reported that Carson met with Museveni about the bill and later had conversations about it on the phone. On both occasions, the State Department said Museveni had pledged to block the bill from becoming law and would veto it if it came to his desk.

Nuland later said Carson met with Uganda Parliament Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, who’s reportedly been a chief advocate of the anti-gay bill, although it’s unclear whether the meeting was just with her or a larger group of Ugandan leaders. Kadaga is quoted in Reuters earlier this month as saying, “Ugandans want that law as a Christmas gift. They have asked for it and we’ll give them that gift.”

Homosexual acts are already illegal in Uganda, but the proposed bill would expand existing law to institute life imprisonment for those found guilty of homosexuality in addition to prohibiting public support for LGBT rights. According to Sexual Minorities Uganda, parents and teachers would be fined if they don’t report gay children and students and landlords who rent to gay people would be punished with jail time.

The legislation — colloquially known in the United States as the “Kill the Gays” bill — became infamous in the international community after its introduction in 2009 for including a provision that would institute the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.”

But it’s unclear whether this provision remains in the legislation. Early on Friday, BBC News Africa reported that a legislative committee had “endorsed” the legislation, but had dropped the death penalty provision. Previous reports had indicated the death penalty provision has been dropped, and yet that language was found in the bill.

Nuland told the Blade the State Department is uncertain about whether the death penalty provision has been dropped from the bill because the committee has yet to make its report on the bill public.

“I don’t know that we have actually seen the version that passed committee,” Nuland said. “They’ve been a little bit close hold about this, partly because there’s been so much controversy in the international community. So our concern is about any criminalization of homosexuality, obviously.”

Some countries, such as Britain and Sweden, have threatened to cut foreign aid to Uganda if this bill becomes law. U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Scott H. DeLisi was quoted in a Ugandan newspaper as saying the United States has “decided to continue giving aid to Uganda,” but that was in response to misuse of foreign aid and not the anti-gay bill.

Nuland declined to directly answer a question from the Blade about whether the State Department was considering whether to cut foreign aid from Uganda if the legislation becomes law.

“I’m not going to get into any hypothetical situations,” Nuland said. “Our focus now is on raising awareness of the concerns within Uganda about this bill, so we don’t get to that stage.”

Asked by another reporter about whether a pledge to cut aid would be “a good, strong point to make” if the United States opposes the bill, Nuland said she won’t “make prospective points from the podium here about where we might go if this bill passes.”

Nuland refocused attention to talks within the country, saying, “I think there is a very intense conversation going on inside Uganda about this, and the far better course of action would be for the bill not to pass.”

Pressed further on the prospects of cutting aid by yet another reporter, Nuland signaled those talks should happen at a later time, saying, “Again, we’re at a relatively preliminary stage here where you’ve had one committee pass this. There is room for those kinds of conversations. Our first focus at the moment is on getting reconsideration of this.”

Nuland also addressed questions about the United States denying Kadaga a visa. The spokesperson said she’s not aware of a visa question and said the State Department can’t generally talk about such issues.

A transcript of the exchange between Nuland and reporters follows:

Q: Yeah, I have a question on Uganda, actually. There’s an anti-homosexuality bill that’s making its way through the legislature right there. What is the State Department’s current assessment of where that bill is and if that’s going to be headed toward a vote anytime soon?

MS. NULAND: Again, Assistant Secretary Carson was also in Uganda over the weekend. He had a chance to raise again our concerns about this issue, which we’ve been very vocal about. Our understanding is that a version of the bill has now passed a committee in Uganda. As we have regularly said, we call on the parliament in Uganda to look very carefully at this, because Uganda’s own human rights council has made clear that if this were to pass, it would put the country out of compliance with its own international human rights obligations. And so Assistant Secretary Carson had a chance to make that point again and our strong opposition to this, to the president, to the parliament, and to key decision makers in Uganda.

Q: And there was – and once the bill had a provision that would institute the death penalty for homosexual acts. As far as the State Department knows, has that provision been removed or is it still in the bill?

MS. NULAND: Again, I don’t know that we have actually seen the version that passed committee. They’ve been a little bit close hold about this, partly because there’s been so much controversy in the international community. So our concern is about any criminalization of homosexuality, obviously.

Q: And one last question. Some countries, Britain and Sweden, have threatened to cut foreign aid to Uganda if this bill becomes law. Is there any consideration in the U.S. Administration to cut foreign aid to Uganda if that bill becomes law?

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not going to get into any hypothetical situations. Our focus now is on raising awareness of the concerns within Uganda about this bill so that we don’t get to that stage.

