Leadership Matters

by Mark Bromley, Council Chair, The Council for Global Equality

Mark Bromley, The Council for Global Equality

Richard Grenell posted an online piece for the Advocate on February 19 in response to Kerry Eleveld’s profile article on Secretary Clinton’s LGBT advances at the State Department.  While I am not a big fan of tit-for-tat responses, Grenell goes out of his way to suggest that I lied about an important conversation at the State Department.  Such an unsubstantiated attack on my credibility is hard to let pass.

Richard Grenell argues on the Advocate website (read the article here) that Secretary Condi Rice was a champion of LGBT rights under the Bush administration, and that Secretary Clinton has merely built on that lead. He also claims that I fabricated a conversation with a senior-State Department official to discount the good work of the State Department under Secretary Rice. I certainly hope that quiet diplomacy was deployed under the leadership of Secretary Rice to support the fundamental rights of vulnerable LGBT communities worldwide, including those who are too often subjected to hate crimes, sexual assault, police harassment, extortion and arrest in the nearly 80 countries that still criminalize our relations and relationships. But the conversation that Grenell claims I fabricated suggests a different story.

Grenell says that: “Mark Bromley is a Democrat who worked for liberal senator Russ Feingold. His characterization of his conversation with an unnamed Bush administration official three years ago is presented without evidence because it isn’t true.” First of all, it’s insulting in the extreme to suggest that my political affiliations would make me more prone to lie. But let’s put that aside. The conversation was real, and the policy that it reflected was even more so.

I did in fact name the official for the story. It was then-Assistant Secretary for Human Rights David Kramer, who is identified in the article as “the State Department’s assistant secretary for human rights under President Bush in 2008.” Surely Grenell knows that Kramer was in that senior leadership position at the State Department at that time? In any case, the conversation I refer to was one in which I asked if the State Department could speak more forcefully against laws that criminalize homosexuality, instead of merely reporting on the laws and the harms they give license to in the State Department’s annual human rights report. Kramer explained in very respectful terms that it is difficult for the State Department to condemn popular laws that are democratically enacted by other sovereign nations. I took that to mean that the State Department would not speak out forcefully against such laws, and indeed, I never heard of them doing so under Secretary Rice’s tenure. I certainly hope they did, but given the final assault on LGBT rights by the Bush administration at the UN in December 2008, that seems difficult to imagine.

In December 2008, in the final weeks of the Bush Administration, more than 60 countries submitted a ground-breaking statement on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity at the UN General Assembly. Importantly, that UN Statement calls on all countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex relations. Despite thousands of individual calls to the State Department from US citizens, letters from Members of Congress, and requests from close U.S. allies, the United States refused to join the Statement. The United States was one of the only countries in the “Western Group” at the United Nations that did not sign. President Obama and Secretary Clinton were quick to reverse that decision, with the Obama Administration announcing its support for the UN General Assembly Statement in March 2009. Since then, the White House and the State Department have been working to turn that call for decriminalization into meaningful State Department policy. Most recently, the United States delayed an important development program with Malawi due, in part, to Malawi’s decision early this year to criminalize sex between women – sex between men has long been criminalized. Unfortunately, the unfriendly Bush position on the UN General Assembly Statement makes perfect sense in the context of my conversation with Kramer earlier that year.

Grenell also argues that Pat Kennedy, who was a key ally in extending foreign service benefits to LGBT employees at the State Department with the blessing and support of Secretary Clinton, actually “stonewalled and ultimately denied my repeated demands and ignored my follow–up requests” for such benefits. That is not hard to imagine, since Kennedy’s boss at the time was Secretary Rice, not Secretary Clinton. Leadership matters. My colleague, former U.S. Ambassador Michael Guest, was similarly forced to retire from the State Department after a distinguished career because Secretary Rice repeatedly refused to address his requests for partner benefits that are now standard for all LGBT employees in the Department.

Grenell is correct, however, in the larger point of his piece. Human rights are not partisan. We need both Democrats and Republicans to support this work. Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) took an important step in that direction last year, when they co-sponsored a human rights resolution in the U.S. Senate that condemned a draconian proposal to add a range of new criminal penalties, including the death penalty, to the existing sodomy law in Uganda. The resolution also called on all countries to decriminalize homosexuality. The Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, has likewise used her foreign affairs position to condemn LGBT violence and discrimination in other countries. Instead of arguing about why the State Department was so silent on these human rights issues for so many years, I look forward to working with Grenell or any other Republicans on these issues in the years to come.

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