Gambia: President Should Reject Homophobic Law

President Yahya Jammeh of GambiaRepost from Human Rights Watch

(Dakar) – President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia should not sign a new Criminal Code amendment that would increase the punishment for “aggravated homosexuality” to life in prison, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today. The measure would further add to the climate of fear for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in Gambia.

Several provisions of the law violate international human rights law and amount to persecution on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Sections of the law are similar to the harsh homophobic legislation that was annulled in August 2014 in Uganda.

“President Jammeh should not approve this profoundly damaging act that violates international human rights law,” said Stephen Cockburn, deputy regional Director for West and Central Africa director at Amnesty International. “Gambia’s National Assembly and the President should not endorse state-sponsored homophobia.” Continue Reading

International Law and the Uncertainty of Rights for LGBT People

Human Rights WatchRepost from Human Rights Watch
Written by Graeme Reid

For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)people the law is a paradox. The law can operate as an instrument of repression and control, but also as a tool for resistance and liberation. We find fragments of our collective histories in court records. Here we find a sorry history of people in countries across the world convicted of loitering, sodomy, cross-dressing or so-called “crimes against nature.”

For a vulnerable minority, and an unpopular one, domestic and international law has proven to be an indispensable tool, sometimes the only tool, for LGBT people to claim a space in the world. Two decades ago in a 1994 case, the UN Human Rights Committee in Toonen v. Australia asserted the right to privacy for same-sex consenting adults under international law. In 1998, South African courts repealed the Immorality Act and five years later, in 2003, Lawrence v. Texas saw the remaining sodomy laws in the US declared unconstitutional.

Yet some 76 countries around the world maintain discriminatory LGBT laws. Britain exported its sodomy laws to the empire, where many remain in force. These laws not only hold the threat of arrest and prosecution, but have other profound implications for LGBT people as well. Even in the many countries where sodomy laws are seldom enforced, such as India and Uganda, they still symbolize national discrimination against LGBT people.

Human Rights Watch has reported these laws are routinely used for blackmail and extortion, in settings as diverse as KyrgyzstanJamaica and Uganda. Such laws contribute to a climate of prejudice and hostility in which violence occurs with impunity. The passage of the anti-propaganda laws in Russia led to a peak in violence against LGBT people. In Nigeria, the immediate effect following the enactment of draconian legislation was mob violence against gay men. The law in these places means that LGBT people must live a shadow existence under the threat of violence. Continue Reading

Uganda’s Constitutional Court Strikes Down Anti-Homosexuality Law

Royal Mile Kampala UgandaAugust 1, 2014 — The Council for Global Equality welcomes the decision today by Uganda’s Constitutional Court to strike down that country’s odious “Anti-Homosexuality” Law. The Court determined that the passage of the law was not in keeping with correct democratic procedures and struck it down on technical grounds involving the lack of a quorum to pass the bill. The civil society leaders who led the challenge to the law, and stood firmly in support of human rights for all Ugandans, won a remarkable victory for human rights and democracy today. We applaud them, along with those in the international community who have steadfastly opposed this anti-democratic and discriminatory law.

The Council urges that Ugandan officials not reintroduce the bill and instead move forward toward equality for all Ugandans, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.  We also hope that President Museveni of Uganda will use the occasion of his official visit to Washington next week for the first-ever Africa Leaders Summit to demonstrate a stronger appreciation of the principle that all citizens, including Uganda’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender minority, deserve equal respect and treatment under the law.

Related: Council Calls for President Obama to Raise LGBT Issues at Africa Summit

Council Calls for President Obama to Raise LGBT Issues at Africa Summit

White HouseIn August, President Obama will host the first-ever U.S.- Africa Summit.  The theme, “Investing in the Next Generation,” raises the hope that the next generation of LGBT Africans will have an equal opportunity to participate, as equal citizens, in the future of the continent.

To promote an LGBT perspective, the Council wrote to President Obama to ask that the official program include LGBT individuals, organizations and experiences to enrich both the Summit and the generational advance to which it aspires.  The letter also highlights opportunities to make the business case for inclusion during business and trade forums at the Summit.

See a copy of the letter here.

Supporting LGBT Workplace Equality is Good For Business

President ObamaThe Council for Global Equality welcomes the President’s leadership in signing a new Executive Order to protect LGBT workers in the United States.  Now it’s time to apply those same principles to U.S. government contractors and grantees operating overseas to ensure that U.S. government funds are never used to finance discrimination anywhere in the world.

