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U.S. officials postpone Uganda PEPFAR meeting

April 25 letter cites need to assess Anti-Homosexuality Act impacts

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a World AIDS Day event in D.C. hosted by the Business Council for International Understanding on Dec. 2, 2022. U.S. officials have postponed a Uganda PEPFAR meeting in order to assess the Anti-Homosexuality Act's impact on the program. (Screen capture via U.S. Department of State YouTube)

American officials have postponed a meeting on the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief’s work in Uganda in order to assess the potential impact the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act will have on it. 

Uganda PEPFAR Country Coordinator Mary Borgman on April 25 sent a letter to the PEPFAR Uganda Country Operational Plan 2023 on behalf of Amb. John Nkengasong, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Health Diplomacy who oversees PEPFAR.

“I want to thank you for your diligent efforts during the past several weeks for developing the Uganda COP23 plans in a highly complex and shifting landscape,” said Nkengasong in the letter.

“In light of the recent developments with the potential signing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) and how that could impact our ability to provide services and assistance, I have made the decision to postpone the Final COP Presentation meeting previously scheduled for April 28,” he wrote. “This postponement will allow us more time to collectively and effectively assess the legal and programmatic implications of the evolving legislation and broder environment in Uganda, which impacts PEPFAR-supported HIV/AIDS programs, and make relevant adjustments in order to resolve COP23 plans as appropriate.”

Nkengasong stressed he is “grateful for the resilience and grace that the team has shown during this difficult time.”

“With regards to current programming, we will continue to assess the needs of PEPFAR Uganda and adapt programs as required to ensure the safety of our staff and beneficiaries and help ensure access to health services remains intact,” he added.

Ugandan MPs in March passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The bill, among other things, would impose the death penalty upon anyone convicted of “aggrevated homosexuality.” 

Treatment Action Group Government Relations and Policy Associate Kendall Martinez-Wright last week during a protest outside the Ugandan embassy in D.C. noted the Anti-Homosexuality Act “will hamper the already struggling efforts in terms of eradicating HIV.” Other activists who spoke noted Family Watch International, an Arizona-based group the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as a hate group, have cultivated strong ties with Ugandan lawmakers who put forth the bill.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ and intersex issues, are among those who have sharply criticized the Anti-Homosexuality Act. Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, last month during a panel with four Ugandan activists the Center for Strategic and International Studies hosted said the Biden-Harris administration is “investing the potential impact of the Anti-Homosexuality Act on U.S. foreign assistance.”

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, in a letter he sent to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on April 25 asked them to reconsider Uganda’s participation in the African Growth and Opportunity Act if the Anti-Homosexuality Act becomes law.

“As you know, Uganda is a beneficiary of AGOA, which was signed into law in 2000. AGOA provides duty-free treatment to imports originating from beneficiary African countries. However, beneficiaries of AGOA must meet certain eligibility criteria, one of which is to not engage in ‘gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.’” wrote Wyden. “Relevant to this criterion, jurisprudence in international human rights law clearly supports respect for an individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity as integral to fundamental human rights.”

“For this reason, I strongly urge you to communicate immediately to the Ugandan government, and President Yoweri Museveni directly, that Uganda’s beneficiary status under AGOA will be revoked should he sign the legislation and allow it to be enacted,” added the Oregon Democrat. “President Museveni was an early and active proponent of AGOA and knows first-hand the significance of the legislation and the seriousness that Congress employed in shaping it. The significance of Uganda losing its AGOA beneficiary status will not be lost on President Museveni and other leaders in sub-Saharan Africa.”

The Washington Blade has reached out to the State Department for comment on Wyden’s letter.

Museveni, meanwhile, on April 20 sent the Anti-Homosexuality Act back to Parliament for additional consideration before he signs it.

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State Department

State Department releases 2022 human rights report

Conversion therapy, treatment of intersex people documented

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The State Department (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The State Department’s annual human rights report that was released on Monday details the prevalence of so-called conversion therapy and the treatment of intersex people around the world.

