Archive for February, 2021

Multilateralism is Back: Engaging the UN Human Rights Council with Humility

United Nations Geneva

February 24, 2021 – Secretary of State Antony Blinken today addressed the UN Human Rights Council, the world’s leading human rights body that the Trump Administration decided to cold-shoulder. While the Human Rights Council has many obvious flaws, it is an essential institution, and it has provided important leadership on LGBTQI rights.

In addition to today’s welcome announcement that the U.S. will again seek a seat on the Human Rights Council, it is also important to highlight the difference between today’s speech by Secretary Blinken and the contrasting vision of America that Secretary Pompeo put forward in his speech last July releasing the report of his discredited Commission on Unalienable Rights. It’s a vastly different reading of our history and what true leadership looks like on the world stage. And Secretary Blinken, unlike his predecessor, not only recognized the need for inclusive policy action, but he explicitly referenced sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics – signaling commitments to the full range of identities in the LGBTQI+ community.

Now more than ever, the United States needs to stand for human rights by openly admitting our own flaws and struggles, and our power to address them. This is true in terms of the enduring legacy of structural racism, a subject Secretary Blinken addressed head-on today, as well as our history of systematic LGBTQI discrimination.  Today’s speech was an important step in that direction.

The contrasting understanding of America’s history is obvious – and the humility in addressing it significant. See here:

“[A]ny pledge to fight human rights around the world must begin with a pledge to fight human rights at home. People of color in the U.S. deal every day with the consequences of systemic racism and economic injustice. . . . We must do more to advance racial justice globally. . . . And we will pursue a policy to end violence and discrimination of all kinds, including on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. The United States does not claim to be perfect, but we strive every day to improve, to hold ourselves accountable, and to become a more perfect union.”

Secretary Blinken, speaking today to the UN Human Rights Council

“[T]the very core of what it means to be an American, indeed the American way of life itself, is under attack. Instead of seeking to improve America, too many leading voices promulgate hatred of our founding principles. . . . They want you to believe that America’s institutions continue to reflect the country’s acceptance of slavery at our founding. . . . This is a dark vision of America’s birth. I reject it. It’s a disturbed reading of history. It is a slander on our great people. Nothing could be further from the truth of our founding . . . .”

Former Secretary Pompeo, speaking in July 2020 at the release of the report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights

Multilateralism is back, and we must strive every day with humility and dedication to make both the United States and the United Nations live up to their full potential.

“Diplomacy is Back”: Presidential Leadership and the Task of Advancing LGBTQI+ Equality

February 4, 2021 – The Council for Global Equality welcomes today’s affirmation by President Biden of the primacy of robust diplomacy in American foreign policy. The President’s speech embedded LGBTQI+ rights clearly within our human rights policy, and a parallel Presidential Memorandum released by the White House commits foreign affairs agencies to advance a genuinely LGBTQI+ human rights policy in ways rejected by the Trump Administration.  

The Presidential Memorandum builds on a similar directive issued by President Obama in 2011, but true to the Biden-Harris campaign, this latest presidential action seeks to “build back better,” through new provisions and new foreign policy tools. Key provisions in today’s executive action commit the Biden Administration to:

  • Elevate decriminalization as a foreign policy priority by committing resources to “strengthen existing efforts to combat the criminalization by foreign governments of LGBTQI+ status or conduct.”
  • Identify and expedite refugee resettlement for the most at-risk LGBTQI+ refugees by instructing U.S. embassies to provide direct referrals to our U.S. refugee resettlement program for LGBTQI+ individuals facing severe persecution. A parallel  Executive Order also was released today that takes important additional steps to revive that refugee resettlement program, which was largely dismantled by the Trump Administration.  In addition to returning U.S. refugee admissions to historic levels, today’s refugee Executive Order will streamline and expedite the entire resettlement process, allowing NGOs to play a critical new partnership role, while calling on the State Department to “enhance access to the refugee program for people who are more vulnerable to persecution, including women, children, and other individuals who are at risk of persecution related to their gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation.”  The Executive Order also creates a new process to recognize the unmarried same-sex partners of refugees to allow them to resettle to the United States with their same-sex partners.
  • Engage in diplomacy to advance the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.  Specifically, the President calls on our diplomats to begin building coalition of like-minded governments to advance these efforts. In a refreshing nod to multilateralism, the President recognizes that “[b]ilateral relationships with allies and partners, as well as multilateral fora and international organizations, are key vehicles to promote respect for and protection of the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons and to bring global attention to these goals.”  
  • Identify and take steps to rescind “any directives, orders, regulations, policies, or guidance inconsistent with this memorandum” that were issued by the Trump Administration. There were many.
  • Report regularly on progress made in advancing this policy – that reporting requirement was crucial in pushing the policy forward during the Obama Administration.  Importantly, a version of those reports also must be made public. 

Each of these steps demonstrates the Biden Administration’s pledge to support principled human rights leadership, multilateral coordination, and an integrated approach to development. Importantly, the President also noted in his speech today that there is “no longer a bright line between foreign and domestic policy,” and that when we defend LGBTQI+ and other rights abroad we are also securing those rights at home – “for our own children.” The Council looks forward to even greater integration of our domestic and foreign policy work to achieve greater equality based on race, sex, gender identity, sex characteristics, and sexual orientation.

Today’s executive action is in fact a concrete repudiation of failed “America First” policies that undermined our credibility and significantly impacted our ability to stand up for human rights for LGBTQI+ individuals globally. And indeed, even though President Trump claimed to support decriminalization as well, his rhetorical commitment was never backed up by any diplomatic muscle — and was undermined at every turn by his own Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

At the end of the speech, President Biden noted that “we are a country that does big things.”  We look forward to working with the Biden Administration to go big and to promote the rights of LGBTQI+ persons everywhere. That will be a very big thing.

Read More: How Leading on LGBTIQ Rights Abroad Could Restore U.S. Credibility.

International Human Rights Defense Act Introduced in Congress to Promote Rights of LGBTQI Individuals Globally

February 3 – The Council for Global Equality applauds Sen. Markey and Rep. Lowenthal for reintroducing legislation to codify the State Department position of Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTQI Persons. The bill, known as the International Human Rights Defense Act, also requires the Special Envoy to develop a comprehensive global strategy to respond to criminalization, discrimination, and violence against the LGBTQI community globally.

The Council and its member organizations promoted this bill in the last Congress, drawing 214 cosponsors in the House and 40 cosponsors in the Senate. We will redouble our efforts to build support for the bill in the new Congress, and we call on the new Chairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee to push for a markup of the bill by Pride month this June.  There is no reason not to include this on the must-pass list for the new Congress. 

We also call on the Biden Administration to appoint a Special Envoy as a priority, even before the legislation is adopted. The Special Envoy position was first created and staffed in the Obama Administration, but it went vacant for the past four years. We desperately need a new Special Envoy to lead our diplomatic efforts in this area – and to repair the lasting harm to LGBTQI issues caused by the last administration’s efforts to undermine human rights norms at the United Nations and beyond. Upgrading the position to the rank of ambassador, as suggested in the bill, could send an even more powerful message about our country’s commitment to global equality and the importance of centering the rights of LGBTQI individuals in U.S. foreign policy.  

Read the press release and the text of the bill here.


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