December 2018 Newsletter

** The Council for Global Equality respectfully offers this edition of “Global Equality Today” – a periodic newsletter to inform Hill staff of priority policy issues impacting LGBTI people abroad.

December 2018

Happy Human Rights Week (read the Presidential Proclamation of Human Rights Week here). December 10 marked the 70-year anniversary of U.S. leadership in drafting and championing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Secretary Pompeo released a statement recognizing that: “The Declaration’s fundamental principles remain as relevant today as they were seventy years ago.”  Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi marked the anniversary with a statement reminding us that: “As Americans we have a duty to maintain our critical leadership in the defense of human rights both at home and around the world.”  The Council is proud to recognize Human Rights Week by supporting Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) and other leading members of both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House LGBT Equality Caucus in their introduction of the Greater Leadership Overseas for the Benefit of Equality (GLOBE) Act (H.R. 7291).

CONGRESSIONAL ACTION

 

 House Introduces GLOBE Act to Advance LGBTI Equality Abroad

In recognition of Human Rights Week in the United States, Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) joined foreign affairs and LGBT equality leaders in Congress to introduce the Greater Leadership Overseas for the Benefit of Equality (GLOBE) Act (H.R. 7291).  The Council is working with Sen. Markey and other Senate human rights champions to introduce a companion bill in the Senate.  This comprehensive “vision bill” provides a broad roadmap for U.S. leadership to advance the human rights of LGBTI and other vulnerable minority communities around the world.  Upon introduction, Rep. Titus noted: “The GLOBE Act builds on the accomplishments of the Obama Administration and the work of various members, groups, and coalitions to establish a broad set of directives to reinstate our leadership in advancing equality.”  Read the Congressional press release here.  And read the Council’s endorsement and a blog explaining the bill’s impact here.  Please contact the office of Rep. Titus to co-sponsor.

LGBTI Funding Hangs in Balance in Ongoing Budget Negotiations

The Senate Appropriations Committee allocated global LGBTI funding in its report accompanying the 2019 State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Bill (S.3108).  The Council calls on members of the House and Senate to include that language in the omnibus appropriation bill that is being negotiated.  The funding includes $3.5 million for LGBTI issues within USAID and $250,000 for the State Department’s Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons.  (Although Secretary Pompeo pledged to re-fill that position during his April 2018 confirmation hearing, he has yet to do so as of this writing, eight months later.)  The report also directs the State Department to allocate additional resources to the Global Equality Fund and to continue reporting on LGBTI issues in its annual Human Rights Reports.

Congress Denounces Treatment of Vulnerable LGBTI Refugees in the “Caravan” at the Southern Border

On social media, Members of Congress have recognized the life-threatening circumstances of LGBTI refugees seeking asylum at the U.S. southern border, including the LGBT Equality Caucus, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) and  Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY).  Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Tom Udall (D-NM) also sent a letter demanding answers after the tragic death in U.S. immigration detention of Roxana Hernandez, a transgender asylum seeker.

Senate Confirms Former Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons as Ambassador to Nepal

In September, the Senate confirmed Randy Berry, formerly Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Nepal.  Ambassador Berry, a career Foreign Service officer, was an effective Special Envoy and a strong civil society partner.  The Council welcomes his confirmation to a country that has become a regional leader on LGBTI issues.

Retiring Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen Challenges Her Colleagues on LGBTI Rights

In a powerful speech describing her support for LGBTI equality in the U.S. Congress, retiring Congresswoman and former Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) concluded with a final plea to her House colleagues: “I ask us all to commit, beginning today, to working across the aisle with a view to becoming more consistent, more fair, more respectful, and more principled on this issue. We as a country need to take action to set the right example.”

EXECUTIVE BRANCH ACTION

 

President to Nominate Heather Nauert to Be UN Ambassador

The President announced that he will nominate Heather Nauert, Acting State Department Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and State Department Spokesperson, to be our next UN Ambassador.  The Council has not taken a position on the nomination but notes that, at the Residence of the Chilean Ambassador earlier this year, Nauert spoke forcefully in support of global LGBTI rights in her role as Acting Under Secretary, noting that: “protecting and promoting human rights abroad is a core element of our foreign policy. Societies are more secure when they respect individual human rights, democratic institutions, and the rule of law.”

