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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 travel advisory warns of potential anti-LGBTQ violence

FBI issued similar warning this week

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(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The State Department on Friday issued a worldwide travel advisory that warns of potential violence against LGBTQ people and LGBTQ-specific events.

“Due to the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations, or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests, the Department of State advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution,” reads the advisory. “The Department of State is aware of the increased potential for foreign terrorist organization-inspired violence against LGBTQI+ persons and events and advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution.”  

The advisory further urges U.S. citizens to:

  • Stay alert in locations frequented by tourists, including Pride celebrations and venues frequented by LGBTQI+ persons.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive information and alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency overseas.
  • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Homeland Security Investigations earlier this week issued a similar advisory.

The advisory notes June 12 will mark eight years since the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

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State Department releases annual human rights report

Antony Blinken reiterates criticism of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

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(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday once again reiterated his criticism of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act upon release of the State Department’s annual human rights report.

“This year’s report also captures human rights abuses against members of vulnerable communities,” he told reporters. “In Afghanistan, the Taliban have limited work opportunities for women, shuttered institutions found educating girls, and increasing floggings for women and men accused of, quote, ‘immoral behavior,’ end quote. Uganda passed a draconian and discriminatory Anti-Homosexuality Act, threatening LGBTQI+ individuals with life imprisonment, even death, simply for being with the person they loved.”

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last May signed the law, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. subsequently imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials and removed the country from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. The World Bank Group also announced the suspension of new loans to Uganda.

Uganda’s Constitutional Court earlier this month refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.” More than a dozen Ugandan LGBTQ activists have appealed the ruling.

Clare Byarugaba of Chapter Four Uganda, a Ugandan LGBTQ rights group, on Monday met with National Security Council Chief-of-Staff Curtis Ried. Jay Gilliam, the senior LGBTQI+ coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, in February traveled to Uganda and met with LGBTQ activists who discussed the Anti-Homosexuality Act’s impact. 

“LGBTQI+ activists reported police arrested numerous individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity and subjected many to forced anal exams, a medically discredited practice with no evidentiary value that was considered a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and could amount to torture,” reads the human rights report.

The report, among other things, also notes Ugandan human rights activists “reported numerous instances of state and non-state actor violence and harassment against LGBTQI+ persons and noted authorities did not adequately investigate the cases.”

Report highlights anti-LGBTQ crackdowns in Ghana, Hungary, Russia

Ghanaian lawmakers on Feb. 28 approved the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill. The country’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, has said he will not sign the measure until the Ghanaian Supreme Court rules on whether it is constitutional or not.

The human rights report notes “laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults” and “crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex persons” are among the “significant human rights issues” in Ghana. 

The report documents Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and members of his right-wing Fidesz party’s continued rhetoric against “gender ideology.” It also notes Russia’s ongoing crackdown against LGBTQ people that includes reports of “state actors committed violence against LGBTQI+ individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly in Chechnya.”

The report specifically notes Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 24 signed a law that bans “legal gender recognition, medical interventions aimed at changing the sex of a person, and gender-affirming care.” It also points out Papua New Guinea is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

The Hungarian Parliament on April 4, 2024. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his right-wing Fidesz party in 2023 continued their anti-LGBTQ crackdown. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Cook Islands and Mauritius in decriminalized homosexuality in 2023.

The report notes the Namibia Supreme Court last May ruled the country must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed outside the country. The report also highlights the Indian Supreme Court’s ruling against marriage equality that it issued last October. (It later announced it would consider an appeal of the decision.)

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

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

The full report can be read here.

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State Department

Russian activist meets with US global LGBTQ, intersex rights envoy

Aleksander Voronov visited the State Department last week

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Aleksandr Voronov from Coming Out, a Russian LGBTQ rights group based in St. Petersburg, met with Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, at the State Department last week. (Photo courtesy of Stern's X account)

A Russian activist last week met with the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights at the State Department.

Jessica Stern on March 29 posted to her X account a picture of Aleksandr Voronov of Coming Out, an LGBTQ advocacy group that was previously based in St. Petersburg.

“I was honored to host Coming Out activist Aleksandr Voronov at the State Department,” said Stern. “Russia’s transgender ban and designation of the so-called ‘LGBT movement’ as extremist undermines the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Russians. We stand with all LGBTQI+ persons.”

Voronov told the Washington Blade he “gave her an update on the situation with LGBTQ rights in Russia.” Voronov said Stern “was very supportive and unbelievably kind.”

The Kremlin over the last decade has cracked down on LGBTQ rights.

The Russian Supreme Court last November ruled the “international LGBT movement” is an extremist organization and banned it. The Moscow Times on March 31 reported authorities in Orenburg, a city near the country’s border with Kazakhstan that is roughly 900 miles south-southeast of Moscow, arrested a gay bar’s owner and charged him with “extremism.”

Voronov fled Russia and now lives in Lithuania. 

“Most of the organizations and public activists, such as me and the organization I lead, were forced to leave the country, but continue working ‘in exile,'” Voronov told the Blade. “Most openly queer-places were closed during last months; but there are still lots of activists, organizations and of course ordinary LGBTQ individuals in Russia who are still there, and will be staying there. And we try to support them as much as we can.”

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