LGBTQ+ Rights in Africa

Tuesday, August 8, 2023
Baz Ratner/Reuters

Co-Chair, Council for Global Equality

Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

Executive Director, Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum


Associate Dean and Associate Professor of Justice and Rule of Law, Africa Center for Strategic Studies; CFR Term Member

Panelists discuss the status of LGBTQ+ rights in Africa, along with the opportunities and challenges of U.S. foreign policy and U.S. aid in advancing equality and human rights in the region. 

KELLY: Great. Well, welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations meeting, entitled “LGBTQ+ Rights in Africa.” 

My name is Catherine Kelly. I’m associate dean and an associate professor of justice and rule of law at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. And I will be presiding today’s discussion with Julie Dorf, co-chair of the Council for Global Equality; Michelle Gavin, the Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations; and Adrian Jjuuko, executive director, Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum. 

We’ll start off with about thirty minutes of Q&A with the panelists. And so I have a few things I’d like to get the ball rolling on in terms of the discussion. Let me first ask each of the speakers to talk about what is the current state of LGBTQ+ rights in various parts of Africa? And I asked this because, given the diversity of the continent both politically and culturally, how much can we or can’t we generalize? Maybe I’ll start with Julie. Then we’ll move to Adrian and go to Michelle. Julie, over to you. 

DORF: Thank you. Thanks for having us today. You know, obviously, there’s an enormous diversity of lived experiences across the continent, from countries with zero visible queer organizing to countries with scores of LGBTQI organizations; from being enshrined—the non-discrimination provisions based on sexual orientation and gender identity being enshrined in the South African constitution, the right to marry equally with your heterosexual couples, to some of the world’s worst anti-LGBTQI laws in the world, including the death penalty. We have leaders who are neutral to mildly sympathetic to outright homophobes making inflammatory public comments, calling us worse than dogs and pigs. And, obviously, huge identity and cultural differences between North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. 

And while it’s super hard to overgeneralize, there are some clear trends, nonetheless. This region relative to the rest of the world has a disproportionate number of colonial-era sodomy laws, many which are actively used to prosecute people today, many that are still on the books and used for extortion. All of them used to instill fear, to excuse discrimination, and to keep LGBTQI people feeling like second-class citizens. From Morocco to Zambia, we have these laws being used, from Egypt, you know, to Kenya, to Uganda. They sometimes use forced anal exams, which we consider a form of torture and rape, to prove homosexuality. 

I think there are two things going on at the same time across the continent. One is a huge population growth and enormous numbers of young people, young Africans, who are exposed to the modern world through, you know, globalized media, who are increasingly not just connected to one another but coming out as LGBTQI, and ambitious about what they want and deserve in terms of rights. They’ve got—they’re more visible on social media. There’s dating apps, et cetera. At the same time, we have this history of a vast Christian, conservative movement and part of the culture. And we can’t, as Americans looking at this, disregard the role of the United States government and Christian Evangelicals in terms of what has happened over time. 

PEPFAR alone—especially in the first years of PEPFAR requiring one-third of its funding to go to abstinence—has vastly contributed to the growth of the church networks across the continent, some of whom we’ve had to defund because they’ve been directly involved in things like the kill the gays bill in Uganda. There’s a vast—that’s public dollars. With private dollars, we have an enormous Christian media network and just—and the export of individuals who are coordinating a deliberately anti-gay campaign across the continent. We’ll talk about—Adrian can talk more about that in terms of the specifics of Uganda. 

And along with, you know, these changing norms and modernization in these extremely religious countries, is backlash. And resulting discrimination attempts at legislating away queerness, an increase in so-called conversion therapy. And honestly, on a—just a real human level, a lot of stress, safety concerns, and fear. 

KELLY: Adiran, would you like to add anything on this question? 

JJUUKO: Yes. Thank you so much. I’m going to focus a bit more on Uganda. You were just given the broader picture of what’s happening all across Africa, but I’m going to be specific on Uganda. The—(inaudible)—bill—or, sorry, I call it bill. (Laughs.) That’s how we used to call it for a long time. But now it’s an act of parliament, meaning that it’s actually a law and it’s imposed in Uganda. It has been imposed now for two months. And the situation, the way we live, the way we work, has really changed because of the law being in force. 

In terms of cases—because what we mainly do is record cases—in terms of cases, we are seeing an increase. In the first month, there were about forty-six cases that were as a result of people’s sexual or gender identity. And then last month, July, there are now fifty-three. So we are seeing an increase from forty-six to fifty-three. And many of these cases largely involve violence and violations against LGBT persons. So for the month of July, the largest number of cases have actually been cases over eviction. Last month was violence, now it’s eviction. So the rates for eviction for this month alone twenty-six. Last month, we had nineteen cases. Cases of violence in this month, I know twenty-one. Last month, we had twenty-three. And cases of arrests are now six. And then last month we had four cases, which is an increase in the total number of cases, and also an increase in the number of persons who have been violated through these cases. 

