What's the Peace Corps Going to do: Another African country is expected to Pass an Anti-Gay Law

Terri Rupar writes today in the Washington Post: Another African country is expected to pass an anti-gay law…

Ethiopia’s legislature is expected to pass a bill that would take away the president’s ability to pardon people convicted under laws banning homosexual acts, the Associated Press reports. The move comes on the heels of the passage of harsh anti-gay laws in Uganda and Nigeria that drew condemnation from around the world.

Same-sex acts were already illegal in Ethiopia, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. But during the Ethiopian New Year, the president often pardons thousands of prisoners, the AP said. The new law, endorsed last week by the Cabinet, would take away his ability to pardon people convicted under anti-homosexuality laws.

When Uganda enacted its law last month, the Ethiopian minister for women, children and youth affairs sent out a tweet that seemed to criticize it. Subsequent tweets disowned the sentiment, and her Twitter account is no longer active.

The Peace Corps has a policy that states:

What is the likelihood of an LGBTQ applicant being placed in a country where homosexual activity is criminalized?

While Volunteers can indicate what region they would like to be placed in, placements are made based on a number of factors, including country need and applicant skills. LGBTQ Volunteers have served successfully abroad, including in countries where homosexual activity is illegal. Before accepting an invitation to serve in a particular country, potential Volunteers may speak with Peace Corps staff and/or returned Peace Corps Volunteers about the potential challenges.

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  • I suppose the real question is whether Volunteers should be send to any country that criminalizes homosexual acts and then actively enforces them and punishes harshly (let’s not forget that prior to 1962, sodomy was a felony in every state in the US). I imagine most of us know a volunteer who volunteered “straight” and woke up to his/her sexuality in country. For me, I think it is reprehensible for Peace Corps central to talk about the “potential challenges” of serving in an environment that is hostile to life. Peace Corps needs to review its policy.

  • I agree with Jane, absolutely. Volunteers do not have diplomatic immunity and it is simply not fair to offer an applicant the choice of no assignment or assignment in a country that criminalizes behavior that is a civil right in this country.

    I thought the days of vows of poverty, chastity and obedience were over!

  • When one works in another country he/she understands that conditions are not necessarily the same as in his/her home country. This applies to a wide spectrum of conditions, particularly in Muslim countries. Either one is ready to adapt to local conditions or one should not sign on.

  • For Leo: so is there any law in any country that would render it as an inappropriate place to send volunteers? I’m not talking about custom or the adaptations female volunteers routinely make for safety’s sake, but strictly enforced law of the land. I am curious as to whether there is a limit to what you would view as acceptable.

  • To work under other customs, laws, rules and similar constraints is a personal decision. We send PCVs to many countries that have laws against all kinds of sexual practices, e.g. homosexual relations relations between unmarried persons, prostitution, sodomy, bestiality, and more, as well as laws on acceptable protest, speech, or narcotic use or gambling, drinking, dancing, and spitting on the sidewalk, all of which have been illegal in the USA over the years. It is up to the individual to determine if he or she can live under those conditions, the Peace Corps is only required to inform the PCV of these conditions.

  • Oh, forgot Jane. We obviously should not send PCVs to countries who have passed laws calling for war against the USA, which could be construed to include those in countries where Sharia Law is practiced and calls for war against the “Great Satan” or the USA.

  • A response deserves some thought. Here is an interesting link re; Sharia Law.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Application_of_sharia_law_by_country

    One thought does come to mind. In a country that imposes harsh penalties on homosexual behavior, thereby encouraging ad hoc enforcement, how should a volunteer respond if he (and I use “he” on purpose) knows a coworker to be gay. Is that volunteer at risk because guilty by association by a known criminal?

  • One is not guilty if his association with the law breaker doe not involve breaking the law or knowing of any such act.

  • For Leo: the guilty by association guidelines operate here (or at least we think they do; blacklisted actors might disagree). We assume them. But I am not certain that we can make the same assumptions about situations in countries where the official government position takes homosexuality to be unacceptable human behavior that needs to be eradicated. I am not sure that ad hoc enforcers would stop to inquire if a PCV who “consorts” with known homosexuals is straight enough to suit them. I don’t think this a risk that Peace Corps should take.

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