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Activists differ over calls to cut Uganda aid

Funding of government programs curtailed over anti-gay law

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Dickson Mujuni, RPL AIDS Foundation, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade
Dickson Mujuni, RPL AIDS Foundation, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

Dickson Mujuni of the RPL AIDS Foundation in Uganda working with youth
peer educators in the East African country. (Photo courtesy of Dickson
Mujuni)

LGBT rights advocates in Uganda and other countries continue to disagree over whether the East African nation should lose foreign aid over a law that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

BuzzFeed late on Sunday reported the Obama administration will divert $6.4 million originally earmarked for the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda – which backs the Anti-Homosexuality Act that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed last month – to other organizations. The website also noted a study designed to identify groups at risk for HIV/AIDS the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had planned to conduct with a Ugandan university has been suspended.

Jonathan Lalley, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, told BuzzFeed the Obama administration will also redirect roughly $3 million that had been earmarked to promote tourism and biodiversity to non-governmental organizations that work on the issue. The website further reported the Pentagon has suspended or cancelled “near-term invitational travel” for Ugandan officials and plans to relocate events that had been scheduled to take place in the East African country in the coming weeks and months.

Dickson Mujuni of the RPL AIDS Foundation told the Washington Blade on Monday the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda should not receive U.S. aid because he said HIV/AIDS programs the group funds “don’t consider” the “most at-risk populations.”

“Those leaders themselves have been promoting homophobia, putting pressure on the president to assent to the AHB (Anti-Homosexuality Bill) which he did and commending him for signing that bill into law,” he said.

Frank Mugisha, executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, a Ugandan LGBT advocacy group, offered a different perspective.

“I don’t support aid cuts in any form,” he told the Blade. “People should know that those are country policies which don’t comply with legislation such as the anti-gay law.”

A number of African advocates who traveled to New York last December to attend the 65th anniversary of the U.N. General Assembly’s ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights told the Blade they oppose efforts to cut foreign aid to Uganda and other countries over their country’s LGBT rights records.

“We’re not asking the U.K. or foreign governments to cut aid to Africa,” said Juliet Mphande, executive director of Rainka Zambia, during a briefing the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission hosted. “LGBTI individuals are also Africans, so ultimately we all benefit from that aid.”

Ben Summerskill, who recently stepped down as chief executive of Stonewall U.K., last December applauded British Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to directly channel foreign aid to non-governmental organizations in Uganda and other countries with controversial human rights records. Summerskill spoke to the Blade in New Hampshire hours after the Ugandan Parliament approved the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

“I don’t think any LGBT campaigner, however strongly they feel about Uganda, would think that it was a good thing that people should starve just so we feel we’re making some progress around human rights for gay people,” said Summerskill.

The Obama administration last month announced after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law that it had begun a review of its relationship with Uganda.

A CDC-funded program that fully or partially funded the salaries of 87 employees of the Ugandan Ministry of Health who support the country’s HIV/AIDS response ended on Feb. 28. The World Bank, the Netherlands and other European countries have also cut aid or postponed loans to the East African country after Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Uganda receives nearly $300 million each year through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to fight the epidemic in the East African country. The Ugandan government in 2013 received more than $485 million in aid from the U.S.

The Washington Post on Sunday reported the White House will send 150 Air Force special operations personnel and several aircraft to Uganda to help the country’s government track down Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army whom the International Criminal Court has indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity that stem from the group’s decades long insurgency against the Ugandan government. The Lord’s Resistance Army is among the issues that U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and four other members of Congress discussed with Museveni during a meeting on Jan. 23.

The delegation did not meet with Ugandan LGBT rights advocates while in the country, but Inhofe has repeatedly expressed his opposition to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill to the Blade.

“I certainly disagree with the controversial legislation that Uganda may enact in the coming days,” said the Oklahoma Republican before Museveni signed the measure into law. “It is my hope that the country will abandon this unjust and harsh legislation.”

