Archive for the 'Barack Obama' Category

Attorney General Eric Holder Delivers Remarks at the Parliament of Sweden

Attorney General Eric HolderAttorney General Eric Holder addressed the Swedish Parliament today and pledged continued support by the U.S. Government to advance the equality of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people. Mr. Holder commended Sweden on being a champion of human rights including LGBT rights and quoted from President Obama’s second Inaugural address,

“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love that we commit to one another must be equal as well.”

He went on to say,

“I believe one of these struggles is the fight for equality for our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender – or LGBT – citizens.  And that is why my colleagues and I are working alongside leaders like you and people around the world to make a positive difference.”

The Attorney General is visiting Sweden as part of a European trip to attend a G6 ministerial conference in Poland.

You can read the full speech here.

President Obama Announces Presidential Delegations to the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games

President Barack Obama today announced the designation of Presidential Delegations to the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russian Federation.

Presidential Delegation to the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games

The Opening Ceremony of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russian Federation will be held on February 7, 2014. The delegation will attend athletic events, meet with U.S. athletes, and attend the Opening Ceremony.

The Honorable Janet A. Napolitano, President of the University of California, will lead the delegation.

The Honorable Michael A. McFaul, United States Ambassador to the Russian Federation.

The Honorable Robert L. Nabors, Assistant to the President and Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy.

The Honorable Billie Jean King, Member of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition, Member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Mr. Brian A. Boitano, Olympic gold medalist, figure skating.

Presidential Delegation to the Closing Ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games

The Closing Ceremony of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russian Federation will be held on February 23, 2014. The delegation will attend athletic events, meet with U.S. athletes, and attend the Closing Ceremony.

The Honorable William J. Burns, Deputy Secretary of State, will lead the delegation.

The Honorable Michael A. McFaul, United States Ambassador to the Russian Federation.

Ms. Bonnie Blair, five-time Olympic gold medalist and one-time bronze medalist, speed skating.

Ms. Caitlin Cahow, Olympic silver medalist and bronze medalist, women’s ice hockey.

Dr. Eric Heiden, five-time Olympic gold medalist, speed skating.

Human Rights: Advancing American Interests and Values

National Security Advisor Susan E. Rice addressed the participants of the Human Rights First 2013 Summit in Washington DC yesterday, in her speech Amb. Rice stressed that advancing democracy and respect for human rights is central to this administrations foreign policy. In her remarks Rice noted that LGBT human rights is an important component in advancing this agenda. Amb. Rice noted,

No one–no one–should face discrimination because of who they are or whom they love.  So, we are working to lead internationally, as we have domestically, on LGBT issues. This summer, President Obama championed equal treatment for LGBT persons while standing next to the President of Senegal, a country that is making progress on democratic reforms, but like too many nations, still places criminal restrictions on homosexuality.  President Obama met with LGBT and other civil society activists in St. Petersburg, Russia to discuss the restrictions they face in Russia.  At the UN Human Rights Council and in regional organizations, such as the Organization of American States and the Pan American Health Organization, the United States has fought for and won support for resolutions that recognize the rights and protect the safety and dignity of LGBT persons.  We created the Global Equality Fund to protect LGBT rights and those who defend them.

After the speech, Elisa Massimino, President and CEO of Human Rights First, said in a statement,

Today’s speech was a welcome affirmation of the Obama Administration’s commitment to protecting human rights at home and abroad. Ambassador Rice made a compelling case for why this effort is squarely in the national interest, arguing that short term trade-offs cannot alter our foundational values, and that respect for human rights is essential to our security.

Following her speech, Ambassador Rice met with human rights defenders from Bahrain, Egypt, Zimbabwe, and the international LGBT community.

Read the full speech here.

 

What We Need From the Next Head of PEPFAR

President’s Emergency Plan on AIDS ReliefDr. Eric Goosby stepped down from his role as U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator this month. As the White House and the State Department consider Dr. Goosby’s replacement, the Council believes there are some qualities that are essential in his successor.

The Council and its member organizations strongly support the President’s Emergency Plan on AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) – not only for health policy reasons, but for the broader reflection of fundamental U.S. values that PEPFAR offers. In that respect, we believe it crucial that PEPFAR programs be fully inclusive of most-at-risk populations, including men who have sex with men (MSM). We are grateful that  the Obama Administration has embraced that principle by expanding PEPFAR programming to include MSM – a legacy that, in turn, is elevating the importance of enabling legal environments for MSM prevention and treatment programs.

