Congressional Equality Caucus Letter to USTR Tai Echoes Demand that Biden Administration Pause STIP Negotiations
A coalition of leading LGBTQI+, labor, trade, HIV, and human rights groups met with United States Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai at her Washington, D.C. office on Friday to express grave concern over the Biden administration’s ongoing pursuit of a U.S.- Kenya Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership (STIP) amidst increasing anti-LGBTQI+ hate from Kenyan politicians and duty bearers. The groups reiterated their request that the Biden administration pause trade negotiations with Kenya until President Ruto commits to vetoing any law that further criminalizes LGBTQI+ people.
During the meeting, Ambassador Tai stated that she has “expressed our serious concerns about the effect that [the Family Protection Bill] could have on the people of Kenya.” But when activists asked Ambassador Tai directly if she would pause negotiations she did not provide a direct answer.
Kenyan experts in the meeting described to her persecution of LGBTQI+ people, clinic closures, and attacks that have transpired since President Ruto called for nullification of the Supreme Court ruling that asserted the freedom of LGBTQI+ Kenyans to associate, along with the drafting of the so-called “Family Protection Bill” in Parliament.
“Our meeting will be nothing more than hollow kindness and virtue signaling during Pride month unless it is matched with concrete action,” said Jerame Davis, Executive Director, Pride at Work. “Continued negotiations while this bill is pending leaves significant leverage on the table and sends the wrong message to the Kenyan government and to LGBTQI+ Kenyans.”
The Congressional Equality Caucus also wrote last week to Ambassador Tai calling for a pause in U.S. – Kenya STIP negotiations until President Ruto commits to rejecting anti-LGBTQI+ legislation. In their letter, 21 Members of Congress write: “The United States must make clear to both Kenya and other countries considering similar legislation that we will not stand idly by as they move to criminalize or further criminalize people for being LGBTQI+. If countries wish to strengthen their economic and trade ties to the United States, they must ensure they will protect the human rights of their residents—not further criminalize them for who they are.”
Just this year, there have been 400 attacks on LGBTQI+ Kenyans registered by the Human Rights Commission and at least 11 clinics serving Kenyan LGBTQI+ people have been shut down. One clinic in Thika town serving gay men and other key populations was threatened with a raid, forcing people with HIV into hiding and blocking access to life-saving treatment while HIV outreach and testing services are also disrupted. President Ruto publicly decried a pro-LGBTQI+ rights ruling by Kenya’s supreme court earlier this year and has stoked dangerous scapegoating of LGBTQI+ people in Kenya as anti-LGBTQI+ hate increases nationally and regionally. A Kenyan member of Parliament has introduced a copycat version of Uganda’s anti-LGBTQI+ “Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023,” which the Biden administration has called one of the most extreme anti-LGBTQI+ laws in the world.
However, the Biden administration has continued to pursue a preferential bipartisan trade deal with Kenya, even as the human rights abuses increase and Kenyan politicians publicly pronounce they want to legislatively “kick LGBT people out of Kenya completely.”
Participants in Friday’s meeting with USTR included representatives from the Kenya Key Populations Consortium (KKPC), the National LGBTQ Taskforce, Health GAP, PFLAG, Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Pride at Work, Association of Flight Attendants CWA, Treatment Action Group, NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, Public Citizen, American Jewish World Service, and Council for Global Equality. Earlier this month, these and dozens of other groups wrote to Ambassador Tai asking that the Biden administration pause negotiations with the Ruto administration until the Kenyan president commits to vetoing any legislation that further criminalizes LGBTQI+ people there.
“If the Biden administration continues negotiations with Kenya, it will signal to other countries that criminalizing the LGBTQ+ community is not a deal-breaker to doing business with the U.S.,” said Melanie Foley, Deputy Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “Katherine Tai continues to champion the notion of ‘worker-centered’ trade; it’s time to make clear that includes queer workers too.”
“President Biden made advancing the rights of LGBTQI+ people globally a trade and foreign policy priority from the earliest days of his administration. It would be highly hypocritical to continue to pursue the Kenya STIP. Securing a U.S. – Kenya bilateral trade agreement must not trump concerns for human rights,” said Alyson Bancroft, Associate Director, U.S. Policy & Advocacy, Health GAP. “The human rights of Kenyans matter above all. The Biden administration must confront the rising tide of anti-LGBTQI+ hate – a trend that is fueled in no small part by extremists based in the U.S.”