TIME LGBT

Houston’s Pastors Outraged After City Subpoenas Sermons Over Transgender Bill

Ted Cruz
Sen. Ted Cruz is surrounded by preachers as he addresses a crowd at a Houston church Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014 about a legal dispute involving several pastors fighting subpoenas from Houston city attorneys. Pat Sullivan—AP

City officials have subpoenaed the sermons of five pastors who oppose the Houston's new equal rights ordinance

Houston, with its left-leaning, openly gay mayor governing an influential conservative and evangelical base, is a city politically divided. That division has been made clear in recent days after the city subpoenaed sermons of several pastors who oppose a recently passed equal rights ordinance for gay and transgender residents. The subpoenas are an attempt by city officials to determine how the preachers instructed their congregants in their push to get the law repealed.

The city’s subpoenas targeted sermons and speeches by five Houston pastors with ties to religious leaders attempting to repeal the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which bars businesses from discriminating against gay and transgender residents. The law, passed into law by Mayor Annise Parker in May, is often derided as a “bathroom bill,” because it allows transgender individuals to choose whether to use a male or female restroom.

This summer, a group of local pastors and religious leaders began gathering signatures in an attempt to get a referendum to repeal the law on this November’s ballot. But City Attorney David Feldman blocked that attempt by throwing out thousands of signatures he said didn’t meet the criteria to qualify, incensing groups opposed to the rule.

Local religious leaders claim Feldman illegally disqualified the referendum and have filed a suit against the city. Mayor Parker, meanwhile, has pledged not to enforce the ordinance until there’s a court decision. But the move by the city to subpoena Houston’s pastors, who have been vocal on the issue and have urged their congregants to support a repeal referendum, has drawn national attention. Republican Senator Ted Cruz said in a statement that the subpoenas were “shocking and shameful,” and Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins has called for the city to drop them as well.

“The chilling effect of government scrutiny of our pastors is unconstitutional, and unconscionable,” Perkins said in a statement. “Mayor Parker’s use of her bully pulpit to silence pulpit freedom must be stopped in its tracks.”

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott also issued a letter saying the city impinged on the pastors’ First Amendment rights and called for the subpoenas’ immediate reversal. “Whether you intend it to be so or not, your action is a direct assault on the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment,” Abbott wrote to Feldman. “The people of Houston and their religious leaders must be absolutely secure in their knowledge that their religious affairs are beyond the reach of the government.”

University of Houston law professor Peter Linzer says the city reached too far in issuing the subpoenas. One subpoena sent to Pastor Steve Riggle, for example, asks for “all speeches, presentations, or sermons related to [the equal rights ordinance], the petition, Mayor Annise Parker, homosexuality, or gender identity.” However, Linzer says it wouldn’t impinge on the pastors’ First Amendment rights if the city only asked only for sermons or speeches related to the signature drive. “Let’s assume they gave instructions to cheat,” Linzer says. “That would be relevant speech and I don’t see how they would have any First Amendment protection for that.”

Among those fighting the city’s move is the Alliance for Defending Freedom, a religious freedom advocacy non-profit whose lawyers have filed a motion trying to quash the subpoenas. “I haven’t seen any indication that the city is backing down,” says Erik Stanley, the group’s senior legal counsel. “But we’re hopeful that they will. The only thing we can figure is they were subpoenaed because they spoke out against the ordinance. And they urged people to sign the petition. They exercised their constitutional rights to speak out.”

Still, Mayor Parker and City Attorney David Feldman appeared to backtrack on the subpoenas Wednesday, saying they had only recently learned of them and that outside lawyers handled the lawsuit. They argued the city is merely looking for communications from those pastors regarding the petition drive, but that the subpoenas’ language was inappropriate.

“There’s no question the wording was overly broad,” Parker said in a news conference Wednesday. “But I also think there was some deliberate misinterpretation.” Feldman, the city attorney, called the uproar over the wording “ridiculous,” but also has argued that if a pastor is speaking about political issues from the pulpit, it’s not protected. The mayor’s office declined to comment further for this story.

