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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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Pennsylvania

Gay journalist murdered inside Philadelphia home

Josh Kruger’s death has left city ‘shocked and saddened’

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Josh Kruger with his cat Mason (Photo courtesy of Josh Kruger's Facebook page)

An openly gay journalist was shot to death in his Point Breeze neighborhood home in the 2300 block of Watkins Street in South Philadelphia early Monday morning.

According to Officer Shawn Ritchie, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department, 39-year-old Josh Kruger was shot at about 1:30 a.m. and collapsed in the street after seeking help. Kruger was transported to Penn Presbyterian Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 2:13 a.m.

Police said that Kruger was shot seven times throughout the chest and abdomen and that no weapons were recovered nor have any arrests been made. Homicides investigators noted that there was no sign of forced entry and the motive remains unclear.

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said in a statement:

“Josh Kruger lifted up the most vulnerable and stigmatized people in our communities — particularly unhoused people living with addiction. As an openly queer writer who wrote about his own journey surviving substance use disorder and homelessness, it was encouraging to see Josh join the Kenney administration as a spokesperson for the Office of Homeless Services.

Josh deserved to write the ending of his personal story. As with all homicides, we will be in close contact with the Philadelphia police as they work to identify the person or persons responsible so that they can be held to account in a court of law. I extend my deepest condolences to Josh’s loved ones and to all those mourning this loss.”

WHYY reported Kruger had written extensively with bylines in multiple publications, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, the Philadelphia Citizen, WHYY, and Billy Penn.

CBS News reported that Kruger overcame homelessness and addiction to work for five years in city government, handling Mayor Jim Kenney’s social media and serving as the communications director for the city’s Office of Homeless Services.

He left city government in 2021 to return to journalism, according to his website.

“He was more than just a journalist,” Kendall Stephens, who was a friend and neighbor of Kruger’s, told CBS News. “He was more than just a community member. He was somebody that fought that great fight so many of us are not able to fight that fight because we’re too busy sheltered in our own homes wondering if someone is going to knock down our doors and kill us the same way they killed him. The same way they tried to kill me. And we’re tired of it.”   

Kenney said in a statement that he is “shocked and saddened” by Kruger’s death.

“He cared deeply about our city and its residents, which was evident in his public service and writing. Our administration was fortunate to call him a colleague, and our prayers are with everyone who knew him.”

The District Attorney’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee issued the following statement:

“Many of us knew Josh Kruger as a comrade who never stopped advocating for queer Philadelphians living on the margins of society. His struggles mirrored so many of ours — from community rejection, to homelessness, to addiction, to living with HIV, to poverty — and his recovery, survival, and successes showed what’s possible when politicians and elected leaders reject bigotry and work affirmatively to uplift all people. Even while Josh worked for the mayor, he never stopped speaking out against police violence, politicized attacks on trans and queer people, or the societal discarding of homeless and addicted Philadelphians.

We are devastated that Josh’s life was ended so violently. We urge anyone who has information that could lead to an arrest and prosecution for Josh’s murder to contact the Philadelphia Police or the DA’s Office directly. LGBTQ+ Philadelphians experience violence of all kinds every day; few people used their platforms to remind powerful people in government of that reality as effectively as Josh Kruger did. Josh and the communities he advocated for every day of his life deserve nothing less than justice and accountability for this outrageous crime.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Lesbian mother from El Salvador released from ICE custody

Jessica Barahona-Martinez arrested on June 26, 2017

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(Bigstock photo)

A federal judge last week ordered the release of a lesbian mother from El Salvador who had been in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody since June 2017.

Jessica Patricia Barahona-Martinez and her three children entered the U.S. on May 31, 2016. A court filing notes she fled “persecution she faced in El Salvador as a lesbian, and because the government had falsely identified her as a gang member.”

Barahona-Martinez lived with her sister and other relatives in Woodbridge, Va., until ICE arrested and detained her on June 26, 2017. She was housed at two ICE detention centers in Virginia until her transfer to the South Louisiana ICE Processing Center, a privately-run facility the GEO Group, a Florida-based company, operates in Basile, La., in October 2020. 

An immigration judge in November 2019 granted Barahona-Martinez asylum for the second time. The government appealed the decision and the Board of Immigration Appeals, which the Justice Department oversees, ruled in their favor.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana last month filed a writ for habeas corpus petition in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana’s Lafayette Division that asked for Barahona-Martinez’s release. U.S. District Judge Terry A. Doughty on Sept. 27 ruled in her favor.  

“Petitioner (Barahona-Martinez) ultimately argues that her prolonged detention violates due process; she moves that this court issues a temporary restraining order, requests release, a bond hearing, an expedited hearing and costs and attorney fees,” wrote Doughty.

“This court finds that petitioner has plausibly alleged her prolonged detention violates due process,” added Doughty.

An ACLU spokesperson on Monday told the Blade that ICE has released Barahona-Martinez and she is once again in Virginia with her children and sister. 

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State Department

State Department hosts intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs

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The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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