TIME LGBT

Obama Urged to Address LGBT Rights in Africa

Advocates issue report on the dreadful state of LGBT rights in Africa, as world leaders and leading figures from the continent prepare for the US-Africa Leaders Summit

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Updated at 4:38 p.m. ET Tuesday

The White House will host more than 40 African heads of state for a three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit next week, the first event of its kind and the largest such event any U.S. president has held with African governments. Some 200 African and U.S. CEOs are invited, and numerous faith leaders will gather to discuss their role in advancing development. To mark the historic event, LGBT advocates have issued a report on the state of LGBT rights in Africa. Their conclusion? It ain’t good.

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation and Human Rights First report contains some stark numbers. A total of 37 African nations currently criminalize same-sex relationships. Four countries—Mauritania, Nigeria, Somalia and Sudan—allow for the death penalty against LGBT people in parts or in all of the country. Cameroon arrests more people based on their sexual orientation than any other country in the world. Ghana treats same-sex relationships as a misdemeanor punishable by up to three years in prison. In Kenya, the sentence is up to 14 years. Only one country, South Africa, grants full marriage equality to LGBT citizens.

The U.S.—Africa summit, these advocates argue, is the perfect time for the White House to stand up for LGBT rights on the continent. Voices for equality on the ground deserve U.S. support, they say, and the U.S. should help create the political environment to ensure human rights are respected.

“The United States should demonstrate its firm commitment to upholding the fundamental principle that LGBT rights are human rights,” Ty Cobb, director of global engagement at the Human Rights Campaign, says. “This includes making clear that the United States will be a champion of LGBT rights abroad, and that we will not tolerate efforts to enact state-sanctioned discrimination against LGBT people in any country.”

The authors of the report aren’t alone. Representatives from the Council for Global Equality, Advocates for Youth, Amnesty International, GLAAD, and a dozen other organizations wrote a letter to President Barack Obama on July 25 urging “particular attention” at the summit to the rights of the next generation of LGBT Africans.

“We are confident that with your support, and the robust contribution of civil society, the summit will provide a unique opportunity to emphasize that LGBT and other marginalized communities suffer disproportionately from governance deficits, and that too many governments scapegoat LGBT individuals to distract public attention away from those structural failures,” they wrote. “The economic themes of the conference also provide an opportunity to emphasize that homophobia, transphobia and related forms of intolerance have economic costs, including to the trade and investment environments in emerging markets.”

Activists also note that the moment has particular importance as some African countries are taking more steps toward equality. “There are reports that Malawi will stop arresting LGBT people and review its laws,” Shawn Gaylord, advocacy counsel for Human Rights First, explains. “A move to pass new anti-gay legislation (and hold a massive anti-gay rally) was stalled in Ethiopia this year. Two young men were just acquitted in Cameroon. It’s too early to say if this is part of a larger trend or just a few independent rays of hope but it’s a trend we should watch and support.”

The Obama administration has already reacted to anti-LGBT legislation in Africa. Last month, the White House increased sanctions against Uganda for its anti-gay law signed in February, which made certain homosexual acts punishable by life imprisonment. The summit will give the president an opportunity to make the case in person, if he chooses. Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni is slated to attend, as is Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan, who also signed an anti-homosexuality law this year.

“This summit is a unique opportunity to tell the story of how our nation and every nation grows stronger and more prosperous when all citizens—including LGBT people—are accepted by society and provided equal treatment under the law,” Cobb says. “Every citizen must be empowered to reach their maximum potential, and we should urge these nations to reject laws, policies, and practices that discriminate against LGBT people.”

National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price tells TIME that LGBT equality in Africa will be on the table at the summit. “The Obama Administration has long spoken out—including with our African partners—in support of universal human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals,” he says. “We expect the Summit will provide an opportunity to continue these conversations.”

