African activists watch for signs of support from Obama

News in brief:

President Barack Obama (Photo by Elizabeth Cromwell via WIkimedia Commons)
President Barack Obama (Photo by Elizabeth Cromwell via WIkimedia Commons)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As President Barack Obama prepares for a trip to Africa starting June 26, LGBT activists in Africa are watching to see whether he will lend them any support.

The Associated Press reported that “the U.S. administration’s cautious promotion of gay rights in Africa” is “an issue that is likely to come up during President Barack Obama’s visit this week to three African nations — South Africa, Senegal and Tanzania — the last two of which punish homosexuality with jail time.” The article added:

The U.S. has made it a priority to promote gay rights overseas, but officials pick and choose when they talk about it, often citing concerns about igniting a backlash that could endanger local activists. …

By signing a December 2011 memorandum instructing federal agencies to promote the human rights of gay people overseas, Obama publicly inserted himself into Africa’s bitter debate about whether homosexuals have legitimate rights. Since then American diplomats have forcefully pressed for gay rights behind closed doors, especially in countries that criminalize homosexuality, say experts and advocates. Officials have also expanded outreach to local organizations promoting gay and lesbian rights, improved monitoring of anti-gay abuses and established an emergency fund for activists facing violence or harassment.

But the public positioning has been discreet, with the U.S. government clearly wary of any backlash that could put local activists at risk.

“Given that African societies tend to be very conservative, it’s a difficult issue,” [Philip] Carter, the U.S. ambassador in Ivory Coast, told The Associated Press. “The question for us is, how do we advocate effectively and advance the human rights agenda for the LGBT community, or any other community that is in a difficult position? And sometimes the headlong assault isn’t the way to do it.”

At a reception in Ivory Coast in advance of Obama’s trip, the ambassador Carter thanked the guests for their courage in the face of persecution and vowed that the U.S. would continue to advocate on their behalf, AP reported.

“I asked the ambassador whether Obama would discuss the issue when he goes to Senegal,” said Claver Toure, who attended the private reception and is executive director of the gay and lesbian group, Alternative Cote d’Ivoire. “It will be very important for him to talk about us with African leaders, and also in his speeches. It will give us strength to let us know that we are not alone.”

For more information, read the full article here and elsewher: “Obama walks tightrope on gay rights in Africa.”

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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