Long Overdue Milestone Achieved: The Exceptional Nomination of Chantale Wong

July 2, 2021 – The United States of America has finally nominated its first open lesbian for an Ambassador-ranked position, almost 30 years after our first openly gay Ambassador (James Hormel) was considered by President Clinton. Nearly 20 openly gay, white men have served our country as Ambassadors since then – both career foreign service officers and political appointees. It took an exceptionally qualified – dare we say over-qualified—lesbian to finally break this lavender glass ceiling for women.

Chantale Wong has dedicated her life to public service in our federal government and has in fact done this very job as the Alternate Executive Director of the Asian Development Bank during the Clinton Administration. She has worked in senior roles at the Millennium Challenge Corporation, NASA, Environmental Protection Agency, Interior Department, and the Office of Management and Budget. After retiring from government service, she became the late Congressman John Lewis’s personal photographer during his Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimages to Alabama, and she has been mobilizing voters from the Asian-Pacific Islander communities across this country. Her combination of over 30 years of experience and expertise in international development, finance, the environment, and technology make her incalculably qualified for this role.

As a community, having someone in leadership who understands the development needs of LGBTQI+ people at this moment at the Asian Development Bank will be key to helping lift the most marginalized and vulnerable amongst us out of poverty. The World Bank and the other regional development banks are massive forces in international development. The genuine inclusion of an awareness of the specific needs of LGBTQI+ people in the policies and working mechanisms of these international finance institutions—particularly in the rewriting of the safeguards policies—is the leading edge of genuine inclusive development. Having Ambassador-designate Wong at the helm will be an enormous boost to this life-saving work.

Ambassador-designate Wong’s qualifications and expertise are without question. That there are many other highly qualified, openly lesbian persons equally willing and able to serve their country as Ambassador is equally without doubt. Their service and skill – in addition to their unique and diverse perspectives and life experiences – mandate that this appointment not serve as a mere token gesture toward inclusivity. Let it instead be the first of many more nominations and promotions of lesbian persons across the foreign service. And let us soon celebrate the first gender-nonconforming and trans Ambassadors before President Biden’s term is over.

It shouldn’t have to take exceptionalism to break glass ceilings. The full spectrum of American diversity, including diversity along the lines of gender and race, should be celebrated and reflected in the lives of those who are supported to take on senior leadership roles. In nominating Ambassadors who, through their lived experience, possess a deep understanding of the fundamentally-linked harms of sexism, racism, and homophobia, we begin to have a foreign service that is meaningfully able to ensure that the full humanity of all persons is upheld, and reflected in American foreign policy. That this nomination took 30 years to arrive is sure evidence of how very far we have to go. 

As we congratulate and celebrate Ambassador-designate Wong, we also wish her the company of more lesbian, trans, and gender diverse Ambassador peers, and soon.    

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.

Celebrating IDAHOBIT

May 17, 2021 – Today, we celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT), and we welcome President Biden’s statement commemorating the day. This marks the date in 1990 when the World Health Organization removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. Thirty-one years later, far too many countries still criminalize same-sex relationships, and even more allow deeply harmful medical and psychological interventions, often called “conversion therapies,” that are based on the false belief that a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity can and indeed should be changed. 

The UN independent expert on sexual orientation and gender identity has called for a global ban on so-called conversion therapies. He also has called for the end of criminalization of same-sex relationships by 2030.  Unfortunately, we have a long way to go. At least 68 countries, or almost 40 percent of the world, still criminalize same-sex relations and relationships. Many also criminalize cross-dressing and gender-affirming treatments for transgender individuals. Very few prohibit conversion therapies or medically unnecessary surgeries that mutilate intersex children.

We applaud President Biden’s Presidential Memorandum that prioritizes 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.)

And to mark IDAHOBIT today, Secretary of State Blinken issued a statement and the White House issued a fact sheet prioritizing U.S. efforts aimed at: decriminalization, the protection of vulnerable LGBTQI refugees and asylum seekers, funding for human rights and swift and meaningful responses to human rights abuses, and building – and in some cases rejoining – international coalitions to fight discrimination. We applaud those efforts and call on Congress to fund these global LGBTQI commitments.

The IDAHOBIT theme this year is “Together: Resisting, Supporting, Healing!” Given the extreme impact of COVID on the LGBTQI community globally, this theme should be a wake-up call to action and investment to ensure, in Secretary Blinken’s words, “we will achieve our goal of a rights-respecting, inclusive society where no one lives in fear because of who they are or whom they love.”

