Archive for May, 2019

Celebrating the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia by Opposing Homophobic, Transphobic Leadership at the State Department

May 17, 2019 – Today, as we join colleagues around the world in celebrating the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB), it’s worth asking why President Trump – who calls himself a friend of the LGBT community – has nominated someone with a long history of anti-LGBT statements to serve as Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights.

Celebrated on May 17, IDAHOTB marks the anniversary of the World Health Organization’s decision to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1990.  That illicit stigma continues to be instilled by organizations that espouse so-called “conversion therapy,” a psychologically barbaric effort to change a person’s deeply innate sexual orientation or gender identity.  Some of the State Department’s recent human rights reports, such as that for Ecuador, confirm that these efforts exist not only in the U.S., but overseas as well.

Trump’s nominee, Dr. Robert Destro, has written extensively of his opposition to full civil rights for lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans.  But his most malicious writings deny the very existence of transgender individuals, essentially suggesting that they are psychologically disturbed and in need of some type of conversion or identity therapy.  As such, he defends the harmful psychological perspectives that the World Health Organization and all leading U.S. medical associations have long abandoned.  Indeed, his views represent the exact antithesis of the compassionate understanding of LGBTI identities that we celebrate on May 17.

The theme of the May 17 celebration this year is “Justice and Protection for All.”  In recent years, the United States has played an increasingly important role in promoting justice and protection for LGBTI communities globally.  The State Department’s annual human rights reports are by far the most comprehensive reports on human rights trends impacting LGBTI individuals around the world.  The United States administers the Global Equality Fund to support LGBTI rights and at-risk human rights defenders in hostile countries.  And our diplomats continue to support the Equal Rights Coalition and the “core group” of countries that defend LGBTI rights at the UN, OAS and through diplomatic engagement everywhere.

Robert Destro can’t credibly contribute to such efforts because of the heavy baggage he carries from his expansive public record opposing human rights for LGBTI individuals.  His confirmation is an affront to our country’s human rights legacy, and the U.S. Senate should reject his conformation.  That would be a fitting tribute to the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on this May 17.

Ending the Lavender Scare

U.S. Department of StateOn May 1, Senator Menendez introduced legislation to mitigate the consequences of the “Lavender Scare” – the1950’s-era witch hunt that resulted in the dismissal of hundreds of State Department employees owing to their perceived sexual orientation.

Menendez’s bill (the Lavender Offense Victim Exoneration Act, or “LOVE Act”) accepts overdue Senate responsibility for its role in spurring on that witch hunt.  It directs that a “reconciliation board” be established to clear the names of those who were wrongly dismissed.  And it asks the Department to commemorate the period with a suitable display in State’s Museum of American Diplomacy.

Menendez was joined by 19 co-sponsors.  Why isn’t there a single Republican Senator on the list?

The Lavender Scare ruined careers – and arguably lives – of State Department men and women who wanted nothing more than to serve their country.  It deprived our country of foreign policy expertise and talent.  And it helped ensconce a Foreign Service that, for many decades, remained a bastion of conservative, straight white men – an image of America that was hardly representative of the country as a whole.

The Department’s imperfect record of dealing with LGBT diversity has improved.  By now there have been several out-gay ambassadors, and regulations that enshrined discriminatory treatment for the families of gay and lesbian Foreign Service personnel while posted abroad have been changed.

But Menendez’s bill tackles a lagging problem that still deeply impacts gay Foreign Service personnel:  the denial, by homophobic countries, of family visas to spouses of our gay and lesbian diplomatic personnel.  By bowing to this disrespect toward our country’s judicial institutions, we’ve essentially allowed other countries to dictate this aspect of federal personnel policies.

Since the LOVE Act’s original introduction in 2017, neither Secretary Pompeo nor his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, has shown any attention to this family visa reciprocity problem.  Their inaction is limiting the career options available to LGBT personnel – and limiting, too, the workforce flexibility our Foreign Service needs.

The bill requires the Secretary of State to report to Congress on countries refusing these visas, and to recommend responses that might include reciprocal denial of those countries’ requests for diplomatic family visas.  It thereby puts the issue squarely on the bilateral agenda – a first step toward resolution.

If Republicans won’t support Menendez’s bill, perhaps the Democratic-controlled House should take the matter up, to show that at least half of our country’s political elite care about fairness and equality for its LGBT public servants.


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