– Zeke J. Miller contributed to this report

TIME justice

Louisiana Warden May Release Inmate From 28 Straight Years in Solitary

"When I can conclude he's not gonna cause me the blues, then he can come out of the cell"

A prisoner who has spent 28 straight years in solitary confinement may be released into the general prison population, according to the Louisiana warden who has allegedly kept him confined in a 6 by 9 foot cell for 23 hours a day.

Burl Cain, the warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, told reporters for Northwestern University’s Medill Justice Project that he would be ready to transfer the prisoner, Kenny “Zulu” Whitmore, in a “matter of months,” once he has determined that Whitmore no longer poses a threat to other prisoners.

“We’d rather him out, I need his cell,” Cain said in an interview with Medill Justice Project, an investigative journalism project that exposes wrongful convictions. “I’ve got some young people, predators, that need to be in that cell. When I can conclude he’s not gonna cause me the blues, then he can come out of the cell.”

A total of 35 years of solitary confinement, including 28 consecutive years, has taken a toll on Whitmore’s physical and mental health, the prisoner told reporters. His vision has deteriorated and he has developed a case of hypertension. He has filed suit against the warden and other prison officials, claiming his spell in solitary—the longest known case in U.S. history—constituted cruel and unusual punishment and violated his free speech rights.

Whitmore was sentenced to life in prison in 1977 for second-degree murder. Since then, the warden maintains that Whitmore, as a supporter of the Black Panther Party, has espoused beliefs that could provoke other inmates to commit violent attacks.

“The Black Panther Party advocates violence and racism,” Cain said. “I’m not going to let anybody walk around advocating violence and racism.”

Whitmore’s lawyer, Michelle Rutherford, said in a statement that Cain’s comments about the Black Panther Party proved the prisoner’s constitutional rights had been breached.

“Warden Cain’s statement confirms the allegations Mr. Whitmore makes in his civil rights suit: he has been held in a 9′ by 6′ cell for over 35 years because of his political beliefs, not because of any demonstrated violent or disruptive behavior.”

[Medill Justice Project]

TIME Civil Rights

Cop in ‘Chokehold’ Death Had Civil Suits Filed Against Him

Vigil Held For Staten Island Man Who Died After Illegal Police Chokehold
Richard Watkins (5) attends a vigil for Eric Garner near where he died after he was taken into police custody in Staten Island last Thursday on July 22, 2014 in New York City. Spencer Platt—Getty Images

The City of New York has already doled out a $30,000 settlement on Officer Daniel Pantaleo's behalf

New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo, who allegedly used what has been termed a chokehold on the now deceased 43-year-old Eric Garner in Staten Island last week, previously had civil rights lawsuits brought against him over two separate incidents, the Staten Island Advance reports.

In the first suit, two men, Darren Collins and Tommy Rice — both in their forties and African-American — claim to have been publicly strip-searched by Pantaleo and a cadre of other officers two years ago, after Pantaleo said he saw crack cocaine and heroin on the backseat of their car. In the second, Rylawn Walker charged Pantaleo and another cop with falsely arresting him, then incarcerating him for a period of 24 hours.

The City of New York doled out a $30,000 settlement to the two plaintiffs in the first lawsuit. Walker’s remains open.

With video of Officer Pantaleo grappling with Garner going viral over the last week, the NYPD’s decision to strip the officer of his gun and assign him to desk duty for the time being has failed to quell public concern. While it remains unclear what role the hold may have played in Garner’s death, many New Yorkers, including activist-pastor Rev. Al Sharpton, are calling for greater accountability.

TIME justice

New York Man Dies After Police Try to Arrest Him

Rev. Herbert Daughtry and Rev. Al Sharpton hold Esaw Garner, wife of Eric Garner, during a rally at the National Action Network headquarters for Eric Garner, July 19, 2014, in New York City.
Rev. Herbert Daughtry and Rev. Al Sharpton hold Esaw Garner, wife of Eric Garner, during a rally at the National Action Network headquarters for Eric Garner, July 19, 2014, in New York City. John Minchillo—AP

The fatal incident, which police commissioner Bill Bratton called a "tragedy," was caught in a terrifying video and is currently under investigation

A New York City man died Thursday after a police officer appeared to put him in a chokehold in an incident that was captured on video.

