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U.S. envoy for global LGBTQ, intersex rights cancels Indonesia trip

Prominent Islamic group criticized Jessica Stern’s planned visit

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Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad. (Photo courtesy of OutRight International)

The special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad’s trip to Indonesia has been cancelled after the country’s most prominent Islamic group criticized.

Jessica Stern had been scheduled to arrive in Indonesia on Dec. 7.

The Washington Post reported Anwar Abbas, the vice chair of the Indonesian Ulema Council, in a statement on Friday said the group “cannot accept guests whose purpose of coming here is to damage and mess up the noble values of our nation’s religion and culture.”

U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Sung Kim in a statement announced Stern would no longer travel to the country.

“One of the reasons the United States and Indonesia have such a strong relationship is that we both uphold values such as democracy, human rights, diversity and tolerance. Those values should apply to every member of society, including LGBTQI+ persons,” said Kim. “In every country, dialogue about human rights is crucial. Dialogue, after all, is fundamental to democracy. Advanced democracies oppose hatred, intolerance and violence against any group of people, and encourage dialogue that reflects the broad diversity of their societies.”

“While we look forward to continuing our dialogue with religious leaders, government officials and members of the public on the important topic of ensuring respect for the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons, after discussions with our counterparts in the Indonesian government, we have decided to cancel Special Envoy Stern’s visit to Indonesia,” added Kim. “Knowing that around the world LGBTQI+ persons experience disproportionate levels of violence and discrimination, it is important to continue the dialogue and ensure mutual respect for one another, rather than pretending that the issues do not exist. Countries like Indonesia and the United States can learn from one another about how to counter hatred and ensure more prosperous, inclusive societies for all.”

A State Department spokesperson on Friday told the Washington Blade that “after discussions with counterparts in the Indonesian government and with Indonesian human rights advocates, Special Envoy Jessica Stern and Ambassador Sung Kim decided to cancel the special envoy’s visit to Indonesia planned for Dec. 7-9.” 

“We will continue to work with our Indonesian partners to promote democracy, human rights, diversity and tolerance,” said the spokesperson.

“While we are disappointed that Special Envoy Stern will not travel to Indonesia at this time, it is important to continue the dialogue and ensure mutual respect for every member of society, including LGBTQI+ persons,” added the spokesperson. “Indonesia is a valued partner of the United States, and we seek to work together with Indonesia to counter hatred and intolerance and build more prosperous, inclusive societies.”

President Joe Biden in February 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations are decriminalized in most of Indonesia, but officials in Aceh province in 2021 caned two men under Shariah law after their neighbors caught them having sex. The Indonesian government in recent years has faced criticism over its LGBTQ and intersex rights record.

Authorities in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, in 2017 arrested 51 people who were attending a “gay party” at a sauna. The closure of an Islamic school for transgender people in the city of Yogyakarta in 2016 also sparked outrage.

Indonesian lawmakers are currently debating a bill that would criminalize sex outside of marriage.

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State Department

Ned Price named UN ambassador’s deputy

Former State Department spokesperson is gay

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Former State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Institute's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield has announced former State Department spokesperson Ned Price will manage her D.C. office.

Thomas-Greenfield in a statement to Politico on Feb. 16 said Price’s “judgment and expertise will be a tremendous asset to me and the entire USUN team.” Price, who is gay, in a post to his personal X account acknowledged his appointment.

“I am grateful to (U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield), (Secretary of State Antony Blinken) and my colleagues across the administration for the opportunity to help promote America’s interests and values in the U.N. and broader multilateral system together with our allies and partners,” wrote Price.

Price on Jan. 20, 2021, became the first openly gay State Department spokesperson. He stepped down in March 2023 in order to become a senior advisor to Blinken.

Price was previously a senior communications official for the National Security Council and worked at the Central Intelligence Agency.

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State Department

Blinken visits Nigeria

State Department has not said whether LGBTQ rights specifically raised

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Nigerian President Bola Tinubu in Abuja, Nigeria, on Jan. 23, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Blinken's X account)

The State Department has not said whether Secretary of State Antony Blinken specifically raised LGBTQ rights during his trip to Nigeria last week. 

Blinken was in the country between Jan. 23-24. He also visited Cabo Verde, Cote d’Ivoire and Angola while in Africa.

A State Department spokesperson on Jan. 26 told the Washington Blade that Blinken while in Africa “had private conversations with public sector representatives engaged in the health field and with civil society representatives involved in human rights, democracy, education and food security work.”  

