Category Archives: LGBTI Rights

Celebrating LGBT Pride Month

What a month! Throughout the country, AJWS was buzzing with LGBT Pride to shine a spotlight on our work to fight for the human rights of LGBT communities in the developing world. One of our grantees, a leading LGBT rights activist from Kenya, traveled to the U.S. to speak about the struggles that LGBT communities face in Kenya and throughout Africa. We also organized screenings of Call Me Kuchu, an award-winning documentary about the efforts of Ugandan LGBT activists to stop the passage of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which was tragically signed into law in February, followed by a discussion with our Kenyan grantee.

Hundreds of activists and leaders marched with AJWS in exciting and colorful LGBT Pride Parades in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Chicago to demonstrate support for AJWS as the Jewish voice for LGBT rights worldwide. Here are a few visual highlights:

Photo Credit: Jeff Zorabedian

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Fighting Anti-Gay Hate on Purim

Demonstrators in Nairobi, Kenya rally against wave of anti-gay legislation in Africa. Photo: Getty Images.

Demonstrators in Nairobi, Kenya rally against wave of anti-gay legislation in Africa. Photo: Getty Images.

The ancient rabbi Hillel famously asked: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?” I feel it is important to answer the first two questions in the way Hillel hoped—that we must stand up for both ourselves and for others. (After 40 years as a legislator, my answer to the third is “as soon as we have the votes.”)

On Purim, Jews remember the oppression we faced and overcame in ancient Persia and throughout our history. With Hillel’s questions in mind, we must rededicate ourselves to combating anti-Semitism throughout the world and to combating the oppression of others.

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Activists prepare to take action on Uganda’s anti-gay bill

Photo credit: The Guardian

Photo credit: The Guardian

Ugandan lawmakers have threatened to pass a so-called “Kill the Gays” bill for years. In December, they finally succeeded—and the bill now awaits approval or rejection from Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.

Calling for life imprisonment for homosexual acts, the bill is poised to create serious penalties for LGBT people and anyone who advocates for their rights. If the bill becomes law, simply discussing homosexuality in Uganda—without simultaneously condemning it—could lead to a prison term.

Contrary to many international media reports, a recent letter Museveni wrote about the bill does not amount to a legal rejection of it. In the letter, Museveni described LGBT people as “abnormal” and lesbians in particular as suffering from “sexual starvation,” but he also said they should not be jailed or killed for their “deviant” behavior.

“The letter was offensive no matter what side you are coming from,” Caroline,* AJWS’s Ugandan country consultant, explained. Museveni still has weeks to sign the bill or reject it.

Photo credit: The New York Times

Photo credit: The New York Times

Some LGBT activists in Uganda are reconsidering whether they feel safe mobilizing opposition to the bill. A few human rights organizations in Uganda have “backed off,” Caroline said. “If we’re all out there [advocating] now, it could come back to haunt us,” she explained. “[Human rights NGOs] already have so many challenges in dealing with the government.”

But many Ugandan LGBT activists —including several AJWS grantees in the country—continue to bear the potential risks of speaking out. On Monday, Feb. 10, Ugandan activists are launching a “Global Day of Action,” working with advocates inside the country and throughout the world to oppose the anti-homosexuality bill and the hatred it represents. AJWS is joining with our partners to take action at this critical time.

After years of brainstorming ways to halt the bill’s progress, Ugandan LGBT rights advocates are also coming up with legal strategies for challenging its constitutionality, should it become law. Caroline said the bill has not created the anti-LGBT movement in Uganda that its masterminds intended.

“It’s been positive in a strange way,” Caroline said. She cited the way human rights groups and activists from Uganda and across the globe have consistently worked together to fight the bill. “I think the discussions that have happened never would have happened otherwise.”

UgandaLGBT_square_v2 (2)

TAKE ACTION: Speak out against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill and join the Global Day of Action on Feb. 10. 

*Last name excluded to protect Ugandan staff from any potential government retribution.

Elizabeth Daube is a communications officer for American Jewish World Service.

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Human Rights in 2013: Our End-of-Year Top 10

As we get ready for the New Year, we’re also taking a moment to celebrate the joys and victories in human rights that took place in 2013—an exciting and tumultuous year for human rights around the globe. Read on for 10 human rights happenings that AJWS celebrated in 2013, listed in chronological order. Let’s celebrate the strides we’ve made together and take heart for the work still ahead of us!

10.  India: Supreme Court ruling upholds indigenous people’s rights over contested land (April 2013)

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Children from the Dongria Kondh community. Credit: Survival International

In a landmark ruling, India’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal that would have allowed a UK-based company, Vedanta Resources, to mine the Niyamgiri hills. The court recognized the indigenous community of Dongria Kondh‘s right to the land, which they make a living from and worship as part of their traditional beliefs. The ruling affirmed that people with religious and cultural rights to land must be involved in decisions about how to use it.

This marked a major win for the rights of indigenous people in India, and it shows the power of social action. Thousands of protesters rallied to protest the mining effort last December, and hundreds of Dongria pledged to stay in the Niyamgiri hills.

1st item video screengrab

Click to watch Survival International’s video story on the mine. A new window will open.

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A Win for LGBTI Rights in Uganda and Around the World

Eight months ago, I stood shivering with my Ugandan colleagues on the steps of the Massachusetts federal court house. We had just witnessed the first hearing in the case Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) v. Lively—a suit filed by a group of Ugandan LGBTI rights organizations against American evangelist Scott Lively for his role in inciting the persecution of LGBTI Ugandans. Lively is well-known for advocating that homosexuality should be criminalized around the world.