Eric Garner, 43, died of an apparent heart attack after police in Staten Island attempted to arrest him on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes, a spokesperson for the New York City Police Department told TIME.

In the graphic video, obtained by the New York Daily News, Garner can be heard complaining that he can’t breathe and at one point appears to fall unconscious as police attempt to tackle him. The officer who appears to put a chokehold around Garner also appears to push his head into the ground.

Two officers, with eight and four years of experience in the Department respectively, have been placed on desk duty, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said at a Friday news conference. He said the police officer in the video did appear to use a chokehold, which he said is “prohibited by the department.” Prosecutors and the department’s internal affairs have opened probes into the incident.

Bratton, who was hired this year by Mayor Bill de Blasio with a goal in part of improving police-community relations, called Garner’s death a “tragedy for all involved.”

“On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest condolences to the family of Mr. Garner, who died yesterday afternoon while being placed in police custody,” de Blasio said in a statement. “We are harnessing all resources available to the City to ensure a full and thorough investigation of the circumstances of this tragic incident.”

In the video, a frustrated Garner denies having done anything wrong. “Every time you see me, you want to mess with me,” says Garner, who has been arrested 31 times for charges including drug possession and selling untaxed cigarettes, according to the Associated Press. “I’m tired of it. It stops today…. I’m minding my business please just leave me alone.”

TIME Religion

Obama’s Executive Order to Protect Gay Workers Will Have No Religious Exemption

US-POLITICS-OBAMA
US President Barack Obama disembarks from Air Force One at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on July 17, 2014. Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images

Not all faith leaders are upset

President Barack Obama plans to sign an executive order Monday that will ban job discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation among federal employees and contractors–and it will not include an exemption for religious organizations.

The order ensures that federal employees and contractors, who are already protected on the basis of sexual orientation, will formally be protected from discrimination based on gender identity. It will affect some 24,000 companies with 28 million workers total, or about a fifth of the country’s work force, according to the Associated Press.

“At a critical time for our nation’s economy, we need all of our workers to be focused on making the most of their talent, skill, and ingenuity, rather than worrying about losing their job due to discrimination,” said a White House official. “Discrimination is not just wrong, it also can keep qualified workers from maximizing their potential to contribute to the strengthening of our economy.”

When the upcoming order was first announced on June 30–the last day of LGBT Pride month and shortly after the Supreme Court handed down the Hobby Lobby decision–a handful of Christian leaders including pastors Rick Warren and Joel Hunter wrote Obama a letter asking him to exempt religious organizations. They soon received pushback–more than 100 faith leaders wrote Obama last week asking that he not include an exemption. That group, which included Christian, Muslim, Jewish and interfaith leaders, said such an exemption would only open a “Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.” Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, wrote in an op-ed for TIME that asking for such an exemption was “theologically indefensible.” Former Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA), who had originally signed the letter asking for a religious exemption along with Warren and Hunter, apologized last week, calling her initial decision to sign the request “an error in judgement,” and asked that her name be removed.

Obama’s executive order does not add exemptions for religious organizations beyond President George W. Bush’s 2002 order, which allowed religiously affiliated contractors to favor individuals of a particular religion when hiring. Religious organizations are still allowed, under the First Amendment, to make employment decisions about their ministers as they see fit.

TIME Civil Rights

New Guidelines Could Help Many Pregnant Workers

Jacqueline Berrien
Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Jacqueline Berrien speaks at a Middle Class Task Force event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building across from the White House in Washington, in this Tuesday, July 20, 2010 file photo. Charles Dharapak—AP

Any form of workplace discrimination or harassment against pregnant workers by employers is now a form of illegal sex discrimination

(WASHINGTON) — New federal guidelines on job discrimination against pregnant workers could have a big impact on the workplace and in the courtroom.

