Connect with us

State Department

US imposes visa restrictions on Ugandan officials

Country’s president on May 29 signed Anti-Homosexuality Act

Published

on

LGBTQ and intersex activists protest in front of the Ugandan Embassy in D.C. on April 25, 2023. (Washington Blade photos by Michael K. Lavers)

The State Department on Friday announced the U.S. has imposed visa restrictions against Ugandan officials after the country’s president signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller in a press release did not specifically identify the Ugandan officials who the U.S. sanctioned. The statement, however, noted Ugandan “individuals believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda” and specifically referenced human rights abuses against LGBTQ and intersex people and the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

“As directed by President Biden, the U.S. government will continue to evaluate additional actions under this policy, as well as the use of other tools at our disposal, to promote accountability for Ugandan officials and other individuals responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda, abusing human rights, including those of LGBTQI+ persons, or engaging in corrupt practices,” said Miller.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 29 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The Biden-Harris administration has said it will “evaluate” the law’s implications and how it may impact U.S. aid to Uganda. Miller in his statement noted the State Department has also “updated its travel guidance to U.S. citizens to highlight the risk that LGBTQI+ persons, or those perceived to be LGBTQI+, could be prosecuted and subjected to life imprisonment or the death penalty based on provisions in the law.”

“The United States strongly supports the Ugandan people and remains committed to advancing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Uganda and globally,” said Miller.

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

State Department

US global LGBTQ, intersex rights envoy speaks at Mexico City conference

Jessica Stern reiterated condemnation of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

Published

on

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, speaks at an LGBTQ+ Victory Institute co-organized conference in Mexico City on July 20, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Editor’s note: International News Editor Michael K. Lavers will be on assignment in Mexico City through Sunday.

MEXICO CITY — The special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad on Thursday said politicians around the world target LGBTQ and intersex people as a way to “distract” from their own governance failures.

Jessica Stern spoke at the opening of the LGBTI Political Leaders from the Americas and the Caribbean Conference in Mexico City that the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute co-organized with advocacy groups from Mexico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Honduras and Brazil.  

She once again condemned Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that President Yoweri Museveni signed in May.

The bill contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality” and criminalizes the “promotion of homosexuality” with up to 20 years in prison.

“One might argue that a meeting like this could be labelled promotion of homosexuality and we could all be held criminally liable for being in this conference room today,” said Stern.

“[The Anti-Homosexuality Act] includes a duty to report clause that would require doctors, landlords and even family members to report anyone that they have reason to suspect is homosexual and that basically creates a surveillance state for all LGBTQI+ persons just for being,” she added.

Stern said the Anti-Homosexuality Act and similar laws around the world contain provisions that “are intentionally and explicitly vague because the goal is not to keep anyone safe from LGBTQI+ people.” Stern added politicians use hate speech, blackmail, extortion and violence to target LGBTQ and intersex people and make them into “boogeymen.”

“The goal is to distract from crushing issues like corruption and poverty and climate change that don’t have easy solutions,” she said. “Scapegoating LGBTQI+ persons has real consequences. Turning an entire group of people into a threat to your society is not just a useful way to manipulate a domestic populace, in a world connected through social media the threats metastases regionally and globally.”

Stern in her speech cited Human Rights Campaign statistics that indicate more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in U.S. state legislatures in 2023, with nearly half of them specifically targeting transgender and nonbinary people. Stern noted state lawmakers have approved 70 of them: Fifteen ban gender-affirming care for minors, four “censor” school curricula and two “target drag performances.”

“What an absolute tragedy,” said Stern.

“The truth is the United States is not alone in these anti-LGBTQI attacks,” she added.

Stern noted Thalía Rodríguez, a prominent trans activist, is one of 32 LGBTQ or intersex people who were reported murdered in Honduras in the first 10 months of 2022. Stern also referenced statistics from Colombia Diversa, a Colombian LGBTQ and intersex rights group, that indicate 41 LGBTQ and intersex people — six of whom were activists — were killed in the South American country between January and August 2021.

“This is completely unacceptable, and this is why we come together in rooms like this,” said Stern.

Stern in her speech also highlighted LGBTQ and intersex rights advances in the Americas and the Caribbean.

She noted Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis and Barbados decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in 2022. Stern pointed out the Brazilian Supreme Court in 2021 ruled a law that seeks to combat domestic and gender-based violence “must be valid for all trans women.” 

Stern also referenced the 20 Mexican states that now allow people to update their names and gender markers “via a simple administrative process.”

“This region is setting an example that is inspiring others around the world,” she said.

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. These efforts include support for marriage equality in countries where activists say it is possible through legislation or the judicial process.

The U.S. has imposed visa restrictions against Ugandan officials after Museveni signed their country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.

Stern in her speech said the Biden-Harris administration has pledged to combat so-called conversion in the U.S. and around the world. Stern also noted the Global Equality Fund, a U.S.-led initiative that seeks to promote LGBTQ and intersex rights around the world, has given more than $115 million to recipients in more than 100 countries since 2011.

“That would not be possible without the partnership of many governments in this region,” she said.

Stern also noted she is the highest-ranking lesbian woman at the State Department.

Continue Reading

State Department

Rufus Gifford steps down as State Department’s chief of protocol

Openly gay Mass. native was US ambassador to Denmark from 2013-2017

Published

on

Rufus Gifford (Photo via Twitter)

The State Department’s openly gay chief of protocol on Monday announced he is leaving his post.

Rufus Gifford in a tweet said he is “tremendously grateful” to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Joe Biden “to have been given the chance to serve as” chief of protocol.

“Was an honor like no other,” said Gifford.

“I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact of this State Department,” he added. “I leave believing in the power of diplomacy more than ever.”

Gifford was the U.S. ambassador to Denmark from 2013-2017. 

He unsuccessfully ran for Congress in his native Massachusetts in 2018. The U.S. Senate in December 2021 confirmed Gifford for the State Department position.

“On behalf of the State Department, I want to thank Rufus Gifford for his service as (chief of protocol),” said Blinken in a tweet. “Our relationships with countries around the world are stronger because of Rufus and his team’s important work on behalf of our nation.”

Biden’s re-election campaign on Monday named Gifford as its finance chair.

Continue Reading

State Department

U.S. officials postpone Uganda PEPFAR meeting

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

Published

on

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.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular