Minimum Requirement for Foreign Affairs Posts in the Biden-Harris Administration: LGBTQI+ Competency

January 19, 2021 – Today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a nomination hearing for our next Secretary of State, Antony Blinken. Given the unprecedented challenges facing our country, the Council for Global Equality hopes for a speedy confirmation for Blinken and other key foreign affairs nominations in the new administration, many of whom have already been named. The Committee should take its time, however, to explore their LGBTQI+ competency.

During the Trump Administration, we were grateful for Senators who asked pointed questions to the many Trump appointees with problematic past histories of homophobic and transphobic public statements, many of whom sought to elevate their personal religious beliefs to deny equality to LGBTQI+ citizens. In the Biden Administration, it is equally important that Senators ensure that this next generation of foreign policy leaders also is asked publicly to commit to using their positions to advances rights for all people, including LGBTQI+ communities around the world.

Among the many competing priorities facing our nation, the Council believes we must fight aggressively for the human rights and development priorities of LGBTQI+ people – a fight that will help us regain our voice and credibility on all other human rights concerns as well. Over the past four years, the State Department’s own human rights reports, while pulling punches in criticizing President Trump’s favorite dictators, consistently revealed an all-too-familiar pattern of societal and government discrimination and violence against LGBTQI+ people around the globe. Even President Trump himself, who cold-shouldered human rights as a guiding principle and had no vision of a cohesive approach to LGBTQI+ inequalities abroad, pledged that the United States would work with other nations to decriminalize homosexuality and that the United States would “stand in solidarity with LGBTQI+ people who live in countries that punish, jail, or execute individuals based upon sexual orientation.”

It is time, finally, to center the rights of LGBTQI+ individuals in U.S. foreign policy, and the Council has a detailed plan for the Biden Administration to do just that. But in Washington, personnel is policy, and the administration must begin by appointing serious candidates with basic LGBTQI+ competency to senior foreign affairs positions. 

Blinken should be asked about his commitment to LGBTQI+ equality. He also should be asked when he will appoint a Special Envoy for the Human Rights LGBTQI+ Persons to coordinate that work at the State Department, a position that has been vacant for the past four years. And he should be pressed to repudiate the work of Secretary Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights, which sought to prioritize religious rights and discredit sexual and reproductive rights in our human rights policies and programs abroad.

Moving beyond the Secretary of State, as the Biden-Harris Administration continues to select new appointments to fill out its foreign policy team, the Council emphasizes the importance of nominating candidates who understand the unique human rights challenges facing the world today, including pervasive and often debilitating human rights abuses impacting LGBTQI+ people worldwide. We call this “LGBTQI+ competency.” Such competency is crucial, of course, for the most senior foreign affairs positions, including Secretary of State, UN Ambassador and USAID Administrator. But LGBTQI+ competency is just as important – probably more so – for the operational positions just below the top. 

In our view, there are only two foreign affairs posts that by their nature specifically require the candidate to be a member of the LGBTQI+ community to provide openly visible leadership on the global stage. Those are the State Department’s Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons and USAID’s Global LGBTQI+ Coordinator. 

We look forward, of course, to the appointment of many additional LGBTQI+ candidates across all of the U.S. foreign affairs agencies, and we are working with the Victory Institute Presidential Appointments Initiative to support qualified LGBTQI+ candidates as they seek positions in the new administration. But those candidates should be invited to serve in positions across the administration, not just in positions focused on LGBTQI+ concerns. That was the promise of the Biden-Harris campaign and it reflects the proven value and national importance of promoting diversity across all of our foreign affairs agencies. Similarly, we expect all senior foreign affairs candidates, whether LGBTQI+ identified or not, to share a commitment to substantive equality for all minority communities, including LGBTQI+ persons globally – in other words, we expect them to have LGBTQI+ competency.

Here, at minimum, is what LGBTQI+ competency requires in the foreign policy arena – because there is a big difference between candidates who genuinely understand our needs and those who pay lip service to them. We respectfully ask that the incoming Biden-Harris Administration ensure that any candidate for a senior foreign policy post:

  • Understands the specific ways that the human rights and development needs of LGBTQI+ communities – both collectively and separately as individual L-G-B-T-Q-I persons – intersect with the mandate of their portfolio and with other key populations and stakeholders that the position serves.
  • Displays comfort and generosity in discussing the sometimes-sensitive nature of the issues that impact LGBTQI+ individuals globally, including laws criminalizing LGBTQI+ relationships, the use of psychologically harmful “conversion therapies,” degrading “anal exams,” and anti-proselytizing or “anti-propaganda” laws that are used to police, prosecute, and punish our communities, and to deny full citizenship. 
  • Has experience in working with – and listening to – LGBTQI+ communities and organizations in the United State and abroad, including transgender and intersex people.
  • Demonstrates political sophistication and nuance in understanding the ways in which LGBTQI+ individuals are scapegoated for political gain, including most recently in the era of COVID.
  • Professes a commitment to seeking host country understanding of, and shared commitment to, these goals, even in difficult political contexts.

While these qualifications are important for all foreign affairs positions, since any position will touch on the human rights, development priorities, and security needs of LGBTQI+ individuals, we also have identified 21 key positions and portfolios at the State Department that are most central to our rights and opportunities. These positions are in addition to the Special Envoy and USAID Coordinator positions, which are obviously a top priority but cannot possibly function effectively without LGBTQI+ competent and supportive colleagues across the State Department. We also ask that the Senate give particular attention to the LGBTQI+ competency of candidates for the following offices:

  • Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights (J)
  • Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs (R)
  • Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL)
  • Assistant Secretary for The Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM)
  • Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL)
  • Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Consular Affairs (CA)
  • Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA)
  • Assistant Secretaries for all regional bureaus (AF, EAP, EUR, NEA, SCA, WHA)
  • Ambassador-at-Large for the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Health Diplomacy (S/GAC)
  • Ambassador-at-Large for the Office of Global Women’s Issues (S/GWI)
  • Ambassador-at-Large for the Office of International Religious Freedom (IRF)
  • Ambassadors to the United Nation in New York and Geneva
  • Ambassadors to the OAS, OSCE, OECD
  • U.S. Executive Director to the World Bank and other senior U.S. leaders at other International Financial Institutions

Candidates for any of these offices must be able to answer two key questions: Why are the rights of LGBTQI+ individual important as a matter of U.S. foreign policy? And how will you leverage your position and leadership to advance those rights? The answers to those questions will allow those with true LGBTQI+ competency to shine.

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