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State Dept. pledges to raise concerns over Nigeria anti-gay law

Says United States does ‘regret’ passage of restrictive legislation

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Department of State, gay news, Washington Blade
Department of State, gay news, Washington Blade

The State Department says the United States does ‘regret’ passage of the anti-gay law in Nigeria. (Photo public domain)

State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said on Monday the United States “will keep raising” concerns about Nigeria’s new anti-gay law, but maintained the relationship between the two countries will continue.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Harf said the State Department does “regret” the signing of the legislation by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan as she emphasized the country has a right to pass legislation through the democratic process.

“We just don’t support any legislation that institutionalizes discrimination against one select group of people, and I think one of the key reasons we are opposed to this is that the law goes far beyond prohibiting same-sex marriage,” Harf said. “It restricts freedom of assembly, association and expression for all Nigerians.”

As Secretary of State John Kerry noted in a statement earlier in the day, Harf said the law is “inconsistent” with the country’s international legal obligations and rights under its constitution.

“Obviously, we’ll keep raising these issues when they come up,” Harf said. “We’ve made our position on this very clear. It may make some work in the country harder to do, but we clearly have a relationship there that’s an important one, and we’ll continue working together.”

The law bans not only same-sex marriage and same-sex “amorous relationships,” but also membership in LGBT rights groups.

The Associated Press reports it’s now a crime in the country “to have a meeting of gays, or to operate or go to a gay club, society or organization.” Further, entering into a same-sex marriage contract or civil union is punishable by up to 14 years’ imprisonment.

During the briefing, Harf conceded that she didn’t immediately have a lot of information about the law, such as which international obligations it violates and whether the State Department had any prior knowledge Jonathan would sign the measure. Although she said she hasn’t heard any talk about possible sanctions against the country or a potential loss of aid as a result of the law, Harf said she’d have to double check.

But Harf was able to confirm that State Department officials were in contact with a variety of principals in Nigeria prior to the signing of the legislation.

“Since the law was in draft form, we’ve been in continual contact with the Jonathan administration, the National Assembly and a wide variety of Nigerian stakeholders,” Harf said. “Our conversations have been focused on our concerns that portions of the law, again, appear to restrict Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association — provisions that we’ve been very clear we do not support.”

Harf wasn’t able to immediately identify who was representing the United States in those talks, including whether it was a senior diplomat or someone in a lower position.

According to the Associated Press, Nigeria is one of the top crude oil suppliers to the United States. A report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration indicates the U.S. oil imports from Nigeria are decreasing, but the United States imported 161,558 barrels of oil from the country in 2012.

News that the anti-gay legislation was signed in Nigeria is breaking after earlier reports a man in Cameroon died after being previously jailed for texting a same-sex partner and the Uganda parliament approved its own anti-gay legislation.

Harf said she wasn’t immediately able to say whether the State Department is concerned about an anti-gay trend in Africa, but maintained the Obama administration supports LGBT rights everywhere.

“We’ve talked about it elsewhere — whether it’s Russia, here or elsewhere — that we believe that LGBT rights are human rights, there’s no place for discrimination anywhere, such as this,” Harf said.

A partial transcript of the exchange between the Blade and State Department follows:

Washington Blade: Secretary Kerry issued a statement earlier today saying he’s “deeply concerned” about the passage of the anti-gay law in Nigeria, which contains punishments of up to 14 years in prison. Will passage of that law impact U.S.-Nigeria relations?

Marie Harf: Well, we did release a statement, and I would just note that we do regret that this bill, passed by Nigeria’s national assembly. was signed into law on Jan. 7.

Obviously, we respect the sovereignty of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the prerogatives of its national assembly to pass legislation. We just don’t support any legislation that institutionalizes discrimination against one select group of people, and I think one of the key reasons we are opposed to this is that the law goes far beyond prohibiting same-sex marriage.

It restricts freedom of assembly, association and expression for all Nigerians. It’s inconsistent with Nigeria’s international legal obligations and undermines the democratic reforms and human rights protections enshrined in Nigeria’s constitution.

Obviously, we’ll keep raising these issues when they come up. We’ve made our position on this very clear. It may make some work in the country harder to do, but we clearly have a relationship there that’s an important one, and we’ll continue working together.

Blade: You just said it’s inconsistent with Nigeria’s international legal obligations. To which obligations are you referring?

Harf: I can check specifically with our attorneys and see what they intended with this part of the statement. Obviously, freedom of assembly, association and expression are topics we talk about a lot in terms of legal obligations, and also, anti-discrimination obligations as well. I can check if there’s more legal specifics to share.

