New York City Bar Association Hosts Public Forum on LGBT Rights in Africa

On April 23rd, the New York City Bar Association hosted a public forum called “LGBT Rights as Human Rights: Recent Legal Developments in Africa,” which considered developments in LGBT rights in relation to legislation in Africa that criminalizes same-sex activity or organizing on behalf of LGBT people. Panelists shared their perspectives on the complex causes of the legislation, including the legacy of colonialism, influence of fundamentalist religious groups, inflammatory political rhetoric and misuse of the media to incite violence against LGBT people. Also considered were the far-reaching effects of the legislation, which go beyond violence and imprisonment to include undermining national HIV and AIDS responses and excluding LGBT people from basic human rights entitlements such as schooling, housing and medical care. International actors have responded to the legislation with a range of actions, including threatening to withhold foreign aid from countries that institutionalize discrimination against LGBT people. Other responses have included the United Nations’ launch of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law to increase understanding of the effects of anti-gay laws on HIV responses; the consideration of such laws by United Nations treaty bodies during country review processes; and strategic litigation, such as the case against U.S.-based evangelical Scott Lively recently brought under the Alien Tort Statute by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda for Lively’s alleged role in persecuting the LGBT community in Uganda. The panelists noted that despite the disturbing trend in anti-gay legislation, some countries have rejected the laws as inconsistent with their public health policy, and a few countries in Africa have even decriminalized homosexual activity. The City Bar has repeatedly noted that it abhors the criminalization of homosexuality, the exclusion of LGBT people from full and equal participation in society, and the draconian criminal penalties, including death, contemplated by certain of the proposed and adopted laws at issue. In February 2010, the City Bar submitted a letter to President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda opposing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill introduced in Uganda’s parliament in October 2009, a version of which was reintroduced this year.  In January 2012, the City Bar submitted a similar letter to President Goodluck Jonathan with respect to the “Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill” pending in Nigeria’s parliament. The Association looks forward to continued dialogue with various actors to promote the human rights of LGBT people in Africa and other parts of the world. Panelists included Boris Dittrich, LGBT Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch; Bruce Knotts, Executive Director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office; Wade McMullen, Donald M. Wilson Fellow of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights; Pam Spees, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights; Dr. Cheikh Traore of the United Nations Development Program’s Sexual Diversity Team; and Malika Zouhali-Worrall, co-director with Katharine Fairfax Wright of the award-winning documentary “Call Me Kuchu,” about murdered Ugandan LGBT rights activist David Kato. The discussion was moderated by Jordan Backman, Chair of the City Bar’s Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights. Sponsors included the City Bar’s African Affairs Committee, Christina T. Holder, Chair; Civil Rights Committee, Brian J. Kreiswirth, Chair; International Human Rights Committee, Stephen L. Kass, Chair; Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights Committee, Jordan Backman, Chair; Sex and Law Committee, Pamela B. Zimmerman, Chair; Council on International Affairs, Mark R. Shulman, Chair; and the Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice, Alexander Papachristou, Executive Director.