During the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington this summer, the Council organized a series of meetings for 60 LGBT leaders from around the world to introduce them to U.S. government officials representing U.S. foreign affairs agencies. LGBT leaders from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean held in-depth roundtable discussions with regional bureaus at the State Department and with the White House. The meetings provided an opportunity for frontline activists to explain how they have experienced the recent change in U.S. foreign policy, whereby President Obama has directed “all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.”
There was widespread appreciation for the new collaboration that LGBT advocates are receiving from U.S. embassies around the world. In that sense, many activists described the meetings as having an historic quality to them. The participants shared stories about U.S. embassy personnel reaching out to LGBT advocates, and they offered a number of positive comments on specific aspects of U.S. programming abroad. At the same time, the Council recorded feedback on how our government can continue to improve its efforts to support local LGBT organizations in hostile environments internationally, including the following points:
- U.S. embassy posts should engage LGBT organizations in an annual human rights dialogue across the year. In parallel, posts should catalogue the priority needs of these organizations, with a view to discerning the relevance of State, USAID and other foreign affairs agency programming.
- The Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator at the State Department should underscore to its overseas PEPFAR administrators that, as a matter of national policy integrity, programming for men who have sex with men (MSM) should be included in each country plan, regardless of whether host countries suggest this as a priority.
- All U.S. foreign affairs agencies should integrate LGBT human and civil rights issues into training provided to U.S. and overseas employees. Training should include both general policy information and its specific applicability to the overseas programs of individual agencies.
- U.S. foreign affairs agencies should include binding contractual references to federal executive agency policies on sexual orientation and gender identity. Only binding language can provide the leverage to ensure that program contractors do not undercut broader U.S. policy objectives through inappropriate projection of their personal biases.
- The framing of our public diplomacy efforts is critical to their success. Posts should engage local LGBT groups on the usefulness of public messaging on LGBT issues; what the content of that messaging might be; local or regional voices that might feature in any such messaging; and how this messaging might be integrated into broader democracy and civil society programming goals.
- Further thought should be given to how LGBT individuals might be included in exchange programs related to democracy, civil society, and the rule of law. LGBT inclusion in these programs should mirror in-country inclusion of LGBT people in post programs.
- There is a clear need for greater engagement on rule of law issues impacting LGBT individuals abroad, including police training and post engagement with host governments on legal reform. The recently passed U.S. hate crimes law could be a helpful fulcrum for this engagement.
- Embassy posts should consider faith-focused programming, with the goal of encouraging dialogue between LGBT people and local faith leaders. This engagement may be key to a long-term reduction of legislative and other discriminatory policies toward LGBT people.
- Embassies should also consider increasing their small grant support for LGBT civil society groups, across all geographic regions. These small grants, targeted toward needs identified by the groups themselves, can be lifelines for small and otherwise resource-stretched organizations.