Mugisha is among the Ugandan human rights advocates who signed onto a challenge of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law filed with the country’s Constitutional Court earlier this month.

“We are cognizant that there are many who share our concerns about Ugandan President Museveni’s recent enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act,” said Grant Harris and Stephen Pomper of the National Security Council on Monday. “Ensuring justice and accountability for human rights violators like the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] and protecting LGBT rights aren’t mutually exclusive. We can and must do both.”

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Florida

Miami hotel liquor license may be revoked over a drag show

State’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco targets business

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Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Miami. (Photo by dennizn/Bigstock)

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration is in the process of revoking the Hyatt Regency Miami’s alcohol license after the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation determined that the hotel’s affiliated James L. Knight Center had hosted “A Drag Queen Christmas” performed Dec. 27 with minors present in the audience.

The Knight Center is a major South Florida venue and has previously hosted the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants. The venue’s main room can seat 4,600 people.

This is the third time the state’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, which operates under the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, has targeted a business that hosted a drag show.

A popular restaurant and pub in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood is also under threat of losing its liquor license. The R House identifies itself on its Facebook page as “the proud home of South Florida’s most popular weekend drag brunches.”

The July 2022 complaint filed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation asks for a final order that the R House restaurant is a declared a public nuisance and has its liquor license revoked. 

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, the complaint was issued after a video of a recent performance at the bar’s drag brunch went viral. A topless drag queen wearing lingerie stuffed with money can be seen in the video attempting to dance with a young girl, who the DPBR estimates is “between three and five years old.” Twitter account “Libs of Tik Tok” originally found the footage on Tik Tok, posted by a user who wrote, “Children belong at drag shows!!!! Children deserve to see fun and expression & freedom.”

In late December “A Drag Queen Christmas” was hosted by the Orlando non-profit Orlando Philharmonic Plaza Foundation on Dec. 28, filing a complaint alleging that children under age 18 were allowed to attend.

The complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic alleged the foundation violated Florida law in allowing for a person to “commit lewd or lascivious exhibition” in the presence of an individual who is less than 16 years old.

In this latest targeting of the show, which is a holiday-themed drag show that tours in 36 different cities and features stars from the reality show “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Insider webzine journalist Kimberly Leonard reported that the DeSantis administration officials accused the Knight Center of several violations, including a prohibition of “lascivious exhibition” before people younger than 16, mirroring the December complaint against the Orlando Philharmonic.

The department’s complaint said performers engaged in “acts of simulated sexual activity, and lewd, vulgar, and indecent displays” that included:

  • Performers forcibly penetrating or rubbing exposed prosthetic female breasts against faces of audience members
  • Intentionally exposing performers’ prosthetic female breasts and genitalia to the audience
  • Intentionally exposing performers’ buttocks to the audience
  • Simulating masturbation through performers’ digitally penetrating prosthetic female genital
  • Graphic depictions of childbirth and/or abortion

Hyatt Regency Miami is allowed to keep selling alcohol until the department makes a final decision. The business has 21 days to request a hearing, Beth Pannell, spokeswoman for the department, told Insider.

Regulators had warned the facility to change how it marketed the show before it went live, according to a copy of the letter included in the complaint. The letter accused the marketers of putting on a performance that constitutes “public nuisances, lewd activity, and disorderly conduct” when minors are present.

News of this latest action was first reported by far-right conservative internet based outlet Florida’s Voice.

As more and more Republican states target drag shows, in just the past few weeks, Tennessee became the first to ban adult performances, including drag, from public spaces such as parks and schools. 

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U.S. Military/Pentagon

New VA mission statement recognizes commitment to all veterans

‘To fulfill [Lincoln’s] promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military & for their families, caregivers, & survivors’

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VA Secretary Denis McDonough. (Screenshot/YouTube)

In a speech delivered Thursday at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial (WIMSA), located at the main entrance to Arlington National Cemetery in suburban Virginia, VA Secretary Denis McDonough announced the Department of Veterans Affairs has issued an updated version of its 1959 mission statement.

The new mission statement is: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.”

As the VA secretary commenced his remarks, he honored several notable women in the audience including Brenda S. “Sue” Fulton, the assistant secretary of veterans affairs for public and intergovernmental affairs.

Fulton, is a 1980 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., which was the Academy’s first class to admit women. She is an out lesbian and served as a founding board member of Knights Out, the organization of LGBTQ West Point graduates, and later worked with OutServe, the association of actively-serving LGBTQ military members and SPARTA, an LGBTQ military group advocating for transgender military service.

“Whenever any veteran, family member, caregiver, or survivor walks by a VA facility, we want them to see themselves in the mission statement on the outside of the building,” said Secretary McDonough. “We are here to serve all veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors — and now, our mission statement reflects exactly that.”

In crafting the new mission statement, VA surveyed roughly 30,000 Veterans. Among veterans surveyed, the new version of VA’s mission statement was chosen over the current version by every age group; by men and by women; by LGBTQ+ veterans; and by white, Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian and American Indian/Alaska Native Veterans.

In addition to two rounds of surveys, VA conducted dozens of small-group engagements with veterans to understand what was most important to them in a VA mission statement, then incorporated that feedback into quantitative research. The new mission statement reflects that VA serves all of the heroes who have served our country, regardless of their race, gender, background, sexual orientation, religion, zip code or identity.

The previous mission statement was: “To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan’ by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.” The previous mission statement is posted in roughly 50 percent of VA’s facilities. Over the coming months, VA’s new mission statement will replace the previous version.

VA announces new mission statement, recognizing sacred commitment to serve all who served:

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Michigan

Mich. governor signs statewide LGBTQ rights law

‘Bigotry is bad for business’

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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on March 16, 2023, signed an LGBTQ rights bill into law. (Photo courtesy of Whitmer's office)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act on Thursday, which expands basic protections for the LGBTQ community.

The measure, Senate Bill 4, was sponsored by openly gay state Sen. Jeremy Moss who less than a year previously had been shot down by the Republican majority as he attempted to have a non-binding resolution to recognize “Pride Month” adopted by the Senate.

In her signing remarks, Whitmer noted: “In the words of Detroit native Lizzo, it’s about damn time! Bigotry is bad for business. Come to Michigan, you will be respected and protected under the law.”

“As Equality Michigan celebrates this historic step forward, we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Generations of activists have inspired us to fight for justice and equality for all LGBTQ+ Michiganders, and our community has been working to update our state’s civil rights law to explicitly include sexual orientation, gender identity and expression in every single legislative session since Elliott-Larsen was first adopted,” Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott said in a statement. “We applaud Gov. Whitmer for signing this bill into law, and are humbled by this pro-equality legislature that made amending ELCRA a top priority. Senator Jeremy Moss and Rep. Jason Hoskins introduced this legislation and championed it all the way through to the finish line.” 

“The victory we have today in Michigan is a great one, but it’s also one we don’t take lightly at this moment. Let it not be lost on us that this privilege, however hard-earned, is a unique one that exists amid a nationwide political assault on LGBTQ+ people, especially trans and non-binary youth, and their families,” added Knott. “There are over 400 anti-trans bills moving across state legislatures in the US, twice the amount introduced last year.”

“This bill being signed into law is a beacon of hope and sends a powerful message of acceptance to LGBTQ people across the nation. At the Trevor Project, we work every day to protect the lives of LGBTQ youth, and days like today prove that in generations to come, both their legal and lived equality will no longer be fodder for political debate,” said Troy Stevenson, director of state advocacy campaigns for the Trevor Project. “Our research shows that having at least one accepting adult can reduce the risk of a suicide attempt among LGBTQ young people by 40 percent. We applaud the elected leaders, advocates and Gov. Whitmer for making this a reality, and affirming the dignity and rights of LGBTQ Michiganders by codifying these protections into law.”

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