The Human Rights of LGBTQI Persons by the Numbers

April 7, 2021 – The State Department last week released its 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The reports are required by Congress and chronicle human rights concerns in all countries around the world. Not surprisingly, the 2020 trends were deeply discouraging: democracy is in decline, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a grim toll, and abuses against LGBTQI persons are proliferating. The report covers 195 countries and territories and of those, the State Department identified anti-LGBTQI laws, violence, or discrimination as a significant concern in 112. That means that human rights abuses against LGBTQI individuals are a top-line U.S. foreign policy concern in 58% of all countries – and that increases to 60% of countries in which the United States has invested significant taxpayer money through U.S. foreign assistance to improve local conditions.  

In contrast to the magnitude of the problem, the House Appropriations Committee last year recommended that only about 5% of the State Department’s budget for global human rights initiatives – through the Human Rights and Democracy Fund – should be dedicated to LGBTQI programming. The recommended allocations at USAID were even worse.  Total LGBTQI-dedicated foreign assistance represents a mere .05% of our nation’s total overseas development funding.  That level of investment does not meet the pressing needs identified in this year’s human rights reports. Nor does it match commitments made in President Biden’s recent Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World

The Council, leading civil society organizations, and members of Congress are calling urgently for the Biden Administration and Congress to allocate at least $60 million to support LGBTQI human rights and development priorities in the FY2022 foreign operations budget – the first to be submitted to Congress by President Biden.  That is a significant increase from this year’s target of $16 million, but it still does not come close to meeting the needs identified by the State Department, U.S. embassies, and USAID missions themselves.  

President Biden’s global memorandum outlines how the U.S. will “lead by the power of our example” to end violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression, or sex characteristics and advance global LGBTQI rights. Issued early in Biden’s presidency, the memo specifically identifies development assistance as a mechanism to “protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination.” Now is the time for the Biden Administration to fund and operationalize those commitments.  

See also:

It’s Time to Fund the President’s Global LGBTQI Commitments | Global Equality Today

Standing for the Rights of LGBTQI Persons in the State Department’s Annual Human Rights Reports | Global Equality Today

Standing for the Rights of LGBTQI Persons in the State Department’s Annual Human Rights Reports

March 31, 2021 – Secretary of State Blinken yesterday released the State Department’s 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, and they reveal an all-too-familiar story of broad societal and government hostility and violence against LGBTQI people around the globe. The reports were prepared by U.S. embassies under problematic reporting instructions issued by the Trump Administration.  Fortunately, they were released by the new Biden Administration after a limited scrub and a promise to do better, including a promise to issue an addendum later this year “to include a broader range of issues related to reproductive rights,” an area of reporting eliminated by Trump officials.  

Sexual and reproductive rights are LGBTQI rights.  So, when the Trump Administration struck that reporting section in its entirety, it also significantly undermined LGBTQI reporting. The head of the State Department’s Human Rights Bureau, Acting Assistant Secretary Lisa Peterson, recognized in her remarks yesterday that the State Department is still trying to assess the cumulative harm caused by the failure of the previous administration to recognize and report on sexual and reproductive rights as human rights.  We know it was significant. 

Secretary Blinken also used yesterday’s release of the reports to repudiate his predecessor’s discredited Commission on Unalienable Rights, which sought to elevate religious rights and property rights over all other rights, including the rights of LGBTQI persons and sexual and reproductive rights.  Blinken noted:

“there is no hierarchy that makes some rights more important than others. Past unbalanced statements that suggest such a hierarchy, including those offered by a recently disbanded State Department advisory committee, do not represent a guiding document for this administration.  At my confirmation hearing, I promised the Biden-Harris administration would repudiate those unbalanced views. We do so decisively today.”

This year’s reports represent an improvement over the four years of Trump-era reporting, but to become the useful policy tools we ultimately need, particularly in documenting the full range of human rights abuses impacting LGBTQI communities abroad, the Biden Administration must move quickly to insist on more detailed reporting by U.S. embassies in next year’s reports – the first year that these reports will be fully prepared under the Biden Administration’s substantive instruction and guidance.  

