Last Thursday U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was the keynote speaker at the State Department's GLIFAA Pride event. While the secretary gushed about his department's accomplishments for LGBTI people and reminded us to be active instead of alarmed at the growing global anti-LGBTI trend, the embassies he leads were turning down visas for LGBTI Africans to attend San Francisco Pride 2014, whose theme is "Color Our World With Pride."
Kerry said that he joins the world in celebrating Pride Month and "reaffirms its commitment to the promotion and protection of the human rights of LGBT persons around the globe."
And yet the State Department was not willing to support the LGBTI visa applicants whom I'd invited to march with me in my San Francisco Pride community grand marshal contingent. The State Department denied seven people a platform to speak about the persecution in their countries, presumably for fear that they might not return home to the countries that persecute them. And after they were denied, a clear pattern emerged, and I pulled 11 of the remaining 14 applicants.
While the Obama administration and this secretary of state have supported the LGBT movement like none before, there is no excuse for this flagrant snub and the homophobic attitude expressed by some of the consular officials who did the interviewing.
The State Department has refused to allow the African LGBTI community to participate in one of the most significant LGBTI events in the world. Thus the U.S. is exacerbating their victimization by extending the domestic persecution of these LGBTI persons into the global arena.
Recently President Obama announced blacklist measures against Ugandans who persecuted LGBTI persons. It seems, in effect, that by denying these Pride visas, we may as well have added the victims of the persecution to the blacklist too.
Thirty-four countries in Africa penalize homosexuality, with life imprisonment or even capital punishment for some. In this past year draconian penal codes have given way to harsher anti-LGBTI legislation in Uganda and Nigeria. We have not done enough to directly assist the criminalized LGBTI community members who have been directly impacted by state-sanctioned homophobia and transphobia, many of whom need urgent humanitarian assistance. Members of these communities should be permitted to come to the United States to bear witness, especially those whose voices are silenced by countries that criminalize so-called "promotion" of homosexuality.
"No matter where you are, no matter who you love, we stand with you," noted Kerry in that Pride-affirming speech. "And that's what pride means, and that's what drives us today."
And he further assured, "The journey isn't complete. The march isn't over. The promise isn't perfected. But we will march on together."
The consular officials, working under the leadership of Secretary Kerry, have failed to abide by this promise, doing the exact opposite, rendering his words mere lip service.
No, Mr. Secretary, it seems that in fact we are not marching together. You have denied us all that privilege.