So as the—(inaudible)—the cases that we found before the courts of law, challenges to these laws are yet to be heard. So the courts have not given us an indication. Right now the courts are in vacation. So you have to apply for certificate of urgency so they can urgently hear our cases, because violence continues and the law continues to inspire violence. But we are—we are going to apply to—(inaudible)—when the court will be able to hear us. We have also sent a priority case before the East African Court of Justice, bringing out police from Kenya, out police from Rwanda, from Tanzania, so that we have joint force of East Africans before our regional court, the East African Court of Justice. There are no indications, yet again, of when that will be heard. But at least we are making the effort to make sure that at least we get justice at all levels, in the—(inaudible)—courts but also in the courts at the regional level. 

Thank you. 

KELLY: Michelle. 

GAVIN: Well, thank you so much. It’s such a pleasure to be here and to have the opportunity to learn from these terrific panelists. 

I think what I would just add is just to note that while there are differences across the continent, you know, in general, southern Africa tends to have a better legal framework than other parts of the region. If you look at polling that Afrobarometer does around tolerance, there’s a—still a long way to go in terms of changing social attitudes around the LGBTQ community. So the last round of Afrobarometer polling that looked at these issues asked questions like: Please tell me whether you would like having people from this group as neighbors. Would you like it, dislike it, or not care? And they asked about all different kinds of social diversity, different religions, different ethnicities. And they asked about—they asked about homosexuals. And the thirty-four-country average of those who would not care or be positive about it was 21 percent. Only seven of the thirty-four countries had over 20 percent numbers for tolerance. 

And so I say this just to note that when we see, I think, some of these very draconian pieces of legislation come up, there’s a political strategy to this, right, that that leaders are pursuing. It’s often a distraction from other critical issues—economic hardship, grand scale corruption in government. And to distract from what might be popular opposition, a demand to hold government accountable, we suddenly find that we can kind of drum up support for the state by scapegoating this particular community. And so I think it—you know, that’s an important piece to keep in mind. 

I do want to underscore, though, Julie is absolutely right in her point about youthful, increasingly urban, increasingly digitally connected communities who get more exposure, right, to diversity and to critical human rights issues. So it’s not it’s not—it’s not that I believe these Afrobarometer numbers are static, right, or that social attitudes are static. But I do think that’s an important point to make. 

The only other thing I would say around kind of contextualizing the state of LGBTQ+ rights in the region is I think it’s really important always to frame this in the overall state of human rights in the region, right? Because there are so many dire issues. None of that makes this one—minimizes the importance of these issues. But when we talk about it, particularly as a U.S. government, you know, it’s important to note, for example, in Uganda, right, people are being rounded up, tortured for their political views, because they support the opposition. And it’s important, I think, to make this part and parcel of the broad human rights conversation.  

One thing I noticed—I do a lot of research looking at social media in the region—is when the U.S. announced the visa ban for certain Ugandan officials undermining democracy, it was understood by so many Ugandans as being specifically about this incredibly draconian and hateful legislation. And while I think it’s important to stand up for this human rights issue, and all human rights issues, there was a lot of discussion on social media, you know, why now? The elections were in 2021. And people were—you know, people were killed, right? People’s rights were denied.  

And so the point I’m making is just what’s clear to me is that to make progress on this issue, we have to be standing up for human rights consistently across the board, including this one, and not be kind of picking and choosing our moments because it’s it actually undermines support for these incredibly important protections and basic rights. 

KELLY: Thank you so much, everyone, for a great first round. All really excellent points that build off of one another. We’ve been talking about this a bit, but let me explicitly ask the question. And, Adrian, we’ll start with you this time. What would you say some of the successes and challenges have been in your context to advancing LGBTQ+ rights? And I’m hoping that by asking this to each of you, you can each describe a bit of your work while you’re doing that, as you further fill out the answer to this question. I know we’ve had a little bit already, but if you’d like to elaborate, Adrian, over to you. 

JJUUKO: Thank you so much. And that question is really good, because some people may think that we are no longer working, or we’re no longer existing in Uganda. Actually, we do. And that’s the little—I think that’s the silver lining of this cloud, the fact that we can be able to continue doing our work despite the hardships, difficult circumstances.  

So what we’ve done is to simply continue working. Like, regardless of what they want to do or what they plan to do to us, we just work the way we’ve worked before. And, first, we put out a statement on the case to show that, you know what, we believe that the right to access justice is the right for every single person, regardless of what the law says. The right is international guaranteed right, but also guaranteed under our own constitution. 

