‘Anti-gay’ bill becomes law in Uganda (updated)

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It was dreadful to wake up this morning to the news that the President of Uganda had signed the ‘anti-gay’ bill into law.  Though this action has looked likely for weeks, there has been some hope that Museveni would challenge the popular will in his country.  Instead, he re-iterated his ridiculous viewpoints, including:

Homosexuals are actually mercenaries. They are heterosexual people but because of money they say they are homosexuals. These are prostitutes because of money,” he said, asserting that he had taken the time to get scientific advice before signing off on the law.

My mind and heart immediately turned to the many activists that the UUA has partnered with in Uganda during the struggle against this bill, including UU minister Rev. Mark Kiyimba.  The UUA has reached out to Rev. Mark and other partners, and we will support the paths that are chosen in this new legislative reality.  Safety and security for LGBT people, which has always been a serious matter, now becomes dire.  And, prioritizing a judicial challenge is likely to gain strength.  We will be in solidarity with LGBT activists in Uganda, and in many places around the world, in this regional and global struggle.

The UU United Nations Office (UU-UNO) takes the lead role for the UUA in supporting LGBT partners. If you are in the NYC area, the UU-UNO will be hosting a panel discussion this Thursday, February 27th, entitled “Basic Freedoms in a Homophobic World,” which will address the current homophobic laws in Nigeria, Uganda, India and Russia.

You can support the UN Office’s work in Uganda and around the world by making a contribution.  And, as news from our Ugandan partners becomes available, we’ll update this blog.

 

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Update: From the Unitarian Church of Uganda - 

The Unitarian Church of Uganda has just leant with regrets the signing of the Anti-Gay Bill into law by the President of Uganda – Yoweri Kaguta Museveni

The “Anti-Homosexuality Legislation,” is a law now in Uganda after President Museveni signed it into law. This controversial law has been the subject of international attention and concern over the impact on the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons in Uganda.

Our immediate response is: “The Ugandan government must immediately move to repeal the so-called ‘Anti-Homosexuality’ law which attaches severe criminal penalties to freedom of association and speech related to LGBT rights,”

“This law is so vague that it is could even lead to prison time for health workers ,Pastors ,Lawyers , teachers who provide care to someone thought to be gay , This Law also will see Ordinary Ugandans who believe in equality, humanity, and rights, could ending up in jail.”

As it’s the duty and obligation of Ugandan government  to protect everyone within its jurisdiction from violence, we need to see concrete plans to stop vigilante violence in the wake of this legislation and to investigate, impartially, all allegations of abuse so long as the law is in effect. The government must publicly declare that it will not tolerate violence against LGBT populations.

 

 

Final Session of the Open Working Group for Sustainable Development

We are Here, and We are Heard

Once again, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) played an active role during the final session of the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development. Between the dates of February 3rd and 7th, the OWG8 discussed important topics including Oceans and seas, forests, biodiversity, social and gender equality, peace, and security. We at the UU-UNO are able to attend some of these larger meetings as well as side events.

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The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development was formed following the Rio+20 Conference. Recognizing the importance of the environment and its impact on the greater web of existence, member states agreed to develop a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for the post 2015 agenda. It was decided to have an  “inclusive and transparent intergovernmental process open to all stakeholders, with a view to developing global sustainable development goals to be agreed by the General Assembly“.

Ocean and Seas, Forests, and Biodiversity

Day one and two of the OWG discussed the important issues of oceans and seas, forests and biodiversity. While a wealth of information was provided during the high level forms and side events, it can be summarized though a quote made by Dr. Sylvia Earle from National Geographic: “We need to protect our oceans as if our lives depend on it, because they do.”

Our oceans are one of the most of our important assets on this earth. An intricate part of maintaining biodiversity, sustaining life, and eradicating poverty, experts presented important areas to address in the post 2015 agenda. Many needs  such as reducing fishing overcapacity, reducing  harmful subsidies and reducing  illegal unreported and unregulated (IUU)  fishing, were discussed. If we fail to acknowledge the importance of what covers 70% of our planet, we will all suffer in the long run.SDblog

In addition to the importance of oceans for all life on earth, expert panelist discussed the role of forests and biodiversity. We cannot begin to address the well-being of humans without recognizing and protecting the benefits of nature. The role of sustainable agricultural and forests cannot be ignored due to its direct consequences of all life on earth. We must address these important issues, climate change, food insecurity, water security, and the ripple effect produced as a result. Mark Smith of the International Union for Conservation of  Nature (IUCN) stated during the event that without addressing forests and biodiversity in the post 2015 development goals, we are “building a  table with a missing leg.”

Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment

While women continue to  be primary victims of suffering, violence, and conflict, they are also primary actors in peace and democracy. By specifically addressing the role of women in sustainable development, we have the opportunity to empower, protect, and promote these key players for generations to come. The post 2015 agenda must  identify the multiple forms of discrimination and the structural inequalities that exist and perpetuate gender inequality in all areas. The inclusion of women’s voices and experiences will lead us to positive development in multiple human rights issues including sustainability. sd2

Women’s empowerment must directly address access to resources, basic services, and decision-making power that many women across the world are denied. Addressing these issues is a prerequisite for poverty eradication. Many topics such as access to land rights, essential surgery, prenatal care, education, employment, and social inclusion are the corner stones of improving our world. Many participants expressed the need for a stand-alone goal on  gender equality women’s empowering. As stated during the Achieving Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment for Sustainable Development side event, “Can anyone run on one foot? No. That is society without women.”

CONFLICT  PREVENTION, POST-CONFLICT PEACE BUILDING

Sustainable development plays a key role in peace building and ending violence. Building economies though environmentally conscience development is a key component of ensuring safety for generations to come. Mary Robinson, Chair of The Mary Robinson Foundation stated that peace, security, human rights,  and development, are both interconnected and interdependent.

The side event, “Peace and Sustainable Development: A Two-Way Relationship” addressed the inherit connection between environmentally conscious economic development  and durable peace. Poverty, refugees, climate change, forced migration, war and conflict, and human rights transgressions have the potential to be meaningfully addressed though sustainable development.

This important side event sd2addressed the dichotomy between development, governmental aide, and economic gains in peace building. It was noted that while many benefits can come as a result of development, if not strategically used, can inevitably lead to greater conflict. Examples given illustrated how many countries use additional revenue on military spending. Panelists went on to elaborate how many countries stress the importance of being “ready for war” yet devote little funding towards prevention and peace building. This important point was in line with statements made earlier during the high level forum by Zambian delegate on behalf of South African Countries. He stressed the importance of addressing conflict prevention, post-conflict support, and the pursuit of lasting peace as key components of the Post 2015 agenda.

A Message of Hope

The OWG8 reiterated its commitment to address all aspects of sustainable development in the post 2015 agenda. This final session concluded the 11 months of work at the United Nations from experts and stakeholders on these and other important issues. Addressing these issues has grown in importance among the international community over this time. Beginning with only 30 Member State representatives, there were 70 representatives active in the final group. These representatives not only represent their countries, they spoke on behalf of a collection of countries thus the majority of countries were represented in these important high level forms.

All sessions of the Open Working Group On Sustainable Development  grappled with some of the most cross-cutting and challenging issues faced by the world today. With Economic Social and Cultural Committee (ECOSOC) consultative status at the United Nations, the UU-UNO was able to actively participant in these important talks and represent the values and principals of the larger UU movement. The UU-UNO was able to fulfill its mission of promoting a world community of peace, liberty and justice for all. We encourage all UUs to be a part of this work by becoming an envoy, interning, volunteering, galvanizing your congregation, and donating. We lay the bricks that build our future, be sure to leave your mark.

Eleanor Mason

9c940f4d-48b1-4fa9-bbec-c1b773c0d6ccOur esteemed colleague and beloved friend Eleanor Mason passed January 29th, 2014, peacefully in her daughter’s arms at the age of 94. A founding member of the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship (MUF), Eleanor was the UU-UNO volunteer Envoy Coordinator for many years, succeeded by Peggy Montgomery. Eleanor remained the UU-UNO Envoy at MUF before turning the position over to Shari Loe. Eleanor remained dedicated to and closely involved with the UU-UNO to the very last. We were always happy to listen to her informed and experienced views, which she shared with us liberally. She was a strong pillar of the UU-UNO. She served on our Board of Directors for several terms, participated in Annual Intergenerational Seminars, and always represented us at General Assembly. Her devotion to the United Nations NGO community grew out of her passion for world peace and her work with Peace Women. We mourn her passing and will miss her support, advice and spirit beyond measure. Here are some remarks received after the notification of Eleanor’s passing:

