In a bold move, the British government announced this week its new policy of tying foreign aid to LGBT human rights situations in countries it supports. The announcement â€“ perhaps the strongest statement in support of LGBT rights made by a major donor government to date â€“ has been met by LGBT activists in developing countries with a mix of jubilation and trepidation.
â€œBlue Diamond Society welcomes this news and urges other donors to follow this example,â€ said Sunil Babu Pant, a member of Nepalâ€™s Parliament and a leading LGBT activist, in reaction to the news.
In Kenya, gay activist and politician David Kuria supported the move and compared it with other ties between aid and rights in Kenyaâ€™s history. He told LGBT Asylum News, “[Pressure from donors] is what made the [Kenyan President Daniel arap] Moi autocracy give in to internal democratic struggles and human rights activists in Kenya during the late 1980s and 1990s.â€
But the expressions of support and excitement were quickly matched with concern.
LGBT Asylum News reported that Joseph Sewedo Akoro, Executive Director of The Initiative for Equal Rights (TIER) in Nigeria expressed concern, “what if this strategy of aid cut exacerbates human rights violation on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity?”
“Many countries in the global south are becoming sick of neo-colonialism and the global north’s imperialism. Therefore, they are planning strategies to become autonomous of foreign aid and challenge the hegemony of the Global north. Should they be succeed in this endeavour, this aid cut strategy will be counter productive.”
Jamaican LGBT activist Maurice Tomlinson believes in the power of donor countries to promote rights, but suggests they â€œemploy more sophisticated approaches to addressing homophobic governments, instead of simply resorting to cutting aid.â€
Tomlinson told Paul Canning that â€œtargeted approaches will yield better results than a high handed neo-colonial â€¦ posture of cutting aid which will only serve to alienate entire national populations, along with useful allies.”
The British government made moves this year suggestive of its position on LGBT rights and aid, but no policy had been discussed until this week. For example, Malawi has received Â£200 million (about $316 million) from Britain over the past three years, suffered a Â£19 million (about $30 million) cut in their aid from after two men were prosecuted for getting married to each other.
The cuts caused government backlash against Malawian civil society organizations known for supporting LGBT rights.
But in spite of the repercussions, Prime Minister David Cameronâ€™s proud and notorious comments about the Malawi aid cuts this summer presaged this policy shift. While hosting his second Downing Street LGBT reception in June, the PM said the government would continue to pressure governments, specifically those in Africa, on gay rights. â€œIâ€™m very proud of the fact we [put] huge pressure on the leader of Malawi about an issue in that country,â€ he said in a speech given to the small crowd without notes, â€œbut Iâ€™m convinced we can do more.â€
Ghana has also recently come into the LGBT rights spotlight and, as Paul Canning reports, some sources say that West African countryâ€™s aid from the UK is in jeopardy due to recent increases in anti-gay moves by the government. But with this official UK policy freshly minted, the implementation is yet to be seen. In contrast to the threats to make cuts, other recent public documents claim that the UK government will increase its development assistance to Ghana in coming years.
While tying aid directly to observations of LGBT rights situations might be a novel strategy, donor country involvement in local LGBT movements is nothing new.
The European Union has taken a similarly vocal stance against countries with poor LGBT rights records. As reported by EU Observer, Loius Michel, former EU Development Commissioner expressed strongly that the EU, â€œwill never accept that governments or politicians may use, or even exploit, any ‘cultural’ argument in an attempt to justify the hunt and demonisation of homosexuality.”
Material support for LGBT civil society groups has ranged from the casual to the official. For example, the first plastic chairs for Nepalâ€™s Blue Diamond Societyâ€™s initial secret meetings were donated by American Peace Corps volunteers. Soon after, BDS had its first official grant â€“ from USAID.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hinted at the United Statesâ€™ current position on its influence on LGBT rights around the world in a June 27, 2011 â€œprideâ€ speech.Â She said she was proud of â€œthe day-to-day work of our embassies and AID missions around the world to increase engagement around the issues affecting LGBT rights, especially in those places where people are at risk of violence, discrimination, or criminalization.â€
As debate foments around this current announcement by the British government, discussions on the proper methods for exerting moral authority in developing countries will arise. There is no question that foreign influence has buttressed local LGBT rights movements around the world. However there is also little doubt that colonial influence established many of the discriminatory laws that LGBT activists are challenging today.
Whether this move by the UK will be the powerful tool that activists in the global south have been waiting for, or too blunt an instrument for such delicate work remains to be seen.
Kyle Knight is a Fulbright Scholar in Nepal where his research focuses on the LGBTI rights movement. He previously worked at Human Rights Watch, where he focused on childrenâ€™s rights issue. For three years, he worked as a suicide prevention counselor for LGBTQ youth at the Trevor Project in New York City. He currently sits on the Trevor Projectâ€™s Advocacy and Public Policy Committee, is the president of the Duke University LGBT Network, and a is lecturer in Gender Studies at Tribhuvan University, Nepalâ€™s state-run university in Kathmandu. You can follow him on Twitter @knightktm.