The expanded rules adopted by the bipartisan Equal Employment Opportunity Commission make clear that any form of workplace discrimination or harassment against pregnant workers by employers is a form of sex discrimination — and illegal.

Updating its pregnancy discrimination guidelines for the first time in more than 30 years, the agency cited a “persistence of overt pregnancy discrimination, as well as the emergence of more subtle discriminatory practices.”

The guidelines spell out for the first time how the Americans With Disabilities Act applies to pregnant workers. And they emphasize that any discrimination against female workers based on past or prospective future pregnancies is also illegal.

Joan C. Williams, a law professor at the University of California’s Hastings School of Law in San Francisco, said the new guidelines issued this week can have two major impacts: steering EEOC investigators to be more sensitive to the sometimes special needs of pregnant workers and giving employment lawyers more ammunition in defending clients who were victims of such discrimination.

Williams, an expert in the field whose work is cited three times in the EEOC’s new 60-page “enforcement guidance” on pregnancy discrimination, called the toughened stance of the EEOC “a significant victory.”

Williams, who co-authored a 2011 study called “Pregnant, Poor and Fired,” said the main impact may by erecting “very, very, simple and very, very commonsense” guideposts for EEOC investigators, as well as providing strong ammunition for employment lawyers whose clients are victims of such discrimination.

“I think it will make a really big difference,” she said in an interview. “This is also the direction the courts have begun to go in, and that’s why the EEOC said, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.'”

The guidelines were last updated in 1983. EEOC Chairwoman Jacqueline A. Berrien suggested the update was needed and timely. “Despite much progress, we continue to see a significant number of charges alleging pregnancy discrimination, and our investigations have revealed the persistence of overt pregnancy discrimination, as well as the emergence of more subtle discriminatory practices,” she said in a statement.

The new guidelines prohibit employers from forcing pregnant workers to take leave and acknowledge that “employers may have to provide light duty for pregnant workers.” After childbirth, lactation is now covered as a pregnancy-related medical condition.

It’s not just women who will benefit.

The guidelines say that when it comes to parental leave, “similarly situated” men and women must be treated on the same terms.

The update comes two weeks after the Supreme Court agreed to consider a case involving the EEOC’s duty to try to settle charges of job discrimination before filing lawsuits against employers.

The issue has gained increasing attention — and vexed business groups — as the Obama administration ratchets up its enforcement of the nation’s anti-discrimination laws.

The latest EEOC data shows a 46 percent increase in pregnancy-related complaints to the EEOC from 1997 to 2011.

In its report, the agency cites specific, real-life examples of what it considers illegal discrimination. It used only first names and did not reveal locations, occupations or employers. Among them:

— Three months after “Maria” told her supervisor that she was pregnant, she was absent a few days due to an illness unrelated to her pregnancy. When she returned to work, “her supervisor said her body was trying to tell her something” and she was let go.

— Shortly after Teresa informed her supervisor of her pregnancy, “he met with her to discuss alleged performance problems.” Even though Teresa had consistently received outstanding performance reviews during her eight years of employment with the company, she was discharged.

— Birah, a woman from Nigeria, claimed that when she was visibly pregnant with her second child, “her supervisors increased her workload and shortened her deadlines so she could not complete her assignments, ostracized her, repeatedly excluded her from meetings to which she should have been invited, reprimanded her for failing to show up for work due to snow when others were not reprimanded, and subjected her to profanity.”

Protections for pregnant women vary widely around the globe — as does enforcement. Sweden bans discrimination because of pregnancy and requires companies employing more than 25 people to help both men and women combine work and parenting. Egyptian laws give pregnant women the right to work fewer hours and three months’ paid leave after birth — requirements women’s rights groups say prompt employers to hire men. And in Mexico, laws prohibit discrimination against pregnant women, but there is little enforcement by the government.