Blade: Were there any conversations between State Department officials and Nigeria prior to the signing of this legislation?

Harf: There were. Let me what I have here. Since the law was in draft form, we’ve been in continual contact with the Jonathan administration, the National Assembly and a wide variety of Nigerian stakeholders. Our conversations have been focused on our concerns that portions of the law, again, appear to restrict Nigerians’ rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association — provisions that we’ve been very clear we do not support.

Blade: And who was representing the United States in those talks?

Harf: I can double-check and see who the specifics there are. I don’t have that in front of me.

Blade: The statement that the secretary put out was embargoed until an announcement from the Nigerian government. Did the State Department know this law was going to be signed beforehand?

Harf: I can check on that. Obviously, we’ve been discussions since it was in draft form and it passed. We were in discussions with the administration. I’m happy to check on that. Obviously, we allow governments to speak for themselves before we speak publicly about things as well.

Blade: Could sanctions or a loss of aid be on the table as a result of this law?

Harf: I haven’t heard talk of any of that. I’m happy to check with our folks. Again, we’ve made very clear what our position is on this, and I just don’t have a ton more on it. So, I know you probably have ten follow ups, but I’m happy to take them and see if I can answer them, but then we’ll move on.

Blade: Let me ask you one last question then. The news is breaking just after a man in Cameroon died after being sentenced for being gay and after Uganda passed its own anti-gay legislation — the parliament there. Is the State Department concerned about a larger trend in Africa about passage of anti-gay legislation?

Harf: I’m happy to check with our folks and see if there’s a trend that they’re concerned about. We speak very clearly for LGBT rights across the globe. We’ve talked about it elsewhere — whether it’s Russia, here or elsewhere — that we believe that LGBT rights are human rights, there’s no place for discrimination anywhere, such as this. So, we’re very clear whether it’s Africa or somewhere else that this is something we feel very, very strongly about. President Obama and the secretary have all made very clear statements to that regard. And I’m happy to check if there’s more details on this if you have more follow-ups.

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Asia

Pakistan resumes issuing ID cards to transgender people

Federal Shariat Court in June ruled against trans rights law

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Kami Sid (Courtesy photo)

Pakistani authorities have resumed the registration of transgender people and issuing identity cards to them after the Supreme Court’s Sharia Appellate Bench on Sept. 25 ruled on the issue.

An Islamic court on June 13 ordered all data acquisition units to halt the registration of trans people and to issue identity cards only to males or females. 

The Supreme Court in 2009 extended civil rights to the trans community. Pakistani MPs in 2018 passed a historic law, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, that guaranteed all the rights available for all citizens to trans people, and prohibited any discrimination based on gender identity.

Jamiat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan and several other Pakistani religious political parties in 2022 raised objections to the law, stating it was un-Islamic. 

The Federal Shariat Court in May struck down three sections of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act and said Islamic teachings do not allow anyone to change their gender at their will. The court also said gender assigned at birth shall remain intact. 

The Islamic court’s June 13 verdict prohibited any new registration for an identity card with an X gender marker or update an older one. The National Database and Registration Authority after the ruling issued that halted the registration of trans people. Individuals in Pakistan need ID cards to open bank accounts, seek legal aid, report a crime to the police, ask for medical help and receive a passport. 

NADRA is an independent agency that regulates the government database and registration of sensitive information of citizens. The Federal Shariat Court is a constitutional Islamic court that scrutinizes and determines if laws made in Parliament comply with Sharia laws.

Nayyab Ali, a trans rights activist in Pakistan, during a telephone interview with the Washington Blade said the court’s voting bloc is based on religious elements. She also said right-wing political parties target trans Pakistanis when they do not get publicity.

“Right-wing political parties picked up the transgender issues in Parliament, and started hate speeches on transgender laws,” said Ali. “There is also a divide in the transgender community in Pakistan. Some transgender factions also support right-wing political parties to strengthen their agenda. People inside the government came from the grassroots level of society. Society has an extreme level of phobia and stigma for the transgender population, so when they come to power, they make policies that are against the transgender community.”

Ali told the Blade that former Prime Minister Imran Khan introduced an “Islamic utopia” in Pakistan and implemented an Islamization policy in his day-to-day politics, which created more hatred against trans community and affected society at large. 

Ali on X, formerly known as Twitter, praised the decision that allowed the resumption of issuing ID cards to trans people. Documents the Blade obtained indicate she is one of those who challenged the Federal Shariat Court’s decision.

Kami Sid, a trans activist and executive director of Sub Rang Society, a Pakistan-based LGBTQ rights organization, said the community is happy and quite hopeful for a better future.

