“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.

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