US LGBTQI+ special envoy Jessica Stern concludes Africa visit


Jessica Stern met with several LGBTQI+ activists at a lunch in Johannesburg

Jessica Stern, the US Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons, has concluded a short visit to Africa where she met with activists and government officials.

Appointed by President Joe Biden in 2021, Stern leads US efforts to globally protect LGBTQI+ individuals from violence and discrimination.

She participated in the recent Pan Africa ILGA conference for LGBTQI+ human rights defenders in Mauritius and subsequently journeyed to Pretoria and Johannesburg, South Africa.

During her visit, Stern engaged with LGBTQI+ activists and organisations from across the continent as well as government officials. In Johannesburg, she attended a lunch with civil society groups at the historic Constitution Hill ahead of Women’s Day.

Key Areas: Decriminalisation, Violence, Legal Recognition, Intersex Rights, and Conversion Therapy

Stern outlined some key areas on which she’s focusing her efforts, including decriminalising homosexuality, legal gender recognition, intersex rights, ending LGBTQI+ violence, and fighting against conversion therapy practices.

Acknowledging the challenges in her own country, she sought to learn directly from African activists how the US government can support their efforts to secure LGBTQI+ equality in the country and the region.

“I like to visit South Africa because South Africa and LGBTQI+ activists here have an outsized role in LGBTQI+ discourse, regionally and politically,” Stern told MambaOnline.

She emphasised that reinforcing LGBTQI+ movements in countries like South Africa not only impacts domestic matters but also has a broader regional influence.

Strengthening Regional LGBTQI+ Movements

Recognising the intricacies and challenges, Stern underscored that Africa presents one of the most intricate landscapes for LGBTQI+ rights advocacy.

“While we’ve witnessed considerable strides towards LGBTQI+ rights, we’ve also witnessed considerable setbacks in recent times, with Uganda standing out as a clear example,” Stern remarked. “We’re also deeply concerned about the safety of LGBTQI+ individuals in nearly a dozen countries across the region.”

Stern further addressed the impact of the American conservative and religious anti-LGBTQI+ movement, which has played a significant role in the dissemination of misinformation and queerphobia in Africa, creating fear, panic, and hostility against the LGBTQI+ community.

Increasing US Financial Support for LGBTQI+ Advocacy

“The anti-LGBTQI+ movement in the US and around the world outspends the LGBTQI+ rights movement three to one,” she said.

“That means it becomes really important that the US government uses our political power to fight sodomy laws, fight for legal gender recognition, and fight gender-based violence, but also that we put our money where our mouth is – and that means increasing our financial support for LGBTQI+ advocacy everywhere.”

Stern’s open and frank willingness to engage with LGBTQI+ rights defenders one-on-one was refreshing and affirmed her clear commitment to the global effort towards equality and inclusion for all.

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