On Friday, The Houston Chronicle reported that the city would remove the term “sermon” from the subpoenas. Mayor Parker, however, said that relevant sermons regarding the petition drive could still be gathered.

MONEY Careers

The Best Way to “Come Out” to Coworkers and Bosses

Desk with photo of two brides
MONEY (photo illustration)—iStock (main)—Getty Images (inset)

Tired of ducking out of relationship conversations at the water cooler and using gender-neutral pronouns? These strategies can help you open up with your colleagues.

On Saturday, in celebration of the 26th annual National Coming Out Day, many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals took the courageous step of expressing their sexual identity to parents, relatives, and friends.

Few of those who spoke out, however, are likely to share their news with co-workers and employers now that they’re back at their jobs.

Despite rising public support for LGBT rights and the increase in state laws recognizing those rights, a majority (53%) of LGBT workers in the U.S. hide this part of their identify at work, according to a study released this year by the Human Rights Campaign.

According to the survey, the reasons for not being open at work range from feelings that one’s sexual orientation or gender identity is “nobody’s business,” to fear of being stereotyped, to concern that bias could have a negative effect on one’s career and professional relationships. What many don’t realize, however, is that remaining in the closet can itself have negative effects: Many LGBT workers report feeling exhausted and distracted at work from all the time and energy they spend hiding their identities, according to HRC.

Coming out to professional relations can seem just as challenging—if not more—as coming out to personal ones. “But often fears are overblown in our minds,” says Sarah Holland, an executive coach who formerly headed the Visibility Project, a national organization that helped corporations address issues of sexual orientation in the workplace. “The world is more receptive to LGBT individuals than it’s ever been before. More often then not your colleagues have already made assumptions about your sexual orientation, especially if you never say anything about your personal life.”

There’s no need to share your orientation if you don’t care to, experts say. But if you decide that it’s finally time to let your guard down, take these steps to make it easier:

Assess the Risks

Before doing anything, you want to make sure that you won’t put your career or personal security in any kind of jeopardy by saying something.

Start by checking whether your state has a non-discrimination law that would protect you from being fired, harassed, or discriminated against. Currently 21 states have such laws in place regarding sexual orientation, and 17 of those for gender identity as well. (No workplace protections exist in federal law.)

While it’s a reassuring backstop if your state is among those that offer protections, it’s arguably more important to assess your company and department culture to get a sense of how your news will be received, suggests Deena Fidas, director of workplace equality for the Human Rights Campaign.

Does your employer have a written non-discrimination policy that covers sexual orientation and/or gender identity? The vast majority (91%) of Fortune 500 companies have workplace protections in place on the basis of sexual orientation and 61% on gender identity. Does your company offer domestic partner benefits? Is there a support or affinity group for LBGT individuals, or is anyone in your department openly gay? (If so, you might want to talk to people to learn about their experiences coming out and for their insights.) Is your company ranked highly on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index?

On the other hand, have you heard anyone at work make derogatory comments about LGBT people?

Should you get the sense that it wouldn’t be comfortable to come out, you might want to rethink your corporate affiliation, says Holland. “Consider why you want to be at that company. Do you really want to spend your work life being closeted for fear?”

Start with Your Closest Colleagues

Once you determine that your workplace is LGBT friendly, begin by sharing more details of your personal life with a trusted coworker whom you know is LGBT-supportive, recommends Fidas.

Having an ally will make you feel more comfortable opening up to the rest of the workforce, and can help you deftly handle any conversations that get awkward or too personal.

For the other folks in your social circle, “use the Monday morning coffee talk as a chance to be more forthcoming,” suggests Holland.

Chances are, you’ve been ducking out every time the social chatter turns to relationships or dating—and 80% of straight workers say that these conversations come up weekly or even daily, according to the HRC survey. But now use them to your advantage: “When asked how you spent your weekend, don’t change the gender of your partner,” says Holland. “Say if you went to a function for gay rights.”

By speaking about your LGBT identity casually, you can help coworkers to follow your lead and treat it the same way.

Let Everybody Else Figure it Out

While coming out to family and friends often happens with a discrete announcement, “in the reality of the workplace, coming out is more of a daily process, not an announcing that one is gay,” says Fidas.