The American Civil Liberties Union welcomed the updated U.S. guidelines, which were approved Monday on a 3-2 partisan-line vote by the Democratic-led commission.

“Pregnancy is not a justification for excluding women from jobs that they are qualified to perform, and it cannot be a basis for denying employment or treating women less favorably than co-workers,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office.

TIME Race

Study: Little Progress for African-American Men on Racial Equality Since 1970

Rates of incarceration and unemployment remain high

In recent years, the U.S. has celebrated the 50th anniversaries of the March on Washington, the Civil Rights Act and a number of other landmark accomplishments considered pivotal in making the U.S. a better place for African Americans.

But despite a deep reverence for those accomplishments, a new study suggests that African-American men today face such high levels of unemployment and incarceration that they are in little better position when compared with white men than a half-century ago.

The working paper, by University of Chicago researchers Derek Neal and Armin Rick, is based on preliminary findings and has not yet been peer-reviewed.

“The growth of incarceration rates among black men in recent decades combined with the sharp drop in black employment rates during the Great Recession have left most black men in a position relative to white men that is really no better than the position they occupied only a few years after the Civil Rights Act,” the study reads.

The study uses census data to show that more than 10% of black men in their 30s will be incarcerated at some point during a calendar year. This number was around 2% for white males of the same age group.

The study attributes the corrosive impact of incarceration on the African-American community, at least in part, to the institution of more punitive criminal-justice policies.

African-American men also appear to face a more difficult employment situation. More than a third of African-American men between the ages of 25 and 49 lacked employment in 2010.

“The Great Recession period of 2008–2010 was quite bleak for black men,” the study reads. “Recent levels of labor market inequality between black and white prime-age men are likely not materially different than those observed in 1970.”

[FiveThirtyEight]

TIME China

Samsung Suspends China Supplier Over Child Labor

Customers attend a workshop about the Samsung Galaxy S5 in Jakarta
Customers attend a workshop about the Samsung Galaxy S5 in Jakarta, April 11, 2014. Beawiharta Beawiharta—Reuters

Samsung suspended ties with a Chinese supplier after a New York-based watchdog, China Labor Watch, reported that minors under 18 worked at the company during high demand and were underpaid.

(SEOUL, South Korea) — Samsung Electronics Co. said it has suspended business ties with a Chinese supplier that allegedly hired children.

The South Korean company, which is the world’s biggest smartphone maker, said in its blog Monday that it had found possible evidence of child labor and illegal hiring at Dongguan Shinyang Electronics Co.

Samsung said last week it would urgently look into the Chinese supplier following a New York-based watchdog’s report that it hired at least five children under the age of 16.

China Labor Watch said children as well as minors under 18 worked at Shinyang for three to six months to meet production targets during a period of high demand. The watchdog said the child workers were paid for 10 hours a day but worked 11 hours.

The report detailed 15 labor violations discovered during its undercover investigation. They included child labor, the absence of safety training, no overtime wages and no social insurance for temporary workers, who constituted at least 40 percent of 1,200 employees at the Chinese cellphone parts supplier for Samsung.

China Labor Watch’s report came shortly after Samsung said its audit found no child labor at hundreds of Chinese suppliers. Samsung began inspecting its Chinese suppliers after the labor watchdog raised the child labor issue in 2012.

Samsung said Chinese authorities are investigating the case and if the investigation finds child labor, Samsung will permanently stop doing business with Shinyang.

TIME Religion

Detroit Man Admits Burning Quran Outside Islamic Center

Statements to police don't clarify the motive

A Michigan man of Iraqi heritage pleaded guilty to charges related to the burning of the Quran on June 25 after being caught in the act outside an Islamic community center in a Detroit suburb.

