One of America’s leading advocacy organizations is urging Melania Trump to address LGBTQ rights on her first tour of Africa.
Three of the four countries Mrs. Trump is visiting as part of her “Be Best” anti-bullying campaign have laws on the books criminalizing homosexuality, as the media watchdog group GLAAD reports. The First Lady landed in Ghana on Tuesday, where same-sex intercourse is punishable by up to three years in prison.
The final stop on her six-day trip is Egypt, where Mrs. Trump will address tourism and conservation. While the country does not explicitly outlaw same-sex behavior, Egyptian police target LGBTQ people under its decades-old “debauchery” laws. More than 100 queer and trans individuals have been arrested in the past year.
As Egyptian authorities continue to crack down on the local LGBTQ community, GLAAD CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said Mrs. Trump must speak out.
“The First Lady is visiting four countries that do not share a single non-discrimination, pro-LGBTQ law among them,” Ellis said in a statement shared exclusively with INTO. “For all youth to thrive, LGBTQ youth must be included in campaigns around health, wellness, and emotional well-being. This means advocating for LGBTQ youth in places where being LGBTQ is criminalized.”
In addition to the colonial-era laws banning sodomy, GLAAD noted that all four countries on Mrs. Trump’s tour prohibit same-sex couples from adopting and do not allow trans people to update their birth certificates to reflect their lived gender identity.
While Malawian President Peter Mutharika has expressed some willingness to embrace progress, the leaders of Ghana and Kenya remain virulently opposed to LGBTQ rights.
Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo has claimed he has “no plans” to legalize same-sex marriage or decriminalize homosexuality. Meanwhile, President Uhuru Kenyatta stated that being LGBTQ is “not acceptable” and “not agreeable” in Kenyan society, adding that queer and trans equality is “of no importance” to his government.
For Mrs. Trump to take a stand against anti-LGBTQ foreign leaders would be a major break from her husband, who has remained silent on the subject.
As many countries took a sharp turn to the right on social issues over the past year, President Trump has failed to condemn crackdowns on queer and trans people in Azerbaijan, Russia, and Tajikistan. In the semi-independent Russian republic of Chechnya, more than 100 gay and bisexual men were beaten, tortured, or murdered in a campaign to exterminate the LGBTQ community.
The State Department released a statement calling on the Kremlin to investigate. The POTUS has not, 18 months after the purge began.
In fact, the Trump administration has explicitly stated it will not intervene on the subject in foreign nations. Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office and Management and Budget (OMB), claimed in July that President Barack Obama’s LGBTQ rights advocacy in Africa amounted to “religious persecution” intended to “discourage Christian values in other democratic countries.”
“It was stunning to me that my government under a previous administration would go to folks in sub-Saharan Africa and say… ‘We know you have a law against gay marriage, but if you enforce that law, we’re not going to give you any money,’” he told attendees of the State Department’s Ministerial on International Religious Freedom.
Accordingly, President Trump’s proposed 2019 budget slashed $800 million for PEPFAR, a program started by President George W. Bush to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa. Reports claimed the cuts would result in 300,000 deaths per year.
Although the White House could not be reached for comment on GLAAD’s campaign prior to publication time, the Oval Office has previously responded to criticism of her anti-bullying efforts. When the “Be Best” campaign was first announced in May, detractors argued it was hypocritical to campaign against harassment when her husband regularly targets his critics on Twitter.
Stephanie Grisham, Trump’s communication director, claimed the First Lady had “addressed this before.”
“She is well aware of the criticism, but that will not deter her from doing what she feels is right,” she said in a statement to CNN. “I would hope most people in this country are proud that they have a strong and independent first lady who only has the best interests of children at heart — I know I am.”
On the subject of Mrs. Trump bringing “Be Best” to Africa, Grisham added that “she is interested in Africa because she has never been before and knows that each country will have its own unique history and culture.”
During her first day in Africa, Mrs. Trump reportedly met with Ghanaian First Lady Rebecca Akufo-Addo. After a private tea at the presidential palace, she stopped at a hospital in Accra where she handed out blankets to mothers who had recently given birth. They were reportedly emblazoned with the “Be Best” logo.
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