Learn more about the Executive Order.

FACT SHEET: Taking Action to Support LGBT Workplace Equality is Good For Business

America is built on the fundamental promise that if you work hard, and play by the rules, you can get ahead. But today, millions of Americans in most states in the country go to work every day fearing that they could lose their jobs simply because of who they are or who they love. No current federal law adequately protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers from employment discrimination. This is completely contrary to our values as Americans – and it’s also bad for business.

President Obama declared 2014 a year of action – working with Congress where they’re willing, but acting where he can when they refuse to take action. As part of this commitment to expanding opportunity for hardworking Americans, today, the President will sign an Executive Order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT employees and prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity in federal employment.

At a critical time for our nation’s economy, we need all of our workers to be focused on making the most of their talent, skill, and ingenuity, rather than worrying about losing their job due to discrimination. The economy functions best when workers are matched to the jobs with the best fit, maximizing their productivity, increasing wages and helping the bottom line for businesses. Discrimination is not just wrong, it also can keep qualified workers from maximizing their potential to contribute to the strengthening of our economy. For decades, companies have found that benefits and inclusive, flexible, and supportive workplace policies make it easier and more cost effective to recruit, retain, and motivate employees. The same logic applies to extending these basic protections and policies to LGBT workers.

American workers should be judged by one thing only: their ability to get the job done. That’s why the President has long supported federal legislation to explicitly prohibit employers across the country from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. For forty years, Congress has considered various pieces of legislation meant to address LGBT workplace equality. Last November, the Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) with strong bipartisan support. However, the House has failed to act.

Today’s action is consistent with the President’s commitment to advancing equality for the LGBT community, as well as his commitment to expanding opportunity for American workers and strengthening American business. And it is consistent with actions being taken by employers, including many federal contractors, across the country to support workplace equality, because they recognize it improves productivity, reduces turnover and supports their bottom line.

  • Workplace Inequality Still Impacts Millions of LGBT Workers. Today, only 18 states and the District of Columbia have laws explicitly protecting LGBT workers from being fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and no federal law adequately protects LGBT workers from being fired because of who they are or who they love. According to surveys and studies, more than four in ten lesbian, gay, and bisexual people have experienced some form of employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation at some point in their lives, and 90% of transgender employees have experienced harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job.
  • Employers Are Taking Action on Their Own to Support Workplace Equality – Because They Recognize It Is In Their Interest: According to an analysis of 36 research studies by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, “LGBT-supportive policies and workplace climates are linked to greater job commitment, improved workplace relationships, increased job satisfaction, and improved health outcomes among LGBT employees.”
  • Fortune 500 Companies Support LGBT Workplace Equality. Most of America’s major companies know that workplace equality is important to staying competitive and retaining their best talent, and as a result, nondiscrimination policies are good for business. 91% of Fortune 500 companies already prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation; and 61% already prohibit discrimination based on gender identity.
  • Small Businesses Support LGBT Workplace Equality. According to research conducted by Small Business Majority, six in ten small business owners believe that employment nondiscrimination laws improve their bottom line by helping employers attract the best and brightest employees. And of small business owners who have adopted nondiscrimination policies to protect LGBT workers, 86% report that nondiscrimination policies cost them “nothing or next to nothing,” 2% said such policies had a small but significant cost, and none said they had a substantial cost.
  • Many Federal Contractors Already Have Policies on LGBT Workplace Equality. Of the largest 50 federal contractors, which represent nearly half of all federal contracting dollars, 86% prohibit sexual orientation discrimination and 61% prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. In addition, the five top federal contractors, which receive nearly a quarter of all federal contracting dollars, already bar discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • The American Public Supports LGBT Workplace Equality. A recent national survey of 1,200 registered voters found that 63% of those surveyed favor a federal law that protects LGBT people from employment discrimination. When asked specifically about LGBT nondiscrimination in federal contracting, another poll found that 73% of those surveyed favor such policies.
  • States and Local Jurisdictions Support LGBT Workplace Equality. Over the last several years, there has been significant progress in moving LGBT inclusive non-discrimination laws through statehouses and city halls across the nation. Since 2011, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Nevada have added gender identity to their existing employment non-discrimination laws. Today, 18 states and the District of Columbia have inclusive non-discrimination laws, and over 200 cities and counties – from small towns like Bozeman, Montana and Vicco, Kentucky to large cities like Houston, Texas and Atlanta, Georgia – prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Nine of the ten most populous cities in the country already have these protections in place.
  • Diverse Faith Communities Support LGBT Workplace Equality. A diverse range of religious communities  and organizations support workplace protections, including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); United Methodist Church, General Board of Church and Society; The Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries; and the Union of Reform Judaism. Majorities of Christian denominations polled support workplace protections, including 76% of Catholics, 75% of white mainline Protestants, 61% of minority Protestants, and 59% of white evangelical Protestants. Another poll shows that 74% of born-again Christians favor LGBT workplace protections.

