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State Dept. quiet on Nigeria gay arrests

U.S. dismisses cutting off aid, saying U.S. funds critical to HIV programs

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

The State Department won’t articulate options to address anti-gay activity in Nigeria. (Photo public domain)

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki was unable on Friday to articulate any options to address Nigeria’s anti-gay law and the arrests that have followed other than restating U.S. concerns about the situation.

Under questioning from the Washington Blade, Psaki provided little additional information on U.S. efforts to confront the anti-gay law as reports continue to emerge of hostilities toward gay men in the country.

“I don’t have any new options to outline for you at this point,” Psaki said. “I think we’ve been very clear in expressing our concerns and how deeply concerned we are about the impact on all Nigerians of this law.”

On Thursday, the Human Rights Campaign issued a statement calling on the State Department to employ all available tools to stop the anti-gay situation in Nigeria described in media reports that has troubled many observers.

“The State Department must use every available tool to demonstrate that any nation which targets its own LGBT citizens and violates their civil rights gravely risks its standing in the international community,” said HRC President Chad Griffin.

The Obama administration has previously said the anti-gay law itself violates Nigeria’s international legal obligations and is inconsistent with human rights protections in its constitution.

But one option that Psaki took off the table on Friday was a potential loss of U.S. financial aid to Nigeria, saying the United States funds programs in Nigeria that are critically important.

“It’s also important to note that a great deal of our funding goes to programs including HIV prevention, human rights programs, programs that are promoting fundamental freedoms, program funding that often goes through PEPFAR,” Psaki said. “Those are programs that, obviously, we continue to support.”

Homosexual acts were already illegal in Nigeria, but the new anti-gay law signed on Jan. 7 by Nigeria President Goodluck Jonathan goes further than the existing statutes.

It bans not only same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships, but also membership in LGBT organizations. Entering into a same-sex marriage or civil union is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, and membership in an LGBT organization is punishable with jail time of up to 10 years.

The State Department had previously said it was trying to verify reports that as many as 38 gay men have been arrested and 168 others are being pursued following passage of the anti-gay law. The Associated Press reported on Friday that arrests are spreading across Nigeria and dozens more individuals perceived to be gay have been rounded up and questioned.

But Psaki on Friday said wasn’t able to provide any confirmation about arrests in terms of numbers as she reiterated U.S. concern about the media reports.

“I don’t believe I have an update on the specific numbers that have been out there,” Psaki said. “Obviously, we have expressed our concerns about these reports, expressed our concerns about the legislation as well…It’s often difficult to confirm specific numbers along those lines.”

Will Stevens, a State Department spokesperson, later told the Blade the U.S. embassy in Nigeria is working to ascertain the number of individuals perceived to be gay arrested under the law. Stevens said the State Department would provide a response by Tuesday, but it’ll probably be a “squishy number” because of the changing situation.

Asked to respond to media reports that Uganda President Yoweri Museveni has returned the “anti-homosexuality” bill to parliament, which passed the measure last month, Psaki said she was unaware of the development.

“I haven’t seen that,” Psaki said. “I’m happy to check with our team and see if we have more details on that.”

A State Department official later told the Blade the United States continues to raise concerns about the legislation in Uganda and “welcome[s] reports” that some Ugandan leaders have expressed their  opposition to the bill.

“Since the 2009 introduction of this legislation, we have consistently registered our opposition at the highest levels of government, both in Washington and in Kampala, reiterating our long-standing opposition to legislation that discriminates against LGBT individuals,” the official said.

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District of Columbia

Taste of Point returns at critical time for queer students

BIPOC scholar to speak at Room & Board event on May 2

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A scene from the 2022 Taste of Point. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Point Foundation will kick off May with its annual Taste of Point DC event. The event will be hosted at Room & Board on 14th Street and feature a silent auction, food tastings, a speech from a scholar, and more. 

Point’s chief of staff, Kevin Wright, said that at Taste of Point, the scholars are the star of the show.

“People never come to an event to hear Point staff speak, they come to hear from the people most impacted by the program,” he said. “At its core Taste of Point is designed to center and highlight our scholars’ voices and experiences.”

This year, a Point BIPOC Scholar, Katherine Guerrero Rivera will speak at the event. 

“It is a great opportunity to highlight the scholars out there on the front lines making impacts in almost every sector and job field,” Wright said. 

Wright pointed out that this year especially is a pivotal time for LGBTQ students. 

“In 2023, there were 20 states that passed anti-LGBTQ legislation,” he said. “By this point in [2024] we already have more.”

Wright said the impacts of those legislative attacks are far reaching and that Point is continuously monitoring the impact they have on students on the ground. 

Last month, The Washington Post reported that states with anti-LGBTQ laws in place saw school hate crimes quadruple. This report came a month after a non-binary student, Nex Bennedict, died after being attacked at school. 

“So, we see this as a critical moment to really step up and help students who are facing these challenges on their campus,” Wright said. “Our mission is to continue to empower our scholars to achieve their full academic and leadership potential.” 

This year Point awarded nearly 600 LGBTQ students with scholarships. These include the flagship scholarship, community college scholarship and the BIPOC scholarship. When the foundation started in 2002, there were only eight scholarships awarded. 

Dr. Harjant Gill is one of those scholars who said the scholarship was pivotal for him. Gill said he spent his undergraduate years creating films and doing activism for the LGBTQ community. 

As a result, his academic record wasn’t stellar and although he was admitted into American University’s graduate program he had no clue how he would fund it. 