The report notes LGBTQ and intersex rights groups in Kenya have “reported an increase in so-called conversion therapy and ‘corrective rape’ practices, including forced marriages, exorcisms, physical violence, psychological violence, or detainment.” The report cites the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights that said “infants and children born with physical sex characteristics that did not align with either a typical male or female body were subjected to harmful medical practices for years in attempt to ‘normalize’ them.” 

A landmark law that extended legal protections to intersex Kenyans took effect last July.

The report notes “many reports of conversion attempts conducted or recommended by evangelical and Catholic churches” in Brazil, even though the country has banned conversion therapy. It also cites the case of Magomed Askhabov, a man from the Russian republic of Dagestan who “demanded a criminal case be opened” against a rehabilitation center in the city of Khasavyurt in which he and other residents “were physically abused and subjected to forced prayer as part of their ‘treatment’ for homosexuality.”

“There were reports police conducted involuntary physical exams of transgender or intersex persons,” notes the report. “The Association of Russian-speaking Intersex reported that medical specialists often pressured intersex persons (or their parents if they were underage) into having so-called normalization surgery without providing accurate information about the procedure or what being intersex meant.”

The report notes Afghan culture “insists on compulsory heterosexuality, which forced LGBTQI+ individuals to acquiesce to life-altering decisions made by family members or society.” The report also refers to LGBTQ and intersex activists in the Philippines who criticized former President Rodrigo Duterte after he “mockingly” endorsed conversion therapy and joked he had “cured” himself of homosexuality.

The report indicates “social, cultural and religious intolerance” in Kiribati “led to recurrent attempts to ‘convert’ LGBTQI+ individuals informally through family, religious, medical, educational, or other community pressures.”

Hungarian law “prohibits transgender or intersex individuals from changing their assigned sex/gender at birth on legal and identification documents and there is therefore no mechanism for legal gender recognition.” The report also cites statistics from the Háttér Society, a Hungarian LGBTQ and intersex rights group, that indicate one out of 10 LGBTQ and intersex Hungarians have “gone through some form of ‘conversion therapy.'”

The report notes then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government in April 2022 announced plans to ban conversion therapy based on sexual orientation in England and Wales. Activists sharply criticized the exclusion of transgender people from the proposal, and the British government later cancelled an LGBTQ and intersex rights conference after advocacy groups announced a boycott.

‘Human rights are universal’

Congress requires the State Department to release a human rights report each year. 

President Joe Biden last June signed a sweeping LGBTQ and intersex rights executive order. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the beginning of this year’s report notes the mandate directed the State Department to “specifically include enhanced reporting on so-called conversion ‘therapy’ practices, which are forced or involuntary efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, as well as additional reporting on the performance of unnecessary surgeries on intersex persons.” 

“Human rights are universal,” Blinken told reporters on Monday as he discussed the report. “They aren’t defined by any one country, philosophy, or region. They apply to everyone, everywhere.”

The Biden-Harris administration in 2021 released a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad.

The State Department released the report hours before U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield hosted a meeting at the United Nations that focused on the integration of LGBTQ and intersex rights into the U.N. Security Council’s work.

Lawmakers in Uganda on Tuesday approved a bill that would further criminalize LGBTQ and intersex people in the country. Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in dozens of other countries around the world.

Activists in Ukraine with whom the Washington Blade has spoken since Russia launched its war against the country in February 2022 have said LGBTQ and intersex people who lived in Russia-controlled areas feared Russian soldiers would target them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The report’s release also coincides with Republican efforts to curtail LGBTQ rights in states across the U.S.

Volunteers with the Parasol Patrol, a group that protects children and young people from protesters at drag queen story hours and other LGBTQ-specific events in the U.S., at a recent protest. (Photo by Jon Farina)

The report notes LGBTQ and intersex rights advances around the world in 2022.

Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis and Singapore decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations last year. 

The report notes Chile’s marriage equality law took effect on March 10, 2022, but lists violence against LGBTQ and intersex people as one of the “significant human rights issues” in the country. Switzerland, Slovenia and Cuba also extended marriage rights to same-sex couples in 2022.