Additional Information about President Obama’s Executive Order

Executive Order 11246, issued by President Lyndon B. Johnson, prohibits federal contractors from discriminating “against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” President Obama’s Executive Order will add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected categories.

President Obama’s Executive Order does not allow for any exemption beyond the one added by Executive Order 13279, issued by President George W. Bush, which permits religiously affiliated contractors to favor individuals of a particular religion when making employment decisions, by specifying that Executive Order 11246, “shall not apply to a Government contractor or subcontractor that is a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society, with respect to the employment of individuals of a particular religion to perform work connected with the carrying on by such corporation, association, educational institution, or society of its activities. Such contractors and subcontractors are not exempted or excused from complying with the other requirements contained in this Order.” In addition, under the First Amendment, religious entities are permitted to make employment decisions about their ministers as they see fit.

Executive Order 11246 governs only federal contractors and federally-assisted construction contractors and subcontractors who do over $10,000 in Government business in one year. It does not affect grants and President Obama’s Executive Order does not impact the administration of federal grants. The Order is administered and enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP). As part of these duties, OFCCP conducts compliance reviews, receives complaints from individuals who believe they have been discriminated against, and provides technical assistance to contractors regarding their contractual obligations. More information can be found at www.dol.gov/ofccp.

Executive Order 11478, issued by President Nixon, bars discrimination against federal employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and age, and was amended by Executive Order 13087, issued by President Clinton, to include sexual orientation.

President Obama’s Executive Order will add gender identity to the list of protected categories.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other federal agencies already apply Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect federal employees from discrimination on the basis of gender identity as a form of sex discrimination. The President believes it is important to explicitly prohibit – in both Executive Action and in legislation – discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

Obama’s Evangelical Gravy Train

HIV Billboard

Photo: Andy Kopsa

Repost from The Nation by Andy Kopsa

Despite the president’s promise to cut funding to discredited HIV and pregnancy prevention programs, taxpayer dollars are still bankrolling anti-gay, anti-choice conservative religious groups.

On March 24, just a month after Ugandan President Museveni signed a bill making homosexuality a crime punishable by life in prison, Obama administration officials announced that they were increasing military aid to Uganda in its effort to quell rebel forces. Human rights groups criticized the move, arguing that the aid offered Museveni “legitimacy” after he supported a law that has been widely condemned for violating human rights. The same day, a State Department spokesperson quietly announced that the administration would also “demonstrate our support for the LGBT community in Uganda” by shifting $6.4 million in funding away from the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda, whose actions, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said, “don’t reflect our values.” That may be the understatement of the year.

According to Ugandan AIDS activists, administration officials had been told a year and a half earlier that the Inter-Religious Council and other State Department grantees were actively promoting the antigay bill. In September 2012, several LGBT and AIDS advocates in Uganda were invited to a call with representatives from USAID, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Office of the US Global AIDS Coordinator and other US officials to discuss HIV service delivery to vulnerable communities. According to minutes taken by one of the participants and conversations with others on the call, the US officials were warned that several grantees and subcontractors through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, commonly referred to as PEPFAR, were visibly supporting the bill, undermining service delivery to men who have sex with men, or otherwise fomenting anti-gay activities. US officials asked the Ugandan activists to provide information on these actions by the US government’s so-called “implementing partners,” and told them that such evidence might lead to an investigation by US officials. Continue Reading

 

Tierney Introduces Bipartisan International Human Rights Defense Act

John F. TierneyFrom the Office of John F. Tierney

Bill would make LGBT equality a critical U.S. international human rights priority

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman John F. Tierney (D-MA), along with Congressman Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Congressman Richard Hanna (R-NY), introduced the International Human Rights Defense Act. This bipartisan legislation would direct the U.S. Department of State to make international LGBT human rights a foreign policy priority and would establish a position within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor to be responsible for coordinating that effort.