Upon arrival to American he was told to apply for a Point scholarship and the rest was history.

“It ended up being the one thing that kept me going otherwise I would have dropped out,” he said. “Point was incredibly instrumental in my journey to becoming an academic and a professor.”

More than a decade later, Gill serves on the host committee for Taste of Point and is a mentor to young Point scholars. He said that he donates money yearly to Point and that when he is asked what he wants for a gift he will often tell his friends to donate too.

To attend the event on Wednesday, May 2, purchase tickets at the Point website. If you can’t attend this year’s Taste of Point DC event but would like to get involved, you can also donate online. 

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State Department

State Department releases annual human rights report

Antony Blinken reiterates criticism of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

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(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday once again reiterated his criticism of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act upon release of the State Department’s annual human rights report.

“This year’s report also captures human rights abuses against members of vulnerable communities,” he told reporters. “In Afghanistan, the Taliban have limited work opportunities for women, shuttered institutions found educating girls, and increasing floggings for women and men accused of, quote, ‘immoral behavior,’ end quote. Uganda passed a draconian and discriminatory Anti-Homosexuality Act, threatening LGBTQI+ individuals with life imprisonment, even death, simply for being with the person they loved.”

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last May signed the law, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. subsequently imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials and removed the country from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. The World Bank Group also announced the suspension of new loans to Uganda.

Uganda’s Constitutional Court earlier this month refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.” More than a dozen Ugandan LGBTQ activists have appealed the ruling.

Clare Byarugaba of Chapter Four Uganda, a Ugandan LGBTQ rights group, on Monday met with National Security Council Chief-of-Staff Curtis Ried. Jay Gilliam, the senior LGBTQI+ coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, in February traveled to Uganda and met with LGBTQ activists who discussed the Anti-Homosexuality Act’s impact. 

“LGBTQI+ activists reported police arrested numerous individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity and subjected many to forced anal exams, a medically discredited practice with no evidentiary value that was considered a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and could amount to torture,” reads the human rights report.

The report, among other things, also notes Ugandan human rights activists “reported numerous instances of state and non-state actor violence and harassment against LGBTQI+ persons and noted authorities did not adequately investigate the cases.”

Report highlights anti-LGBTQ crackdowns in Ghana, Hungary, Russia

Ghanaian lawmakers on Feb. 28 approved the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill. The country’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, has said he will not sign the measure until the Ghanaian Supreme Court rules on whether it is constitutional or not.

The human rights report notes “laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults” and “crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex persons” are among the “significant human rights issues” in Ghana. 

The report documents Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and members of his right-wing Fidesz party’s continued rhetoric against “gender ideology.” It also notes Russia’s ongoing crackdown against LGBTQ people that includes reports of “state actors committed violence against LGBTQI+ individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly in Chechnya.”

The report specifically notes Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 24 signed a law that bans “legal gender recognition, medical interventions aimed at changing the sex of a person, and gender-affirming care.” It also points out Papua New Guinea is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

The Hungarian Parliament on April 4, 2024. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his right-wing Fidesz party in 2023 continued their anti-LGBTQ crackdown. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Cook Islands and Mauritius in decriminalized homosexuality in 2023.

The report notes the Namibia Supreme Court last May ruled the country must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed outside the country. The report also highlights the Indian Supreme Court’s ruling against marriage equality that it issued last October. (It later announced it would consider an appeal of the decision.)

Congress requires the State Department to release a human rights report each year. 

The Biden-Harris administration in 2021 released a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad.

The full report can be read here.

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Caribbean

Dominica High Court of Justice strikes down sodomy law

Gay man challenged statute in 2019

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Dominica flag (Public domain photo)

Dominica’s High Court of Justice on Monday struck down provisions of a law that criminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations.

A gay man who remains anonymous in 2019 challenged sections of the country’s Sexual Offenses Act that criminalized anal sex and “gross indecency” with up to 10 years and 12 years in prison respectively. The plaintiff argued the provisions violated his constitutional rights. 

The Dominica Equality and Sexual Expression Association and the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality, a group that advocates for LGBTQ and intersex rights in the region, in a press release noted the court in its ruling affirmed “the criminalization of consensual same-sex activity between adults is unconstitutional.” The groups added Justice Kimberly Cenac-Phulgence “declared that the laws commonly known as buggery and gross indecency laws, contravenes the constitution of the Commonwealth of Dominica, namely the right to liberty, freedom of expression, and protection of personal privacy.”

“It is long past time that the dignity and dreams of all Dominicans were recognized,” said DESEA Executive Director Sylvester Jno Baptiste in the press release. “We are all God’s children, and he loves us all equally. Laws that treat some Dominicans as less than others, have no place in a just society.” 

Dominica is a former British colony that is located between Guadeloupe and Martinique in the Lesser Antilles.  

Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago in recent years have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2021 issued a decision that said Jamaica must repeal its colonial-era sodomy law. The country’s Supreme Court last year ruled against a gay man who challenged it. 

A judge on St. Vincent and the Grenadines’s top court in February dismissed two cases that challenged the country’s sodomy laws.

“Decriminalization helps create an environment where LGBTQ individuals can live openly without fear of persecution, enabling them to access health care, education, and employment without facing discrimination,” said Outright Executive Director Maria Sjödin on Monday in response to the Dominica ruling. “The repeal of these discriminatory laws is a testament to the tireless efforts of activists, advocates, and allies who have long fought for justice and equality. It is a victory for human rights and a significant milestone in the ongoing struggle for LGBTQ rights in the Caribbean.”

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