Jaime Nazar, left, Javier Silva with their two children shortly after they married in Santiago, Chile, on March 10, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The report cites the case of Brenda Díaz, a trans Cuban woman with HIV who is serving a 14-year prison sentence because she participated in an anti-government protest in July 2021. The report also notes several LGBTQ and intersex journalists — including Nelson Álvarez Mairata and Jancel Moreno — left the country because of government harassment and threats. 

The Cuban government also blocked the websites of Tremenda Nota, the Blade’s media partner on the island, and other independent news outlets. 

The full report can be found here:

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State Department

State Department spokesperson to step down

Ned Price is first openly gay person named to role

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State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Institute's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. Price, who is openly gay, will step down at the end of the month. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

State Department spokesperson Ned Price will step down at the end of this month.

Price has been at the State Department since the first day of the Biden-Harris administration, and is the first openly gay person named to the role. Price was previously a senior communications official for the National Security Council and worked at the Central Intelligence Agency.

“Ned began as spokesperson on January 20, 2021,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday in a press release that announced Price’s resignation. “Within days of taking on the role, he restored the department’s daily press briefings, giving journalists the chance to regularly ask tough questions of our policy. Throughout the more than 200 briefings he has since held, he’s treated journalists — as well as colleagues and everyone else he interacts with — with respect.”   

“Ned has helped the U.S. government defend and promote press freedom around the globe and modeled the transparency and openness we advocate for in other countries,” added Blinken. “His contributions will benefit the department long after his service.”

Blinken said Price’s “firm grasp of the policies underlying our messaging made him that much more effective in his role.”

On a personal level, I have constantly benefited from his counsel, as have so many members of the department,” said Blinken. “Fortunately, I’ll be able to continue to do that, as Ned will continue to serve at State, working directly for me.”  

“For people in America and around the world, Ned Price has often been a face and voice of U.S. foreign policy,” added Blinken. “He’s performed with extraordinary professionalism and integrity. On behalf of the department, I thank Ned for his remarkable service.”

Price during a May 2021 interview with the Washington Blade said the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the five priorities for the Biden-Harris administration in its efforts to promote LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad.

Blinken last June spoke to this reporter and five other LGBTQ and intersex journalists during a roundtable at the State Department. Price and Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for LGBTQ and intersex rights, are among those who also participated.

Russia’s continued crackdown on LGBTQ and intersex rights are among the issues about which Price spoke during his briefings. Price’s tenure also coincided with WNBA star Brittney Griner’s arrest in Moscow, and her eventual release from a Russian penal colony where she had been serving a 9-year sentence after a court convicted her of smuggling drugs into the country.

The State Department has not announced who will succeed Price.

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State Department spokesperson welcomes Pope Francis’ comments against criminalization laws

Ned Price is openly gay, said pontiff ‘speaks with authority’

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State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Institute's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. Price, who is openly gay, welcomes Pope Francis' recent comments against laws that criminalize LGBTQ and intersex people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday said he welcomes Pope Francis’ recent comments against criminalization laws.

“His Holiness using his voice in this way is something that will be noticed by people and governments around the world,” Price told the Washington Blade during his daily press briefing. “He obviously speaks with authority that perhaps no one else can. We welcome those remarks.”

Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Rt. Rev. Ian Greenshields of the Church of Scotland on Sunday after they left South Sudan publicly denounced criminalization laws and said their respective churches should welcome LGBTQ and intersex people. Francis during an exclusive interview with the Associated Press on Jan. 24 described criminalization laws as “unjust” and said “being homosexual is not a crime.”

The Vatican’s tone towards LGBTQ and intersex issues has softened since Francis assumed the papacy in 2013, but the church continues to consider homosexuality a sin. The Vatican remains opposed to marriage rights for same-sex couples. 

Price on Monday referred to President Joe Biden’s memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. 

The openly gay State Department spokesperson in May 2021 told the Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the five priorities for the White House in its efforts to promote LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad. Singapore, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis have legalized homosexuality since that interview.

“We will continue, as an administration, as a government, to doing (sic) what we can, perhaps in a very different way, but practical steps that we can to promote and protect the rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world,” said Price on Monday, referring to Biden’s foreign policy memorandum. 

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