The nominee for Dr. Goosby’s replacement obviously must reflect experience in, and knowledge of, HIV/AIDS policy. Given the cross-agency nature of our tools to fight HIV/AIDS, however, we believe it critically important that he or she also demonstrate proven abilities to lead a complex and multi-tiered interagency health policy team.

Moreover, the new Coordinator will carry important leadership responsibilities in ensuring the consistency and integrity of PEPFAR programs. This must include clear commitment to meeting the needs of most-at-risk populations, including LGBT individuals, in each country served by PEPFAR. It equally must include persistence in seeking host country understanding of, and shared commitment to, this goal.

The Council remains concerned at indications that some PEPFAR implementers may have inappropriately blurred the distinction between their personal views on homosexuality and their responsibility, as an implementing organization of U.S. policy, not to undercut broad U.S. government policy goals that support both sound HIV/AIDS prevention and LGBT rights. We wish to see a Coordinator who will prioritize the integrity and effectiveness of our programs in this respect, even while respecting First Amendment rights. We, in turn, will join in holding the new Coordinator publicly accountable for effective oversight in investigating and responding to any alleged abuse.

Finally, the person selected as Coordinator has an essential role in communicating to foreign leaders, and indeed to American and foreign publics, the critical importance of PEPFAR’s life-saving programs, and the need for those programs to embrace all populations.

The new Global AIDS Coordinator can anchor a strong legacy not only of humanitarian attention to a critical health challenge, but also to insistence that our global health policies be fully inclusive, in reflection of American values. The Council for Global Equality is hopeful that there will be a speedy announcement of Dr. Goosby’s replacement, and that that announcement will reflect these inclusive values that are critical to the direction in which our PEPFAR programs must go.

Remarks by President Obama in Roundtable with Russian Civil Society Leaders

President Barack Obama met with civil society advocates in St. Petersburg today to hear their concerns and to assure them that his administration will continue to press the Russian government to respect human rights. The group of advocates at the roundtable included members of the LGBT community.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I just want to say thank you to all the participants in this roundtable.  This is an incredible and very diverse group of civil society leaders.  And this is something that I really enjoy doing at every country that I visit because it is my firm belief that a country’s strength ultimately comes from its people and that as important as government is — and laws — what makes a country democratic and effective in delivering prosperity and security and hope to people is when they’ve got an active, thriving civil society.

And all of these leaders, ranging from business leaders to youth leaders to environmental leaders, those who are advocating on behalf of a free press, the rule of law, all of them contribute in one way or another to continuing to strengthen Russian society and helping to make progress on behalf of all people.

And the same is true in the United States.  I’m now in government, but I got my start as a community organizer, somebody who was working in what would be called an NGO in the international community.  And the work I was doing was helping poor communities have a voice in what was happening in their lives.  And I got elected as President by engaging people at a grassroots level.

So the kinds of activities that are represented here are critically important to Russia’s development, and I’m very proud of their work.  And I think it is important for us to remember that in every country — here in Russia, in the United States, around the globe — that part of good government is making sure that we’re creating a space for civil society to function effectively:  freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, making sure that people can join together and make common cause around the issues that they care deeply about.

So I appreciate you taking the time.  I’m not going to do all the talking here.  I want to spend most of my time listening. But I want to thank you again and I hope all of you continue the good work.

High Hopes as Obama Prepares to Meet with Russian Gay Activists

President Obama is set to meet with a group of human rights advocates in Russia

Photo: Michael Kay, Washington Blade

Repost from the Washington Blade

President Obama is set to meet with a group of human rights advocates in Russia on Friday, including representatives of LGBT rights groups and many observers are hopeful that he will take the opportunity to express continued opposition to the country’s controversial anti-gay propaganda law.

During a stopover in Stockholm on Wednesday, Obama expressed solidarity with Sweden during opening remarks at a news conference by saying both the Nordic country and the United States have a shared belief in equality under the law, including for gay citizens.

