Members of the Los Angeles’ gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community attended a town hall meeting Saturday to hear the ranking member of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Human Rights speak out against homophobic laws in African nations.
“Human rights … must be strived for, struggled for, and fought for,” U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, said at the Carl Bean House on Adams Boulevard.
“Many countries and movements are trying to take us back in time, dialing the clock back by centuries. Uganda and Nigeria get most of the attention, but we see this phenomenon happening in a lot of African countries.”
“Obviously when you have movements that are trying to dial the clock back — whether it’s the Taliban, or in Iraq, or in northern Nigeria with Boko Haram and Sharia law — they are trying to dial back progress on a lot of issues. LGBT rights would be dialed back,” Bass said.
“South Africa has one of the only constitutions on the planet that has LGBT rights in it, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that is what’s happening — we have rights and laws in our Constitution that ain’t happening either.”
Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 was signed into law in February but was struck down by the country’s constitutional court because there was no quorum when Parliament passed the law. Uganda had previously amended the law to allow for life in prison rather than the death penalty for same-sex relationships.
“Uganda requires health care workers to turn people in,” said Michael Feinstein, executive director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “It has had a devastating impact in terms of persecution and discrimination against gay men.”
In Nigeria, persons in same-sex relationships face up to 14 years in prison, have been beaten and seriously injured; many are in hiding as a result of the passage of the Same-Sex Prohibition Act.
“Other countries haven’t necessarily passed laws, but you still find the harassment of and discrimination against LGBT people because of cultural taboos and traditions,” Bass said.
Thirty-seven of Africa’s 54 countries have laws criminalizing homosexuality, according to a report from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and Human Rights First.
The Rev. Kelvin Sauls, a native of South Africa and a pastor at Holman United Methodist Church, asked Bass about any executive orders signed by President Barack Obama and the State Department’s diplomatic efforts in relation to the LGBT community.
“The president has been very vocal about the issues and talks to the leadership,” Bass said, “but I would guess the internal debate in the administration and the State Department would not lend itself to going in the direction of executive orders.”
Bass said the State Department had debated such measures as cutting off foreign aid and foreign relations, which would have affected the recently completed U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.
“We did cancel military exercises, and some funding for Uganda’s government programs and moved it into Non-governmental Organizations,” Bass said. “But we did not cut relations. We invited Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.”
Fifty of the 54 African countries attended the economic summit, which took place in Washington, D.C., last week during the current Ebola outbreak in several West African countries. The deadly virus claimed the life of Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, Sierra Leone’s leading doctor in the fight against the virus.
Dr. Khan served as the medical officer for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s Sierra Leone Country program and its free AIDS treatment clinic.
In response to a question from Weinstein regarding the treatment of non-American victims of the virus, Bass said, “The CDC still holds a leadership role in the fight against Ebola. The U.S. would be sending over tens of thousands of protective kits and had sent 50 folks over and more are going over.”
As the meeting wound down, Bass commented on the inconsistent political environment in Washington about human rights.
“LGBT human rights issues don’t come up on my subcommittee (on Africa, Global Health and Global Human Rights and International Organizations). I do serve as ranking member, but I cannot set the agenda.”
“The Congressional Black Caucus is active in meeting with and expressing concerns to ambassadors,” she said. “We feel very strongly about these issues. … I’ve been to Uganda, met with LGBT leaders and met with them in D.C. in the caucus.”
The Town Hall was sponsored by Holman United Methodist Church, In the Meantime’s X-Homophobia Campaign, the Black Los Angeles Young Democrats and the Los Angeles Black LGBT Network.