January 27, 2016 at 8:00 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Randy Berry travels to southern Africa

Randy Berry, gay news, Washington Blade

Special U.S. Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry this month traveled to four countries in southern Africa. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Special U.S. Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry this month spent more than a week traveling through southern Africa.

Berry on Jan. 18 met with Rev. MacDonald Sembereka, national coordinator of Manerela, a group that advocates on behalf of people with HIV/AIDS, and other Malawian advocates at U.S. Ambassador to Malawi Virginia Palmer’s official residence in the country’s capital of Lilongwe.

“International solidarity is key in the human rights work we do because it affirms activists in their rather isolated world,” Sembereka told the Blade. “Hence meeting Randy was an important affirmative action from the U.S. government. It further allowed us to share strategies moving forward.”

“We also shared our fears,” he added. “Otherwise it was a cordial and friendly meeting.”

Berry also traveled to Namibia and Botswana.

He met with representatives of Out-Right Namibia, a Namibian LGBT advocacy group, at U.S. Ambassador to Namibia Thomas Daughton’s official residence in the country’s capital of Windhoek.

Members of Lesbians Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana on Jan. 21 were among those who attended a dinner with Berry that took place at U.S. Ambassador to Botswana Earl Miller’s official residence in the country’s capital of Gaborone.

Kat Kai Kol-Kes, founder of Botswana’s Queer Shorts Showcase, told the Blade that former Botswanan President Festus Mogae and Margaret Nasha, the former speaker of the Botswanan Parliament, were among those at the event. Dick Bayford, a lawyer who is representing Lesbians Gays and Bisexuals of Botswana in their case against the Botswanan government over its inability to legally register, also attended.

“He was warmly received by the group of activists and civil servants from various groups in Gaborone,” Kol-Kes told the Blade.

The U.S. Embassy in Botswana on Monday posted pictures to its Facebook and Twitter pages that show Berry speaking with “representatives of the private and government media.”

The U.S. Consulate in Cape Town, South Africa, on Monday posted a picture of Berry speaking with a group of South African LGBT rights advocates.

Berry met with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex refugees in Cape Town. He also spoke with journalists from the Child Radio Foundation, which operates a network of radio stations in five African countries.

Berry on Wednesday is scheduled to meet with South African advocates and government officials in the country’s administrative capital of Pretoria.

Advocates increasingly visible, despite challenges

Consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized in Botswana, Malawi, Namibia and dozens of other African countries.

Anti-LGBT discrimination and violence, which includes so-called corrective rape of lesbians in South Africa, remains rampant throughout the region. Advocates nevertheless contend they have made some progress on LGBT-specific issues over the last decades.

South Africa in 1994 became the first country in the world to add a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation into its constitution.

Then-President Nelson Mandela in 1994 nominated Edwin Cameron, a gay man with HIV, to sit on South Africa’s highest court.

Same-sex couples have been able to legally marry in South Africa since 2006.

Mogae in a recent interview with the Africa Section of the U.N. Department of Public Information expressed his support for LGBT rights advocates in Botswana and across Africa.

Then-Malawian President Joyce Banda in 2012 suspended all laws that criminalize homosexuality in her country.

Sembereka and other Malawian advocates last April criticized the country’s new marriage law on the grounds that it subjects LGBT people to additional discrimination. Malawian Justice Minister Samuel Tembenu last month said authorities will not prosecute gay people under anti-LGBT statutes while lawmakers debate them.

Envoy traveled to Uganda last July

Berry last April assumed his post within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

The career Foreign Service officer previously served in South Africa, Uganda and other overseas posts before Secretary of State John Kerry in February 2015 officially announced his appointment.

Berry last July met with Ugandan government officials and advocates in their country’s capital of Kampala.

“I’m going to be partnering not only with like-minded governments,” Berry told the Blade shortly after he assumed his post.

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

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