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Eleanor Mason. I recall her enthusiasm and positivity during the time I served on the UU-UNO board. She and many others were so encouraging to me in my role of envoy. Eleanor and I shared a special experience when we took the elevator up the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Missouri – so fearless! May her legacy live on.   - Janet Hillen, Ontario Canada

We honor Eleanor for her lifelong leadership and strong power of example as an educator, traveler, athlete, mother/ grandmother, sailor, humanist, peace activist, treasured friend, and one of the best organizers we’ve ever known. Chair of the Department of Physical Education at Drew University, founding member and 50+ year leader of the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship, and longtime United Nations promoter through your steady involvement with Peace Action and the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office, she worked tirelessly with spirit and creativity. - Peggy Montgomery, succeeded Eleanor in her role as Volunteer Envoy Coordinator

Dear Friends, Thank you for letting us know about Eleanor. It was always an honor and an inspiration to work with her…please convey our sympathy to her daughter and the rest of her family.  Sincerely yours, Sue and Vernon Nichols

Thank You for sharing, our blessings are sent to her family.  With joy, Janet and Marlowe Nortrom

I worked with Eleanor on the Board and on committees of the UU-UNO for more than a decade. I always admired her dedication and service both to UUs and the UN community. She was dedicated to fostering the work of Envoys, which was and is so important to the work of the Office.  - Richard Kopp, Envoy emeritus, UU Fellowship of Huntington, NY

I was minister of the Morristown Unitarian Fellowship from 1968-78, and remained a member until moving to the UUA in 1986. I simply wish to add my words of praise for Eleanor Mason. She was an active member of MUF and I remember her passion for the UN office.  Sincerely, Clark Olsen

She was so valued by me and many envoys as well as young and older attendees at the seminars. I’m sorry that I can’t let her know that at long last, through no specific efforts of my own this year, a group of members of our High School group are planning to attend the UU UNO Seminars. Her family no doubt knows what an extraordinary person she was and how many people have benefited from her knowledge and easy, encouraging manner.  - Marge Owens, Envoy, Paint Branch UU Church in Adelphi, MD

She was the first envoy coordinator and established the program! What impressed me was her dedication – she may have had some trouble getting around, but that didn’t stop her from zipping around the conference center asking people to sign her AIW and telling them about the UU-UNO and inviting people to get involved!  - Holly Sarkissian, former UU-UNO Envoy Coordinator

We are thankful to have had a Eleanor Mason touch our lives.  It is clear with these positive remarks about her influence, she has touched lives beyond those she met.  We can reflect on her life and her dedication to the UU-UNO and global family – a lifetime dedicated to international human rights.  She will be dearly missed and yet she lives on in each of our hearts, making the world a better place with each day of life.

KUJENGA MADARAJA: Spanning Cultures

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New York became the World Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist community hub when 120 participants from 25 different countries gathered January 27-31 for the Council Meeting and Conference of the International Council of Unitarian Universalists (ICUU)).

This was first time that the biennial meeting was held in the United Sates, with the main meetings convening on the campus of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Shelter Rock in Manhasset, New York. Fifty members of the congregation volunteered to look after the participants, which included feeding our esteemed guests American cuisine during their stay; a thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings was held as well.

The conference theme was KUJENGA MADARAJA: Spanning Cultures, an exploration of how our progressive religion, known by many as Unitarianism and Unitarian Universalism, can be a language of faith spanning cultures and uniting us in love and compassion. Kujenga Madaraja is a Swahili phrase referring to “Bora kujenga madaraja kuliko kuta,” which translates to “It is better to build bridges than walls.” It is taken to mean “It is better to unite than to separate people.” Swahili is mainly spoken as a second language by many Africans, to communicate with others beyond the dialect of their respective tribes. It reminds us of the potential of our language of faith to transcend the cultures that may separate us if we can discover and master multi-cultural skills and perspectives. (more…)

FUSW Youth Exchange Program

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U/U youth are invited to participate in an international youth exchange program through the First Unitarian Society of Westchester (FUSW). Since 2008, American U/U youth have been exchanging with U/U families in Europe for a couple weeks each year, experiencing the profound transformative power of cultural immersion.

The fee for participating in this program is nominal, entailing round-trip airfare and spending money; host families provide room & board, welcoming visiting youth into their homes to experience day-to-day life in the host country.