So for now, LGBTI services do continue. We do reach out to different parts of the country and give services to LGBTI people. But, of course, there’s a real challenge of finding the LGBTI people at the moment, because now everyone is in hiding. And because of that increase in the number of evictions by the local authorities and the landlords, this has even made it much more complicated to do work. Also, we have challenges with meeting spaces. Like, the—(inaudible)—that we could go—(inaudible)—before and host our meetings, that has changed a little a bit in the recent past. Police are now much more scrutinizing our activities whenever we’ve asked for space to host our meeting. That has made it much more complicated. 

So people cannot debate that now is more complicated than before. People communicating, engagement in terms of we used to do sessions with our paralegals, with committee members about skills or advocacy—skills on human rights. All that is no longer taking place because we are all cautious about what this means, what the government may do. But I think what has also become more complicated now is the fact that the government is busy investigating organizations—actively investigating organizations, and not only LGBT organizations for that matter.  

So the (NGO bureaucracy ?) has been visiting organizations and asking them questions about their work, their funding, what they do. And already in January they put out a list of organizations that are regarded as “promoting homosexuality,” where my organization was also listed, and also a number of the partners that we work with. This makes it much more complicated in terms of the work environment. But also it leads us to basically do self-censorship. Like, all right, can I do this? Can I speak out? So if you look at the nature of our reports that we issue right now, they are basically just the facts. Like we say, we’ve handled this number of cases. We no longer say, well, the government should repeal this law, the government should stop persecuting people. Because we believe that if we say that, the government will take that as evidence of promotion of homosexuality. 

Probably there have been talks that have been going around that the law is not being implemented. In reality, that law is already implemented. You have the law in place. We all kind of have to conform to the law, because that’s what the law does. The law makes you all be in line. So apart from the arrests that happen, people are already enforcing the law in that they won’t give you space, they will evict you from your own premises, and they will deny you access to—say, to services, if you go seek these services from various people.  

So that is the situation in which we work. We still exist. We still report to work every single day. We are being investigated. We don’t know what the future holds. We are in suspense, mostly. But most of our community have gone into hiding, and that has made things much more complicated. Thank you. 

KELLY: Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. 

Michelle, I know you did some work on this in Botswana. Would you be willing to chime in next, and then we’ll go to Julie. 

GAVIN: Sure. Well, I think the Botswana story is a really positive one, I served as U.S. ambassador there between 2011 and 2014. And during that time, there was an ongoing court case regarding the registration of a civic organization designed to protect the rights of the LGBT community in in Botswana. What was really interesting for me, knowing that I had a very—I had very clear instructions to try to raise the importance of these critical human rights issues—was talking to contacts, talking to people sort of at the village level around social attitudes about this. And it became clear quickly that things were trending in the right direction in Botswana. There was an awareness that the laws on the books were sort of imports from a different legal system. There was certainly awareness that gay, lesbian, and bisexual people had long lived in Botswana, and that they—that this was not some kind of new cultural import.  

And I was really delighted to see that, you know, that organization did get registered by 2016. By 2019, the high court struck down criminalization and the government felt it had to appeal. They lost the appeal. So Botswana has decriminalized same-sex relationships. And it’s been a continuum of progress, right, moving through the courts. I think this is possible in part because the rule of law is quite strong in Botswana. But one of my takeaways was that advocacy was incredibly important, but it was also very, very important to make it clear that this positive momentum was coming from Botswana. It wasn’t coming from me, from the United States government, or from the West.  

And that—when I think about then that flipside of your question around challenges, I’d say one of the really big challenges right now is the way that Russia and others, most recently the Iranian president, right, made his trip through Africa, and was sure to make common cause with President Museveni on this issue. The way that geopolitics have entered the discussion, and Vladimir Putin’s notion that there’s a Western war on traditional values, has become a huge part of the LGBTQ discussion in Africa. So there are those who are quite deliberately working to strengthen a narrative that says these basic human rights protections are about foreign Western influence. And in fact, that simply the existence of LGBTQ people is somehow about foreign Western influence. And that is a huge challenge. It’s a huge problem. And it’s something I think will get worse down the line. 

KELLY: Julie, anything to add on this question? 

DORF: Yeah. I mean, I think, you know, to somewhat generalize for the successes in the region, both Adrian and Michelle just, you know, discussed some of the excellent lawyering that’s been happening, and the use of the courts by amazing activists like Adrian and others. And that, I think, points to the growth of the grassroots and national anchor LGBTQ organizations, like LEGABIBIO in Botswana and HRAPF in Uganda, and NGLHRC in Kenya. I mean, these groups are run by extraordinary people. They’re creative. They’re courageous. They are challenging, you know, in-country.  

And they’re not HIV service organizations exclusively, which has been historically where the LGBT movement in the continent has come from. And there’s a there’s a big difference between service delivery and advocacy techniques, personalities, and, honestly, the type of courage it requires. I think, also, Adrian spoke to the East African Court of Justice. I think there’s been an increase in regional—in coordinated regional approaches at the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights. You know, baby steps. I mean, we’re not talking about huge successes, but these are important steps to building an infrastructure of a movement that can challenge, you know, the challenges—(laughs)—that we’ve also discussed. 