Next year, under the direction of the Biden Administration and with careful attention to President Biden’s Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World, the Council is calling for more detailed reporting on the following points: 

  • A comprehensive understanding of the impact of a full range of punitive laws on the on the lives of LGBTIQ persons globally.  President Biden’s Memorandum orders our diplomats 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.”  To deploy both diplomatic and financial resources effectively, the Administration must identify the diverse range of laws and administrative regulations that are used to penalize LGBTQI identities and expression; harass LGBTQI individuals and organizations and prevent them from meeting, organizing and building community; and limit comprehensive health and rights, including sexual and reproductive health information and LGBTQI-affirming health services.  All reports should consider the full range of laws that are deployed against LGBTQI communities. (For more, read the Council’s longstanding guidance: Toward an Inclusive and Effective Decriminalization Strategy.)
  • A careful focus on the ways in which government laws, policies and other actions – or corresponding inaction – sanction or encourage abuses by non-state actors – including persecution by gangs, semi-official or self-appointed morality police, teachers and other educational leaders, or close family members who may be encouraged to defend their “family honor” through violent persecution, house arrest, or so-called “corrective rape” or even “honor killings.”  This year’s reports on Kyrgyzstan and Poland provide a thoughtful analysis of the ways in which state policies encourage abuse by non-state actors.  This analysis should be standardized in all reports.  
  • For the first time, the human rights reporting instructions should mandate inclusion next year of detailed information on the use of forced anal exams by state officials as a discredited forensic tool to establish sexual activity in criminal prosecutions, along with detailed information on the legality and prevalence of the use of “conversion therapy” to persecute LGBTI or gender non-conforming individuals, including children.  Reports on Egypt, Iran, and Tanzania document the use of forced anal exams.  Likewise, reports on Iran and Kenya discuss the use of conversion therapy as a human rights abuse.  All embassies should collect data on these abuses and report accordingly.  
  • Groundbreaking campaigns in several countries to seek full marriage equality, or some lesser degree of same-sex partnership recognition, are ignored throughout the report.  This is true even in countries like Costa Rica, which began allowing same-sex couples the right to marry in 2020, or in the Czech Republic, Japan, or Panama where there are vibrant public campaigns to build formal equality and humanize same-sex relationships.  The Biden Administration should report on efforts to expand – or deny – marriage equality as human rights efforts worthy of our recognition and support. 
  • The Russia report includes information on coerced intersex “normalization” surgeries, also referred to as Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM).  More embassies should report on these abusive procedures, which often subjects intersex babies or youth to harmful and medically unnecessary surgeries without any informed consent. And the United States should institute a moratorium on those procedures as well.  
  • The reports this year provided a strong overview of the impact of COVID-19 on the human rights of marginalized people, recognizing in the introduction that “marginalized populations, including older persons, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQI+ persons, experienced particular vulnerability.”  The reports themselves bear witness to this in often stark and violent terms for the LGBTQI community. We fear that these same vulnerabilities will increase rather than decrease in the next year, as ongoing transmission and unequal vaccine distribution are likely to further marginalize LGBTQI communities in many developing world contexts. As an example, the Kazakhstan report notes that: 

the COVID-19 pandemic situation also impacted LGBTI communities negatively. Locked down in their houses, they often endured stress and abuse from family members who resented their status. Transgender persons were vulnerable to abuse during security checks by police patrols due to their lack of appropriate identification. Transgender persons were among the first whom employers dismissed from jobs because they often worked without official contracts, and they were often not eligible to relieve programs offered by the government to support needy individuals. Transgender persons, like many during the lockdowns, also faced difficulties receiving needed medical care because health facilities were restricted or closed. They often could not get necessary medicines, because they were not available in small pharmacies in their neighborhoods, or they could not afford them.  

  • Finally, reports this year on Hungary, Kyrgyzstan and Poland draw strong connections between ant-LGBTQI laws, anti-gender policies, religious-nationalist initiatives and far-right extremist groups.   These connections are informative.  President Biden and Secretary Blinken have spoken convincingly of the need to connect our domestic and foreign policies as never before.  This must include a better understanding of the connections between racist, xenophobic, white nationalist, anti-gender, anti-LGBTQI and other extremist religious organizations in the United States and their counterparts in other countries.  The State Department should give serious consideration to a new section examining the extraterritorial connections between domestic and international extremist groups for each country in next year’s report.  

Yesterday, Secretary Blinken recognized that: “Standing up for human rights everywhere is in America’s interests. And the Biden-Harris administration will stand against human rights abuses wherever they occur, regardless of whether the perpetrators are adversaries or partners.”  We will hold him to that.  