“First we as a community were very much worried about the Federal Shariat Court’s decision,” said Sid. “But after several advocacy and meetings we are quite hopeful for the fight against the Federal Shariat Court decision, and now quite relaxed as a transgender activist, I must say the community is happy.”

Kami, like Ali, also challenged the Federal Shariat Court’s decision.

Kami told the Blade conservative parties over the last few years have become more willing to promote an agenda that opposes rights for women, children and trans people. 

“Transgender rights are human rights,” said Kami. “That is why the previous government refrained from commenting on the Shariah Court ruling out of fear of the right-wing parties and because transgender people are not a top priority.”

Kami said the Pakistani government has faced several obstacles this year regarding the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review.

Foreign Minister Jalil Abbas Jilani attended the annual UPR meeting in Geneva in January and received approximately 354 human rights-specific recommendations.

Iside Over, an online news website, reports Pakistan may not get an extension over the European Union’s Preferential Trade Arrangement over its failure to improve its human rights record, among other reasons. Kami told the Blade the Generalized System of Preference, or GSP, from the EU has put pressure on the Pakistani government to address human rights-specific issues.

Ankush Kumar is a reporter who has covered many stories for Washington and Los Angeles Blades from Iran, India and Singapore. He recently reported for the Daily Beast. He can be reached at [email protected]. He is on Twitter at @mohitkopinion. 

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Federal Government

QAnon follower pleads guilty to threatening member of Congress

Conspiracy movement claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world

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QAnon banner at a pro-gun rally in Richmond, Va., in 2020. (YouTube screenshot from Anthony Crider)

A New Mexico man has entered a plea deal after being charged with a federal criminal complaint of making threats through interstate communications directed at a member of Congress.

Federal prosecutors charged Michael David Fox, a resident of Doña Ana County, for calling the Houston district office of an unnamed member of Congress on or about May 18, 2023, and uttering threats that included knowingly threatening to kill an active member of Congress.

The plea agreement was brought before U.S. Magistrate Judge Damian L. Martinez of U.S. District Court in New Mexico in the Las Cruces by Fox’s attorney from the Federal Public Defender’s Office in August.

According to the criminal complaint as outlined by a Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal investigator for the Albuquerque Field Office, Las Cruces Resident Agency, on May 18 at approximately 9:04 p.m. Fox called the office of a congresswoman for the District of Texas, U.S. House of Representatives (Victim One/”V1″), who is from Houston. The call was received by V1’s office.

In the phone call Fox stated “Hey [Vl], you’re a man. It’s official. You’re literally a tranny and a pedophile, and I’m going to put a bullet in your fucking face. You mother fucking satanic cock smoking son of a whore. You understand me you fucker?” 

Law enforcement was able to trace the call back to Las Cruces, N.M., and it was believed that Fox was the user of cell phone account used to make the call. According to the FBI agents who interviewed Fox, he admitted to making the call.

Fox acknowledged that the threat was direct but claimed that he did not own any guns. Fox
claimed to be a member of the Q2 Truth Movement, the Q Movement. Fox explained these
movements believe all over the world there were transgender individuals running
governments, kingdoms and corporations. 

Fox told the FBI that there is a plan called “Q the Plan to Save the World” which he learned about from an online video. Fox claimed that he believed Q was going to engage in the “eradication” of the people who were causing all the world’s misery. He believed that part of the eradication had already happened.

Fox explained that he had run Vl’s skull features through forensic analysis and determined
that Vl was born male and is now trans. Fox discussed his military service with the
U.S. Air Force, “Q the Plan to Save the World,” and how God communicates using
numbers. 

Fox continued to reiterate several different types of conspiracy theories indicating
extreme far right ideologies as his explanation for why he conducted the phone call to
threaten V1.

According to the FBI, Fox rescinded his threat against Vl and apologized. Fox claimed he was not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs when he made the call. Fox stated he understood how Vl would feel threatened by his phone call, and he acknowledged that anyone he knew or cared about would also be concerned with such a threat.

The charge of interstate threatening communications carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

QAnon began in 2017, when a mysterious figure named “Q” started posting on the online message board 4chan, claiming to have inside access to government secrets. Since then, QAnon has grown into a conspiracy movement that claims Satan-worshipping pedophiles secretly rule the world. It is claimed by QAnon adherents that former President Donald Trump is the only person who can defeat them. 

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based journalist Ana Valens, a reporter specializing in queer internet culture, online censorship and sex workers’ rights noted that Fox appears to be a “transvestigator.” Valens noted that the transvestigation conspiracy theory is a fringe movement within QAnon that claims the world is primarily run by trans people. Phrenological analysis is common among transvestigators, with a prominent focus on analyzing celebrities for proof that they are trans.

