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State Dept. highlights LGBT rights issues
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State Dept. highlights LGBT rights issues

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

For the first time, the State Department's Annual Report on Human Rights includes information highlighting human rights challenges faced by LGBT people worldwide.

The report, issued on March 11, describes human rights practices country-by-country.

Most of the country reports now include a section on "societal abuses, discrimination, and acts of violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity."

In a statement, Council for Global Equality Chair Mark Bromley commended the State Department for providing detailed information on assaults against LGBT people abroad.

"The level of reporting on LGBT abuses this year is remarkably detailed and truly commendable, and unfortunately this new level of detail shows just how dangerous it is for LGBT individuals to go about their daily lives as ordinary citizens in so many parts of the world," he said.

Michael Guest, openly Gay former U.S. ambassador to Romania, also praised the report, noting that "many of the most egregious abuses have been committed in countries considered to be friends and allies of the United States."

He urged the State Department to develop strategies to counter these abuses in every part of the world.

The new report identifies serious abuses against LGBT people in many countries, including cases where governments are threatening the lives of LGBT people or where LGBT people are facing torture.

The report takes particular note of three countries - Uganda, Iraq, and Jamaica - where the LGBT communities faced especially difficult challenges.

The report states that the introduction of the notorious Anti-Homosexual Bill in Uganda "resulted in increased harassment and intimidation of LGBT persons during the year."

"Public resentment of homosexual conduct sparked significant public debate during the year, and the government took a strong position against such conduct despite a December 2008 ruling by the High Court that constitutional rights apply to all persons, regardless of sexual orientation," the report says.

The report also details human rights abuses against LGBT people in Iraq. Following a congressional fact-finding tour to the country last year, openly Gay Rep Jared Polis (D-Colo.) worked to draw attention to these abuses.

Although Gay sex between adults is not illegal in Iraq, the State Department notes various reports of violence against Gay men at the hands of non-governmental elements.

The report cites accounts in the media indicating that around 60 Gay men were killed in the first few months of 2009, mostly in Baghdad, and the U.N.'s refugee agency found 30 men or boys were murdered because of their perceived sexual orientation.

"Numerous press reports indicate that some victims were assaulted and murdered by having their anuses glued shut or their genitals cut off and stuffed down their throats until they suffocated," the report states.

According to the report "The government did not endorse or condone these extra-judicial killings, and the [Ministry of the Interior] publicly stated that killing men or Lesbians was murder."

Other observers are not so sure that the Iraqi government - or part of it - is not complicit, however. It has been reported by Polis and others that the killers are associated with Shia militias which are believed to have infiltrated the Iraqi Interior Ministry and other agencies.

The report also notes serious assaults against LGBT people in Jamaica. The country has a law against "acts of gross indecency" between men, which is generally interpreted as any kind of physical intimacy.

According to the State Department, human rights abuses against LGBT people in Jamaica include "arbitrary detention, mob attacks, stabbings, harassment of homosexual patients by hospital and prison staff, and targeted shootings of such persons."

The report adds that police often do not investigate these incidents.

Individuals perceived as Gay were often the targets of extreme violence, according to the report. In September, an honorary British consul in Montego Bay was strangled in bed. The perpetuator left a note at the scene reportedly denouncing the victim as Gay.

"On October 12, a passerby accused a pedestrian on a Kingston sidewalk of being Gay because he had been walking in an 'effeminate manner,'" the report states. "That person was subsequently attacked with a machete and four fingers were nearly severed."

In her remarks introducing the report, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed hopes that the report would be useful in future human rights work.

"These reports are an essential tool - for activists who courageously struggle to protect rights in communities around the world; for journalists and scholars who document rights violations and who report on the work of those who champion the vulnerable; and for governments, including our own, as they work to craft strategies to encourage protection of human rights of more individuals in more places," she said.

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