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Will session expire before Uganda acts on anti-gay bill?

AP report saying death penalty no longer in bill disputed; Citi and Barclays weigh in

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Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality (photo courtesy of Council for Global Equality)

A new hope is emerging that the legislative session for Uganda’s parliament will expire before lawmakers take action on a draconian anti-gay bill amid new developments related to the legislation on Friday in various parts of the world.

LGBT advocates had previously said the parliament as soon as this week would take up the anti-gay legislation, which would institute a sentence of life prison for homosexual acts and perhaps in some cases the death penalty. The bill would also prohibit the promotion of LGBT rights and fine or jail certain individuals who neglect to report gay people to the authorities.

However, those fears were abated after Parliament Speaker Kadaga Rebecca reportedly suspended sessions this week after a raucous that broke out over an unrelated bill about authority on petroleum agreements.

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said parliament may come into session again at the start next week, but the oil bill and not the anti-gay bill would likely be the first order the business.

“The parliament is still suspended,” Bromley said. “My understanding is the speaker asked for a report on the raucous two days and that report should go to her on Monday, so I think there’s a chance the parliament might come back into session on Monday, and if so, the expectation is that they will continue with the oil bill, which is still quite contentious and could take up a certain amount time.”

LGBT advocates had been hoping the legislative session for the Ugandan parliament would expire on Dec. 14 before lawmakers have an opportunity to take up the anti-gay bill. Kadaga, a supporter of the legislation, has said Uganda wants to see the legislation passed as a Christmas present.

Bromley expressed hope that these difficulties facing the parliament may mean the legislature won’t take action on the anti-gay bill.

“It’s dangerous to predict anything and certainly the bill is dangerous enough and popular enough that we shouldn’t let our guard down,” Bromley said. “But I think given the intense debate and some of the procedural hurdles that still remain in front of the anti-homosexuality bill, I think there is at least a hope that it could be delayed until after the holiday, which would advocates on the ground and elsewhere more time to really try to make a persuasive case for the parliament to drop the bill altogether.”

Bahati quoted as saying death penalty removed, but report meets skepticism

Perhaps the most noteworthy development on Friday was a report from the Associated Press in which David Bahati, the author of the legislation, asserted the controversial death penalty provision had been removed from the bill.

Parliamentarian David Bahati said the bill, which is expected to be voted on next month, had “moved away from the death penalty after considering all the issues that have been raised.”

“There is no death penalty,” he told The Associated Press.

Bahati said the bill now focuses on protecting children from gay pornography, banning gay marriage, counseling gays, as well as punishing those who promote gay culture. Jail terms are prescribed for various offenses, he said, offering no details. The most recent version of the bill hasn’t been publicly released.

In response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade, Hillary Renner, a State Department spokesperson for African affairs, said she’s unable to confirm the death penalty was dropped and referred to the Uganda government from more information.

“With or without the inclusion of the death penalty, we have made clear on numerous occasions that the United States opposes the anti-homosexuality bill,” Renner added. “The bill is currently in committee and has not reached the full parliament for consideration. As with all domestic legislation, it is up to the Ugandan parliament to determine whether to approve this bill.”

Box Turtle Bulletin’s Jim Burroway took issue with reporting and — in a blog post titled “AP Is Wrong: Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill Still Has The Death Penalty” — warned readers not to believe the report because the only full parliament has the authority to change the bill. Earlier this week, a source at the U.S. embassy in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, told the Blade the committee doesn’t have authority to change the bill or remove its death penalty and can only make recommendations for the full parliament to consider.

Andre Banks, executive director and co-founder of All Out, a grassroots organization in the United States drawing attention to the anti-gay bill, was among those expressing skepticism that the death penalty provision has in fact been removed.

“David Bahati is one of the architects of Uganda’s anti-gay bill,” Banks said. “Bahati told the AP the death penalty was removed from the bill, yet no one has actually seen the latest version of the bill to confirm Bahati’s claim, Until we see the bill, and it has moved out of a committee that actually has the power to make substantive changes, we must assume the worst.”

Germany suspends foreign aid to Uganda for structural assistance

Another news development took place in Germany where Dirk Niebel, the country’s minister of Economic Cooperation & Development, reportedly said it is suspending foreign aid for Uganda for three years as result of reports of misuse of 13 million euros in foreign funds.

