Liberals promise $1.7 million for LGBTQ+ people persecuted abroad

Activists are also urging Canada to denounce homophobic legislation in Uganda and Ghana, saying sustained pressure is needed to prevent further human rights rollbacks.

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OTTAWA – The federal government has announced $1.7 million for groups that support sexual and gender minorities abroad, as it faces criticism from activists that Ottawa is too slow to deliver on its funding promises.

“We know that groups opposing 2SLGBTQI+ rights are becoming better funded and coordinated globally,” said Liberal MP Anita Vandenbeld, parliamentary secretary to International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen.

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He credited activists for continuing to fight for their rights at great risks rather than seeking refugee status, and said these people have contributed to the recent progress of minorities in Nepal, Thailand and Dominica.

Vandenbeld spoke Thursday at a conference for Dignity Network, a coalition of Canadian groups that support LGBTQ+ people abroad.

Activists around the world praised Canada’s various funds and projects to protect vulnerable people. But they said funding from Ottawa is moving slowly and urged Canada to be more vocal in response to anti-gay legislation in some countries.

The funding announced Tuesday includes $1 million for a project led by the U.S. Department of Aid to investigate how groups in multiple countries can undermine stigma and also respond to crises.

Jay Gilliam, senior LGBTQI+ coordinator at USAID, praised Canada for supporting the project in recent years. In addition to funding research, he said the money will help activists who are in imminent danger with relocation and medical or legal costs.

“We are very excited that it will be able to cover many different places and address the challenges that local communities have identified,” Gilliam said on the sidelines of the conference.

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The remainder of the funding is earmarked for Toronto-based Rainbow Railroad to examine the forced displacement of sexual and gender minorities around the world by helping governments understand the perspectives of those fleeing for safety.

The Global Philanthropy Project presented preliminary data for an impending report that ranks Canada third among 16 national governments funding LGBTQ+ rights abroad, after the United States and the Netherlands.

Only 0.2 percent of Canadian aid went to this population in the fiscal year they studied, which ended in spring 2022.

Stephen Brown, a University of Ottawa professor specializing in foreign aid and LGBTQ+ people, said many activists noted that accessing Canadian funding requires a lot of paperwork and Zoom calls.

He said delegates compared this to US-based evangelical groups that easily and quickly funnel funds to support anti-gay movements.

“They appreciate Canadian funding, but find that it doesn’t always meet their needs,” Brown said.

“There are many conditions; It is not agile. “It’s often too short-term, so they don’t know if they can count on it for a long time, while the needs definitely won’t go away.”

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The issue of funding was a major concern for delegates from sub-Saharan Africa, who reported an increase in collective violence and discriminatory laws.

In early 2019, the Liberals announced funding for LGBTQ+ people abroad, including $15 million for groups in regions where rights are receding.

However, the department says only $1.25 million of that money has reached sub-Saharan Africa and another $2.8 million has yet to be spent.

“Africa appears to be underfunded compared to other regions, despite having greater needs,” Brown said, particularly in French-speaking countries.

Global Affairs Canada said the COVID-19 pandemic and a lengthy consultation process have delayed funding for some groups, but the department plans to increase spending.

Meanwhile, activists are also urging Canada to more strongly denounce homophobic legislation in countries like Uganda and Ghana.

Pepe Julian Onziema, director of Uganda’s Sexual Minorities program, was frustrated that governments did not speak up more before his country enacted a law a year ago that includes the death penalty for certain types of gay sex.

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“We cried all over the world and no one took us seriously,” he said at the conference.

He argued that the world’s lukewarm response encouraged other African governments to follow suit. Ghana’s parliament has passed a bill, yet to be signed into law, that would jail people who identify as gay.

Brown summarized closed-door conversations about the bill. Global Affairs Canada officials told activists that the priority is to do no harm when speaking publicly and that its embassies abroad regularly raise human rights concerns with foreign governments.

“What some Africans have said, Ugandans in particular, was ‘Well, you have to speak up, you have to shout,’ and other donors have been playing a more vocal role, such as the United States and the World Bank. “

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