But for the annual human rights reports to be more relevant to policymakers who have been charged with developing new policies that truly stand up for LGBTQI rights abroad, as well as U.S. development agencies seeking to stand up new humanitarian funding for human rights campaigns that meet the most urgent needs of LGBTQI communities, a far more detailed snapshot of LGBTQI life in each country will be essential.  We hope next year’s reporting instructions address those gaps. 

Revisiting Last Year’s Reports: For comparison, it is useful to revisit our three-part analysis of last year’s reports, including political lapses in the reports, the ways in which the reports contradicted the Trump Administration’s refugee policies, and the ghosting of sexual and reproductive rights.  

It’s Time to Fund the President’s Global LGBTQI Commitments

As the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) prepares President Biden’s first budget for federal spending in fiscal year 2022, the Administration should seize the opportunity to increase funding to protect and promote the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) people globally. Whereas this fiscal year’s development assistance was a relatively paltry $16 million, a minimum increase to $60 million is needed to implement the President’s LGBTQI commitments globally. 

Such increase would match the clear intent of President Biden’s Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World. The memorandum outlines how the U.S. will “lead by the power of our example” to end violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression, or sex characteristics and advance global LGBTQI rights. Issued early in Biden’s presidency, the memo specifically identifies development assistance as a vessel to “protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination.” Now is the time for the Biden Administration to fund and operationalize those commitments.

As COVID-19 continues to fall disproportionately hard on the global LGBTQI community, the pressing need to fund LGBTQI organizations has only intensified. Many LGBTQI people depend on informal-sector jobs and have lost their livelihoods during the pandemic; are at increased risk for gender-based violence, food insecurity, and homelessness; and face even greater barriers to receiving needed services. In some countries, the LGBTQI community has been scapegoated and falsely charged for spreading COVID-19; in others, governments have effectively excluded LGBTQI people from relief or used lockdowns as a cover to crack-down on their rights. 

Funds to support LGBTQI people and the frontline organizations that serve them have so far been alarmingly scarce. Of all the supplemental COVID-19 relief funding administered by USAID, to our knowledge zero was allocated for LGBTQI organizations or populations. In April 2020, Outright Action International launched its COVID-19 Global LGBTIQ Emergency Fund — the world’s largest global COVID-19 response fund for LGBTQI communities — which received nearly 1,500 applications totaling about $12 million in urgent funding requests in its first three months. Despite strong fundraising efforts, Outright Action International was able to fulfill only 6.6% of these requests. 

While allocating immediate COVID-related relief funds is necessary, sustained and significant annual budgetary investments are critical to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination. To address this need, the President’s FY 2022 budget should allocate at least $30 million to the LGBTQI-specific Global Equality Fund (GEF) at the State Department and another $30 million to the USAID-based Protection of LGBTI Persons Program. The GEF, which is funded at $10 million for this current fiscal year, only is able to meet 6% of funding applications and expects to receive at least $50 million in urgent requests. Similarly underfunded, USAID’s LGBTQI program received just $6 million this fiscal year, which comes nowhere close to meeting the demands identified by USAID missions and experts around the world. These low funding levels for qualified proposals and urgent needs are vastly lower as a percentage than funding for many other human rights issues and marginalized groups.    

Investing in marginalized LGBTQI communities is not just the right thing to do, it is also a good return on our development investments. Studies have demonstrated that socioeconomic exclusion undermines development and a country’s macroeconomic growth, whereas inclusion supports them — and is directly correlated to increased GDP per capita and higher value in human development. If the U.S. intends to lead by example, the Biden-Haris Administration’s first budget must adequately fund its commitments.  The President’s first budget will be an immensely powerful statement of his Administration’s four-year policy priorities — and neither LGBTQI funding nor our communities can be sacrificed. 

Most Inclusive U.S. Delegation Ever Named to UN Signals New Direction and Leadership

March 16, 2021 – The Council for Global Equality applauds Vice President Harris for her comments today at the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the preeminent intergovernmental body dedicated to the promotion of gender equality. In her address, Vice President Harris pledged to revitalize our partnership with UN Women and strengthen our engagement with the United Nations and the broader multilateral system. She noted that “the status of women is the status of democracy,” and that “for our part, the United States will work to improve both.”  