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MN Police Officer Sentenced 3.5 Years for Death of George Floyd
Former Minneapolis police officer J. Alexander Keung has been sentenced to 3.5 years in prison for aiding and abetting manslaughter in the death of Black city resident George Floyd.
Keung, age 29, had accepted a plea deal in order to avoid an additional charge of aiding and abetting second-degree murder. His guilty plea acknowledged that the restraining holds used by police on Floyd were excessive and likely to cause serious harm.
Video of Floyd’s May 25, 2020 murder at the hands of city police captured footage of Keung kneeling on Floyd’s back while another officer knelt of the man’s neck. for over nine minutes, officers applied pressure to Floyd while he laid face down in the street, crying and telling officers that he couldn’t breathe while also calling out for his mother.
Video of Floyd’s murder sparked international outrage and inspired protests against institutional racism and police brutality.
Keung is the fourth and final police officer to receive prison time for his role in Floyd’s death. He will serve his new sentence and a federal sentence for Floyd’s death concurrently, serving a total of about 2 1/2 years for the killing.
Virginia Republican Files Bill Defining a Fertilized Egg as a Human
Virginia State Delegate Marie March (R) has pre-filed House Bill 1395, a law that would define life as beginning at fertilization.
“Life begins at conception and each person is accorded the same rights and protections guaranteed to all persons by the Constitution of the United States,” the proposed bill states.
The proposed bill would effectively outlaw all abortions in the state and even endanger the use of Plan B (aka. “The morning-after pill”), a medication that prevents fertilized egg cells from attaching to a woman’s uterine wall.
The bill could also effectively criminalize in vitro fertilization, a method of inducing pregnancy that uses fertilized eggs and discards any unused ones.
Even though Republicans control the state’s House of Delegates, it’s unclear if the bill would have any chance of passing the state’s Democratic-led Senate. The legislature won’t reconvene until January 11, 2023.
Virginia currently allows a woman to get an abortion within roughly 26 weeks of pregnancy. Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) has proposed passing a law that would reduce that window to 15 weeks, a period of time in which most women may not even realize they’re pregnant.
In response to March’s bill the Virginia Reproductive Equity Alliance said in a statement, “In the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and despite the vast majority of Virginians who oppose it, Virginia’s anti-abortion elected officials keep proving there are no limits to their extremism and true intentions to ban abortion for all Virginians.”
Georgia GOP Says Its Voting Restrictions “Backfired” & Helped Dems Win Senate Seat
When two Republicans lost Georgia’s special runoff senate elections in January 2021, state Republicans in the General Assembly re-wrote voting laws to restrict absentee ballots and give voters fewer days to vote in future runoff elections.
However, after Republicans lost yet another runoff election for Georgia’s Senate seat — with Herschel Walker losing to his Democratic competitor, Rev. Raphael Warnock, earlier this month — state Republicans want to re-re-write the rules, hopeful of a more favorable outcome.
Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), the official who oversees the state’s voting procedures, said he plans on giving three proposals to lawmakers when they return to the General Assembly in January.
“[The proposals] include forcing large counties to open more early-voting locations (in an attempt to reduce the hours-long lines some voters waited in) … lowering the threshold candidates must achieve to avoid a runoff from 50 percent to 45 percent; and instituting a ranked-choice instant-runoff system that would not require voters to come back to the polls again after the general election,” The New York Times reported.
To be clear, it’s unclear whether these changes would’ve helped Walker win. But they stand in contrast to the changes state Republicans made to voting laws following their failed January 2021 Senate runoff ambitions.
The changes after that time severely restricted the types of people eligible to receive an absentee ballot. While 24 percent of the January 2021 vote came via mail-in absentee ballots, the rule changes resulted in 5 percent of mail-in votes coming in for the January 2022 runoff.
Republicans also lowered the number of in-person early voting days to five (though the rule change allowed counties to add extra days.) The Times found that 28 of Georgia’s 159 counties opted to add extra in-person early voting days — 17 of the counties that did largely backed Warnock while 11 backed his challenger.
Before the recent run-off election, Raffensperger also tried to enforce a state law forbidding in-person early voting on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. However, Warnock successfully sued to prevent the law from going into effect.
Overall, the changes may have “backfired,” Republicans told The Times, actually encouraging Democratic voters to come out in greater numbers.
While Republicans point to the large turnout of runoff voters as “proof” that their changes didn’t discourage voting, Warnock’s campaign criticized the changes, saying that such restrictions shouldn’t make it harder for people to vote in the first place.
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