December 19, 2019 at 6:10 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
State Department defends US ambassador to Zambia
U.S. Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote (Photo public domain)

The State Department on Thursday defended U.S. Ambassador to Zambia Daniel Foote after the country’s president said he should leave over his defense of a gay couple sentenced to 15 years in prison under a colonial-era sodomy law.

Media reports indicate Edgar Lungu on Sunday told ZNBC TV, a government-owned television station, his administration has “complained officially to the American government.”

“We are waiting for their response because we don’t want such people in our midst,” said Lungu, referring to Foote. “We want him gone.”

Foote late last month publicly criticized the sentencing of the two men who were convicted of “crimes against the order of nature.” Foote later said “threats made against me” prompted him to not attend World AIDS Day events.

“We are dismayed by the Zambian government’s statement that Ambassador Foote’s position ‘is no longer tenable,’ which we consider to be the equivalent of a declaration that the ambassador is persona non grata,” a State Department official told the Washington Blade in a statement. “Despite this action, the United States remains committed to our partnership with the Zambian people.”

“We seek an open and frank relationship of mutual respect, commensurate with the generous aid provided to the Zambian people by the United States,” added the official.

Zambia is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. The Trump administration earlier this year announced U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell would lead an initiative that encourages nations to decriminalize homosexuality.

“The Department of State works tirelessly to protect and promote the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all human beings around the world, regardless of gender, religious belief, national origin, sexual orientation, or economic circumstance,” said the State Department official. “The United States firmly opposes abuses against LGBTI persons. Governments have an obligation to ensure that all people can freely enjoy the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms to which they are entitled.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster on Thursday told the Blade that Foote was his “number two” when he represented the U.S. in Santo Domingo. Brewster, who was one of the openly gay U.S. ambassadors under the Obama administration, also noted Foote was in Haiti “immediately” after the 2010 earthquake that killed more than 100,000 people.

“I was so proud of him,” Brewster told the Blade, referring to Foote. “For the government of Zambia to come consider Ambassador Foote PNG (persona non grata) and ask for him to be removed because he has taken a position and reflected the values of the United States as it pertains to global equality is disheartening.”

“Every LGBTQ person around the globe should boycott all tourism and commerce to Zambia until they embrace humanity,” added Brewster.

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

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