German funds weren’t affected, and other concerns, such as the misuse of funds and violence in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, are the reason. Nonetheless Niebel cites the anti-homosexuality bill as a reason for concern.

Via Google Translate, Niebel is quoted as saying, “We are concerned that the debate about a tightening of legislation against homosexuals in Uganda resurgence Who fired the debate in Uganda, know the needs that he so the international image of the country causing damage Should human rights discrimination in.. Ugandan Parliament be adopted, it could not remain without consequences for our cooperation.”

Bromley clarified these cuts are related to structural assistance only and wouldn’t affect certain programs.

“My understanding is that the German government decided to cut direct structural assistance from Germany to the government to the government of Uganda, but that their investments in development and other programs will continue,” Bromley said. “So, it’s not an across-the-board cut, but it’s a temporary suspension of direct structural assistance to the government.”

Britain, Sweden and the European Union have also threatened to cut foreign aid from Uganda directly as result of the anti-gay bill if it’s passed into law. U.S. Ambassador to Uganda Scott DeLisi was quoted in a Uganda paper as saying foreign aid won’t be cut to Uganda as a result of the reported misuse of funds, but the United States hasn’t weighed in on cuts as a result of the anti-gay legislation.

Citi, Barclays respond to calls for them to condemn anti-gay bill

Two financial institutions with significant investments in Uganda have also weighed in on the anti-gay petition, although advocates who were seeking statements from the companies say a greater public outcry is needed.

David Roskin, a Citi spokesperson, delivered the response to the Blade via email in response to Change.org petition asking Citibank – as well as Barclays — to speak out publicly against the legislation. As of Friday, the online petition had more than 513,000 signatures.

“While the laws and cultural norms in some countries where Citi operates differ from commonly accepted global standards for human rights, Citi supports equality without regard for race, gender, disability, age, nationality, sexual orientation, or other personal characteristics,” Roskin said.

The response makes no direct mention of the anti-gay bill in Uganda. Asked in a follow-up email whether this response mean Citi opposes the anti-gay Uganda legislation, Roskin referred to earlier his statement.

A Change.org statement published on Friday also includes a statement from Barclays saying the company is “engaging at appropriate levels of the Ugandan government” with respect to the anti-gay legislation.

“Barclays has a strong history of supporting all aspects of diversity, both in the workplace and in wider society. Equally, we are proud of playing our part in the development of economies across Africa, and the key role Barclays plays in the lives of millions of our African customers.”

“Barclays is aware of the proposed legislation relating to homosexuality in Uganda and we are engaging at appropriate levels of the Ugandan Government to express our views.”

According to Change.org, Citibank has almost $300 million in assets invested in Uganda and is a major leader in a U.S. Chamber of Commerce based in Kampala. Barclays, Uganda’s third largest bank, has more than 1,000 employees and 51 branches throughout the country.

Collin Burton, a Citibank customer who launched the petition, rebuked the companies for the response — calling the Citi statement “dismissive” and “contradictory” — and said the company needs to come out more explicitly against the legislation.

“I’m disappointed that Citi delivered a dismissive statement that is not only contradictory in its very nature, but also serves as a reminder that Citi’s refusal to speak boldly on the issue poses a very real and dangerous threat to LGBT Ugandans, many of whom are also Citi customers,” Burton said. “I encourage Citibank and Barclays officials to live the values of equality outlined in their non-discrimination policies and courageously come out in staunch opposition to the Ugandan ‘Kill The Gays’ Bill. Their corporate voices will positively amplify those of the over 500,000 global citizens who have already spoken out by signing the petition.”

Asked whether he’ll continue to bank at Citi, Burton replied, “I’ll make that decision based upon the final outcome of our efforts.”

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National

Senate passes Respect for Marriage Act

Bill approved by 61-36 vote margin

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The U.S. Senate voted 61-36 on Tuesday to officially pass the Respect for Marriage Act, a historic piece of legislation that is expected to soon become law after members in the U.S. House of Representatives sign off on a bipartisan amendment added by their Senate colleagues.

Designed as a vehicle to mitigate the fallout if the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority guts the constitutional protections for marriage equality, the bill was narrowly construed — in part to help guarantee that it withstands potential challenges from conservative legal actors.

