In many developing countries, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people live in constant fear. They're denied jobs, education and health care. They're ostracized, rejected, threatened and assaulted—just for living their lives. And it gets worse: in 76 countries, people can be arrested for having sex with someone of the same gender. In five of these countries, they can be sentenced to death.
In 2011, we granted $1.1 million to support LGBTI work, and we currently fund 34 groups promoting the rights of sexual minorities around the world. With this support, our grantees are coming out, speaking out, collaborating and pursuing recognition, inclusion, security and equality.
In addition to grants, AJWS sends skilled professionals to work with our LGBTI grantees as volunteers, helping them build organizational capacity to do their important work. We also advocate on their behalf here in the U.S., ensuring that our government's foreign aid and diplomacy promote the rights of LGBTI people worldwide.
In 2011, Uganda was the most critical arena for this work. A draconian "Anti-Homosexuality Bill" has been introduced in Uganda's parliament repeatedly since 2009. The bill proposes to increase existing penalties for same-sex relations and includes the death penalty as a possible sentence for offenders. It also calls for anyone who fails to report "suspected cases of homosexuality" to be jailed. The bill has intensified fear throughout Uganda's LGBTI community and fanned a spate of public death threats, police brutality, murder and mob violence.
AJWS has long funded organizations working to end discrimination and violence in Uganda, and when this new threat emerged we joined our grantees' cause. We increased our funding to support their advocacy and security and funded a Ugandan coalition against the bill that has since grown to include 43 local organizations from across the human rights spectrum.
In the United States, AJWS orchestrated a Jewish response to the bill and emerged as a leader of the greater U.S. faith-based response. We were instrumental in recruiting members of Congress to sign letters to Uganda's President Museveni and President Obama, and to co-sponsor a resolution that passed in the Senate. AJWS also brought a prominent Ugandan activist, Julius Kaggwa, to testify before the Congressional Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and to meet with members of Congress, the State Department and key NGO allies.
With AJWS's support, our grantees have succeeded in deferring the bill since 2009. At the same time, they have raised awareness about LGBTI rights in Uganda and have increased communities' access to health services and information. They also achieved a measure of justice in Uganda's high court in 2011 when they won a lawsuit against a newspaper that publicized the identities of gay ugandans and threatened their lives.
Despite these gains, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced again in Parliament in February 2012, and it remains a dangerous threat to both LGBTI people and other defenders of human rights throughout the country. But our grantees will have AJWS's support as they fight this injustice and any other obstacles they face on the road to recognition and equality.
To learn more about AJWS's LGBTI work, check out our new report, The Jewish Voice for LGBTI Rights Worldwide (PDF).
To read about AJWS's advocacy on other issues, skip to Advocating on Capitol Hill.
Inspired by Judaism's commitment to justice, American Jewish World Service works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world.
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