If you have a youth traveler interested in participating, or if your family is interested in hosting, contact John Cavallero, FUSW’s Director of Religious Education with questions.

View the application for further details and submit it to FUSW by April 10, 2014.

A Review of the LGBT-Faith and Asylum Network Retreat

A Review of the LGBT-Faith and Asylum Network Retreat

January 8-January 10, 2014

The trip from New York City to Washington, D.C., daunting as it may seem for a first-timer, is quite easy and comfortable. As a native New Yorker, born and raised, I had never embarked on a trip to D.C. via public transportation, but after learning about this retreat, I knew it was aphoto 1n opportunity I couldn’t miss despite my New York state of mind.

After being brought on board the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) as an intern this past September, I have been charged with exploring the needs of LGBTQI asylum seekers and refugees to the United States. It had become apparent to the Director, a retired Foreign Service Officer, that the needs of this group are not currently being met. Given the two-fold mission of the UU-UNO to engage in the work of the UN to promote a peaceful, just, sustainable, and pluralistic world, as well as to inspire Unitarian Universalists and others to support such work, it became clear that the UU-UNO should join forces in meeting this unfulfilled need. (www.uua.org/un)

LGBT Faith Asylum Network (LGBT-FAN) is a newly assembled group made up of faith leaders, asylum-seekers, asylees, activists, LGBT community center staff, policy experts, and refugee resettlement workers dedicated to helping people who flee to North America because of persecution in their home country based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. More information about LGBT-FAN can be found at the website, www.lgbt-fan.org.

For some readers, this may raise questions, maybe even for most. It’s fairly complex, but in its simplest form- at least 76 countries of the world currently criminalize same-sex relations. Meaning, it is a punishable crime to be gay or to engage in homosexual acts. An accused person may be arrested (or in some cases illegally seized) and tortured. Among these countries are Uganda, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Iran, Jamaica, and more recently Russia and Ukraine, just to name a few, and in some countries, even face the death penalty (www.ilga.org) The 1951 Refugee Convention states that a refugee is someone who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” In order to become a refugee, a person must have a national identity outside of the United States and receive a referral from the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP.) This is especially complicated considering that one’s safety depends on their ability to remain secretive. For this reason, among others, such individuals are forced to flee their country and begin the process of seeking asylum when they are at the United States border. This person, unlike a refugee who comes to the United States through a refugee resettlement process, is considered an “asylum seeker” and there are few services currently available for such a person. As a result, they are often detained in less than humane conditions for extended periods of time, face abuse in detention centers, and ultimately may be deported back to their country of origin. Individuals who are not deported and allowed to stay are not allowed to work. This begs the question: How can one survive in a foreign country where they may not speak the language, have no family, and do not qualify to receive services or find work?

How can we as a nation and its members at all levels of awareness of this issue begin to take steps to end the perpetuation of abuse of human rights within our borders? In an effort to share the tremendous wealth of information on this issue I obtained while at the LGBT-FAN Retreat with dedicated professionals from all over the United States and Canada (which as a nation has already adopted progressive policies on this matter), I present this retreat review.

I traveled with the Director of the UU-UNO, Bruce Knotts, as well as Elizabeth Cormier of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco. Our first stop after arriving in D.C. was Senator Feinstein’s office to speak with Counsel Emily Hyams. She was very open to hearing what we had to say and seemed interested in the issues surrounding the LGBTQI refugee and asylum seeking communities, particularly because Senator Feinstein has a reputation of being a supporter of LGBTQI rights. The trouble we ran into was around answering her questions about exactly what happens when an asylum seeker comes to the US. The truth is it depends. There is no formal network for asylees until after they have been given asylum status. This deficit is exactly what LGBT-FAN and the collaborative member retreat aimed to address.

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Wednesday afternoon, before the Retreat began, at Capitol Hill was a briefing on “Asylum as LGBT Persecution Escalates.” The briefing sought to provide information on the needs of LGBTQI asylum seekers, specifically three major focuses for policy change. Among them are the one-year filing deadline for asylum applications, alternatives to immigration detention, and the “bed quota” which requires that 34,000 detention facility beds be filled each night.