Nevertheless, the Respect for Marriage Act is a landmark bill that has been backed by virtually every LGBTQ advocacy organization in the country. The legislation repeals the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act while enshrining into law substantive protections for same-sex couples.

Regardless of whether or how the high court might decide to revisit the marriage question, the Respect for Marriage Act will protect the federally ordained rights and benefits that have long been enjoyed by married gay and lesbian couples. And should the court pave the way for conservative states like Texas to renew their bans on same-sex marriage, the law will require them to officially recognize and honor those that are performed in jurisdictions where they remain legal.

Despite earning broad bipartisan support from lawmakers in the House, which passed its version of the bill this summer with an overwhelming majority — including votes from 47 Republican members — the Respect for Marriage Act faced an uncertain future in the Senate.

Conservative members in the chamber’s Republican caucus argued the bill would jeopardize religious freedoms, concerns that a group of five bipartisan senators sought to allay with an amendment that, among other provisions, clarifies the right of religious nonprofit organizations to refuse “any services, facilities, or goods for the solemnization or celebration of a marriage.”

Writing the amendment were Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who was considered the driving force behind the bill’s passage through the Senate.

Several Republican senators proposed additional amendments that — per a narrow procedural vote before and another shortly after the Thanksgiving break — were not put up for debate, thereby allowing the Respect for Marriage Act to clear the Senate with Tuesday’s vote.

Barely surpassing the 60-vote filibuster-proof majority with one extra “yea,” the Senate’s passage of the bill came despite the best efforts of conservative opponents who had run coordinated campaigns to erode support among GOP members.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris each issued statements shortly after Tuesday’s vote.

The president celebrated the “bipartisan achievement” by Congress, writing: “For millions of Americans, this legislation will safeguard the rights and protections to which LGBTQI+ and interracial couples and their children are entitled. It will also ensure that, for generations to follow, LGBTQI+ youth will grow up knowing that they, too, can lead full, happy lives and build families of their own.”

Harris wrote: “The Respect for Marriage Act ultimately stands for a simple principle: all Americans are equal and their government should treat them that way. Today, we are one step closer to achieving that ideal with pride.”

The Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus also praised the victory.

“Today, a bipartisan group of 61 Senators made clear that this country will not roll back the clock on marriage equality,” said Congressman David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chair of the Equality Caucus. “The Respect for Marriage Act is a crucial safeguard for LGBTQ+ people whose lives have been forever changed by Obergefell v. Hodges and Americans who are in interracial marriages thanks to Loving v. Virginia. On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court declared marriage equality as the law of the land. Today, the Senate ensured those marriages will continue to be protected.”

LGBTQ groups celebrate the win

“Diverse faith traditions across the nation came together to demand respect for LGBTQ+ Americans – we staked our ground and refused to let this opportunity slip away, ” said Rev. Paul Brandeis Raushenbush, president of the Interfaith Alliance, in a statement Tuesday.

“The  LGBTQ+ community has faced ongoing deadly violence, legislative assaults and constant threats — including the deadly shooting in Colorado Springs barely one week ago,” said Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign, in a statement from the organization.

“Today, with the passage of the Respect for Marriage Act in the Senate — a historic moment that marks the first federal legislative win for LGBTQ+ equality in over 10 years, since the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell — the 568,000 same-sex married couples in this country can breathe a sigh of relief that their marriages will be protected from future attacks,” said Robinson, who yesterday began her tenure as the first Black queer woman to lead America’s largest LGBTQ organization.

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis responded on Twitter and in a statement, writing: “As so many LGBTQ people face uncertainty and harm on the state level and extremists on the Supreme Court vow to reconsider the landmark Obergefell decision, this victory will provide comfort and security to millions of people and their families.”

“Today’s bipartisan vote in the Senate to pass the Respect for Marriage Act is a proud moment for our country and an affirmation that, notwithstanding our differences, we share a profound commitment to the principle of equality and justice for all,” reads a statement from National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon.