Vice President Harris is co-leading with Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield a talented U.S. delegation to the CSW, composed of both government officials and civil society leaders. The delegation will meet over the next two weeks to advance an agenda dating back to the creation of the CSW in 1946 to promote “women’s rights in political, economic, social, and educational fields.” As Vice President Harris noted, “that work is as urgent now as it was at the start.” The theme that frames the CSW debate this year is: “Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.” 

The symbolism of our first female vice president addressing this year’s topic was not lost on anyone. Nor is the fact that, for the first time ever, our CSW delegation is represented at the White House level and led by two women of color. Indeed, the Vice President’s remarks, coupled by the decision by the Biden-Harris Administration to engage the CSW at the level of the Vice President, sends at least three important messages. 

First, the diversity of the U.S. delegation speaks not only to the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to diversity, but to the crucial importance the Administration places on an intersectional approach to gender equality. This means recognizing that gender equality is undermined not just by gender-based discrimination and stereotypes but also by overlapping forms of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and other unique identities that should be celebrated but too often lead to multiple cross-cutting forms of discrimination and abuse.

The diverse public delegation representing the United States also includes, for the first time, a non-binary transgender woman: Lourdes Ashley Hunter, Executive Director and Global Initiatives Officer of Trans Women of Color Collective. “Now more than ever, it is critical that the voices and narratives of transgender women must be included in dialogs at every level as we face the same forms of violence at the hands of the state,” Lourdes Ashley Hunter declared, adding, “this historic appointment reinforces that trans women are women and our lives matter.”  

Diverse representation on the U.S. delegation is particularly crucial given that the CSW has not been a an LBTQI-friendly space at the United Nations. To date, the CSW has largely ignored and even at times denied the existence of LBTQI women. We trust that our delegation will help ensure that the rights of LBTQI persons are included on the CSW’s agenda going forward.

Second, the U.S. delegation and agenda at the CSW also reflect a strong repudiation of Trump-era policies that attacked the very notion of gender. The Trump Administration spoke consistently in strictly binary terms of men and women, seeking both to deny the rights of LBTQI persons and, especially, to erase the existence and rights of transgender women. Indeed, four years ago, in March 2017, the Council wrote to then-Secretary of State Tillerson to express outrage at the Trump Administration’s decision to include on that year’s U.S. delegation a representative of an organization designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by The Southern Poverty Law Center. The group, Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM), supported laws criminalizing homosexuality and LGBTQI recognition, including for example Russia’s harmful anti-propaganda law that attacks the rights of LGBTQI individuals and organizations. Indeed, C-FAM’s public delegate herself authored incendiary articles attacking the LGBTQI community. This year’s delegation could not be more different.

Third, high-level engagement at the level of the Vice President reaffirms the Biden-Harris Administration’s clear understanding that vigorous use of multilateral channels is needed to advance in areas of common interests and values. The new Administration has signaled that it intends to shape the UN’s human rights agenda through leadership and example, rather than following the Trump Administration’s efforts to undermine UN institutions from within. This is important. While the UN’s human rights mechanisms are under political attack and are badly strained, they are more important than ever. It will take White House-level engagement to help stabilize these mechanisms and ensure they live up to their founding potential.

Much work lies ahead for the CSW, of course. We are pledged to support that work in any way possible and know that other partner organizations and supporters of the UN will do the same.

Leading on LGBTQI Issues at the World Bank and in other International Financial Institutions

March 5, 2021 – As the World Bank’s annual Spring Meetings approach, it is important to reflect on President Biden’s recent far-reaching Presidential Memorandum committing that “[i]t shall be the policy of the United States to pursue an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, and to lead by the power of our example in the cause of advancing the human rights of LGBTQI persons around the world.”  Extending this policy to include new U.S. funding and leadership at the World Bank and in other international financial institutions (IFIs) could have an extraordinary impact on the lives and opportunities of LGBTQI persons in some of the most challenging economic contexts around the world.

IFIs provide vast resources that can help lift vulnerable countries – and the most vulnerable individuals within those countries – out of poverty. Covid-19 will almost certainly delay the World Bank’s goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030, but the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that IFIs together approved $237.2 billion in Covid-19-support in 2020. The potential development resources from these institutions are unparalleled, but hardly any of that has trickled down to marginalized LGBTQI persons – only a few million dollars for limited LGBTQI pilot projects. That could change with leadership from the Biden Administration.