In other words, you need not go around to everyone from the IT guy to the mail clerk to formally and awkwardly inform them about your sexual orientation. There are many subtle, discreet ways you can clue in coworkers with whom you’re less likely to talk about these topics.

For example, putting photos of your partner on your desk or having your loved one pick you up at the office allows coworkers to make the discovery themselves without you hiding any aspect of your identity.

Fidas also recommends using an opportunity to correct a coworker’s mistaken assumption as a way to make your sexual orientation or gender identity clear: “If you’re staring a new job, and a coworker asks if you moved from Boston with your husband, you can say you moved with your wife, rather than saying your spouse moved with you.”

Remember most of all that “you do not need your coworkers’ approval,” says Judith Martin, author of Miss Manners Minds Your Business. “You only need them to be respectful of you, which your workplace probably already obligates them to do.”

TIME LGBT

Colorado Allows Clerks to Issue Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

Same sex marriage licenses issued
Jason Woodrich (L) and Ben Hauth share a kiss after signing their marriage license at the Denver County clerk's office where they began issuing same sex marriage licenses July 10, 2014. John Leyba—Denver Post / Getty Images

County clerks who defied a state-wide ban cleared the last legal hurdle to issuing licenses

Colorado county clerks were free to issue same-sex marriage licenses on Tuesday shortly after Colorado’s Supreme Court lifted an injunction against the practice.

The Denver Post reports that three clerks challenged a state-wide ban on gay marriage in June, issuing roughly 350 same-sex marriage licenses despite cease and desist orders from the state’s Attorney General. A Colorado court placed an injunction against the clerks until their case had received a final ruling in the courts. That final decision came Monday, when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear all appeals on same-sex marriage cases, deferring to a lower court’s decision that Colorado’s clerks could rightfully defy the ban.

The removal of the injunction on Tuesday was the last legal hurdle for the clerks, several of whom jumped ahead of the decision and issued licenses as early as Monday afternoon.

[Denver Post]

TIME Sports

Michael Sam’s March to NFL History Derailed — but Only for Now

FILE - Michael Sam Released By St. Louis Rams
Michael Sam addresses the media during a press conference at Rams Park on May 13, 2014 in Earth City, Missouri. The St. Louis Rams released defensive end, ending Sam's effort to become the first openly gay player in NFL history. Dilip Vishwanat—Getty Images

Michael Sam the NFL player may not have a jersey right now, but he isn’t going anywhere

The Rams cut openly gay rookie defensive end Michael Sam on Saturday, minutes before the NFL’s mandated roster deadline. The news sent shockwaves through the NFL and the LGBT community Saturday afternoon, his march to history seemingly derailed.

Yet for Sam, his journey continues. This is just a hiccup for the man who was the first openly gay man drafted by the NFL, the first openly gay man to play in an NFL preseason game, and who will be the first openly gay man to play in a regular-season NFL game.

Michael Sam the NFL player may not have a jersey right now, but he isn’t going anywhere.

The road to that final piece of immortality is simply a little bumpier now. Sam will have to be signed by another team in the next 24 hours, or he’ll most certainly end up on the Rams’ practice squad. From there, he would continue to work with the staff that drafted him in May, honing his skills and proving his worth on the football field. He would then wait week-to-week as other NFL teams considered picking him up or until the Rams activated him for a game.

The journey isn’t over, it just took a left turn.

Sam was born to be this man. Growing up in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood he survived tragedy after tragedy as a child, surrounded by drug dealers and coping with the loss of three siblings. His father abandoned the family during his youth. His mother, a Jehovah’s Witness, barred Sam from playing football when he was younger.

His mother banning him from football didn’t take, and neither will this.

Since coming out publicly, Sam has continued to endure. His NFL Draft stock fell in May in part — many including myself believe — because he is openly gay. He endured heavy criticism with the announcement of a docuseries produced by Oprah Winfrey. While many have lauded Sam, there have also been jabs at him, most recently with ESPN’s report on his showering habits.