There’s also been more direct political constituent involvement in parliaments. And we’re seeing the beginnings of a few champions here in there who are willing to stand up in—and be our champions in in the legislatures. I think, in general—I think of Sudan, prior to the current situation but a few years ago when we had a moment of hope that there was a popular revolt, as an as a perfect example of what we’ve been seeing across the globe. Which is that actual integration, to Michelle’s point earlier, about these rights being part and parcel of a larger human rights, and what it means to be a modern democracy. That it means that there are equal rights for LGBT people as well. And we saw this in Lebanon, in Burma, in Chile, in Thailand. 

And in Sudan you saw visible LGBT activists as part of those revolts. And of their demands being part and parcel of the list of demands to the government. Now, they didn’t—in none of those cases—maybe Chile, you know, one could argue that they succeeded. Thailand, maybe. But, you know—but nonetheless, that is brand new. I mean, I’ve been in this movement for thirty years. And seeing that level of integration into popular movements is promising, I think. 

We did—Michelle already spoke about the southern African regional successes, as well as the unfortunate role of Russia in terms of challenges. You know, I think the two really big challenges is the ease of political scapegoating by politicians to deflect against corruption and economic woes. I’m just underscoring what Michelle said earlier. But particularly during, prior to election cycles, this is a phenomenon we see over and over and over again. I encourage people to go take a quick peek at the Twitter feed of the Russian ambassador in Kenya for just—you know, just read a couple of his posts. And you will see exactly what Michelle’s talking about in terms of this, you know, anti—of conflating LGBT rights and anti-Western ideology. This is a politically motivated—this isn’t really even homophobia. This is just a political abuse of the rights of a vulnerable population. 

KELLY: Well, we have about five more minutes before we try to move into the question-and-answer portion with the others who have joined us. So let me ask one more question. It’s worth discussing for more than five minutes, but if I could ask each of you three to do what you can briefly and maybe this will come out further in the Q&A. I wanted to save some time on the role you think U.S. foreign policy could play, if any, in advancing these rights? And which part of the U.S. foreign policy community is best placed? So with this one, let me start with Michelle, and then we’ll continue along from there. 

GAVIN: Sure. Well, I will—I will be brief. And I think there absolutely is a role for the U.S. in continuing to stand up for and advance human rights in our own society and abroad, right? And so I really do think it’s important to contextualize this issue. It’s really just in this broader human rights movement to be honest about our own journey, and our own failings, and the work we still have to do, right? Usually our human rights dialogue goes over better when it’s not coming from some place of imagined moral superiority but a sharing of experiences. 

I think that getting this right requires not just a whole-of-government approach but you know, critically, the role that civil society has played, and has always played, in human rights advances in the U.S. Civil society has, you know, influenced foreign policy it in the pursuit of policy that aligns with our values over and over and over again. This should be no exception. But the thing I want to really underscore, then I’ll stop talking, is that I do think it’s critical for U.S. policy makers, in particular people representing the USG, to listen to the advice of people like Adrian, the real experts, people who are incredibly courageous in their pursuit of these rights. Because every context is different, every historical situation is different.  

And to achieve the goals we all want to see, it has to have a sense of an organic, socially driven social change. And that’s not—that can’t be dreamed up in a meeting room in Washington, right? So we need to be listening to our partners, always with them in the lead, about how we can be helpful. Not imagining we’re swooping in with all the wisdom in the world. 

KELLY: Well, speaking of Adrian, Adrian, would you like to come in on this next? 

JJUUKO: Yes, I’d like to, because thank you so much, Michelle, for that. I want to be very direct and very clear on this. I want to thank the U.S., for starters, for really standing up to be counted on this. I’ve seen that kind of backlash that happens whenever the U.S. speaks out about LGBT rights in Uganda, and maybe in Africa. But it still continues to show that this is its position. So that we really appreciate. 

What I would like to see being done more, however, is not a slacking of the pace, nor to give up because people are saying, well, the laws have been implemented—(inaudible)—doing Western imperialism over us. That argument has been used over and over again, the issue of Western imperialism—over and over again. They use it every single time they want to cover up something. So for me, once the U.S. stands for something, they should be able to defend that regardless of what our leaders are basically saying. But also this the question of the others. With our bank, for example, state institutions—U.S. institutions, like USAID, what are they saying on this? And when are they going to implement whatever has been promised before? Even by the president himself, things have been promised. When are they going to be implemented? 

But I’m also thinking about the EU, for example. The EU are supposed to be good partners with the U.S., but the EU has gone really quiet of recent as regards this issue, and also the EU separate states. We want the U.S. to also come in with this partner so that that voice becomes stronger. This is the time when we need other countries much more than before, because our own government won’t listen to us. You know, most of the time we speak, they don’t really care. But they care about other countries, what they think of them.  

