About the Authors: Hilary Renner and Marissa Rollens serve as Public Affairs Officers in the Bureau of African Affairs.
On November 22, 2010, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Johnnie Carson hosted a roundtable with 45 representatives of domestic human rights, faith-based, and religious organizations to discuss the challenges of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people in Africa in light of current events in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Uganda.
The Department of State has sought to integrate LGBT issues into its diplomatic and outreach programs. Earlier this month, Under Secretary for Global Affairs Maria Otero hosted a discussion with local NGOs, examining the global challenges facing LGBT rights. The Bureau of African Affairs has engaged both domestically and abroad with LGBT communities and non-governmental organizations to integrate their voices into programs and policies.
The Department continues to advocate for legal reform in African countries such as the DRC and Uganda, focusing on discriminatory laws, prosecutions, and legislation. Legislators in Uganda and the DRC have introduced bills that would create even greater threats to the rights of LGBT people than they already face. In both countries, embassy officials have contacted LGBT activists to provide support. Secretary Clinton, Assistant Secretary Carson, and the U.S. Ambassador to Uganda expressed concern about the draft legislation to senior Ugandan government officials on multiple occasions. These efforts, combined with those of the international community and courageous Ugandans who stood up in defense of their rights, contributed to the eventual shelving of the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
In consultations with African LGBT activists, three consistent messages emerged on how the United States can improve its advocacy for LGBT rights. First, African voices must take the lead on LGBT issues in Africa. External advocacy and support is welcome, but outreach and activities must be formed by and according to the needs of the communities in the region. Secondly, the United States can help integrate LGBT issues into the larger human rights coalition in Africa. The Department can play its part by including LGBT groups and individuals in general human rights discussions and events. Finally, the Department needs to seek strategic opportunities for capacity-building, fundraising, and networking among activists in the region.
The Bureau of African Affairs and other bureaus in the Department will continue to work on these human rights challenges in the region, reaching out to LGBT activists to support their efforts on these important issues.