Rabbis protest Uganda’s anti-homosexuality policy

Protesters denounce Uganda's anti-gay policies in front of its embassy in Washington on Feb. 10 2014. (Suzanne Pollack)

Protesters denounce Uganda’s anti-gay policies in front of its embassy in Washington, Feb. 10 2014. (Suzanne Pollak)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Human rights activists eventually delivered a letter to the Ugandan embassy in Washington signed by more than 400 rabbis protesting that country’s anti-homosexuality policy.

Monday’s protest in Washington coincided with similar events in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco, and was organized in part by the American Jewish World Service, or AJWS.

The letter urged Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to veto the anti-homosexuality bill that was passed recently in the parliament under which those arrested for same-sex sexual behavior can be sentenced to life in prison.

The bill also criminalizes the promotion of homosexuality, which includes funding organizations that provide health and other services to LGBT people.

“We are called upon to be a voice for the voiceless and not to stand idly by,” said Rabbi Rachel Gartner of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association.

Gartner was one of four Washington-area rabbis at the protest who were rebuffed initially in trying to deliver the letter to the embassy. They knocked on the embassy door for several minutes but received no response.

“We obviously were refused entry,” said Rabbi Esther Lederman of Temple Micah in Washington. “Our plan is to put that letter in the mail today.”

But AJWS reported that a Secret Service agent negotiated with the embassy staff on the activists’ behalf and the staff agreed to receive Lederman, who delivered the letter to an embassy official and shared a brief statement about why LGBT rights are important to the American Jewish community.

AJWS President Ruth Messinger attended the New York City protest.

“LGBT Ugandans are ostracized and assaulted on a daily basis just for living their lives, and for recent generations of Jews, the threats facing LGBT people in Uganda are all to hauntingly familiar,” she said.  “We cannot remain silent. We cannot simply stand by.”

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