So I’m going to give you an example as I conclude. The Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights closed on Sunday, this Sunday. They are gone. They are gone without an uproar, without anyone saying, well, don’t go. They’re gone. And the government—that means that government can do whatever it wants to all of us. If the watchdogs are being sent away, what happens to us here in the country. So for me, my request is let us continue pushing until we get rid of this law in Uganda. Also the other laws coming up in countries like Ghana and other countries. Thank you so much. 

KELLY: Thank you. Julie, would you like to chime in? 

DORF: Yeah. I’d like to just put a finer point on what they both just said, and use Uganda as an example. I think, first of all, it is really hard to get the U.S. government and any other government—friendly government to prioritize human rights issues without an intense amount of both internal and external advocacy. And it’s true, I mean, our government is at its best when there are civil society forces that bring in expertise and ideas, and honestly, constituent engagement to move them in to do the right thing. They are constantly weighing and balancing a whole host of equities and it’s hard to prioritize human rights. And it’s even harder to prioritize the controversial rights, like these, within that framework. 

And what it means to be a whole-of-government approach is genuinely a whole of government. It is not just our ambassadors saying the right thing. It is not just the president of the United States, or whatever senior official, saying the right thing. It is actually doing things, real things. Like in the case of Uganda, you know, the president of the United States said we would do a whole host of things. Only some of those things have happened to date. And we do not want to play into the hand of President Museveni, who said very clearly, oh, they don’t really mean it. They’re not going to come through with this. And that’s kind of the moment we’re in right now with Uganda. 

There’s direct diplomacy. We have a special envoy for LGBTQ rights at the State Department, who is extraordinarily well-versed and talented in these issues, to help work with our diplomatic staff on this. Sometimes we need quiet diplomacy. Sometimes we need not-so-quiet diplomacy. We have all—a whole host of economic policies. We have AGOA status. We have other trade preferences. We have trade agreements going on with Kenya next door. We have foreign assistance, both a teeny tiny bit to the LGBT community and a much larger amount that goes via other civil society groups and to the government. We have been—activists in Uganda, which we have echoed in Washington, would like to see no direct funding of the Ugandan government until this law is gone. Well, PEPFAR is reconsidering that at this moment. 

We know that robust economies are made more possible when there is no discrimination in the workplace. There is an actual cost to GDP of discrimination. These are concepts that should be part of our economic policy. We know that the HIV response cannot succeed in criminalized contexts. That is just fact proven over and over again by data. Our global health investments should reflect that. These are taxpayer dollars. We have a whole host of human rights tools, sanctions, Global Magnitsky, visa restrictions. Just today I got a long list of activists who need to get out of the country quickly, or need to know that they can, who need visas. Expedited visas coming out of the U.S. embassy is not a simple thing. (Laughs.) It requires—that in and of itself requires a huge amount of advocacy. 

Anyway, these—and then, as Adrian said with the World Bank, we need to bring our allies along. U.S. should not be doing these things by themselves. So these are huge—you know, a robust set of tools that we have at our disposal. The bully pulpit is probably the most important thing. We need to not normalize this terrible law from our perspective. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield was asked on MSNBC last week about this. And she said, well, it’s not really being implemented. Well, that’s just not true. And that isn’t the right position for the United States to take at this moment. We need to keep the pressure on. 

KELLY: All right. Well, on that note we’re six past the hour, so we have about twenty-five minutes for Q&A with those who’ve joined us. So at this time, I would like to invite CFR members and guests to join the conversation with their questions. As a reminder, this meeting is on the record and the operator will remind participants how to join the question queue. 

OPERATOR: (Gives queuing instructions.) 

We’ll take our first question from Tami Hultman. 

Q: Hi. I’m from AllAfrica. 

And I’d like comments on something said at a CFR panel that I moderated on religion and foreign policy, where Professor Lamin Sanneh was asked by an attendee why Africans were so homophobic. And his learned response was that African societies typically had been very tolerant of gender identity differences, and that he attributed growing intolerance to Western influence, particularly from extremist Evangelicals. And he pointed out that government repression now is made easier by still-existing colonial legislation. 

KELLY: Thank you, Tami. Could we add a second question to our queue, and then we’ll do maybe a first round after that? 

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Aaron Mertz. 

Hi. I’m Aaron Mertz. And I work at the Aspen Institute as director of our Science and Society Program. 

The U.S. is not immune to its own problems on this topic. And many of those issues are drastically different from what you’ve discussed today. What are effective ways to persuade American organizations and American advocates to take an interest in this topic in Africa? And what concretely could they do to help the cause from so far away? 

KELLY: Great. Who amongst our speakers would like to tackle these first? OK, if there’s no answer, I’m going to go to Michelle. (Laughs.) 