With more scrutiny and pressure than any seventh-round pick in NFL history, plus the hopes of an entire community on his shoulders, Sam performed well in four preseason games, tallying three sacks and leading the team in tackles just last Thursday against the Miami Dolphins.

The Rams’ decision to cut him is just another hurdle that will ultimately demonstrate the courage and fortitude of a great man.

The man knows how to overcome set-backs and handle pressure. He was made for this trailblazing role. He was made for the NFL.

Many in the LGBT community are lashing out at the NFL today, claiming homophobia. It’s understandable. Gay men have been told for decades they’re not good enough to play football, they’re not welcome in the locker rooms. Some of those messages have even reverberated in 2014. While the Rams’ decision wasn’t based on homophobia, it’s hard not to afford gay men a little foot-stomping at this latest rejection.

You know who isn’t lashing out? Michael Sam. He knew this was always a possibility, part of the cold business that is the NFL. A coach is your mentor and father-figure one day. The next afternoon he gives you a pink slip. Sam understands this is not the end, but rather another opportunity to prove his doubters wrong, earn his spot at the very top of his profession and take his rightful place in history.

“The most worthwhile things in life rarely come easy,” Sam said in a statement after learning the Rams’ decision. “This is a lesson I’ve always known.

“The journey continues.”

Zeigler is co-founder and editor of Outsports.com.

TIME Culture

Finding My So-Called Queer Identity in My So-Called Life

MY SO CALLED LIFE
Claire Danes, A.J. Langer and Wilson Cruz film the "Betrayal" episode of "My So-Called Life." ABC Photo Archives—ABC via Getty Images

The TV landscape for LGBTQ characters has shifted dramatically since the groundbreaking show first aired 20 years ago

When I was 8, my favorite thing to do after school was to visit the set of My So-Called Life. My mom, who created the show, had to be there all the time, so I’d visit her on days when a babysitter could drive me or when my dad was shooting scenes as Angela’s grandfather. I’d play behind the scenery, do my homework in the unused fake school hallway, and plunder the craft service snack table. I loved reading the scripts and watching rough cuts of the episodes. A lot of what I saw went over my head, but I could totally identify with Angela’s intense crush on Jordan Catalano. I was already boy crazy, pining after classmates, camp counselors, my friend’s older brother and the bowl-cutted hunks of Tiger Beat.

So it was no surprise that I swooned over Wilson Cruz, who played gay teenager Rickie on MSCL. I was in awe of all the actors—even 14-year-old Claire Danes seemed impossibly grownup to me—but felt especially thrilled when warm, funny, magnetic Wilson would chat with me between scenes. “I’m gonna marry him!” I confided in my mom one day. She smiled. “That’s so sweet, honey, but you know, Wilson is gay.”

I understood what that meant. My parents, who had many gay friends, had explained it to me in a simplified way. I’d known the character of Rickie was gay, but it hadn’t occurred to me that Wilson might be too. (I decided I could still fantasize about our wedding anyway.)

Many people fear exposing kids to the idea of sexual orientation or gender identity when they’re “too young”—though those very kids may already know they’re attracted to people of the same sex or that their gender doesn’t match what they were assigned. But my parents didn’t think twice about broaching the subject or letting me watch MSCL. Rickie’s storylines on the show opened my eyes to something I was beginning to see more and more at elementary school: homophobia. I became a tiny advocate, chastising friends when they used “That’s so gay!” as an insult. But I didn’t yet realize that I was queer too.

When I unexpectedly fell for a girl in high school, I was thrown for a loop. By that time, I could appreciate more of the nuances of MSCL, like the fluidity of Rickie’s sexual and gender expression. He starts out identifying as bi before eventually coming out as gay; he wears makeup but experiments with a traditionally masculine look on Halloween; he tries using both the girls’ and the boys’ bathroom at school but doesn’t quite fit in either. These details felt authentic to me as a teenage queer in flux, trying on different labels to find what felt right. It reassured me to know not everyone’s journey began with “I always knew.”

