Human rights and gay rights activists on July 29 urged President Barack Obama to ensure that the issue of anti-gay discrimination in Africa is on the agenda at next week’s summit in Washington with more than 40 African leaders.
The Human Rights Campaign, a national gay rights organization, and Human Rights First, which advocates aggressive U.S. stances on human rights issues abroad, issued a statement depicting the summit as a “once-in-a-generation moment” to promote equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Africans.
According to the two groups, 37 African countries with more than 800 million residents have laws criminalizing LGBT relationships, and leaders of 32 of those countries have been invited to the Aug. 4-6 summit.
Among the invitees are Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, who signed harsh anti-gay laws earlier this year.
In response to Uganda’s law — which strengthens penalties for gay sex and makes life sentences possible for violators — the U.S. imposed visa bans on some Ugandan officials and halted or redirected funding from institutions involved in human rights abuses.
Shawn Gaylord, Human Rights First’s advocacy counsel for LGBT rights, expressed support for these steps and called on the Obama administration to conduct a full diplomatic review of U.S. policy in Nigeria.
“We believe the U.S. can do more in both Nigeria and Uganda to ensure that U.S. funding is not being given to any institution or group that is abusing human rights, including actively discriminating against the LGBT community,” he said in an email. “We recognize that this is a difficult process with competing interests, made more difficult by the rhetoric espoused by some leaders that the movement for the rights of LGBT people is something invented in the West and being imposed upon African societies.”
Gaylord paid tribute to African citizens who have spoken out against anti-gay discrimination.
“These people — activists, leaders, lawyers, religious figures and others — need to know that they have support around the world and this summit is an ideal time to signal that support,” he said.
Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, indicated that gay-rights issues would be raised at the summit.
“The Obama Administration has long spoken out — including with our African partners — in support of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals,” he said in an email. “We expect the summit will provide an opportunity to continue these conversations.”
The two rights groups issued a country-by-country report detailing Africa’s existing anti-LGBT laws, as well as cases of discrimination and violence.
The groups praised the Obama administration for a series of steps aimed at promoting gay rights internationally, but they suggested more could be done to block or overturn anti-gay legislation.
Among its initiatives, the administration has increased the number of openly gay U.S. ambassadors serving abroad. Some U.S. embassies flew the rainbow flag this year to celebrate local gay pride parades.
Obama, while visiting Senegal last year, urged African leaders to extend equal rights to gays and lesbians. Senegal’s president, Macky Sall, bluntly responded that his country “still isn’t ready” to decriminalize being gay.