U.S.-Africa Trade Summit Must Not Ignore Cost of Denying LGBT Human Rights

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, Communications Director, 212-430-6018, strimel@iglhrc.org

(New York, July 29, 2014) – President Barack Obama must back up his rhetoric on global LGBT rights by raising concerns directly with African trading partners about entrenched violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) said today. African leaders will be in Washington DC for the first-ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit Aug. 4-6, and IGLHRC urges President Obama to guarantee that human rights will be prioritized under any new U.S. economic alliance.

The organization said the cost of discrimination and exclusion of LGBT people must be addressed to accurately assess the opportunities for trade, investment and growth in Africa. In addition, protecting the basic rights of LGBT people must be an intrinsic part of the discussion about reauthorization of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act and part of the U.S. Trade Representative’s engagement on trade and investment on the continent.

“In pushing for greater trade with Africa, President Obama should not miss a critical opportunity to urge the continent’s leaders to confront the economic and social devastation caused by discrimination and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals,” said Jessica Stern, IGLHRC Executive Director.  “It would be tragic for the United States to help increase prosperity that benefits some but excludes many millions in the LGBT community in Africa. The United States will be sending a mixed message if its trade strategy appears to ignore life-threatening discrimination and violence against LGBT people.”

Specifically, the New York-based rights organization with its Africa Program headquartered in Johannesburg called on the Obama administration to:

  • Reinforce with African trade partners the fact that discrimination against LGBT individuals violates eligibility requirements under the U.S. Africa Growth and Opportunity Act
  • Demand guarantees from African government trade partners that violence against LGBT individuals will be fully, independently and fairly investigated with those responsible held to account
  • Require that the US Trade Representative develop a plan to implement President Obama’s 2011 memorandum to advance the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in the context of work in Africa.

Read IGLHRC’s letter to President Obama.

Most sub-Saharan African countries penalize individuals because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or homosexual conduct.  Discriminatory laws carry potential prison sentences up to life imprisonment. 

Stern said: “Discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity is hardwired into laws on the continent that can have dire – even deadly – consequences. Individuals are prevented from getting jobs or medical treatment, going to school, or even obtaining housing.  As a result, LGBT individuals are over-represented among the underemployed, homeless and under-educated.”

Research shows that homophobia and transphobia carry a penalty for a country’s economy, lowering per capital gross domestic product and generating unnecessary health costs.  In addition, violence motivated by discrimination has a significant productivity cost to businesses, and corporations also lose when some of the employees cannot rise to positions where skills are needed without risking their own safety.

IGLHRC also urged U.S.-based corporations operating or considering operating in Africa to do the following:

  • Adopt and implement LGBT-inclusive personnel policies for staff in all locations
  • Recognize same-sex couples and their families with full access to benefits, including for those stationed in Africa
  • Ensure that health coverage globally extends complete coverage to transgender employees
  • Work with the U.S. Trade Representative’s office to address the cost to productivity of homophobia and transphobia.