GAVIN: All right. I’ll take a stab. So, Tami, I think—I think you’re right. (Laughs.) You know, my reading of history suggests that’s absolutely the case. And that actually this kind of extreme homophobia, that’s the cultural import. But, you know, untangling where we are now, that’s the work to be done, and going to take time. But, yes. Is there is there plenty of—plenty of blame to be attributed to homophobic organizations in the U.S. essentially exporting hate? Yes, absolutely. And there’s been a lot of good investigative journalism around this. 

Aaron, it’s so lovely to hear your voice. My thought, and I think that we have more expertise on this panel—(laughs)—I’m the generalist here—really is that the more you hear the stories of people like Adrian and his colleagues, the work that they do every day, it becomes, I think, quite a compelling case for support. So part of it is raising awareness that, A, this isn’t a lost cause. As Adrian says, it’s not like everybody’s shut down their work and, you know, gone home to hide. There’s incredible work being done every day. And I think also some of the work that you do, Aaron, in terms of continuing to socialize and make accessible to people all over the world the stories of LGBTQ people in every walk of life, in every sphere, and, you know, really help with that exposure piece that was such a huge part of social change in this country. Because we’re digitally connected now, that’s entirely possible. And I really believe it has tremendous value overseas, the same way it does here. 

KELLY: Julie, how would you respond? 

DORF: Well, Tami’s exactly right in repeating that. I don’t need to underscore that. 

To Aaron, I think it’s really important that, as Americans, we start to understand that there is a connection between—a direct connection between the anti-trans phenomenon that is sweeping the United States, and is being politicized by the extremist side of the Republican—well, what has become the Republican Party in our country—with what just happened in Uganda with this law. There are a small number of truly hateful people who have—who are globally well-coordinated and are sharing their political strategies with anti—as part of an anti-gender movement in the world. 

DeSantis’s his own communications person six months ago said that the idea for the don’t say gay bill in Florida came from Viktor Orbán in Hungary. Viktor Orbán’s tactics came directly from Vladimir Putin. It is not a surprise that in in Kampala a few months ago a meeting happened of extremist U.S. Evangelicals, together with extremists from across Africa to share legislative strategies to bring down LGBT rights. They are—these are directly connected global phenomenon. And if we want to save our own democracy, we have to see that connection and fight the ways that our own states in the United States are trying to bring down the rights of LGBT people using, in particular right now, the actual health of trans youth. And, you know, we have to be able to see through it, and we have to see those connections. 

KELLY: Adrian, over to you. 

JJUUKO: Thank you very much. Yeah, Tami, the professor was really spot on, because that’s the truth. The Africa that I know, that I was born in, that I grew up in, is not—is not homophobic, really. This is something that has really come in, imported. And for me, what I always wonder is why the Evangelicals cannot be dealt with by the Americans in America. Like, we all know this. We’ve been saying it for years. Research has been done. But America seems completely incapable of reining in its own Evangelicals. When we tried—Sexual Minorities Uganda brought a case in Massachusetts—we lost that case because of American laws and how they are framed. Many of the American laws don’t bring to the book American actors doing things outside of the U.S. So for me, I think and I pray that the U.S. does much more to rein in their own citizens who come and spread that. 

One of them who came to Kampala was one of the leaders in the U.S., and they made the—(inaudible). People can never meet, you know? And then they keep on telling us African values by Africans. And yet, Americans are basically telling them what to do about African national values, which doesn’t make sense. And then, of course, that also—Aaron’s question around what we can do from afar, for me, I think what we should not do is give up on Africa, is give up on Uganda, give up on Ghana, give up on all these countries, give up on the people in these countries. We have to keep on thinking about how can continue to support. 

So in my country, supporting LGBT groups is criminalized. But really, if you can think of it, many of the entities that (you would support ?) will be penalized for supporting LGBT people here. So if that support can be kept coming in as much as possible in terms of funding, in terms of technical assistance, it terms of visa assistance, where necessary for people—(inaudible)—and engage, we need that kind of support to continue. But for me, most importantly, speaking to your own government about its own role in all of this. Speaking to your own government to do the right thing is also very critical for Americans to do from home. 

Thank you. 

KELLY: Thank you all. Let’s go to our next question, Brianna. 

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Adotei Akwei. 

Q: Hi. Thank you so much. It’s great to see Julie and Ambassador Gavin. And, Adrian, very nice to meet you. Two—of course, I’m from Amnesty. 

I have two questions, and I’ll try to do them in one. The first one is, none of you have spoken about what’s going on in Ghana, where I think we are literally on our back heels because we have an administration that doesn’t have the courage, or the—I don’t know what it—is to basically stand up and say that this is not a Ghanaian value to promote hate. Or—and perhaps there seems to be some kind of a manifestation of the kind of influence that Tami and Julie spoke to, about Evangelical Christians heavily involved. And while Ghana is small, unfortunately, it may have a larger ripple effect in terms of tipping the balance and perception about what’s acceptable and what’s not. That’s the first question. 