Professionals spoke with passion and conviction to a crowded room of people about how the one-year filing deadline for asylum applications does not meet the needs of the applicants. Panelists mentioned considerations such as the mental health obstacles after facing trauma and the journey toward self-identification. Research done by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) identified a high rate of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the asylum and refugee sexual minority community. This report, “Invisible in the City” can be read at: http://www.hias.org/uploaded/file/Invisible-in-the-City_full-report.pdf. A one year deadline does not respect the process of “coming out,” especially for someone without a support system and who has likely spent a significant portion of their life hiding this part of themselves. In the event that the individual is comfortable coming out, how will they feel about their need to prove their sexual identity to the U.S. Government when their very reason for fleeing to the U.S. is to escape an intolerant government in their country of origin? Furthermore, how will they prove this without access to paperwork, legal documents, photos, and “witnesses” from back home? The representative from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society drew a parallel between LGBTQI asylum seekers to Soviet Jews, who had to hide their Jewish heritage for decades in the Soviet Union and then when they came to America, had to demonstrate persecution based on their religion. Similarly, LGBTQI asylum seekers strive to hide their sexual orientation and/or gender identity to survive, only to be required to effectively articulate their identity upon arrival to the U.S.   Like the Soviet Jews, peeling back the layers to find one’s true self while effectively describing the oppression one has spent a lifetime trying to escape may take more than the required year to happen.

Issues around detention facilities were also discussed. Detainees have limited access to communicative methods, thus they have little chance of accessing an attorney, forcing them to figure things out for themselves. If an individual is identified as LGBTQI, they are placed in solitary confinement. Though this is for “protective” purposes, solitary confinement is a form of punishment used in prisons. Sexual abuse is also happening in detention centers and allegations of abuse are not adequately investigated. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) released a recent report on this matter. The note can be viewed at http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b32d4.html. Panelists also discussed the immigration bed quota that requires ICE to fill 34,000 detention facility beds nightly. Surely, panelists argue, we can come up with a more humane way of addressing immigration control concerns.

Other obstacles that the refugee and asylum seeking community face were also discussed. The process of seeking asylum “takes a long time and is very difficult”, one asylum-seeking panelist who wishes to remain anonymous pointed out. Having no health insurance, money, food, shelter, clothing, or social and emotional support is aggravated by language barriers, heavy accents, and a general lack of awareness of United States laws and culture. This gap in foundational support has been addressed by some faith based organizations in the United States, including the members of LGBT-FAN.

Rochelle Fortier-Nwadibia, an attorney on the panel who has worked on asylum cases, eloquently stated that, “This country serves as a beacon of hope for many being persecuted.” If we continue to criminalize, convict and isolate, how are we any different here than they are there? A briefing attendee stated that, “In order for change to happen, there has to be support, a constituency, and political pressure.” One can sign a petition to members of Congress on these issues at: http://www.change.org/petitions/honor-the-human-rights-of-lgbt-asylum-seekers-in-the-u-s. An appropriation bill is rapidly approaching, remind Congress to keep these issues in mind!

The issues previously mentioned would permeate the conversations of the entire retreat and will become fruitful in ways not immediately evident, even to participants. LGBT-FAN members from Washington, D.C. to Chicago, San Francisco, Worcester, MA, New York City, Toronto and New Orleans convened to discuss the group’s role in doing this work including motivation, coordination, strengths and opportunities, leadership, mission, governance, and service gaps that service providers and those newly informed could take on.

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After a full day of careful debate and decision, LGBT-FAN hosted a reception at the DC Center for the LGBT Community where attendees were able to hear from LGBTQI asylum leaders and asylum seekers from all over the U.S. and Toronto on their thoughts and experiences. Max Niedzwiecki, LGBT-FAN Coordinator, opened with a discussion on the difference between an asylum seeker, a refugee, and an asylee. A worksheet put out by LGBT-FAN defines each term and can be seen at http://www.lgbt-fan.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/LGBT-FAN-Definitions-Jan-2-2014.pdf. Others gave input on obstacles and service deficits. The panel was live streamed and can be viewed at http://m.ustream.tv/recorded/42580175?utm_campaign=www.lgbt-fan.org&utm_source=ustre-am&utm_medium=social&rmalang=en_US.