U.S. Joins 16 OSCE Countries to Launch an Investigation into LGBTI Atrocities in Chechnya

The U.S. joined 16 like-minded member countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to launch an official investigation into LGBTI atrocities and other human rights abuses in Chechnya.  This OSCE investigative mechanism has rarely been invoked and the action speaks both to the egregious nature of the abuses and the intransigence of Russian officials in responding to the allegations.  The investigator’s report will be presented to the OSCE Permanent Council before the end of year.  In a statement explaining the investigation, the governments noted that “[t]hose concerns centered around allegations of impunity for reported human rights violations and abuses in Chechnya from January 2017 to the present, including, but not limited to, violations and abuses against persons based on their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as against human rights defenders, lawyers, independent media, civil society organizations, and others.”

State Department Supports Equal Rights Coalition at Vancouver Conference

The United States has been a leading proponent of the Equal Rights Coalition (ERC), a new intergovernmental coalition of 40 governments and leading civil society organizations that work together to protect the human rights of LGBTI people around the world.  U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan sent video remarks to open a major ERC conference in Vancouver, pledging that “the United States will remain a steadfast partner” of the ERC in “addressing the threats and unique human rights challenges of LGBTI persons.”  The U.S. government was represented in Vancouver by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scott Busby and by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Robert Moossy, reflecting the dual internal/external focus of the ERC.  At its best, the ERC is an institution that coordinates external diplomacy while simultaneously promoting internal best practices across member countries.  The Council also welcomes the upcoming rotation of leadership of the ERC from Canada and Chile to Argentina and the United Kingdom in June 2019.  Read more about the ERC on our blog here.

GLOBAL LGBTI DEVELOPMENTS

 

In recent good news…

The Supreme Court of India issued a unanimous decision decriminalizing same-sex relationships across the country. The landmark case will buttress similar legal challenges to colonial-era sodomy laws in other former British colonies, including pending cases in Botswana, Jamaica and Kenya.  Read our blog here, as well as the Equal Rights Coalition of 40 governments’ statement here.

— In the South American country of Guyana, the LGBT community secured a victory in the Caribbean Court of Justice, striking down the country’s anti-cross dressing law, which advocates claim will help decrease violence toward trans and gender non-conforming people in Guyana, and also potentially pave the way for decriminalization.

— The Chilean legislature passed a groundbreaking legal gender recognition law, which allows transgender individuals ages 14 and older to self-determine their legal gender in all official documents without a judicial determination or medical interventions. President Pinera signed the law into effect, despite right-wing opposition and following the remarkable public acknowledgement of trans lives as a result of the activism of the trans actress in the Oscar-winning Chilean film A Fantastic Woman.  Similarly in Uruguay, a broad transgender rights law was passed that provides legal recognition and also requires that the state pay for all gender-confirming surgeries and provide job training programs for the community.

— In Romania, the LGBT community succeeded in defeating a referendum that sought to enshrine heterosexual marriage and heterosexual concepts of family in the constitution. Opponents led a successful boycott campaign that tapped into broader anti-corruption sentiments and negativity toward the leader of the country’s ruling party. Proponents of the referendum failed to muster the necessary participation threshold of 30% of the electorate during the 2-day referendum.  LGBT Advocates are now engaging with the ruling party and other parties to demand that they honor their pledge to pass a civil union law in the coming year.

In bad news…

In Taiwan, U.S.-funded right wing groups put several anti-LGBT referenda on the ballot, in an effort to thwart government efforts to provide equal marriage benefits to LGBT people. Unfortunately, they succeeded in passing a number of ballot measures that would create separate and unequal relationships, and also potentially eliminate comprehensive sexuality education in the schools. It is unclear how the legislature will respond, since Taiwan’s Constitutional Court has mandated equal marriage by May 2019.

— Another crackdown against the LGBT community in Tanzania occurred after a regional commissioner in Dar-es-Salaam announced that he was creating a task force to hunt down LGBT people. In reaction to the witch-hunt, numerous governments, including the United States, and entities such as the World Bank, responded with both public and private diplomacy, which resulted in the country’s president distancing himself from Commissioner Makonda’s comments. This was considered a diplomatic success, although dangers for the LGBT community in Tanzania persist.

Watch this space…

— In February, the Kenyan Constitutional Court will rule on that country’s colonial-era sodomy law.

— In Thailand, the current government has pledged to create a civil marriage mechanism for same-sex couples in the coming months.

 

CIVIL SOCIETY LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES

 

We urge your ongoing support for these bills in the U.S. Congress – and urge their reintroduction in the next Congress – to promote U.S. leadership on human rights:

GLOBE Act (H.R. 7291)

— Global Respect Act (S.1172, HR.2491)

— Dream Act (S.1615, HR. 3440)

— Global HER Act (S.210, HR.671)

— Trans Service Act (S.1820, HR. 4041)

— LOVE Act (S.1420)

 

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