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USAID denies report that suggests it funds conversion therapy

OpenDemocracy report focuses on Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda

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The U.S. Agency for International Development says it does not promote so-called conversion therapy in response to an openDemocracy report. (Photo by Bigstock)

A six-month investigation conducted by openDemocracy has revealed multiple aid-funded health facilities in three African countries have been administering conversion therapy to patients. 

“Health facilities in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have provided, or provided referrals for, controversial anti-gay ‘conversion therapy’ to ‘quit’ same-sex attraction,” said openDemocracy in a statement.

Additionally, the statement mentions that undercover reporters who spoke to some staff at these facilities were offered help to quit same-sex attraction and were told that “being gay is ‘evil;’ and homosexuality is ‘for whites’, caused by peer pressure and a mental health problem.” They were advised to “give a gay teenager a sleeping pill to prevent him from masturbating.”

In an article that highlights their findings, openDemocracy reports that a receptionist at Mulago National Referral Hospital, Uganda’s largest public hospital and HIV clinic for marginalized and most-at-risk populations, said that an undercover reporter’s 17-year-old gay brother could “quit” his same-sex attraction.

“Whoever wants to quit homosexuality, we connect them,” said the receptionist to outside counselors, who have included Pastor Solomon Male, a well-known gay rights opponent in the area.

The receptionist also referred the undercover reporter to a former patient who she claimed was no longer gay and gave the reporter the patient’s phone number. 

Mulago, like a number of health facilities in Africa, receives foreign aid and funding from organizations like the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Global Fund, PEPFAR and the U.K.-based NGO MSI Reproductive Choices.

OpenDemocracy reports the Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau network received more than $1 million from USAID between 2019 and April 2021. It remains uncertain whether the specific hospitals identified in investigations received any of this money.

The donors in response to the investigation’s findings have committed to launching a separate investigation into the health facilities and taking action against so-called conversion therapy practices they are administrating.

“We strongly condemn this harmful, unethical practice, which goes against everything we stand for as an organization,” an MSI Reproductive Choices spokesperson told openDemocracy. “We are grateful for all safeguarding concerns raised and thank openDemocracy for their investigation.”

MSI Reproductive Choices also receives millions in aid from the British government and other international donors to specifically provide health services to marginalized communities, including gay men and transgender people. 

Survivors of anti-LGBT treatments’ in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have come forward to describe their experiences with conversion therapy.

“I was not allowed to make or receive any phone calls. They also gave me a lot of drugs that made me drowsy and exhausted all the time,” said Samuel (not his real name) to openDemocracy of his experience with conversion therapy. “I felt abandoned and was afraid I was going to die.”

Samuel’s parents sent him to a conversion therapy institute for a year and a half. OpenDemocracy said he was given electric shocks and shown pictures of “ruptured anuses and wounded penises” by people who told him that if he didn’t stop being gay, he would “meet the same fate.”

A transgender woman in Tanzania recounted that her mother took her to a hospital in Dar es Salaam, the country’s commercial capital, where a doctor attempted to convince her that being trans is improbable. 

OpenDemocracy also cites two men in Kenya who said they received hormones to appear more ‘masculine’ and to limit a trans person’s ability to present in their preferred gender.

As investigations into the allegations ensue, aid donors have begun to take action regarding health facilities that prescribe conversion therapy. 

Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, the Africa director at the International Commission of Jurists, a human rights organization, told openDemocracy that aid donors should ensure their money does not fund any conversion therapy activities — and to withdraw money if it does..

“Redirect funding,” said Yvee Oduor of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya. “We already have clinics and health centres run by LGBTQI+ people all over the country. Why not fund these community initiatives?”

A USAID spokesperson in a statement to the Washington Blade said the agency “does not fund or promote anti-LGBTQ+ conversion therapy.”

“The United States government, through staff at the U.S. Embassy in Uganda, has engaged leadership of the Uganda Catholic Medical Bureau and the Infectious Disease Institute (IDI) Uganda concerning the allegations cited,” said the spokesperson. “IDI subgrants to the Most At Risk Populations Initiative (MARPI) clinic in Kampala, with U.S. funding.” 

The USAID spokesperson told the Blade that officials from the U.S. Embassy in Uganda “emphasized the need to ensure support for key populations, including the LGBTQ+ community.” The spokesperson added “the implementing partners agreed to take steps to ensure” that “appropriate gender and sexual diversity training is provided to all implementing partner staff and health care workers and ensure refresher trainings” are carried out, that “hiring practices include principles of nondiscrimination in personnel contracts” and “a patient’s bill of rights is posted in facilities, and service delivery issues raised through PEPFAR’s Community-led Monitoring program are addressed.”

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Southeast Asia

South Korean electronics giant pulls LGBTQ+ affirming ad after backlash

The “Listen to Your Heart” campaign promoting its Galaxy Buds2 and Watch4, featured a Muslim mother expressing support for her drag queen son

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SINGAPORE – An advert campaign by South Korean electronics giant Samsung was yanked after significant backlash in this Southeastern Asian city-state from some members of its Muslim-majority community.

The ad, part of the company’s “Listen to Your Heart” campaign to promote its Galaxy Buds2 and Watch4, featured a Muslim mother expressing support for her drag queen son.

The ad was meant to promote Samsung’s new wearable products, like noise-cancelling earbuds and a smart watch with a heart rate monitor, the BBC reported.

