Archive for June, 2021

White House Announces New Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons

June 25, 2021 – The Council for Global Equality congratulates Jessica Stern, tapped by the White House to serve as the State Department’s next Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons. The Special Envoy is a key leadership position at the State Department and Jessica Stern is a respected leader in the global movement for LGBTQI equality. We could not imagine a better choice to lead President Biden’s vision for equality and human rights abroad.   

Created in the Obama Administration, the position went vacant throughout the Trump Administration – despite promises to Congress by former Secretary Mike Pompeo to fill it. In its announcement, the White House noted that this is “a role critical to ensuring that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world.”

President Biden’s first foreign policy speech back in February embedded LGBTQI rights clearly within our human rights policy. A parallel  Presidential Memorandum, released by the White House on the same day, commits U.S. foreign affairs agencies to advance a genuinely LGBTQI-affirming human rights policy in ways rejected by the Trump Administration. The Presidential Memorandum sets out five key diplomatic objectives, and here is how the Special Envoy can help advance each of them. 

Combating Criminalization of LGBTQI Status or Conduct Abroad. Having labored in the equality movement for decades, the Special envoy understands the complex web of criminal penalties deployed against LGBTQI individuals and organizations as they pursue their democratic rights. A comprehensive decriminalization agenda requires more than simply overturning colonial-era sodomy statutes, although that is always a crucial first step. It also requires a long-term vision to build genuine, substantive equality by dismantling the web of harmful laws and social norms that limit the rights and opportunities afforded LGBTQI populations. We look to her to shape and guide that strategy.  

Protecting Vulnerable LGBTQI Refugees and Asylum Seekers. The Special Envoy will have the unique opportunity to support the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) at the State Department in rebuilding our country’s longstanding refugee resettlement program from the ground up, after it was gutted under the Trump Administration. With her sophisticated understanding of the “daunting challenges” LGBTQI refugees face, we look to the Special Envoy to help deliver on the President’s promise “to identify and expedite resettlement of highly vulnerable persons with urgent protection needs.” 

Leveraging Foreign Assistance to Protect Human Rights and Advance Nondiscrimination. As the Executive Director of OutRight Action International, Jessica Stern took decisive action to launch the first COVID-19 emergency fund to support some of the hardest-hit LGBTQI communities around the world. She and her organization raised more than $4 million and distributed more than 125 grants to organizations in 63 countries. While that is perhaps a drop in the bucket compared to the $38 million in emergency requests received and the far greater need that still exists, it shows that Stern knows how fragile the global LGBTQI movement is and how stressed it has been during the pandemic. We are counting on her to leverage U.S. foreign assistance to meet these dire humanitarian needs and ensure equitable vaccine access – but also to develop a comprehensive strategy for ensuring that the needs of LGBTQI populations are more integrated into broader economic development assistance plans. 

Swift and Meaningful United States Responses to Human Rights Abuses of LGBTQI Persons Abroad. In the aftermath of the Trump Administration’s abdication of global leadership, mass arrests and murders of LGBTQI individuals and activists have accelerated, often under the guise of pandemic restrictions. In recent weeks, we have witnessed mass detentions and criminal sentences in Cameroon, Ghana, and Uganda, along with multiple homicides in Guatemala and across the Northern Triangle. We look to the Special Envoy to coordinate with our embassies to ensure the “swift and meaningful” responses President Biden has promised – with equal emphasis on both swift (time matters) and meaningful (to ensure our responses do not make the situation worse). We are counting on Stern to deliver:  to leverage swift government action, while working in close collaboration with local leaders to drive an effective diplomatic response.  

Building Coalitions of Like-Minded Nations and Engaging International Organizations in the Fight Against LGBTQI Discrimination. Stern long has been a leading civil society voice on LGBTQI issues at the United Nations. We will depend on her to cloak her passion as a lifelong activist in the temperament of diplomacy to deliver results in complex diplomatic spaces.  Multilateralism will be key to the success of President Biden’s vision for equality. She knows that.  

Our next Special Envoy brings unique skill and perspective. She is a highly effective human rights advocate who is both passionate and diplomatic. We congratulate her on the job and look forward to working with her in support of global equality.   

Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work, together.  