The second is something to which Michelle spoke to, which was a true kind of reinvestment in human rights by the USG in a much, much more humble and honest way, with some integrity. I’ve always been struck by how the country that produces commercial public relations at a scale unseen is losing a war of communications. And that doesn’t mean that what works in—you know, in the United States will work in Africa, but I’m dumbfounded that we cannot figure out how to do human rights education and challenge perceptions. So wanted to find out whether any of you had ideas about what we do there to speak to Julie’s reminder that getting the USG to do anything demands NGO coordination at a large level, something that is happening at the regional level, as Adrian referred to, but clearly needs to happen on a different scale with this. Because we are losing ground, and not just on LGBTQI rights but also rights in general. So sorry, long question. I’ll stop there. 

KELLY: Who’d like to start? 

JJUUKO: Well, maybe I can start on that—on that last point about us needing to do more. Basically, looking at it, I like the question that you’re making about LGBT rights and—(inaudible)—Michelle made at some point. That’s very critical. And we shouldn’t just look at this as an LGBT rights issue, but also an issue of equality for everyone and an issue of human rights for everyone. 

And I’d like to comment about Ghana. Ghana is a little bit removed from Uganda—it’s on the other end—but that also shows the connection that we have. We have Ghana, we have Namibia, you know, we have Kenya—(inaudible)—or what we’re dealing with. The same thing with also what’s going on in Africa, being the same at the same time what’s going on in the U.S. We have a crackdown of human rights everywhere. 

So for me, I think it’s—and it’s critical that we don’t leave any other country behind, because once we lose the ball in Uganda, we’ll also most likely to lose it in Ghana, we’ll also lose most likely lose it in Kenya, we also mostly likely let Namibia pass the way they want to pass. So for me, it’s critical that we see all these different connections. Not just one country at a time, but all these different countries. And they all add up to one big thing. That’s why I was making the argument before, that if we let Uganda pass, for example, that this law is OK—and Uganda has been left to pass because some people think it’s not implemented or something like that—then that also sends a signal to Barundi, to Kenya, to Ghana, Namibia, we can also do it and get away with it. And we can’t let this happen. 

KELLY: All right. Julie, would you like to chime in? 

DORF: Yeah, I mean, Ghana is terrifying. I think—honestly, I don’t think our government had the right intelligence about the chances of that law passing. And it’s passed its first read, and it could easily become law quickly. When that law first came out, it specifically names a bunch of social media companies, including some that are starting to build out offices in Ghana. And we went to the private sector, and they didn’t want to—they didn’t want to get involved, even though they’re specifically named in the law. And so I am with you on the befuddlement. I feel like sometimes our government can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. (Laughs.) And there are multiple and related emergencies happening across Africa with the spread of these terrible laws. 

In terms of the communications, I mean, I think this is a long-term game. It is not a short term one. And we need—as you used the word “scale”—we need a huge investment in the scale of our movement. If you look at the annual U.S. human rights reports that the State Department puts out, and just look at the LGBT section alone, it is across the world. We are an enormously persecuted group of people in in most of the world, including in the United States. And the relative amount of investment we have into keeping these communities robust and able to respond, and even have a strategic communications plan, is totally unrelated. It’s one of the most underinvested movements, you know, in the world. So, you know, we’ve got to think about this in the long term. Not as a one-year strategy but as a decades-long one, if we’re going to be successful. 

KELLY: All right. And, Michelle, anything to add? 

GAVIN: Just that I’m glad you raised Ghana. I share the concern about this draft legislation. And I do think that what we see in Ghana, in some ways, it brings us back to the way this issue has been positioned when government is having to accept difficult terms, say from international financial institutions to deal with an economic crisis, it can be politically buoyant to look like you’re taking on the West with this issue. And it’s critical that we find ways to reframe this. This is not—you know, this legislation in Ghana is not a pushback against the West. It’s bullying the people of Ghana, their own citizens, and denying them their rights, right? But when it gets framed this way, it’s, I think, fundamentally unhelpful. 

So you’re right. We need to think a lot more around communications. And I couldn’t agree with you more, have the courage of our convictions about human rights across the board, and stop devaluing really important ideas— like democracy, right—by calling places that are really authoritarian democracies, democracy, right? That there’s—it’s a big—what you’re speaking to, I think, is big—much bigger than just this conversation. But what we’re doing is not working. And it’s making it easy for people to pretend that universal rights are somehow a Western, manipulative agenda. And we have to find a way to do better. 

KELLY: With that, let’s take the next question in the queue. 

OPERATOR: We’ll take our next question from Robin Mohr. 

Q: Good morning. Thank you all for this very helpful discussion. My name is Robin Mohr. I’m the executive secretary of the Friends World Committee for Consultation in the section of the Americas. 

Before I give my question, in the instructions it said, there would be a link to the participant list in the chat. And I joined a couple minutes late, but I’m not seeing a link to that in the chat. 