“While the United States has been making strides toward promoting and achieving LGBT equality here in our country, this is unfortunately not the case globally. We must lead the fight to help end discrimination and secure basic human rights for LGBT individuals around the world,” said Congressman John Tierney. “The International Human Rights Defense Act would bolster America’s commitment to the international LGBT community by facilitating federal government coordination on making the promotion of international LGBT human rights a priority. As the United States continues its steady movement toward providing fundamental human rights for all people regardless of who they love, it is our obligation to fight for those same rights for LGBT individuals facing hardships in other countries.”

 “I am proud to join with Reps. Tierney, Hanna, Cicilline, Esty,Lowenthal, McGovern and Schakowsky to introduce this important legislation.  For the first time in the history of our country, we are aiming to establish a concrete policy and process by which we can best deploy our considerable diplomatic clout and resources towards protecting victims of LGBT discrimination,” said Congressman Chris Gibson.  “On our best day, other countries want to be like us, and for that reason it is crucial that we lead by example with our founding principles of human dignity, freedom, and equal protection.  I encourage all of my colleagues to join us in this effort.”

“Discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation is unacceptable anywhere it happens,” Congressman Richard Hanna said. “In the United States we are continuing to work toward full equality and tolerance for all Americans, including our LGBT friends, family members and coworkers. There is still much work to be done at home and around the world. As a beacon of freedom and opportunity for all people, the U.S. must continue to play a leading role in this effort. No one should face unjust treatment – or be classified as a criminal – based on who they love. It is a basic human right that all people deserve. I am pleased to join Reps. Tierney and Gibson in this effort and I look forward to more bipartisan support from our colleagues in the House.”

“While the United States has made huge strides forward for LGBT equality, we know that the same is not true in many countries where LGBT people face harassment, bigotry, and violence on a daily basis,” said David Stacy, Government Affairs Director for the Human Rights Campaign. “Global human rights – including human rights for LGBT people – must be a top priority of the U.S. Government.  The Human Rights Campaign is proud to support the International Human Rights Defense Act, which would build an unprecedented framework into U.S. diplomacy to protect LGBT rights worldwide.  We thank Congressman Tierney for his leadership on this important issue.”

“Around the globe, LGBT people face threats, violence, and discrimination on a daily basis,” said Amnesty International USA Executive Director, Steven Hawkins. “The United States can and must play a lead role in ending the human rights abuses that the LGBT community faces around the world. The International Human Rights Defense Act will help to ensure that the United States lives up to its global commitment to protect and advance LGBT rights as human rights.”

“Around the world, LGBT individuals are denied the fundamental freedoms that every American holds dear, and the universal human rights their governments have pledged to respect.  A Special Envoy can work with other countries to strengthen these freedoms and commitments, and to ensure that cultural differences are not an excuse for discrimination and abuse.  The Council for Global Equality welcomes this bill’s introduction and urges its speedy passage,” said Amb. (ret.) Michael Guest, Senior Advisor, Council for Global Equality.

 “We support Rep. Tierney for taking leadership in the House on the issue of rights for LGBTI persons,” said Chloe Schwenke, vice president for global programs at Freedom House. “Freedom House welcomes the genuine bipartisan base of support for fundamental human rights performance as covered by this bill. The legislation, which is the House companion of the International Human Rights Defense Act introduced by Sen. Ed Markey in the Senate last month, would solidify the United States’ commitment to protecting and promoting the rights of LGBTI people around the world.  It is vital that the United States support these communities through foreign assistance and diplomacy, and this legislation would give the State Department and USAID additional tools to do so.”

The International Human Rights Defense Act is supported by a number of prominent equality organizations including Amnesty International USA, Council for Global Equality, RFK Center for Human Rights, Human Rights Campaign, Freedom House, Human Rights First, American Jewish World Service, National Center for Transgender Equality, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, and Advocates for Youth.

Similar legislation was recently filed in the Senate by Senator Edward Markey (D-MA). A full list of original cosponsors: Representatives David Cicilline (D-RI), Elizabeth Esty (D-CT), Chris Gibson (R-NY), Richard Hanna (R-NY), Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), Jim McGovern (D-MA), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).


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