July 25, 2014 at 6:05 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Obama urged to highlight LGBT rights during Africa summit

Barack Obama, ENDA, United States of America, Democratic Party, gay news, Washington Blade

Advocates have urged President Obama to highlight LGBT rights during an upcoming summit with African heads of state in D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key).

More than a dozen advocacy organizations on Friday urged President Obama to highlight LGBT rights during an upcoming Africa summit that will take place in D.C. early next month.

“Unfortunately, across much of the African continent today, the contributions of LGBT communities are denied
 or denigrated; their relationships and organizations are criminalized,” wrote the organizations that include the Council for Global Equality, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce and Amnesty International in a letter to Obama. “Hostile political rhetoric seeks to deny their rightful place in African society.”

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is among those who are expected to attend the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit that will take place at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington between Aug. 4-6.

Obama is scheduled to speak at the summit on Aug. 5 before the White House hosts a dinner in honor of the gathering.

“Given how some African governments deny the rights of their LGBT citizens, and the unique role that civil society plays in defending those rights, we urge you to include civil society voices in the official meeting of African leaders during the summit,” reads the letter from the LGBT advocacy groups.

The summit will take place less than six months after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill that imposes a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

The White House subsequently cut aid to the East African country that funded HIV/AIDS programs and other initiatives. The Obama administration last month announced a travel ban against Ugandan officials responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses.

Jonathan in January signed a draconian bill into law that punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison. The statute also prohibits anyone from officiating a gay union, bans same-sex “amorous relationships” and membership in an LGBT advocacy group.

Nigeria is among the dozens of African countries in which consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal. Homosexuality remains punishable by death in Mauritania, Sudan and portions of northern Nigeria and Somalia.

Secretary of State John Kerry in February said he was “deeply troubled” by Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s description of gay men as “vermin” during a speech that commemorated the West African country’s independence from the U.K. The U.S. in recent years has also criticized Cameroon and Zimbabwe over crackdowns on LGBT rights advocates.

Anti-LGBT violence remains rampant in South Africa, even though the country is among those that have extended marriage rights to same-sex couples.

“We are confident that with your support, and the robust contribution of civil society, the Summit will provide a unique opportunity to emphasize that LGBT and other marginalized communities suffer disproportionately from governance deficits, and that too many governments scapegoat LGBT individuals to distract public attention away from those structural failures,” write the LGBT advocacy groups in their letter to Obama. “The economic themes of the conference also provide an opportunity to emphasize that homophobia, transphobia and related forms of intolerance have economic costs, including to the trade and investment environments in emerging markets.”

“We are grateful for your leadership in recognizing the rights of LGBT individuals in this country, and for your administration’s principled stand in support of the rights of LGBT citizens abroad,” they add. “We trust you will use the opportunity of the Africa Leaders Summit to advance these commitments to human rights and human dignity for all.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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