“We share a belief in the dignity and equality of every human being; that our daughters deserve the same opportunities as our sons; that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters must be treated equally under the law; that our societies are strengthened and not weakened by diversity,” Obama said.

Obama restated his support for LGBT equality as he prepared to meet with Russian human rights groups and LGBT groups during his visit to St. Petersburg for the annual G-20 summit.

A White House official told the Washington Blade that Obama intends to meet with “civil society representatives” during his trip on Friday and LGBT groups were invited to the meeting.

“The president will meet with Russian civil society leaders to discuss the important role civil society plays in promoting human rights and tolerance,” the official said. “Invited are representatives from groups supporting human rights, the environment, free media, and LGBT rights, among others.”

Obama meets with these activists — as well as leaders from G-20 countries — at a time when he’s pushing for military engagement in Syria over the use of the chemical weapons in the country. That issue will likely play a large role in the discussions — at least with leaders from G-20 nations.

But LGBT advocates who work on international issues told the Washington Blade the meeting with human rights activists provides a stage to draw attention to the condition of human rights in Russia, including the situation for LGBT people. Continue Reading

Pro-gay U.S. firms face hurdles in antigay Russia

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

The company has a rock-solid policy of “inclusion and diversity” in the workplace and numerous LGBT employees, and it was one of the prominent Bay Area firms to sign amicus briefs in favor of overturning Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

It also has interests in Russia, including a $1 billion investment to help the country develop its own Silicon Valley. Last week, the company, Cisco Systems, opened the Cisco Experience Center at the site of Russia’s embryonic Silicon Valley outside Moscow, “marking an important milestone in Cisco’s multiyear investment in sustainable innovation within the Russian Federation,” a senior executive blogged.

But Russia has become a darker place since Cisco committed the money in 2010 – jailing perceived opponents, spitting in the face of America and escalating attacks on gay rights.

In the past year, the regime of President Vladimir Putin has banned same-sex couples from adopting children, violently broken up gay pride parades and, last month, outlawed as “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” the espousal of values Cisco and other U.S. companies operating in Russia embrace.

That is already an issue here. Demonstrations against its antigay laws have been held in several American cities, including outside the Russian Consulate in San Francisco. Boycotts of Russian vodka and the 2014 Winter Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi are being pushed, and state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, is calling on California’s public pension funds to cease investing in Russian enterprises.

Even President Obama, annoyed with Putin for granting asylum to National Security Agency leader Edward Snowden, has stepped into the fray. “I’ve been very clear that when you are discriminating on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, you are violating the basic morality that I think should transcend every country,” he toldJay Leno last week.

Referring to the Sochi Games, Obama said, “I think Putin and Russia have a big stake in making sure the Olympics work, and I think they understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn’t tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently.”

U.S. groups speak out

But Russia can. Under the law, gay or “pro-gay” foreigners face up to 14 days in jail and expulsion from the country. Several Russian parliamentarians said they believe the law will be enforced during the Games, as it was last month against four Dutch tourists who were jailed for filming a forum organized by a local human rights group. Presumably employees of U.S. companies who are suspected of passing on “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” in Russia could face the same threat.

Calls to boycott the Games have been received negatively, including by the Russian LGBT Network, which called on the international community to “speak up, not walk out.”

Some U.S. groups are speaking up. They include the Council for Global Equality in Washington, whose lawyers in Moscow wrote a memo in June concluding that the laws “will directly impact multinational companies operating in Russia who have clear and well-publicized LGBT equality policies” – such as Cisco and several other Bay Area and American companies.

“Their willingness to transfer LGBT individuals to work in Russia will be an issue given the likely concern of such companies about placing LGBT individuals in Russia and the concerns of such individuals about living in Russia,” the memo states.

“It could also give rise to concern by the companies about the manner in which they publicize their LGBT policies, as well as influencing their recruitment decisions, the application of their stated LGBT policies in Russia.”

If Russian courts’ rulings on similar laws are any precedent, appeals against the provisions will probably go nowhere. International courts could see things differently, although the memo doesn’t speculate what effect they might have. ( sfg.ly/15SD7Un).

Cisco, which has dozens of engineers and other employees in Russia – with more coming to staff the innovation center – had no comment. So it’s difficult to know how aware the company is of the issue, if it’s in contact with its lawyers, or if it is formulating a response.