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District of Columbia

AIDS Healthcare Foundation celebrates opening of new D.C. healthcare center

Ribbon-cutting marks launch of state-of-the-art facility on Capitol Hill

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AHF’s new healthcare center is located at 650 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the world’s largest HIV/AIDS healthcare organization with its headquarters in Los Angeles, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 27 to mark the official opening of its Capitol Hill Healthcare Center.

The new center, which AHF describes as a state-of-the-art facility for the holistic care and treatment of people with HIV as well as a site for HIV prevention and primary care services, is located at 650 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E.  a half block away from the Eastern Market Metro station.

A statement released by AHF says the Capitol Hill Healthcare Center will continue AHF’s ongoing delivery of “cutting-edge medical care and services to patients regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.” The statement adds, “The site also features a full-service AHF Pharmacy and will host Wellness Center services on Saturdays to offer STI testing and treatment.”

The statement was referring to the testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. The D.C. Department of Health has said the highest number of STIs in the city have been reported for men who have sex with men.

Mike McVicker, AHF’s Regional Director for its D.C., Maryland, and Virginia facilities, said the Capitol Hill center began taking patients in October of 2021 as AHF transferred its operations from its facility on Benning Road, N.E. about two miles from the Capitol Hill site. McVicker said the Benning Road site has now been closed.

AHF’s second D.C. medical center is located downtown at 2141 K St., N.W. AHF operates three other extended D.C.-area health care centers in Falls Church, Va., Temple Hills, Md. and Baltimore.

“Our Capitol Hill Healthcare Center has no waiting room, so patients immediately are escorted to treatment rooms and serviced from a centrally located provider workstation,” McVicker said. “The goal is to maximize efficiency using this patient-centered model to improve health outcomes and increase retention in care.”

McVicker told the Blade the AHF Capitol Hill center is currently serving 585 patients and has a staff of 10, including Dr. Conor Grey, who serves as medical director. He said a separate team of five staffers operates the Saturday walk-in center that provides STI services as well as services related to the HIV prevention medication known as PrEP.

“I’m very excited to be a part of this team,” Dr. Grey said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which was held in a courtyard outside the Capitol Hill office building where the AHF center is located. About 50 people, including D.C. government officials, attended the event.

“This is a beautiful thing to celebrate,” Grey said. “So, I’m very happy to enjoy the day with all of you, and looking forward to a bright, productive future working together and fighting a common enemy that has unfortunately been with us.”

Others who spoke at the event included Tom Myers, AHF’s Chief of Public Affairs and General Counsel; Toni Flemming, Supervisory Public Health Analyst and Field Operations Manager for the D.C. Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD, and Tuberculosis Administration (HAHSTA), and Dr. Christie Olejeme, Public Health Analyst for HAHSTA’s Care and Treatment Division.

Also speaking at the event was Japer Bowles, director of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

Bowles called the AHF Capitol Hill center “another pivotal resource” for the LGBTQ community as well as for the city.

“We know, as has been previously stated, a low-barrier HIV prevention support is pivotal to the mayor’s mission of eliminating HIV infections in the District of Columbia and the region,” Bowles told the gathering.

“So, I’m very excited to see more services specifically provided to those in the Southeast and Northeast quadrants of our District,” he said, referring to the AHF Capitol Hill center. “This is a great moment for our community, but also for D.C. as a whole.”

In its statement released this week announcing the official opening of the Capitol Hill Center AHF notes that currently, 11,904 D.C. residents, or 1.8 percent of the population, are living with HIV. It points out that HIV disproportionately impacts Black residents, who make up about 44 percent of the population but comprise nearly three-quarters of the city’s HIV cases.

AHF official Myers said the Capitol Hill center will join its other D.C.-area facilities in addressing the issue of racial disparities related to HIV.

“Our treatment model helps eliminate barriers for those already in care, those who may not know their HIV status, and those living with HIV who may not currently be in care,” he said.

AHF says in its statement that it currently operates more than 900 healthcare centers around the world in 45 countries including 17 U.S. states. It has more than 1.7 million people in care, according to the statement. Founded in 1987, the organization has also taken on the role of public advocacy for federal and local government programs in the U.S. to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic, including efforts to lower the costs of HIV drugs.

During its work in the late 1980s and early 1990s AHF emerged as a strong advocate for addressing the special needs of gay and bisexual men who were hit hardest by HIV/AIDS at the start of the epidemic.

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