Jan. 24 post on Blinken’s X account includes a picture of him meeting with representatives of Nigerian civil society organizations. The post does not indicate whether any of those with whom Blinken met represent LGBTQ advocacy groups and/or identify as LGBTQ.

“Nigerian civil society organizations are critical to strengthening institutions and protecting human rights,” said Blinken. “I sat down with a few leaders to discuss the U.S.-Nigeria partnership to work on shared challenges and deliver on the fundamental aspirations of our peoples.”

Blinken also visited the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research in Lagos, the country’s largest city.

“The work that the U.S. and Nigeria are doing together goes back to the start of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the extraordinary PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) program,” said Blinken on a Jan. 24 X post. “I had the opportunity to tour the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research and see firsthand the work they are doing to improve public health.”

Blinken on Jan. 23 met with President Bola Tinubu in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, and later held a joint press conference with Foreign Affairs Minister Yusuf Tuggar.

“As I told the president and the foreign minister, the United States will support Nigeria as it works to bring about a more secure, a more peaceful and a more prosperous future for its people,” said Blinken. 

“Fundamentally, this outcome is an investment in the foundations of an inclusive, democratic society — a focus on equal opportunity for all regardless of ethnicity, religion or any other group distinction,” he added. “That helps build the social cohesion. That also deters banditry, deters terrorism, deters violent extremism.” 

Blinken during the press conference also highlighted PEPFAR and its work in Nigeria.

“Over the last 20 years, we’ve invested $8.3 billion in HIV and tuberculosis prevention, care, and treatment and in strengthening the public health system, reaching millions of Nigerians,” he said. “That effort will continue.”

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that commits the U.S. to the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. 

Vice President Kamala Harris last March spoke about LGBTQ rights during a press conference with Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo in Accra, the country’s capital.

Ghana and Nigeria are among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. Homosexuality remains punishable by death in areas of Nigeria that are under Sharia law.

Then-Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014 signed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act that, among other things, punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage in his country with up to 14 years in prison and bans membership in an LGBTQ advocacy group.

Authorities in Gombe state last October arrested 76 people who were “celebrating homosexual birthdays” and planning to “hold a same-sex marriage.” 

Police in Delta state last August took into custody more than 200 people who were attending a same-sex wedding at a hotel. Authorities later paraded some of those who were arrested in front of journalists. 

LGBTQ elected officials from d.c. and maryland participate in a protest with activists outside the nigerian embassy in northwest washington on sept. 12, 2023. (washington blade video by michael k. lavers)

“In our own programming and diplomatic engagements, we work with international partners in bilateral and multilateral forums to encourage strong and sustained support for democratic governance, respect for the human rights of all, labor rights, media freedom, a strong civil society and government transparency and accountability,” said the State Department spokesperson with whom the Blade spoke on Jan 26.

The spokesperson earlier in the week noted the promotion of “democracy, good governance and respect for human rights of all persons is at the center of our foreign policy, including in our relationships with our African partners.” 

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State Department

State Department urges Burundian government to respect human rights

Country’s president on Dec. 30 called for public stoning of gay people

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Burundian President Évariste Ndayishimiye (Screen capture via Gentil Gedeon Official YouTube)

A State Department spokesperson on Thursday urged Burundian leaders to respect human rights.

“We call on all of Burundi’s leaders to respect the inherent dignity and universal rights, including equal access to justice, of every member of Burundian society,” the spokesperson told the Washington Blade in a statement.

Burundian President Évariste Ndayishimiye on Dec. 30 said gay people should be publicly stoned. He also said any Burundian who lives outside the country and openly identifies as LGBTQ should not return. 

Activists and French MP Marie Lebec are among those who sharply criticized Ndayishimiye’s comments. The statement the State Department spokesperson sent to the Blade does not specifically reference LGBTQ people. (President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. The White House subsequently appointed Jessica Stern as the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad.)

“Respect for and support for human rights promotes peace, security and prosperity,” the State Department spokesperson told the Blade. “That respect is an essential precursor to spur the economic growth necessary to improve conditions for all Burundians.”

The spokesperson added the U.S. “condemns calls for violence or discrimination against any individuals for exercising their human rights.”      

“The United States is committed to promoting respect for the human rights of all individuals, at home and abroad,” said the spokesperson. ”Promoting respect for and protection of the human rights of all individuals is a U.S. foreign policy priority, and the Biden-Harris administration is committed to ensuring U.S. diplomacy and development reflects this.”

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