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The final day’s activities consisted of debriefing, implications, and reflection. I left the retreat with an enormous respect for the people who have dedicated so much of themselves to others, especially when no one else will; for that is the true definition of activism. I left the retreat with a renewed awe for the courage of the individuals who have endured such a terrible pain of the world- hate perpetrated by others, and have survived and thrived despite the seemingly endless forces working against them. I left the retreat with a new state of mind. I no longer feel like the disconnected lone pioneer I once did, but a part of network, a team bound together by an unrelenting passion for human rights and social justice.

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                                                                          -Lauren Potenza

 

Beyond Agreements and Laws – Doing World Peace with International Bridges to Justice

Is world peace an optimist’s dream? Something shouted at war protest by people who don’t understand the way the world works? Or is it something much more realistic? If you want to take action that’s beyond just talking about it – this is for you.

Screen Shot 2014-01-13 at 9.33.44 PMAs broadcast on KKFI Kansas City Radio, Shawna Foster, US Coordinator for International Bridges to Justice, shows how stopping torture implements world peace. And how easy it is for you or your congregation to be a part of it.

She builds off of Rev. Karen Tse’s startling revelation that 98% of torture is preventable. It can be eradicated quickly, if we in the West seize on the opportunity to help other countries figure out their own methods for implementing human rights, rather than just talking about it or making another new law.

We can free youth wrongfully imprisoned and make it so that no child is born in jail, enforcing due process. Learn how it’s done by listening below, or visiting ibjuu.org.

Update: Struggle for LGBT Rights in India

Copy of Gay--621x414With the passage by Uganda’s Parliament today of a law imposing severe punishments for homosexuality, it has continued to be a profoundly disturbing month for LGBT rights globally. But one cause for hope has emerged today in India, where, last week, the country’s Supreme Court shockingly upheld a law criminalizing gay sex.

India’s central government has now approached the Supreme Court to petition for the case to be re-heard by a larger bench of judges. The fact that the government chose to take this next step in the appeals process is an important indication of official support for LGBT rights in India.

In response to those arguing that Indian culture opposes homosexuality, the government’s petition to the Supreme Court states, “Even in India, Section 377 [the law criminalizing gay sex] was introduced not as a reflection of existing Indian values and traditions, but rather, it was imposed upon Indian society due to the moral values of the colonizers. Indian society prior to the enactment of the IPC [Indian Penal Code] had a much greater tolerance towards homosexuality.”

After the Supreme Court’s judgment last week, protestors gathered in India’s major cities to make their opposition heard.

In one moving instance at a press conference, Gautam Bhan, a leading gay rights activist and petitioner in the Supreme Court case said:

I was asked by a reporter today, ‘Isn’t it daunting to fight the Supreme Court?’ Do you know what’s daunting? It is that moment when you are 15 and you are terrified of who you are. If we have survived that, the Supreme Court does not know what fear looks like.

Hear Bhan’s statement here:

UUHIP will continue to post updates about this struggle unfolding in India for equal rights.

Uganda Passes the Anti Homosexuality Bill

On Friday, December 20,index 2013, the Ugandan Parliament passed the long-dreaded kill-the-gays bill otherwise known as the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. 

The bill, as passed, does not call for the death penalty; instead, it mandates life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality.” However, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has not yet signed the bill and much remains unclear about what has transpired today, and more importantly, what will happen in the days to come.

Followers of this story, which began in 2009, will remember that the Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament had promised to pass the bill as a Christmas present last year; though delayed, it seems the Speaker made good on his promise, to the dismay of LGBTQ activists all around the world.

There remains much that we don’t know.  We have yet to get a copy of the bill to know exactly what it says.  There have also been questions as to whether the Ugandan Parliament actually had a quorum today, which is necessary to pass any legislation. 

President Museveni has long been against the passage of this bill, knowing the international consequences and stating that Uganda already has sufficient anti-homosexuality legislation to fully criminalize homosexuality in Uganda.  However, on his visit to Nigeria two weeks ago, Museveni’s tune began to change; he called on Nigeria to support his stand against Western governments, imploring the nation to follow his lead to “preserve African culture.” During this same visit, Museveni was quoted as wondering why the west is “not concerned about the development of my country, they are only concerned about gays.”  

Nigeria also passed an anti-same sex marriage bill this week. Both the Ugandan and Nigerian bills call for lengthy prison terms (life imprisonment in the former and 15 years in the latter). Groups combating HIV/AIDS are urging both nations not to sign into effect their respective anti-homosexual policies as doing so compromises efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in both countries.