But as much as I related to Rickie, his story was very different from mine. In a particularly emotional episode, he is beaten and forced out of his home on Christmas. That storyline was inspired by aspects of Wilson’s real experience as a teenager. As I struggled to define my sexuality, the one thing I never had to worry about was how my parents would react. By talking with me at a young age and allowing me access to LGBTQ stories, they’d shown me I could count on their unconditional acceptance when I’d need it most. I feel incredibly lucky, and sometimes guilty, for having a painless coming-out experience when so many face abuse or rejection from their families, as Wilson did. Even subtler forms of disapproval, like parents who insist “It’s just a phase,” have had deep psychological impact on friends of mine. I cannot imagine how isolating it must be to have to hide who you are from those closest to you. Yet it’s a commonplace reality for LGBTQ youth—a group with disproportionately high rates of homelessness and suicide.

That’s why characters like Rickie matter so much. They can be a lifeline for viewers who may not be able to talk to anyone about what they’re going through. And they can help change minds by humanizing those who are different. It’s inspiring to see how much the TV landscape has shifted in the 20 years since MSCL first aired. Rickie helped pave the way for LGBTQ characters on Glee, Orange Is the New Black, Degrassi, The Fosters and many more shows. And Wilson Cruz (who was eventually able to reconcile with his father) is helping shape that landscape as an actor and national spokesperson for GLAAD. It gives me hope that we’ll continue to break ground, bringing even more diverse stories to the screen and moving toward a culture where more kids can feel as safe coming out as I did.

Savannah Dooley is a screenwriter best known for her work on ABC Family’s Huge.

TIME LGBT

Smithsonian Expands Collection of LGBT Artifacts

National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
The facade of Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is lit up at dusk on June 4, 2013. John Greim—LightRocket /Getty Image

A donation from the TV show Will and Grace kicks off a wider effort to document the history of sexual orientation

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History announced Tuesday a significant expansion to its collection of artifacts documenting the history of America’s sexual minorities.

The expanded collection includes a donation of studio props from the television series Will and Grace, which debuted in 1998 with one of the first openly gay characters on primetime television. It also includes diplomatic passports from the first openly gay U.S. ambassador, David Huebner, and his husband, Duane McWaine, and a racquet that formerly belonged to transgender tennis player Renee Richards, who challenged a league-wide ban on transgendered players.

The museum said in a statement that the recent acquisitions mark a “long tradition of documenting the full breadth of the American experience and what it means to be an American. The LGBT narrative is an important part of that American story, and the Smithsonian has been documenting and collecting related objects for many years.”

 

TIME

Yep, I’m Gay, and I’m a CEO—It Doesn’t Stop Me From Running a Great Business

Robert Hanson
Robert Hanson Peter Vidor—©2009 Peter Vidor

Corporate leaders need to realize that a strong company should make money—and be a force for social change

There’s been a lot of attention in the media recently about the lack of publicly gay business leaders. The implication from certain articles — e.g., “Where Are the Gay Chief Executives?” and “Among Gay C.E.O.s, the Pressure to Conform” — is that companies and their boards remain one of the last bastions of opposition to gay equality, and that gay CEOs fear reprisal from shareholders, therefore remaining extremely discreet or closeted. But I have had a different personal experience and I feel compelled to share it.

For as long as I have been in business and running companies, I’ve been an out gay man. I was recently appointed as the CEO of luxury jewelry brand John Hardy, I’m a director of Constellation Brands (a publicly traded company), and have served as the CEO of publicly traded American Eagle Outfitters and before that, as the Global Brand President of Levi’s.

An executive’s purpose is to create economic opportunity by delivering results, but I also happen to believe that there is a concurrent goal: to make whatever business we are helming a force for positive social change. Economic opportunity and values-based leadership aren’t mutually exclusive.

Performing my best means bringing my authentic self to work, every day. Unlike others, I’ve always had a supportive family and terrific friends and champions. I also have the benefit of my geography (a coastal city), my gender (male) and my ethnicity (white). While I’ve worked very hard, I recognize how fortunate I am.

