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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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District of Columbia

Gay couple assaulted on D.C. street by attackers shouting ‘monkeypox faggots’

Police list Aug. 7 incident in Shaw as suspected hate crime

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Two young men appearing in their late teens shouted the words “monkeypox faggots” at a gay male couple walking along 7th Street, N.W. in the city’s Shaw neighborhood on Sunday, Aug. 7, before punching the two men in the face and head in an incident that D.C. police have called a suspected hate crime.

The gay men were treated and released at Howard University Hospital for head and facial bruises, with one of the two receiving stitches for a deep cut on his upper lip, according to one of the victims who spoke to the Washington Blade.

The victim, an Alexandria resident who asked that he and his partner, a D.C. resident, not be identified by name, said the attackers were part of a group of four or five young men appearing to be between 17 and 19 years old and two young women accompanying them. He said the group crossed paths with the gay couple around 5:40 p.m. in front of a store on the 1700 block of 7th Street, N.W., as the couple was walking to a nearby bus stop on Rhode Island Avenue.

The victim who spoke to the Blade said a nearby witness called D.C. police, who arrived within a few minutes as the two attackers and the other young men with them fled the scene. He said although an ambulance arrived on the scene, one of the police officers drove the couple to nearby Howard University Hospital, where they spent about six hours in the emergency room.

The couple had spent part of that 90+ degree day at the city’s Banneker Pool and later stopped at the Kiki gay bar on U Street, N.W. before taking what the victim who spoke to the Blade said was a leisurely walk from Kiki via 7th Street on their way to the bus stop, where they planned to take the bus to his boyfriend’s Northeast D.C. house.

As the couple walked south on 7th Street about a block from their destination on Rhode Island Avenue they crossed paths with the group of teenagers in front of a store that a D.C. police report says was at 1731 7th St., N.W.

“They were about 17 to 19 years old,” the victim who spoke to the Blade said. “And one of them started saying stuff like, hey, look at these monkeypox faggots and some not so nice stuff like that,” he said.

“We turned around to walk away and one of them came up behind me and got my attention and then sucker punched me and then hit me again and then hit my boyfriend in the face,” the victim said. “And another person hit him in the face as well,” he said. “And then someone across the street called the cops. And then the cops came, and they scattered off.”

To the couple’s surprise, the two young women remained on the scene and apologized for the actions by the guys they were with.

“So, I said something like thanks for the apology, but this is the kind of people you hang out with,” the victim recounted. “And one of them said their dad was gay, and they kind of walked away before the cops got there,” he said. “It was nice of them to apologize I guess for the other people.”

The D.C. police report lists the incident as having two offenses, a simple assault against the two men and a misdemeanor destruction of property related to the destruction of a pair of sunglasses worn by one of the two men that were damaged in the assault against him.

The report also lists the incident as a suspected “Sexual orientation – Anti-Gay” hate crime.

As in all incidents of violent crime, D.C. police call on members of the public to contact the police with information about an incident like this to call police at 202-727-9099 or text a tip to the department’s TEXT TIP LINE at 50411.

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Obituary

LGBTQ ally Olivia Newton-John has died at 73

Performer had been battling breast cancer for over three decades

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Olivia Newton-John (Photo by DFree/Bigstock)

In an announcement on Facebook Monday, John Easterling, the husband of singer and actress Olivia Newton-John relayed the news that she had died at age 73.

Newton-John had been battling breast cancer for over three decades, her first cancer diagnosis in 1992 when she was 44. Although she had previously seen her cancer in remission, in 2017 she was diagnosed again.

In October of 2020 in an interview with The Guardian the pop star and actor spoke about her third diagnosis of cancer. “Three times lucky, right?” she smiles warmly. “I’m going to look at it like that. Listen, I think every day is a blessing. You never know when your time is over; we all have a finite amount of time on this planet, and we just need to be grateful for that.” She genuinely sounds as if she means every word.

The cancer’s return in 2017 was, she told The Guardian, not unexpected. “It’s been a part of my life for so long. I felt something was wrong. It’s concerning when it comes back, but I thought: ‘I’ll get through it again.’”

What of her health problems? “I don’t think of myself as sick with cancer,” she says firmly. “I choose not to see it as a fight either because I don’t like war. I don’t like fighting wherever it is – whether it’s outside or an actual war inside my body. I choose not to see it that way. I want to get my body healthy and back in balance. Part of that is your mental attitude to it. If you think: ‘Poor me,’ or ‘I’m sick,’ then you’re going to be sick.”

The popstar-singer was arguably best known for her breakout role in Grease, the 1978 American musical romantic comedy film based on the 1971 musical of the same name by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, which co-starred Oscar nominated actor John Travolta.

Travolta paid tribute to his co-star in a post on his Insta:

Newton-John was an ally to the LGBTQ community who was appreciative of her LGBTQ fans. In an interview with Logo/MTV she noted: “The gay fans have always been very loyal, they are a really great audience and have always been there for me.”

Out actor George Takei tweeted his remembrance:

In addition to her husband she is survived by her 36-year-old daughter, Chloe Lattanzi. 

The family asked for donations to be made to her cancer organization, the Olivia Newton-John Foundation Fund, in lieu of flowers. 

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News

Lindsey Graham: Same-sex marriage should be left to the states

Republican senator says issue a distraction from inflation

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Sen. Lindsey Graham said he still thinks the issue of same-sex marriage should be left to the states. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), seven years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage nationwide, said Sunday he still thinks the issue of gay nuptials should be left to the states.

Graham made the remarks during an interview with CNN’s Dana Bash in a rare televised bipartisan debate with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) as the Senate was in the middle of voting on amendments for the Inflation Reduction Act.

When discussing the 6-3 conservative majority of the Supreme Court, Graham said consistent with the recent decision overturning Roe v. Wade justices could overturn other precedents, such as the 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges in favor of same-sex marriage.

Asked point blank if he was saying it should be overturned, Graham said “no, I’m saying that I don’t think it’s going to be overturned.” Graham, however, had an infection his voice, suggesting same-sex marriage could be undone.

“Nor should it be?” asked Bash.

“Well, that would be up to the court,” he responded, then added: “I think states should decide the issue of marriage, and states should be decide the issue of abortion.”

When Bash brought up another case, Loving v. Virginia, the 1965 case that overturned states bans on interracial marriage, and asked if that should be revisited as well, Graham replied, “no.”

Graham quickly moved on to tamp down any expectation the would address the issue of same-sex marriage, saying fears the court would revisit the issue are unfounded and meant as a distraction from issues such as inflation.

“But if you’re going to ask me to have the federal government take over defining marriage, I’m going to say no,” Graham added.

Graham’s remarks are consistent with what he told the Washington Blade in 2015 when asked about same-sex marriage as the issue was being adjudicated by the Supreme Court. However, they contrast to his support for a Federal Marriage Amendment that was pending before Congress during the Bush administration and would have made a ban on same-sex marriage nationwide part of the U.S. Constitution. Graham was not asked about his views on now defunct idea of an amendment during the CNN interview.

h/t The Independent

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