U.S. promotes gay rights abroad, urges lagging nations to fall in line

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the Obama administration’s new foreign policy to support the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) internationally this week. Clinton made the remarks in recognition of International Human Rights Day Tuesday from Geneva, Switzerland.

“Building on efforts already underway at the State Department and across the government, the President has directed all U.S. Government agencies engaged overseas to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct, to enhance efforts to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, to ensure that our foreign assistance promotes the protection of LGBT rights, to enlist international organizations in the fight against discrimination, and to respond swiftly to abuses against LGBT persons,” she said.

As part of the effort, the State Department has created a new task force on LGBT rights and will be creating and disseminating toolkits to all U.S. embassies on LGBT issues. The administration also launched and committed more than $3 million to start a new Global Equality Fund to support civil society organizations in targeting their advocacy, managing their budgets, understanding the law, training staff and coordinating with other human rights organizations.

Malawi Justice Minister Ephraim Chiume responded to the announcement by saying the country would review a series of its laws in this regard, such as one that bans homosexual acts, according to BBC News. A gay couple in Malawi was sentenced to 14 years in jail last year, but eventually was pardoned.

Civil rights for LGBT have been an issue for Uganda as well, where a bill has been repeatedly introduced for consideration by the parliament that would permit state executions or life imprisonment of those found guilty of homosexuality. Those who fail to report suspected homosexuals to the authorities could also face time behind bars.

In late November the Nigerian Senate passed a bill that would ban gay marriage and imprison convicted homosexuals for 14 years. Those found aiding and abetting same-sex marriages would face a 10 year sentence. The measure must pass the Nigerian House of Representatives and be considered by President Goodluck Jonathan before it can become law.  

“Former President Mogae of Botswana pointed out recently that for as long as LGBT people are kept in the shadows, there cannot be an effective public health program to tackle HIV and AIDS,” Clinton said, adding that also holds true for other challenges. Civil rights groups around the world applauded the announcement from the White House. The Global Forum on MSM & HIV called the move “critical for achieving and HIV-free generation among men who have sex with men.”

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