GLOBE ACT Reintroduced in Congress

June 9, 2021 — Senator Markey (D-Mass.), Senator Shaheen (D-N.H.), Senator Merkley (D-Ore.), and Representative Titus (NV-01), all champions of LGBTQI equality and members of foreign affairs committees in Congress, introduced the GLOBE Act (Greater Leadership Overseas for the Benefit of Equality) in both the House and Senate this week. The bill has strong support, with 23 cosponsors in the Senate, 102 cosponsors in the House, and the endorsement of 36 leading human rights organizations.

This comprehensive “vision bill” provides a broad roadmap for U.S. leadership to advance the human rights of LGBTQI and other vulnerable minority communities around the world. Upon introduction, Rep. Titus noted: “The GLOBE Act equips the federal government with the tools and personnel it needs to promote LGBTQI rights around the world and punish regimes that persecute people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”  

Senator Markey emphasized that: “LGBTQI rights are human rights, and we must take further steps to ensure that equality, justice, and non-discrimination policies are embedded throughout our foreign policy. President Biden and Secretary Blinken have committed to making the protection of human rights a key pillar of our work abroad, and I look forward to working with them to ensure these rights are extended to all people, no matter who they are or who they love, first and foremost by a swift appointment of the Special Envoy for LGBTQI Rights.”

Over the past decade, the State Department’s annual country human rights reports have documented — with unsettling consistency — abuses, discrimination and exclusion directed against LGBTQI people for no reason but their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.  The GLOBE Act would tackle these indignities by directing that an array of U.S. diplomatic and development tools be deployed toward them.  It equally would ensure that the U.S. Government stand with its LGBTQI employees when they are assigned abroad in support of American interests.

The timing of this landmark bill could not be of greater import.  After the Trump Administration cold-shouldered human rights by embracing dictators, shuttering our refugee program, and withdrawing from human rights institutions, the Biden Administration needs these tools to “build back better” and to advance President Biden’s directive to support the human rights of LGBTQI communities around the world.

Republican support at the bill’s introduction is lacking.  We expected more of a party that once stood for the very freedoms and opportunities the bill would enhance, and we call on Republican members to recommit to human rights leadership.  In the meantime, we salute the Congressional champions who have cosponsored the GLOBE Act in the 117th Congress.

Read the full Senate press release here and the House press release here. The full text of the bill can be found here and an outline of the bill here.

The State Department Needs Human Rights Leadership: Confirm Uzra Zeya Now

June 9, 2021 — The Council for Global Equality focuses on policies, not politics.  Our goal — that of advancing the human rights and community inclusion of LGBTQI people everywhere — is grounded in American principles and values, not in the partisan gamesmanship in which so many seem to revel.

But when gamesmanship intrudes on principle, we call it out.  And so we call on Senate Republicans to allow Uzra Zeya’s nomination as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights to advance in the Senate.

The role for which Ms.Zeya has been nominated is the top Administration job carrying duties uniquely tied to the advancement of human rights.  It has been vacant for over four years. 

Uzra Zeya is a talented, accomplished diplomat with three decades of stellar experience, much of it encompassing the substantive areas for which she has been nominated to serve.  Voted out of committee, her nomination has been pending before the Senate since April 21. 

We need her leadership now.

Around the world, democracy is under attack.  In Hong Kong, China has carved away Hong Kong’s autonomy at an alarming pace — and with it, freedoms that our country and others long have pledged to defend.  Military dictators have entrenched themselves from Myanmar to Mali, eroding the institutions of democracy.  Russia and Belarus have imprisoned political opponents, without accountability.  Uganda and Cameroon have embarked on another round of offensive arrests of people suspected of being LGBTQI.  And the arrest of 21 human rights defenders in Ghana is an affront to democratic freedoms and good governance in that country, long considered a leading democracy in the region.

All of these developments negatively impact not only human rights, but the environments in which American national security interests can best thrive.  Our Secretary of State, and indeed our country, need senior human rights counsel of the caliber for which Zeya is known.  This is hardly the time to have her voice, and the authorities attached to her position, sidelined.

If, as reported by the Foreign Service Journal, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has tied Zeya’s confirmation to a policy dispute over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, shame on him.  Knee-capping our human rights policy voice out of unrelated policy disagreements is beneath his moral and constitutional responsibilities.

But if Senator McConnell can’t convince his party to allow this nomination to move forward, the shame truly is on him — and the damage to our country’s human rights position will be laid at his doorstep.

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