Q: Wait, wait one second. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t – don’t you think that would be a pretty strong point to make to the Ugandans if you think this is a bad idea that you would say, hey, you can go ahead and do this, but it’s not only going to not only violate your international commitments but it’s also going to jeopardize American assistance? Why would you —

MS. NULAND: Again, I’m not to make prospective points from the podium here about where we might go if this bill passes. I think there is a very intense conversation going on inside Uganda about this, and the far better course of action would be for the bill not to pass.

Q: And isn’t that what happened a couple of years ago when the harsh bill was put up and there were active threats from not just the U.K. but also the United States that if this bill were to pass, aid would be cut? And that was part of why the bill was tabled, no?

MS. NULAND: Again, we’re at a relatively preliminary stage here where you’ve had one committee pass this. There is room for those kinds of conversations. Our first focus at the moment is on getting reconsideration of this.

Q: On this, Toria. Did Secretary Carson meet with the speaker of the parliament?

MS. NULAND: My understanding is he did see the speaker of the parliament, whether it was in a larger group or whether it was a distinct meeting that he did, yes.

Q: But he – so he made that point directly to her?

MS. NULAND: Yes, he did.

Q: Okay. Can you – do you have in your guidance there the ability to deny the reports that built up over the long weekend that the United States had denied her a visa?

MS. NULAND: Well, obviously we don’t talk about visa issuance one way or the other, so I don’t have any information about it one way or the other. But I frankly hadn’t heard that there was a visa question involved in this at all.

Q: There was one. And the parliament then issued its own statement which was slightly ambiguous, but it sounded like they were trying to say that, no, you guys had not denied her a visa.

MS. NULAND: I’m not aware of any visa issues. But in general, as you know, we can’t talk about these things.

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GOP majority city council to repeal LGBTQ+ law in Pennsylvania

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move […] This issue should not be politicized”

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Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (Photo Credit: Borough of Chambersburg)

The council of this central Pennsylvania borough (town) will meet on Monday, January 24 for a likely vote to repeal an ordinance passed this last October that safeguards residents against discrimination based on their sexual orientation, ethnicity or gender identity.

Opposition to the ordinance is led by newly installed borough council president Allen Coffman, a Republican. In an interview with media outlet Penn Live Saturday, Coffman said, “All of us that ran in this election to be on council we think we got a mandate from the people,” he said. “People we talked to when we were campaigning did not like this ordinance at all. I don’t know what the vote will be, but I have a pretty good idea.”

The political makeup of the council changed with the November municipal election, which ushered in a 7-3 Republican majority.

The ordinance, which extends protections against discrimination to gay, transgender or genderqueer people in employment, housing and public accommodations, was passed in October by the then-Democratic majority council, Penn Live reported.

“I don’t know of any reasons for repealing it other than a political move,” said Alice Elia, a Democrat and the former Chambersburg borough council president. “This issue should not be politicized. It’s an issue of justice and having equal protection for everybody in our community. It shouldn’t be a political or a Democratic or Republican issue. This should be something we are all concerned about.”

Coffman told Penn Live that the ordinance serves no purpose and is redundant. He points out that Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Commission handles discrimination complaints from residents across the state.

“There are no penalties, no fines,” he said. “There’s nothing that the ordinance can make someone do. The most they can hope for is that the committee request the two parties to sit down with a counselor or mediator and talk about it. Quite frankly there is nothing that compels them to. There’s no teeth in this.”

Penn Live’s Ivey DeJesus noted if Chambersburg succeeds in repealing the ordinance, it would mark the first time an LGBTQ inclusive law is revoked in Pennsylvania. To date, 70 municipalities have ratified such ordinances.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is one of the 27 states in the nation that have no explicit statewide laws protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations.

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Florida House committee passes “Don’t Say Gay” bill

Equality Florida quickly condemned the measure

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The Florida State Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

The Republican majority Florida House Education and Employment Committee on Thursday passed House Bill 1557, the Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill advancing the measure to the full House.

HB 1557 and its companion bill, Senate Bill 1834, would ban classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, erasing LGBTQ identity, history, and culture — as well as LGBTQ students themselves.

The bill also has provisions that appear to undermine LGBTQ support in schools and include vague parental notification requirements which could effectively “out” LGBTQ-identifying students to their parents without their consent.

“The Trevor Project’s research has found that LGBTQ youth who learned about LGBTQ issues or people in classes at school had 23 percent lower odds of reporting a suicide attempt in the past year. This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” said Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project. “LGBTQ students deserve their history and experiences to be reflected in their education, just like their peers.”