Our partners at Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) have issued the following statement on the passage of the bill:

SMUG has learnt that the Bill as passed by Parliament maintains the prohibition of consensual same sex acts between adults and prescribes a penalty of life imprisonment for so-called repeat offenders. It also requires “persons in authority, including persons exercising religious or social authority to report offences under the Act within twenty four hours or else face imprisonment for three years or a fine.” Furthermore, the Bill maintains the offence of “Promotion of Homosexuality” against anyone who acts as an accomplice or in any way abets homosexuality and “related practices.”

 

“I’m outraged and disappointed that the Uganda parliament has acted in a very ignorant and irrational way” said Frank Mugisha the Executive Director, SMUG. “We shall fight this legislation TO THE END.” he asserts.

Read the full statement here.

A UU-UNO former intern Russell Hathaway, now a student at the University of Chicago, has prepared a detailed history of LGBTI issues in Uganda.  To read this, please click here: LGBT Rights Uganda.

The UU United Nations Office is in touch with all of our partners in Uganda, seeking to better understand what the bill says, how that will manifest, and if it has even legally passed. We’ll be following up with actions UU’s can take to stand in solidarity with the Ugandan LGBTQ community once our partners advise us on how best to support them at this difficult time.

In the meantime, your support in our ongoing efforts to combat global homophobia is needed now more than ever: Please donate to the UU-UNO today.

Dark Day for Gay rights in India

Last week’s report that India’s Supreme Court had issued a ruling upholding the criminalization of gay sex was shocking.  And, LGBT activists in India have organized and responded quickly.

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Derek Mitchell, the Director of the UUA’s Holdeen India Program writes from New Delhi that,

“This development has been deeply disturbing and was largely unexpected. The ruling party in India has taken the position that this decision should be overturned, either legislatively or through executive action. The LGBT activist organizations that brought the initial case to court have said they will file an appeal so it can be heard by a larger bench of judges.”

The UU United Nations Office is also consulting with interfaith partners about a collective response.  The UU-UNO has monitored press accounts in India which indicate widespread criticism of the Supreme Court striking down of the 2009 High Court ruling which struck down the British colonial era law which criminalized same-gender love.  Many prominent political leaders want to see this criminal ban removed, so there is hope that the Indian Parliament will do what the Supreme Court failed to do and end the criminalization of same-gender love.

Updates will be posted here in the days ahead.

UNAIDS calls on India and all countries to repeal laws that criminalize adult consensual same sex sexual conduct

GENEVA/NEW DELHI, 12 December 2013—UNAIDS expresses its deep concern that, through its recent decision on the constitutionality of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the Supreme Court of India has re-criminalized adult consensual same sex sexual conduct. In 2009, the Delhi High Court had found unconstitutional the application of the 150-year-old law criminalizing “carnal intercourse against the order of nature” between consenting adults. Now, again in India, gay and other men who have sex with men, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people face the possibility of criminal prosecution.

“The Delhi High Court decision in 2009 had restored dignity for millions of people in India, and was an example of the type of reform we need for supportive legal environments that are necessary for effective national AIDS responses,” said the Executive Director of UNAIDS Michel Sidibé. “We want government and civil society to be able to provide HIV information and services to all people, including gay and other men who have sex with men, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, and for them to be able to access the services without fear of criminalization.”

The 2009 decision by the Delhi High Court to annul the law was widely considered a milestone against homophobia and towards zero HIV-related discrimination. In the past four years since the law was annulled, there has been a more than 50% increase in the number of sites providing HIV services for gay and other men who have sex with men, as well as transgender people in India.

For the protection of public health and human rights, UNAIDS calls on India and all countries to repeal laws that criminalize adult consensual same sex sexual conduct. Such criminalization hampers HIV responses across the world. These laws not only violate human rights but also make it more difficult to deliver HIV prevention and treatment services to a population which is particularly affected by HIV. On average globally, gay and other men who have sex with men are 13 times more likely than the rest of the population to be living with HIV.

UNAIDS urges all governments to protect the human rights of gay and other men who have sex with men, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, through repealing criminal laws against adult consensual same sex sexual conduct; implementing laws to protect them from violence and discrimination; promoting campaigns that address homophobia and transphobia; and ensuring that adequate health services are provided to address their needs.

In the 2011 United Nations Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS, all UN Member States committed to removing legal barriers and passing laws to protect vulnerable populations. 

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