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
A Ugandan activist holds up a popular tabloid ‘Red Pepper,’ one of several newspapers inciting prejudice and violence against LGBTI people in Uganda, where homosexuality is illegal and LGBTI people are routinely denied their rights. Photo: Evan Abramson
A new report released last week by the Pew Research Center reveals alarming data about attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities around the world. Here are a few statistics that shine a spotlight on the countries in which AJWS works:
- In El Salvador, 35 percent of survey respondents believe the LGBTI community should be accepted, whereas 62 percent do not;
- In Kenya, 8 percent of survey respondents believe the LGBTI community should be accepted, whereas 90 percent do not;
- In Uganda, 4 percent of survey respondents believe the LGBTI community should be accepted, whereas 96 percent do not.
These attitudes are symptomatic of the oppression LGBTI people face on a regular basis—the loss of their jobs, unequal access to healthcare and limited opportunities for education. LGBTI people are ostracized, rejected, threatened and assaulted just for living their lives.
It gets worse.
Ugandan activists holding posters during the first Ugandan Pride celebration, which took place on August 4, 2012. (Photo Credit: The New Yorker)
Even though I live in New York, Uganda is often on my mind; especially the LGBTI Ugandan activists who are working to advance their human rights in an environment of violence, hostility and homophobia. Why do I think of Uganda and my LGBTI friends there so often? Because I work for American Jewish World Service, which supports grassroots organizations in Uganda that are fighting for the human rights of LGBTI people.
So, last week, when photographic images of Uganda’s first-ever LGBTI Pride event began to circulate through emails and online, including in The New Yorker, my first reaction—and the reaction of many other allied activists outside Uganda—was one of alarm. We worried about the risks of this kind of exposure in a country in which tabloids are notorious for publishing photos, names and addresses of outed “homos.” The aggressive outing of LGBTI people by the local media has helped fuel homophobia in the country. A photo of Ugandan gay activist David Kato appeared alongside the headline “Hang Them” just months before he was murdered in his home.
AJWS Development Associate, Stefanie Rubin, recently traveled to Haiti in preparation for the November 2011 AJWS Study Tour to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Below she shares her reflections and insights about all that she has experienced in just three days.
My mind is still reeling from everything we’ve seen during the past few days in Haiti. Clips of what we’ve experienced and the grantees we’ve visited keep bubbling to the forefront of my consciousness and lap over me in waves of emotion. Today began with another long car ride, weaving through a mess of buildings toppled over like a child’s set of blocks, against a backdrop of green, spectacularly beautiful mountainsides sloping toward an idyllic Caribbean coast. Woven into the landscape are banners of blue, white and grey calling out to us in familiar code: USAID, UNICEF, PR of CHINA, Rotary International. Our van slowed to a crawl as we navigated our way through yet another bustling market swarmed with shoppers haggling over everything from bushels of plantains (a staple in Haitian cuisine) to scented lotions and candles, to brightly painted jewelry and hand stamped metal sculptures. Life, even in the face of extreme adversity, goes on.
As we made our way into the heart of downtown Port au Prince, we caught our first glimpse of the National Palace, which sustained heavy damages after the quake. I had seen the “before and after” photos on the news last year, but seeing it first hand was deeply moving. The visual was not a complete surprise. But what we discovered immediately across the street—“The Champ de Mars Plaza”—will stay with me long after I return home.
Two years ago on June 29, 2009, in the middle of the night, Honduras’s democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya was kidnapped at gunpoint in a military coup d’état and sent to neighboring Costa Rica. Before his ousting, Zelaya planned to follow through on a public referendum to reform the Constitution by extending the maximum term for presidents, even though the Supreme Court had ruled it illegal. Even though many critics questioned Zelaya’s push forward with the referendum, most agree that a coup was a disproportionate response and likely related to the branding of Zelaya’s government as left-leaning.
This AJWS series on storytelling and justice is guest edited by Deji Olukotun.
AJWS’s Washington-based advocacy department seeks to influence decision-makers to support policies and laws that advance AJWS’s mission to empower the world’s marginalized people. Working primarily with members of the U.S. Congress and the executive branch, the advocacy department develops an ‘ask’—or specific demand—that a decision maker is capable of actualizing. Asking and influencing both relate to the power of persuasion, making our advocacy work ripe for storytelling. In this piece in our storytelling blog series, policy associate Amanda Cary describes the complex ways in which storytelling is used by the advocacy department.
We are happy to report good news from Uganda today. The Ugandan parliament ended its session without considering the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. Adrian Jjuuko of our partner, the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, explained:
“The Ugandan parliament has closed today. There was no agreed business to discuss today and thus the Speaker adjourned the session. Thus the Anti-Homosexuality Bill has to be reintroduced in the new parliament and the whole process to begin all over again. Thank you all for the efforts and solidarity in fighting this ominous bill. The struggle may have to begin all over again, but for now, the process is over.”
It is unclear what the future holds for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in the next parliament, but this victory today is a testament to the power of advocacy.
We want to thank our Ugandan partners for their tireless efforts, as well as the entire AJWS community and our allies in Congress and the Obama Administration for their work to support human rights activists in Uganda. We especially want to thank Senator Chris Coons for releasing a statement yesterday rejecting the bill and affirming that “equality and human rights are intrinsic values that matter in America, in Uganda, and around the world.”
The fight to stop Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill continues. We thought the bill would be voted on in Parliament today, but it wasn’t. An unrelated issue derailed debates and several members of Parliament walked out. Parliament will reconvene for the last time this Friday, May 13th, at which point the bill could still be voted on and passed.
AJWS has been reaching out to our allies in Congress and in the State Department to ensure continued U.S. engagement at this critical time. The State Department released a statement on Box Turtle Bulletin here explaining its full commitment to stopping this bill from passing. We thank them for their work to support the Ugandan LGBTI community and all Ugandans as they fight an environment of broad human rights abuses in their country. AJWS will continue to be in close contact with our allies in Uganda and in the U.S. to ensure that the U.S. government does not miss an opportunity to condemn the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
As our colleagues at the Civil Society for Human Rights and Constitutional Law have said, “Friday is now the day to watch for. Let the action and statements continue.”
If you haven’t yet called your Senator and Representative asking them to speak out against this draconian bill, you can do so by contacting their offices through the Capitol Switchboard: 202-224-3121.
It’s no coincidence that the Ugandan parliament has galvanized new energy for the Anti-Homosexuality Bill of 2009 at a time when Ugandan citizens are protesting high food and fuel prices and the government is cracking down with violence, repression and disregard for the rule of law. The Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which AJWS’s partners have courageously tried to kill for over a year, is an unconstitutional attack on the LGBTI community and on Uganda’s citizenry at large. It would criminalize the “promotion of homosexuality,” including the provision of health and other essential services to LGBTI people, with three years in prison, and punish “aggravated homosexuality,” which entails homosexual acts by “serial offenders” and those who are HIV positive with the death penalty. Read More
Sunday’s New York Times editorial on Haiti’s refugee camps, rightly focuses on one of the most critical issues facing the hundreds of thousands of Haitians still living in Haiti’s decrepit tent settlements: rape. The editorial encourages policymakers to do something about the terrible conditions—a lack of streetlights and not enough police protection—that lead to relentless rapes of women; women who can’t even go to the bathroom at night without real fears of brutal violence. Read More