“We’ve had interest from companies in our memo, but what they do with it when they kick it up the chain, we don’t have a handle on,” said Julie Dorf, senior adviser at the Council of Global Equality. “It’s hard to get a read on what they’re doing behind the scenes.”

Inconsistent approach

But, Dorf said, it’s a tough issue for corporations that have operations in countries with different views on equality than their own. “We would like corporations who are positively pro-equality in the workplace to extend their policies globally, without exception,” she said, “but it’s not a simple act. There are enormous differences, especially with host countries that don’t share the same values.

“The vast majority of multinational corporations that support full LGBT equality in the workplace in the United States are inconsistent about their application of those principles and policies abroad,” she said.

President Rejects Calls to Boycott Olympics Over Anti-Gay Law

President Barack ObamaRepost from The Hill

President Obama on Friday rejected calls for the United States to boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.

“I know that one question that’s been raised is, how do we approach the Olympics? I want to just make very clear right now I do not think it’s appropriate to boycott the Olympics. We’ve got a bunch of Americans out there who are training hard, who are doing everything they can to succeed,” Obama said.

Some have said the U.S. should skip the Games in Sochi, Russia, over the country’s harboring of National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden. Others have pushed the boycott to protest Russia’s treatment of gays and lesbians.

A law passed by Russia in June would ban “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations.” It would also levy fines on people staging gay pride rallies.

Obama spoke out against the law earlier this week and reiterated that criticism on Friday.

“Nobody’s more offended than me by some of the anti-gay and lesbian legislation that you’ve been seeing in Russia,” Obama said. “But as I said just this week, I’ve spoken out against that, not just with respect to Russia, but a number of other countries where we continue to do work with them, but we have a strong disagreement on this issue.”

Obama said gay athletes from the United States could change attitudes in Russia by excelling at the Games.

“And one of the things I’m really looking forward to is maybe some gay and lesbian athletes bringing home the gold or silver or bronze, which I think would go a long way in rejecting the kind of attitudes that we’re seeing there,” he said.

Obama also said the Russian Olympic team would be weaker if gays and lesbians were not allowed to represent the country.

The International Olympic Committee said Friday it needs more clarification on the Russian law before it moves ahead with preparations for the games, according to The Associated Press. Watch a video of President Obama’s Speech

The Facts on LGBT Rights in Russia

The Facts on LGBT Rights in RussiaIn recent weeks, public attention to the ongoing crackdown on LGBT rights in the Russian Federation and its potential impact on the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia in February 2014 has increased significantly. President Obama addressed the issue on the Tonight Show, saying:

“I think Putin and Russia have a big stake in making sure the Olympics work, and I think they understand that for most of the countries that participate in the Olympics, we wouldn’t tolerate gays and lesbians being treated differently. They’re athletes, they’re there to compete. And if Russia wants to uphold the Olympic spirit, then every judgment should be made on the track, or in the swimming pool, or on the balance beam, and people’s sexual orientation shouldn’t have anything to do with it.” 
– President Obama

The controversy is likely to escalate as President Obama heads to St. Petersburg, Russia in early September for a G-20 Summit and potential bilateral meetings with President Putin. This fact sheet summarizes the developments in Russia and the guidance that we have received to date from our colleagues in Russia. Read the Fact Sheet Here.

U.S. Says Visas From Gay Spouses Will Get Equal Treatment

Secretary of State John F. Kerry

Photo: Jason Reed, Reuters

Repost from Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) – The United States will immediately begin considering visa applications of gay and lesbian spouses in the same manner as heterosexual couples, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday.

Kerry made the announcement at the U.S. Embassy in London.

“When same-sex couples apply for a visa, the Department of State will consider that application in the same manner that it considers the application of opposite sex spouses,” Kerry said shortly after his arrival in London.

“If you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen, your visa application will be treated equally. If you are the spouse of a non-citizen, your visa application will be treated equally. If you are in a country that doesn’t recognize your same-sex marriage, then your visa application will still be treated equally at every single one of our 222 visa processing centers around the world,” he added.

The move comes after the Obama administration urged all U.S. agencies to review their polices after the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down a key part of the federal law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman.

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security said its U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would begin reviewing petitions filed on behalf of same-sex spouses the same way as those for spouses in heterosexual marriages.


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