With encouragement and support from the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S. Executive Director’s Office at the World Bank during President Obama’s Administration, the World Bank took small but significant steps to address LGBTQI inclusion. During that time, the World Bank added a new position of Global Advisor on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI); it allocated very limited but important new LGBTQI-dedicated program funds; and it began adding SOGI indicators to its project review criteria. More recently, this culminated in new Bank guidance on risk minimization to support LGBTQI development. None of this would have happened without the initial leadership of the U.S. government, together with our closest Canadian, European, and Latin American allies at the Bank.

Renewed Treasury Department engagement with the World Bank and in other IFIs in response to President Biden’s new policy directive could leverage significant new funding and propel existing LGBTQI investments and policies to a new level of effectiveness. Pilot research supported by the World Bank, such as studies looking at the economic costs of LGBTQI exclusion in Serbia and North Macedonia, could be expanded quickly and broadened to include other LGBTQI communities. In addition, the World Bank’s leadership has played an increasingly important behind-the-scenes diplomatic role in mitigating LGBTQI-related human rights abuses in client countries, particularly in Africa. The U.S. director at the Bank should offer support for this quiet but effective brand of development diplomacy.

Regionally based international financial institutions, including the African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) have been less focused on LGBTQI inclusion, but they all have engaged at some level, and with renewed U.S. government leadership and support the potential for future investments is significant. The Biden Administration should prioritize a leadership appointment to the Asian Development Bank, the safeguard policy of which currently is being rewritten. Having an LGBTQI-competent person in that role could significantly impact the result of that review in ways that integrate LGBTQI populations more forcefully into ADB development priorities and safeguards, potentially even leading to the adoption of the first-ever SOGI-specific IFI safeguard policy.

The Inter-American Development Bank also stands poised to provide major funding and is cooperating with the World Bank to understand the economic impacts of LGBTQI-exclusion in Latin America. Fortunately, several countries in Latin America have indicated their interest in investing in LGBTQI development to address discrimination and leverage economic gains. That is more than justified by initial research from the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank suggesting exponential economic growth potential from even limited investments to support LGBTQI workers in the formal labor sector.

As the Biden Administration frames its IFI policy priorities in the coming months, we encourage the following support from the Treasury Department.

  • The President should prioritize the nomination of new U.S. Executive Directors at the World Bank and Asian Development Bank and quickly fill other senior U.S. positions within IFIs. These nominations are not often seen as a priority by a new presidential administration, but given the growing importance of LGBTQI issues within World Bank and other IFI-financed projects, the reforms under way at the Asian Development Bank, and the severe economic and development challenges posed by COVID-19, these appointments should be seen as a 100-day priority.
  • Nominees to lead U.S. efforts in any of the IFIs must understand the importance and effectiveness of an LGBTQI-inclusive development agenda. In other words, they must demonstrate LGBTQI competency.
  • The Treasury Department should instruct the U.S. Executive Director at the World Bank, along with other officials representing U.S. interests in other IFIs, to use their influence and voting to support the development needs of LGBTQI communities, especially in programs targeting marginalized or excluded individuals, public health, social protection, education, and economic empowerment. This should include a review of recently approved development projects as well as those still in the approval pipeline to analyze their attention to the needs of LGBTQI communities and the steps taken, if any, to ensure their inclusion, consultation, and protection. It also should include robust financial and technical support for new research to understand the full impact of LGBTQI inclusion on economic development and individual opportunity.
  • The Treasury Department should instruct the U.S. Executive Director at the World Bank, along with other officials representing U.S. interests in other IFIs, to ensure that mandated consultations with civil society are sensitive to and include representatives of local LGBTQI communities. The World Bank has piloted some of these consultations, but they are mostly driven by Washington, not by local country offices and staff who could provide a better local point of contact and reach groups in more remote parts of a country. This is crucial, as LGBTQI groups in rural areas often face different challenges and more severe obstacles in accessing project benefits. All other IFIs need to follow the World Bank’s lead on consultations. These civil society consultations must account for the safety and security of LGBTQI individuals and the local civil society organizations representing them. But in no circumstance should these consultations be scrapped altogether just because they require additional sensitivity and security. In particularly hostile or criminalized country contexts, global LGBTQI advocacy organizations should be consulted first and relied on as a resource to ensure safe and effective introductions and communications with local LGBTQI leaders and organizations.

The World Bank’s Spring Meetings in April provide an important opportunity for the Biden Administration to demonstrate leadership in support of this work and deliver on the President’s commitments to the rights, dignity and opportunities of LGBTQI persons globally.

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