U.S. assistance programs must, like overall U.S. foreign policy, be grounded in U.S. principles. We believe it a moral imperative that our assistance programs embrace the rights and needs of marginalized communities, including LGBT people, as a reflection of our country’s historical support both for equality of treatment and opportunity, and for governments that are responsive to the needs of their people.
But including LGBT people in USG assistance programs is also a matter of policy coherence, and of policy effectiveness. Good governance programs can’t logically avoid the problems that LGBT and other marginalized and targeted minorities often face in government access and fair treatment. Economic opportunity programs, such as micro-credit grants and other tools to encourage entrepreneurial development, need to empower whole communities to have maximum impact. Health programs, and programs aimed at poverty reduction, cannot fully succeed if they skirt a portion of the population. Educational opportunities, including job skills and business training, are critical for this population, since stigma and discrimination cause LGBT youth to disproportionately drop out of school. Civil societies are only as strong as their most marginalized component. And programs aimed at strengthening justice and the rule of law cannot live up to their own promise if they fail to include the abuses that LGBT people often face abroad.For all of these reasons, it’s critical that USAID and all other agencies with developmental assistance programs of any import take a deliberate and careful look at how LGBT populations can be incorporated into existing USG assistance programs. Although we generally believe that assistance priorities should be set in the field, by those with direct understanding of country-specific priorities, the often-invisible needs of LGBT communities suggests that there needs to be greater central direction to developing a universal approach toward how those needs might be incorporated. In parallel, embassies and USAID missions alike will need to develop effective, culture-sensitive outreach tools to ensure that LGBT populations are aware of relevant programs, and that the needs of those populations are being met.
The biggest foreign assistance challenge to reaching LGBT populations may be the attitudes of local government and organizational partners – some of which may resist any open targeting of the LGBT community in their countries. This may require frank conversation – carried out, we hope, with the sensitivity that Secretary Clinton showed in her Geneva speech. We trust that, as agencies implement the President’s memorandum, all of those with any assistance component will signal their commitment to ensuring that they will not allow a local government’s hesitancy to impact the contours of our programs in any country.
Finally, setting an evaluation process – both for how well our programs are incorporating LGBT concerns and populations, and for how U.S. personnel are carrying out that incorporation – will be essential to the long-term effectiveness of this new focus. Creating such a monitoring process should be a high priority.
Tomorrow: Conditionality in U.S. Foreign Assistance