At the time, we were cautiously optimistic that the case would move forward. Today, we are celebrating. Read More »

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LA’s Pride Parade, with Ugandan LGBTI partner Julius Kaggwa

Julius Kaggwa and a group of AJWS LA staff and supporters ready to march!

Julius Kaggwa and a group of AJWS LA staff and supporters ready to march!

Los Angeles celebrated LGBT Pride the first weekend in June with its  spectacular annual pride parade through West Hollywood. AJWS supporters marched with a banner proudly declaring that we are the leading Jewish voice for LGBTI rights around the world. Surrounded by volunteers decked out in feather boas, beads, and rainbow flags, we were privileged to march with Julius Kaggwa, a prominent LGBTI leader from Uganda, whose work AJWS supports. Perched on the back of a white convertible, Julius held up his arms in a victorious salute and crowds of jubilant supporters reacted with joy and admiration when they saw him. To say the least, this warm reception in LA is quite a contrast to what Julius experiences in Uganda, where the LGBTI community lives in fear and secrecy, persecuted by the state and right-wing religious activists. Read More »

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Supreme Court Ruling on “Anti-Prostitution Pledge” is a Victory for Public Health and Human Rights

Sex workers mobilize for their human rights. Photo credit: Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers

Sex workers mobilize for their human rights. Photo credit: Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled on the side of human rights. In a six to two ruling, the Court struck down a federal provision that required organizations receiving government funding to pledge that they had adopted a policy “opposing prostitution.”

Commonly known as the “anti-prostitution pledge,” this provision contravened best practices in public health, including evidence-based research showing that supporting sex workers to lead their own community health interventions is an effective way to fight the HIV and AIDS pandemic. The policy also created a chilling effect for sex worker rights organizations, as non-governmental organizations feared they would lose their funding if they engaged with sex workers. Read More »

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Promoting Human Rights in Nicaragua

Wilmer Gutiérrez Gómez (right), a leader of AJWS grantee Coordinadora Chorotega, works to defend the land rights of indigenous communities. Photograph by Stefanie Rubin

Wilmer Gutiérrez Gómez (right), a leader of AJWS grantee Coordinadora Chorotega, works to defend the land rights of indigenous communities. Photograph by Stefanie Rubin

American Jewish World Service has worked in Nicaragua for 14 years, focusing on two of the most pressing challenges facing some of the most disadvantaged groups in the country:

  • The struggle for land, food, water and resources needed for the survival of indigenous people
  • Human rights violations against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people

This week, a group of AJWS supporters will travel to Nicaragua to engage with nine of our grantee organizations. They’ll meet with staff members who are mobilizing their communities to make long-lasting change.

Our grantees take on critical rights issues in Nicaragua—like Coordinadora Chorotega, which trains local leaders to take legal action against the government’s sale of indigenous land. There’s also Grupo Safo, which recently opened the first health clinic in Nicaragua specifically for lesbian, bisexual and transgender women.

Want to learn more? Check out Promoting Human Rights in Nicaragua, a new review of AJWS’s work in the country.

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Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill Is Delayed Once Again

Good news: A vote on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill has been delayed once again. Despite a promise by the Ugandan speaker of parliament to deliver the bill as a “Christmas gift to the nation,” it was repeatedly downgraded on parliament’s agenda.

Last Friday, parliament adjourned without taking action on the proposed legislation. It’s unclear whether the bill will resurface when the parliament reconvenes in February.

Local LGBTI activists are relieved but wary about what may come next. At a public event on Monday, Uganda’s President Museveni sent mixed messages about the bill, saying “If there are some homosexuals, we shall not kill or persecute them but there should be no promotion of homosexuality.”

Gitta Zomorodi is an AJWS program officer for Africa.

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From Puppet Theatre to Dancing about Condoms: Creativity and Innovation at the Global Village of the International AIDS Conference

At the International AIDS Conference, I’ve been spending a lot of time in The Global Village, a space with more than 280 organizations from all over the world demonstrating their ingenuity to fight HIV and AIDS by organizing networking zones, booths, art exhibits, theatre productions and film screenings. I took a tour of The Global Village and was overwhelmed by the creativity. Here are four organizations that are doing exceptional work and are living AJWS’s principles of social change: grassroots-based, human rights-focused and putting women and young people at the center:

Louis Chingandu, executive director of AJWS’s Zimbabwean grantee Southern Africa AIDS Network (SAFAIDS), leading a workshop in The Global Village.

Southern Africa AIDS Network (SAFAIDS)

SAFAIDS—an AJWS grantee based in Zimbabwe—developed an LGBTI Toolkit to share skills, tools and information to help people better understand the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI). The toolkit specifically addresses how sexual orientation and gender identity relates to HIV and gender-based violence.

Youth from The CONDOMIZE! Project doing educational dance in The Global Village.

The CONDOMIZE! Project

With its colorful bright posters and entertaining dancers, The CONDOMIZE! Project highlights the effectiveness of male and female condoms for sexual health and rights. The organization calls on governments, donors and activists to intensify access to quality condoms as a primary defense against HIV. It advocates for investing resources and materials into promoting condom use as the most efficient and available prevention technology in the global AIDS response.

U-Tena

U-Tena uses puppets, drama and theatre to educate people about sexual and reproductive health rights in the Viwandani-Mukuru slums of Kenya. In front of a huge audience in The Global Village, U-Tena did a fantastic puppet show about a young HIV-positive girl and her boyfriend experiencing discrimination, neglect and stigma in their own community.

Interactive art exhibit from YAHAnet.

Youth, the Arts, HIV & AIDS Network (YAHAnet)

YAHAnet is an interdisciplinary networking platform that integrates public health, education, art and digital technology to help young people from around the world participate in the fight against HIV and AIDS.

Terry Mukuka is an AJWS program officer for Africa.

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