I often meet other gay people in business…as well as women and people of color who also remain underrepresented in senior roles…who are extraordinarily gifted, yet have not had the same opportunities. Sexual orientation can remain hidden, unlike gender or ethnicity, regardless of the public profile with which one lives. To understand why other executives directly or tacitly hide their sexual orientation, it’s helpful to consider the paths that lead them there. Remaining closeted is not, in most cases, due to a lack of courage, authenticity or integrity. This is their conundrum: They’ve been hired primarily to drive performance and deliver returns; but they are also supposed to serve as champions and role models for a wide swath of people, and do not want their sexual orientation to overwhelm or distract from their impact and tenure. The reason it might? History.

Unfortunately, the public dialog around gay civil rights is still fairly incendiary; mere visibility at a gay event can elicit a strong reaction. One of the articles I mentioned earlier rightly points out that leaders in government, including the military and professional athletics, have moved ahead of leaders in business in terms of being out. Executives need to consider this carefully and grab the opportunity to lead.

The issues we face can be effectively eliminated through the greater visibility of high-performing publicly gay executives, the open support of boards and shareholders, and a balanced dialog on the subject from the media.

Again, business can be a source of economic opportunity as well as a force for positive social change. But we can only achieve both outcomes when we create a welcoming platform with true equal opportunities for all people. It’s not only right, but also smart for business. The facts show that a diverse workforce representative of our customer base leads to better decisions and performance over time. Those of us fortunate enough to be in the position of CEO, where we help construct the culture of our organizations and of the business world at large, have our own opportunity to lead—and an obligation.

Robert Hanson is Chief Executive Officer of luxury jewelry brand John Hardy. Prior to that, Robert was Chief Executive Officer of American Eagle Outfitters, and has been recognized both for his leadership accomplishments and unique position as an out, gay man leading a public company.

TIME Retail

Target Openly Supports Gay Marriage in Legal Brief

Hackers Grab 40 Million Accounts From Target Stores
A Target store is seen on December 19, 2013 in Miami, Florida. Joe Raedle—Getty Images

The major retailer has joined a group of companies in filing an amicus brief in support of gay marriage

Target announced its support for gay marriage Tuesday by signing onto an amicus brief in a case before a federal appeals court, after years of criticism for its neutrality on the issue.

“It is our belief that everyone should be treated equally under the law, and that includes rights we believe individuals should have related to marriage,” said Target Executive Vice President Jodee Kozlak in a statement Tuesday.

The retail giant joins a group of national companies signing onto an amicus brief filed in Wisconsin’s appeal of a lower court decision that struck down that state’s gay marriage ban. A similar case in Indiana has been folded into this case.

Kozlak said Target already offers benefits to LGBT employees and families. In announcing the move, Kozlak couched the decision in both ideological and economical terms regarding the challenges created by having contradictory marriage regulations in different states.

“This position is particularly challenging for a large organization that operates nationally, such as Target,” Kozlak said. “Current laws — in places like Wisconsin and Indiana that are addressed in this brief – make it difficult to attract and retain talent … We believe that everyone – all of our team members and our guests – deserve to be treated equally. And at Target we are proud to support the LGBT community.”

TIME LGBT

Utah Petitions Supreme Court for Gay Marriage Ruling

Appeals Court Overturns Same Sex Marriage Ban In Utah
Peggy Tomsic, (C) attorney for three same-sex couples, claps in celebration after the 10th Circuit Court in Denver rejected a same-sex marriage ban in Utah on June 25, 2014 in Salt Lake City, Utah. George Frey—Getty Images

Utah's gay marriage ban could face a final reckoning

Utah’s attorney general filed an appeal with the Supreme Court on Tuesday challenging a lower court’s decision to strike down the state’s gay marriage ban.

“My responsibility is to defend the State Constitution and its amendments as Utah citizens have enacted them,” Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement. “Utah welcomes a speedy grant of the petition and a Supreme Court merits decision, as all Utah citizens will benefit when the Supreme Court provides clear finality on the important issue of state authority to define marriage.”

The law in contention was struck down by an appeals court in June, which ruled that a state “may not deny the issuance of a marriage license to two persons, or refuse to recognize their marriage, based solely upon the sex of the persons in the marriage union.”

Gay marriage advocates have rallied behind the case, viewing it as an opening toward legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide, rather than state-by-state.

Same-sex marriage is legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia.

 

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

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

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