This story has been updated to include a statement from Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Kelley Robinson in response to Canada’s international travel advisory.
Canada has updated its international travel advisories, citing the risk of potential dangers, to warn LGBTQ+ Canadians that they may face harassment, discrimination or violence if they travel to the U.S. On Aug. 29, Global Affairs Canada changed its U.S. travel advice to include a caveat for LGBTQ+ travelers because “some states have enacted laws and policies” that may affect them. Canada’s travel advisory for the United States now includes a cautionary message for those who consider themselves two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning or intersex, or 2SLGBTQI+.
The travel advisory is in response to the volume of anti-LGBTQ+ laws passed in nearly half of U.S. states that limit or ban gender-affirming and gay/lesbian medical care, teaching about sexual orientation in schools and banning books with LGBTQ+ content in libraries. There have also been a series of high-profile LGBTQ+ hate crime murders in recent weeks, including internationally known Philadelphia dancer O’Shae Sibley and shop owner and mother of nine Lauri Carleton.
“When another country is affirming the state of emergency that LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. are currently living through, it only further validates the grim reality that our community is facing,” Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Kelley Robinson said in a statement in response to Canada’s warning.
Canada also cited how the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had warned in May that threats of violence against the LGBTQ+ community were becoming more frequent and intense.
Canadian Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters during a press conference Tuesday that the nation’s updated travel advisory is not politically motivated and is meant to keep Canadian citizens as safe as possible abroad.
“As someone who has had the real privilege of serving as Canada’s foreign minister, I know that our travel advisories are done very professionally,” she said.
Freeland said, “We have professionals in the government whose job is to look carefully around the world and to monitor whether there are particular dangers to particular groups of Canadians.”
Freeland added, “That’s their job and it’s the right thing to do.”
Canada’s U.S. warning doesn’t specify which states, or which municipal, state or federal laws or policies, are at issue. The warning simply states that travelers should check the local laws for their destination before traveling. Equality Florida issued a travel warning for LGBTQ+ people in April for Florida and HRC issued a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. in May.
A Canadian government general facts page offers advice to LGBTQ+ Canadians making international travel plans. The government provides some links to resources to look up relevant laws globally.
“Carefully consider whether you are comfortable visiting a destination where the laws and social customs affecting (LGBTQ+) people differ from those in Canada,” the government warns.
In May, the NAACP issued travel advisories specifically for Florida after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law restrictions on drag shows, the use of bathrooms, the use of preferred pronouns in schools and moved to restrict Black studies courses and curtail teaching of Black history.
The Canadian Press reported Tuesday, “Florida teachers are also now required to teach that sex is ‘an immutable biological trait,’ and that students must only use the pronoun of the sex on a person’s birth certificate. They also cannot teach anything about gender identity or sexual orientation until high school, a law critics have dubbed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.”
Canada’s general page for LGBTQ+ travelers also warns that if they use an X on their passport where it identifies gender, they may face discrimination in some places.
When asked about the change, Deputy Prime Minister Freeland said Tuesday that the travel advisories issued by Global Affairs Canada are “based on advice from professionals in the department whose job it is to monitor for particular dangers.”
She would not say if Canada’s Liberal Party had discussed the warning with President Joe Biden, but affirmed the importance of the relationship between the Canadian government and the U.S.
“We are able to manage that relationship regardless of the choice that the people of the United States make,” said Freeland.
She said, “Even as we work hard on that government-to-government relationship, every Canadian government, very much including our government, needs to put at the center of everything we do the interests and the safety of every single Canadian and every single group of Canadians.”
In a written statement, U.S. Ambassador David Cohen, a longtime Philadelphia politician and attorney and former EVP of Comcast, did not directly address the new travel warning. In a statement, Cohen told Canadian media that the U.S. “stands for equality and equal treatment for all.”
Cohen wrote, “The United States is committed to promoting tolerance, inclusion, justice and dignity while helping to advance equality for the LGBTQI+ community.”
“We all must continue to do this work with our like-minded partners not only in the United States, not only in Canada, but throughout the world,” he added.
About 1 million people, 4% of the Canadian population aged 15 years and older, are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or of another sexual orientation than heterosexual, according to official data released last year.
Two men in Uganda are the first to be charged with “aggravated homosexuality,” a death penalty offense under the country’s controversial new antigay laws passed in May and which formally went into effect earlier in August. Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda, but the new law has been condemned as one of the most extreme antigay laws in the world.
“Africans are being used to accept this nonsense of the Western world, and homosexuality is on the agenda,” James Nsaba Buturo, a former minister of ethics and integrity in the Ugandan government, said in March.
The current cases were charged a month apart. One involves a 20-year-old man in the district of Soroti in eastern Uganda who was charged on Aug. 18 after he allegedly “performed unlawful sexual intercourse with one [man] aged 41 with a disability,” Jacqueline Okui, spokesperson for the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions told media on Aug. 29. The defendant’s lawyer said it could be six months before the man appears in court again.
As PGN previously reported, “aggravated homosexuality” refers to any instance that includes same-sex relations with someone who’s HIV-positive, a minor child, an elderly person or disabled person. Disability is defined very broadly and LGBT+ advocacy groups said it can be easily manipulated.
In the second case, a 43-year-old man was arrested in Jinja City, eastern Uganda, on July 18. Okui said the man was charged for allegedly performing “a sexual act with a child aged 12 years of the same sex.”
Prosecutors chose to try the man for “aggravated homosexuality” rather than under Uganda’s defilement laws, known as statutory rape laws in the U.S. Charging him with “aggravated homosexuality” will allow for the most severe punishment.
As PGN reported, the new law expands the existing anti-gay/lesbian penal code to add the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” and criminalize the “promotion of homosexuality” with up to 20 years in prison. This latter could easily target human rights and advocacy groups who provide support for LGBTQ+ people.
The law also could impact journalists in Uganda as covering stories such as these two cases could be considered by authorities as promotion of homosexuality.
Human Rights Watch has criticized the law saying it “violates multiple fundamental rights guaranteed under Uganda’s constitution and breaks commitments made by the government as a signatory to a number of international human rights agreements.”
The World Bank has also condemned the law and blocked new loans to the country. The U.S. State Department imposed visa restrictions on some government officials and is reviewing U.S. aid to Uganda.
Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s president, has defended the law. Uganda’s state minister for foreign affairs, Okello Oryem, accused the World Bank of hypocrisy, saying they were lending to countries in the Middle East and Asia that have similar or harsher laws on homosexuality and cited the U.S. as having many antigay laws.
“There are many Middle East countries who do not tolerate homosexuals, they actually hang and execute homosexuals. In the United States of America, many states have passed laws that are either against or restrict activities of homosexuality … so why pick on Uganda?” Oryem said.
The New York Times reported Aug. 29 that Justine Balya, a director at the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum, said the new law, and the draconian punishments it outlines, had intimidated gay Ugandans.
Balya’s organization is representing the 20-year-old and has reported that overall violence and abuse against LGBTQ+ people have increased since the law’s passage: “Fifty-three people have been evicted from rented property for reasons linked to their sexual orientation or gender identity, 47 have faced violence or threats of violence and 17 have been arrested on various charges related to sexuality or gender identity.”
Balya, who argued that the law was unconstitutional, said, “It has been a brutal three months for the community in Uganda.”
The anti-gay/lesbian movement in Uganda has been supported financially and in other ways by right-wing conservative evangelical groups in the U.S., as PGN reported last month.