In an email to the Los Angeles Blade, Brandon J. Wolf, the press secretary for Equality Florida noted; “Governor DeSantis’ march toward his own personal surveillance state continues. Today, the Don’t Say Gay bill, a piece of legislation to erase discussion of LGBTQ people from schools in Florida, passed its first committee and became another component of an agenda designed to police us in our classrooms, doctor’s offices, and workplaces. Make no mistake — LGBTQ people are your neighbors, family members, and friends. We are a normal, healthy part of society and we will not be erased.”

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than 42 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.

According to a recent poll conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of The Trevor Project, 85 percent of transgender and non-binary youth — and two-thirds of all LGBTQ youth (66 percent) — say recent debates about state laws restricting the rights of transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.

When asked about proposed legislation that would require schools to tell a student’s parent or guardian if they request to use a different name/pronoun or if they identify as LGBTQ at school, 56 percent of transgender and non-binary youth said it made them feel angry, 47 percent felt nervous and/or scared, 45 percent felt stressed, and more than 1 in 3 felt sad.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, the Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Get-Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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NCAA adopts new policy amid fervor over transgender athletes

Sport-by-sport approach requires certain levels of testosterone

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NCAA, gay news, Washington Blade
The NCAA has adopted new policy amid a fervor over transgender athletes.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has announced it has adopted new procedures on competition of transgender athletes, creating a “sport-by-sport” approach that also requires documentation of testosterone levels across the board amid a fervor of recently transitioned swimmers breaking records in women’s athletics.

The NCAA said in a statement its board of governors voted on Wednesday in support of the “sport-by-sport” approach, which the organization says “preserves opportunity for transgender student-athletes while balancing fairness, inclusion and safety for all who compete.”

Although the policy defers to the national governing bodies for individual sports, it also requires transgender athletes to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections. The new policy, which consistent with rules for the U.S. Olympics, is effective 2022, although implementation is set to begin with the 2023-24 academic year, the organization says.

John DeGioia, chair of the NCAA board and Georgetown president, said in a statement the organization is “steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports.”

“It is important that NCAA member schools, conferences and college athletes compete in an inclusive, fair, safe and respectful environment and can move forward with a clear understanding of the new policy,” DeGioia said.

More specifically, starting with the 2022-23 academic year, transgender athletes will need to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections, the organizational. These athletes, according to the NCAA, are also required to document testosterone levels four weeks before championship selections.

In terms of jurisdiction, the national governing bodies for individual sports are charged determines policies, which would be under ongoing review and recommendation by the NCAA, the organizational says. If there is no policy for a sport, that sport’s international federation policy or previously established International Olympics Committee policy criteria would be followed.

The NCAA adopts the policy amid controversy over University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas smashing records in women’s swimming. Thomas, which once competed as a man, smashed two national records and in the 1,650-yard freestyle placed 38 seconds ahead of closest competition. The new NCAA policy appears effectively to sideline Thomas, who has recently transitioned and unable to show consistent levels of testosterone.

Prior to the NCAA announcement, a coalition of 16 LGBTQ groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and Athlete Ally, this week sent to a letter to the collegiate organization, urging the organizations strengthen non-discrimination protections as opposed to weakening them. The new policy, however, appears to head in other direction, which the LGBTQ groups rejected in the letter.

“While decentralizing the NCAA and giving power to conferences and schools has its benefits, we are concerned that leaving the enforcement of non-discrimination protections to schools will create a patchwork of protections rather than a comprehensive policy that would protect all athletes, no matter where they play,” the letter says. “This would be similar to the patchwork of non-discrimination policies in states, where marginalized groups in some states or cities are protected while others are left behind by localities that opt not to enact inclusive policies.”

JoDee Winterhof, vice president of policy and political affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement after the NCAA announcement the new policy was effectively passing the buck.

“If the NCAA is committed to ensuring an environment of competition that is safe, healthy, and free from discrimination, they cannot dodge the question of how to ensure transgender athletes can participate safely,” Winterhof said. “That is precisely why we and a number of organizations across a wide spectrum of advocates are urging them to readopt and strengthen non-discrimination language in their constitution to ensure the Association is committed to enforcing the level playing field and inclusive policies they say their values require. Any policy language is only as effective as it is enforceable, and with states passing anti-transgender sports bans, any inclusive policy is under immediate threat. We are still reviewing the NCAA’s new policy on transgender inclusion and how it will impact each and every transgender athlete.”

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