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White House adviser urges UN to relocate climate conference over ‘LGBTQ+ torture’ in Egypt

Jerome Foster and Elijah Mckenzie-Jackson fear being targeted

By Emily Maskell

Words: Emily Maskell; pictures: Twitter/@JeromeFosterII

A US White House adviser and his partner have urged the United Nations to reconsider hosting COP27 in Egypt due to the country’s “LGBTQ+ torture, woman slaughter, and civil rights suppression.”

Jerome Foster and Elijah Mckenzie-Jackson said they and fellow activists are fearful of becoming targets if they attend the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh in November.

Foster, 20, and Mckenzie-Jackson, 18, have written to Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) condemned the decision for COP27 to be held in Egypt and that it “places our life in danger in the process of advocating for the life of our planet”.

After last year’s conference was delayed due to Covid, thousands of delegates from around the world are due to arrive in Egypt for talks addressing global concerns about food security and the failure to efficiently address the climate crisis. 

Foster, who is a US activist advising the White House on environmental justice issues, told The Guardian that the idea of travelling to Egypt for the conference is “terrifying” and this he would be concerned about being arrested for his sexuality if he did so.

“Being gay in Egypt is scary. We aren’t going to put our lives at risk and we don’t want anyone else to have their lives at risk,” he said.

“My family is highly religious and it was really hard to even talk about all this with them, the idea of going to a country with that sort of extra fear is traumatizing.”

British climate activist Mckenzie-Jackson echoed Foster’s comments and said that by not moving the conference the UNFCCC was not abiding by its own commitments to make COP27, as the couple wrote in their letter, “as transparent and accessible as possible.”  

UNFCC also have a code of conduct to ensure a safe and inclusive environment, preventing discriminatory behaviour against people for their sexual orientation or gender identity at any event held by the body, which Foster and Mckenzie-Jackson say is not being upheld.

“The UN is being irresponsible, it isn’t practicing what it preaches,” Mckenzie-Jackson said. 

“There are better options of countries in Africa that will still include African voices,” he continues. “People shouldn’t be cannon fodder for the climate movement. COP27 will fail if it’s in Egypt because critical voices will be left out.”

In Egypt, contemporary law does not explicitly criminalise homosexuality but Foster and Mckenzie-Jackson note courts and politicians have turned a blind eye to LGBTQ+ people being imprisoned under vague and discriminatory legal provisions.

One case exemplifying this is that of Egyptian LGBTQ+ activist Ahmed Alaa, who co-signed Foster and Mckenzie-Jackson’s letter. Alaa was imprisoned for three months after waving a rainbow flag at a concert.

Rasha Younes, a Middle East and North Africa LGBTQ rights researcher at Human Rights Watch, also remarked: “The evidence we’ve collected on entrapment suggested a coordinated policy by Egyptian authorities to target LGBT people.”

“Anyone going to COP27 should be concerned and should take precautions, particularly with their online activity. But of course we are even more concerned for people who live in Egypt already,” Younes added.

COP 27 will take place from 7-18 November 2022 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.  

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