Ali Al-Asadi, 51, was stopped by police on June 25 outside Karabala Islamic Center as he stood over a burning a Quran. In conversations with police, Al-Asadi admitted to burning the Quran and acknowledged having done so on two earlier occasions. He explained the burnings as an attempt to find help collecting on a “legal settlement,” something that local mosques had refused to do, according to Dearborn, Mich. Police Lieutenant Doug Topoloski. Al-Asadi told the Detroit Free Press that he suffers from “severe psychological trauma anxiety.”

Ali Al-Asadi Quran Burning Dearborn Detroit Michigan
Ali Al-Asadi was arrested for burning a Quran outside the Karabala Islamic Center in Dearborn, Mich. on June 25, 2014. City of Dearborn

In Dearborn, where Arab-Americans account for more than 40% of the population and comprise a majority of the City Council, the burning of the Islam’s key religious text has been met with confusion.

“I don’t know this guy,” says Husham Alhusainy, the imam who leads the center where the incident occurred. “What is the motivation?”

Alhusainy says he is outraged at the “evil action,” though other Islamic leaders in the community shrugged at its implications.

“I don’t know the motive of why he burned the Quran, but in our country people can burn flags. He was charged with littering which was the appropriate the charge under the law,” says Dawud Walid, an Islamic preacher and the executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Drawing a distinction between Al-Asadi and people like Florida preacher Terry Jones, who traveled to Michigan to inflame religious tensions, Walid says Al-Asadi’s motives seem more baffling than malicious. “Was he even motivated to make a statement regarding religion?” he says.”I’ve never even heard of a situation like this. It’s so bizarre.”

Al-Asadi was charged with littering and unlawful release of soot, and was released on $300 bond. His sentencing is scheduled for August 5.

TIME Religion

Faith Leaders to Obama: Don’t Let Us Discriminate, Either

A new effort pushes back against a smaller campaign last week

More than 100 faith leaders asked President Barack Obama on Tuesday not to include a religious exemption in his upcoming executive order to ban job discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation among federal employees.

The group—which included Christian, Jewish, Muslim and interfaith leaders—sent the White House a letter Tuesday urging the President to end such discrimination without exception. “An executive order that allows for religious discrimination against LGBT people contradicts the order’s fundamental purpose, as well as the belief shared by more and more Americans every day, which is that LGBT people should not be treated as second-class citizens,” they said in the letter. “An exception would set a terrible precedent by denying true equality for LGBT people, while simultaneously opening a Pandora’s Box inviting other forms of discrimination.”

Their effort pushes back against a smaller campaign last week by about a dozen Christian leaders who asked the President to carve out an exception in the order for religious organizations. Signers of that letter included pastors Rick Warren and Joel Hunter, as well as Andy Crouch, executive editor of Christianity Today, Larry Snyder of Catholic Charities USA, and Stephan Bauman of World Relief. Michael Wear, who directed faith vote outreach for Obama’s reelection campaign, helped to organize that effort.

Serene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary and a signatory to the new letter, said she was “devastated” to learn that a group of prominent faith leaders, “my brothers and sisters in Christ,” had asked the President for a religious exemption in the forthcoming order. “In other words, they asked that people of faith be given special permission to discriminate,” she wrote in an op-ed for TIME last week after the first group’s letter became public. “It’s simply theologically indefensible.”

Five other seminary and divinity school presidents joined Jones in signing Tuesday’s letter—Katharine Henderson of Auburn Theological Seminary, Alice Hunt of Chicago Theological Seminary, James McDonald of San Francisco Theological Seminary, Katherine Hancock Ragsdale of Episcopal Divinity School, and Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan of Claremont School of Theology. Other notable signers include Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson, Brian McLaren of the Cana Initiative, and Rabbi Richard Block of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, as well as heads of nonprofits and denominational leaders of the Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ and others.

It remains to be seen how the White House will respond. For now, the dueling positions are one more reminder that, despite increasing public support for gay rights, tensions surrounding the matter still divide religious communities across the country.

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