The New York Times raised many eyebrows with its provocatively titled article from December 20, which asserts that “U.S. support of gay rights in Africa may have done more harm than good.”
The piece focuses primarily on both U.S. government support for “gay rights” globally and on recent developments in Nigeria, which in 2014 passed the anti-gay “Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act,” making same-sex relations punishable by 14 years in prison and making it a crime for gay groups to meet.
Norimitsu Onishi’s article raises crucial concerns that have occupied the minds of donors and human rights advocates for decades. At the same time, its inaccurate generalizations and insufficient context misrepresent the risks, effects, and opportunities of American support for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people around the world.
Onishi fails to recognize the wisdom and centrality in our current foreign assistance approaches of local-level LGBTI leaders and activists around the world. They are best positioned to determine when and where American support for the human rights of LGBTI people around the world is helpful and when and where it is potentially harmful.
The author’s accusation of decisions being made “from afar,” i.e. not in alignment with the clearly articulated priorities and needs of local LGBTI activists, is not accurate – a fact that the U.S. State Department has reiterated and that local activists in Africa and around the world confirm. This claim does a real disservice to the strenuous and principled efforts of U.S. government officials.
Also, the article’s focus on “gay rights” and its limited reference to only gay men and lesbians render transgender and intersex people completely invisible. Yet no single demographic faces such extremes of violence and persecution around the world as do transgender women. This is a serious omission for an article that attempts to take a sweeping look at such a broad and complex issue.
In the end, what we must recognize is that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people already exist in every country, and many face substantial hardship. Support for equal human rights for these populations does not equate to U.S. support for LGBTI people above and ahead of the rest of the population. When we support LGBTI people on the ground, and in particular when we strengthen their leadership, we are not imposing foreign ideas. We are recognizing and supporting work being undertaken by those most affected so that they can live with the same dignity, security and opportunity as anyone else, anywhere.
Alturi was launched as a solution to address these concerns while creating a way for Americans to engage meaningfully on global LGBTI issues.
Alturi is built around the work and voices of LGBTI and allied activists the world over. We partner with U.S.-based organizations with long histories of advocacy on global LBTI issues and that take broader circumstances into account. We connect with local organizations around the world to support the work that they strategically decide to prioritize. We pay attention to global activists, learn about the contexts they work in, and listen when they tell us what kind of support they need.
Alturi makes sure that the voices of those we’re trying to support guide the work we do. Ultimately, the changes that need to happen in societies around the world will not come about solely through international pressure at national levels. It is the work taking place on the ground, at local levels, undertaken by the people who are sensitive to local pressures and attuned to local needs that will turn the tide. Alturi exists to support those efforts.