A Call to Action for IDAHOBIT

IDAHOBIT (2)May 17 – We’ve not yet seen whether the State Department will issue, this year, a statement celebrating “IDAHOBIT” — the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia and Transphobia. But with the track record of this President, how believable could such a statement be?

We were particularly disappointed to see that despite repeated requests, the United States did not join a global statement on COVID-19 and the human rights of LGBTI persons that was signed by 38 other members of the Equal Rights Coalition. The U.S. also declined to sign a similar statement as a member of the UN LGBTI Core Group. While the United States did join an IDAHOBIT statement at the Organization of American States, it also offered troubling caveats that could be used to promote discrimination against LGBTI persons in our hemisphere. These notable absences and caveats to basic human rights statements call our country’s support for the rights of LGBTI individuals into question – raising even larger questions about the Trump Administration’s commitment to human rights in general.

IDAHOBIT is intended as a reminder of the real, ongoing need for countries around the world to step up together in combatting negative attitudes toward our community. At this point, a statement of support by this Administration would only underscore the failed moral leadership and hypocrisy of this President and Secretary of State on issues impacting fairness and equality for all.

Leadership begins at home, after all. The Trump Administration has banned patriotic transgender Americans from military service on behalf of the country they love, and eliminated protections for transgender students. It has proposed that federal contractors be allowed to hire or fire employees on the basis of religious belief — a direct threat to the employment of LGBTI people. It has allowed child welfare organizations to choose not to accept gay prospective parents. And many of its administrative appointees and judicial nominees carry long and troubling records of support for discrimination against LGBTI people.

This sorry lack of leadership at home in the fight against homophobia, biphobia, interphobia and transphobia is echoed in American human rights policy abroad. At his confirmation hearing, Secretary Pompeo refused to walk away from the homophobic record he carved as a Kansas politician and Congressional representative. Since then, he has lowered the Pride flag at embassy celebrations worldwide and done little to address the refusal of some countries to provide diplomatic visas to the families of lesbian and gay U.S. diplomats.

More consequential for our country, Pompeo’s human rights focus has been limited to promoting religious freedom, an important principle of course but one that’s been used to deny LGBTI citizens their equal rights in employment, health, and education. And his initiative to reexamine the scope of America’s human rights engagement abroad — through a so-called “Commission on Unalienable Rights” stacked with religious freedom academics with clear records of opposition to LGBTI and reproductive rights — can only negatively impact the credibility of our human rights policy with the world.

The Trump Administration likes to pretend that it is LGBTI-friendly. It points to the service of a smattering of openly gay political appointees, and to a single-line call from his UN address last fall for homosexuality to be decriminalized, to justify that claim. It trots out Rick Grenell (or, more accurately, Grenell trots himself out) to claim that the Administration actually is doing something new to realize that call. But we’ve seen no genuine steps or plans by him and his political patrons to persuade countries of why decriminalization matters — nor any tempering of Vice President Pence’s and Secretary Pompeo’s religious-rights-above-all agenda.

Just this week, a bipartisan group of five former Assistant Secretaries for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor published a call in “The Hill” for Pompeo’s Commission to be dismantled, and for human rights policies to be reaffirmed as equal and universal. We join them in that call.

And as we commemorate IDAHOBIT, we add a call of our own: for those who are genuinely committed to LGBTI equality to push this Administration more visibly, and relentlessly, for our government to honor America’s commitment to equality — at home and abroad.

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