The video featured several participants’ reactions as they listened to heartfelt recorded messages from their loved ones. One of the pairs of participants featured a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf as she heard a message from her son, who was a drag performer.

“You are just unbothered having people looking or judging you differently, having a son that does drag,” he tells her in his message.

The scene of the Muslim mother embracing her drag queen son sparked a torrent of negative commentary on virtually all social media platforms with some ad hominem remarks directed at Samsung which caused the electronics company to pull the ad.

In a Facebook post Samsung wrote;

“We acknowledge that we have fallen short in this instance, and have since removed the content from all public platforms,” Samsung said. “Samsung believes that innovation and growth are driven by diversity and inclusivity. We will certainly be more mindful and thorough in considering all perspectives and viewpoints for our future marketing campaigns.”

Members of the local LGBTQ+ community similarly expressed their disappointment at the ad being taken down.

“It was the first of its kind video coming from a minority group on a relationship between mother and son [and] was so affirming,” Hilmi, a centre manager at local LGBTQ+ organization Oogachaga told BBC News.

“As a queer Malay man, I am saddened to see a video that expresses unconditional love [being] taken down abruptly due to societal pressure from a group of people with conservative values.”

Marketing Interactive, an online Singapore-based daily news and email news service which is emailed every work day to advertising and marketing professionals in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Malaysia, interviewed Anand Vathiyar, managing director at Cheil Singapore, the ad agency Samsung partnered with.

The campaign was meant for people from all walks of life to be able to express their true feelings to their loved ones, Vathiyar said.

“What is heartening is that for everyone who is getting politically correct about this episode, there are many others, especially younger Singaporeans, who seem to get that we can do better to listen to each other with due care, empathy, respect, and consideration,” Vathiyar added.

Meanwhile, in a video posted on Instagram on Thursday, the BBC noted that the son featured in the video also reassured followers that he and his mother were “doing well.”

“I’m not going to talk about the comments that [were] said in [that video],” the drag performer known as Vyla Virus said.

“It was all about a mother’s love in that video, nothing else was mentioned.”

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South America

Chilean president-elect names two LGBTQ+ people to Cabinet

Gabriel Boric and his government takes office on March 11

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Chilean President-elect Gabriel Boric. (Photo via the Chilean government)

SANTIAGO, Chile — Chilean President-elect Gabriel Boric on Friday named two openly LGBTQ+ people to his Cabinet.

Marco Antonio Ávila, who is a gay man, will be the country’s education minister. Alexandra Benado, who is a lesbian, will be Chile’s sports minister.

Javiera Zúñiga, a spokesperson for Movilh (Movimiento de Integración y Liberación Homosexual), a Chilean LGBTQ+ rights group, applauded Boric for naming Ávila and Benado to his Cabinet.

“The visibility of sexual orientation and gender identity is no longer an impediment to access any position in Chile,” said Zúñiga in a press release. “Sexual orientation and gender identity are irrelevant for the positions, whether they are public or private. Capability is the only thing that matters.”

Boric and his government will take office on March 11. Chile’s marriage equality law goes into effect the day before.

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Mexico

Lesbian couple murdered, dismembered in Mexican border city

Julissa Ramírez and Nohemí Medina Martínez killed in Ciudad Juárez

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From left: Julissa Ramírez and Nohemí Medina Martínez. (Photo via Facebook)

CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — Authorities in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez on Sunday found the dismembered bodies of a lesbian couple along a local highway.

The dismembered body parts of Julissa Ramírez and Nohemí Medina Martínez were found in plastic bags that had been placed along the Juárez-El Porvenir Highway.

El Diario, a Mexican newspaper, reported the married women lived in El Paso, Texas, which is across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juárez. Authorities said relatives last spoke with Ramírez and Medina on Saturday afternoon.

A source in Ciudad Juárez with whom the Washington Blade spoke on Thursday confirmed Ramírez and Medina “were lesbian women” and their murder was “very violent.”

Members of Comité de la Diversidad Sexual de Chihuahua, an LGBTQ+ rights group in the state of Chihuahua in which Ciudad Juárez is located, and Chihuahua Gov. María Eugenia Campos Galván are among those who have expressed outrage over the women’s murders. Comité de la Diversidad Sexual de Chihuahua on Wednesday also urged local and state authorities to investigate whether the murder was a hate crime.

“People of sexual diversity are questioned, including their existence through heteronormative discourse,” said the group in a statement. “They have the right to a life free of violence in which they exercise all their rights, in addition to living without fear or fear of rejection and aggressions that can unfortunately escalate to hate crimes.”

El Diario reported Ramírez and Medina are two of the nine women who have been reported killed in Ciudad Juárez since the beginning of the year.

Personas de las Diversidades Afectivo Sexuales, an LGBTQ+ rights group in Ciudad Juárez, and feminist organizations on Thursday organized a protest during which participants demanded local, state and federal authorities do more to end to violence against women in the city. The press release that announced the demonstration specifically cited Ramírez and Medina.

“We seek justice and clarification in the murder of Nohemí and Yulissa, a lesbian couple who was found in Juárez-Porvenir Highway,” it reads.

LGBTQ activists and feminist groups participate in a protest against femicides in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, on Jan. 20, 2022. (Courtesy photo)

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