So my question is, do you see, or are you connecting with any of the religious communities or bodies that are willing to stand up for LGBTQI rights in Africa? As an example, I would show the Quakers in South Africa, and to a lesser extent in Kenya, Uganda, and Ghana. And I’m wondering whether that’s been part of your strategy, or if you haven’t actually been able to connect with those communities? 

JJUUKO: I think maybe I will take that first, is that OK? All right, so to give you an example, of course, we’ve been much more engaged in firefighting at this moment. Like both our cases in place, trying to get people out of jail, trying to get people to safe spaces, and places to go to, and all that. But at the same time, we’re also looking at the bigger picture of engagement. And certainly, one of the things that we’re looking at is engaging with friendly religious leaders. We’ve identified a few, but of course under this law it’s difficult for religious leaders to come out and speak out openly. So, yes, we know those who are supporting. You can look and be able to engage with us—who can be able to engage with the LGBT community. But then getting them to speak out is, in many cases, societal. 

And in fact, the case we did before we are in the Anglican Church, a bishop was defrocked because of support—he showed support for the LGBT community. So it’s a very careful—it’s a very tight line to walk. But at least we are getting some people who are moderates, I would say—who are not extremists—and that’s a good thing. And that’s happening at different levels within the—(inaudible)—that we have, even right now with the Convening for Equality, which brings us to now. 

KELLY: Thanks. I will note, we have about five minutes left and three questions in the queue. So I don’t think each of the three of you should feel like you have to answer each question, but I’ll give each of you, Michelle and Julie, a quick opportunity here before we hop to the next one. 

DORF: Robin, I’d love to connect with you offline. I think that there are some efforts to really raise the voices of supportive faith leaders. They’re extraordinarily important right now. Same with the voices of parents of—supportive parents of LGBTQ people. These are some of the best messengers for a long-term communications plan to address these issues. So thank you for the—there are some nascent attempts, but it’s not robust enough. 

KELLY: OK. And I’m being told by the team we can do one more question. So let’s go to that. 

OPERATOR: We’ll take our last question from Charlotte Clymer. 

Q: Hi folks. I’m Charlotte Clymer. I’m a writer and a trans activist here in D.C. Thank you so much for gathering for this conversation today. 

I wanted to ask you for your advice or for your insight within the realm of Africa and LGBTQ rights. Over the past few years I think one of the biggest problems that trans activists have encountered is, you know, certainly educating the wider public on trans issues, but perhaps a little more frustrating than that has been encountering otherwise very well-educated, and ostensibly progressive people who seem to embody, I would suppose, a level of arrogance on trans issues. They seem to, for—as just one example, they will seem to believe that sexual orientation is a choice—excuse me, and that sexual orientation is not a choice, but that gender identity is a choice. Basically, that being gay is not a choice, but that being trans is a choice. And this is, I guess, the level of, I would say, disinformation that we’re trying to fight right now. What have you seen in your own circles, in your own advocacy and policy circles, when you encounter this? Are trans issues getting washed out frequently? Is there a level of, you know, cultural competency on trans issues? 

KELLY: Adrian, would you like to start again? 


KELLY: No. OK, Julie? 

DORF: I do not think there is a level of trans familiarity or competency. I think you’re pointing to a really important piece. We’ve been seeing, you know, just watching the Hill, whether it’s members of Congress trying to ask questions to the secretary of state or to the administrator of USAID, a wide variety of responses when it comes to trans issues. (Laughs.) And so I think there’s quite a bit of need for people to become more familiar and more comfortable talking about these issues, and really seeing—whether it’s a choice or not is really besides the point, you know?  

We are—we are a country that has a value of equality and fairness and should be able to stand up for all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, presentation, et cetera. Whether it’s in the United States or elsewhere. And I think there’s a—you know, I would love for the next chief of missions’ conference for all of our nation’s diplomats to get a crash course in communication. I think with the variety of responses we have seen from ambassadors in Africa, from the amazing response from Ghana to the perhaps not so amazing responses in Kenya and Uganda initially, you know, people need to be able to talk about these issues better than they have. 

KELLY: Last word goes to Ambassador Gavin. 

GAVIN: I mean, I wholeheartedly endorse what Julie just had to say. I do think, you know, educating ourselves and, you know, finding the right language, finding the way to make connections, and being context specific, right? There are interesting kind of cultural antecedents in different places that speak to some of these trans issues, but that requires a depth of knowledge and understanding in a way to talk about that with nuance and respect that is time consuming. And it’s worth the investment, I think, of that time to try and advance the ball here. 

KELLY: All right. Well, with that we have hit the end of our time together. Thank you, everyone, for joining today’s virtual meeting. Thank you very much to each of our speakers. Please note that the audio and transcript of today’s meeting will be posted on the CFR website. And thank you very much. Have a great day.  

DORF: Thank you. 


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