LGBTQ Victory Institute President Annise Parker said, “This landmark piece of legislation protects the marriages of millions of LGBTQ Americans who have not slept well for months, wondering if our marriages would be dissolved by an activist court. While the Respect for Marriage Act is undoubtedly one of the most important pro-LGBTQ laws ever passed, it does not require states to grant marriages to LGBTQ couples. Until then, our fight is not over.”

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District of Columbia

D.C. Rainbow History Project launches Trans History Initiative

$15,000 D.C. government grant funded project

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s Rainbow History Project announced it has launched a new project called the Trans History Initiative “to better integrate the often-under-represented histories of trans people into RHP’s existing programming.”

In a statement announcing the new initiative, the LGBTQ history group says it has been awarded a $15,000 grant from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs to fund the project.

“The Trans History Initiative will help RHP deepen its connections with the Trans community through expanded efforts to preserve the history and cultural contributions of Washington-area trans communities,” the statement says. “The Initiative was developed with RHP’s trans members, trans community pioneers and trans board members,” it says.

The statement says the grant will enable Rainbow History Project to hire one or more coordinators to “build on four exiting RHP programs: collecting oral histories; preserving archival documents; tracking timelines and historic places; and hosting public education panels.”

According to the statement, the new trans initiative is in keeping with Rainbow History Project’s long-standing mission.

“Since its founding in 2000, RHP’s mission is to collect, preserve and promote an active knowledge of the history, arts and culture of metropolitan Washington, D.C.’s diverse LGBTQ communities,” the statement says. “RHP strives to ensure that its collection, volunteer corps and programming reflect and represent the full diversity of those communities.”

The statement also points out that due to longstanding bias and discrimination faced by transgender people it has been difficult to obtain information about their lives and accomplishments.

“Unfortunately, many trans people often left behind little record of their lives — and personal histories that do exist are often scrubbed of an individual’s trans identity by society or even their own families,” said Jeffrey Donahoe, RHP’s director of oral history.

“This revisionism, both unintentional and intentional, makes it difficult for the broader community to understand and empathize with the struggles and successes of the Trans community,” Donahoe said in the statement.

“The Trans History Initiative will counter this revisionism by giving another platform for trans people to tell their stories to the broader public,” he said. “We need to ensure that trans narratives are not lost to the ravages of time but preserved as part of the historical record.”

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State Department

U.S. diplomat says negotiations to release Brittney Griner have stalled

WNBA star remains in Russian penal colony

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In remarks published Monday, Elizabeth Rood, the U.S. chargée d’affaires in Moscow, told Russia’s state-owned RIA news agency that talks to free jailed Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan were continuing through the “designated channel.”

During the long ranging interview covering a variety of subjects, Rood was asked if she intended to visit the imprisoned WNBA star who is serving time in a Mordovian prison.

“Of course, we are going to do this as soon as the Russian authorities give us permission to visit Brittney Griner in the new colony where she was recently transferred,” the American diplomat responded and in answer to a follow-up question regarding Griner’s status. “As far as we understood from talking to her, she is healthy and doing as well as can be expected in her difficult circumstances.”

RIA then focused on the negotiations asking for some of the details including the possibility of convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout being included in the “exchange list” in the potential prisoner swap deal between the Russian and American authorities.

“I can say that the United States continues to discuss with the Russian authorities through special channels the issue of the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.  As we have already said, the United States has submitted a serious proposal for consideration. We finalized this proposal and offered alternatives. Unfortunately, the Russian Federation has so far received no serious response to these proposals, ” the U.S. chargée d’affaires answered.

“However, I would like to emphasize that the main concern and the first priority of the U.S. Embassy is to ensure the well-being of the American citizens who are here. And the situation is not limited to the names of those who are mentioned in the media headlines — a number of American citizens are kept in Russian prisons. We are extremely concerned about the condition of each of them, and we continue to follow their affairs very closely and support them in every possible way,” she added.

RIA then asked: “What did you mean by ‘serious response’ from Russia? Moscow has repeatedly stressed that the negotiations are being conducted through professional channels … What does the American side mean by “serious response”?

Rood answered telling RIA; “I mean, we have made a serious proposal that reflects our intention to take action to free American prisoners. We did not see a serious response from the Russian side to our proposal.”

“By ‘serious answer’ do you mean consent?” RIA asked in a follow-up question.

“I mean an answer that would help us come to an agreement,” she answered.

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