Global Equality Today: March 2021 Newsletter

The Council for Global Equality and our thirty institutional members are actively engaged with the new Biden-Harris Administration to restore U.S. leadership in support of human rights for LGBTQI individuals everywhere. Immediately after the November election, we released a set of transition policy papers that serve as a blueprint for Centering the Rights of LGBTI Individuals in U.S. Foreign Policy.

President Biden’s first major foreign policy speech embedded LGBTQI rights squarely within our human rights policy, and a parallel Presidential Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World, released on the same day, now commits foreign affairs agencies to advance a genuinely LGBTQI human rights policy in ways rejected by the Trump Administration. (Read our analysis here.)

PRIORITES for 117th Congress

Working with a new HFAC Chair

CGE released a public letter calling on House Democrats to select a new Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee who would leverage the jurisdiction of the Committee to promote LGBTQI rights. All three candidates pledged their commitment to global equality, and CGE looks forward to working with Chairman Meeks to help implement President Biden’s LGBTQI agenda. 

Senate Confirmation Hearings

CGE is working with Senate offices to ensure that President Biden’s Cabinet members are asked to explain how they will support LGBTQI rights through U.S. diplomacy. Secretary Blinken gave a heartfelt response to an LGBTQI question in his confirmation hearing and pledged to repudiate the findings of Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights. We also have offered UN Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield a set of recommendations to support her pledge to advance LGBTQI rights at the United Nations. We will continue to encourage similar LGBTQI-focused questions to ensure that all of President Biden’s foreign affairs appointees are LGBTQI competent

Legislative Priorities

CGE also supports the reintroduction and passage of the following bills in the 117th Congress.  

  • CGE’s priority bill is the “GLOBE Act” – Greater Leadership Overseas for the Benefit of Equality. Rep. Titus (D-NV) and Senator Markey (D-MA) introduced GLOBE in the last Congress (H.R. 3874S.3004 in the 116th). As a comprehensive vision bill that also was endorsed by President Biden’s political Campaign, the bill provides a broad roadmap to restore U.S. leadership in advancing the human rights of LGBTQI and other vulnerable minority communities around the world. There were 87 cosponsors in the House and 20 cosponsors in the Senate in the last Congress. Reintroduction is expected by June 2021. (Read the Council’s endorsement and a blog explaining the bill’s impact here.) 
  • Rep. Lowenthal (D-CA) and Sen. Markey (D-MA) just reintroduced the International Human Rights Defense Act (H.R. 1857S. 861 in the 116th) to protect the human rights of LGBTQI individuals by codifying the position of Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTQI Persons at the State Department and requiring the State Department to develop a global strategy to respond to criminalization, discrimination, and violence against LGBTQI people internationally. There were 214 cosponsors in the House and 40 cosponsors in the Senate in the last Congress. 
  • Rep. Cicilline (D-RI) and Senator Shaheen (D-NH) lead on the Global Respect Act (H.R. 3252S.1825 in the 116th). The bipartisan bill would require a biannual list of foreign individuals who commit human rights violations targeting the LGBTQI community. Those individuals would then be subject to U.S. visa sanctions. It also would codify LGBTQI reporting requirements in the State Department’s annual Human Rights Report. The bill had 94 cosponsors in the House and 9 cosponsors in the Senate during the last Congress and it was the only international LGBTQI bill to get a committee markup in the House. The bill is expected to be reintroduced by summer 2021. 
  • Rep. Castro (D-TX) and Sen. Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the “LOVE Act” – the Lavender Offense Victim Exoneration Act (H.R. 8809S. 1252 in the 116th), which accepts overdue responsibility for 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. Importantly, the bill requires the State Department to consult with Congress on steps taken to ensure LGBTQI employees and their families may now serve in any of our diplomatic missions abroad, calling for the elimination of visa reciprocity for countries that persistently deny visas to the families of our LGBTQI diplomats. There were 20 cosponsors in the House and 22 cosponsors in the Senate in the last Congress. Reintroduction is expected soon.
  • CGE’s leadership worked with member organizations and appropriation staff to secure a set-aside for LGBTI programming at State Department and USIAD in the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act (SFOPS) report language. The FY 2020 appropriation for the Global Equality Fund at the State Department was set at $7.5 million and this was increased to $10 million in FY 2021. USAID funding was set at $5 million in FY 2020 and increased to $6 million in FY 2021. Based on an analysis of global funding dedicated to LGBTI programming from other leading donor governments, CGE is advocating for an immediate jump to $60 million for State Department and USAID in the FY 2022 appropriation. 

EXECUTIVE BRANCH ACTION

President Biden issued a Presidential Memorandum to prioritize the advancement of human rights of LGBTQI persons. The President has called on our diplomats to begin building coalition of like-minded governments to advance these efforts, recognizing 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.” Read our analysis here.

The Presidential Memorandum further requires all foreign affairs agencies to take steps in the next 100 days to rescind Trump-era directives, orders, regulations, policies, or guidance that may be inconsistent with the memorandum. There were many.

The Presidential Memorandum also ordered the administration to restore LGBTQIcommitments torefugees and asylum seekers and expedite refugee resettlement for the most at-risk LGBTQI refugees. He ordered U.S. embassy direct referrals to the resettlement program for LGBTQI individuals facing severe persecution. A parallel Executive Order returns U.S. refugee admissions to historic levels, expedites the resettlement process, and calls 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.” It also creates a process to recognize the unmarried same-sex partners of refugees to allow joint resettlement.

Secretary Blinken addressed the UN Human Rights Council for the first time since the Trump Administration decided to undermine it rather than trying to fix it. The Council has many obvious flaws, but it is an essential institution, and it has provided important leadership on LGBTQI rights. Speaking with both humility and determination, Blinken announced that the United States would once again seek election to the Council – and that we would use our seat at the table to fix its more obvious delinquencies, while supporting its work to address racial discrimination, gender equality and the rights of LGBTQI and other minority communities. 

GLOBAL LGBTI DEVELOPMENTS 

In recent good news…

  1. After years of advocacy, the Parliament in Montenegro passed a partnership law, making it the first non-EU European country to recognize same-sex couples’ ights. 
  2. Building on Costa Rica’s success securing marriage equality, Panama has launched a similar campaign to secure the freedom to marry called Si Acepto
  3. The government of South Africa is reviewing its regulations for changing gender on identity documents. The Department of Home Affairs recently issued a draft Identity Management Policy for public review that would provide important avenues for transgender, intersex and non-binary South Africans. 
  4. The European Union issued its first ever five-year LGBTQI Equality Strategy, which identifies actions needed by member states to address inequalities, discrimination, safety and inclusivity of LGBTQI communities in Europe. 
  5. Germany issued a new LGBTI inclusion strategy, pledging that “German foreign policy and development cooperation will provide structurally sustainable support to the LGBTI human rights work undertaken by civil society, with particular attention to specific vulnerabilities and multiple discrimination.”

In bad news…

  1. A number of LGBTI students were part of the more than 300 students detained in Turkey in increasingly violent and politically-charged altercations with the police in February. Erdoğan’s comparison of the protesters to “terrorists” and condemnation of LGBTI youth played a role in inciting violence. The State Department condemnedthese acts and Representatives Maloney and Cicilline led a Congressional sign-on letter condemning them as well. 
  2. After an LGBTI organization publicly opened its new offices in Ghana, Church groups succeeded in getting the government to shut it down. Ghana’s LGBTI community has grown significantly over the last few years, despite a lack of support from their government. This incident helped garner significant support from Black celebrities for Ghana’s LGBTI community. 
  3. spate of arrests and even murders have plagued the LGBTI community in Cameroon this past month. Cameroon is a country where the anti-sodomy law is regularly utilized
  4. In January, the Parliament in Honduras proposed a Constitutional Amendment to enshrine existing prohibitions on abortion and marriage equality, and to raise the number of votes to three-quarters to ever change this back. Activists have initiated a lawsuit to challenge this “super ban.” 
  5. Two young gay men were captured from a safe house in Russia and returned toChechnya to be put on trial for aiding terrorism. They are only 17 and 20 years old. The House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Equality Caucus put out this statement.

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