Proposed US Ambassador to UN in Geneva Would Undermine LGBTI Rights – As UN Votes to Renew Mandate of Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, US Senate Considers Extremist Ambassador Who Would Sabotage That Work

United Nations GenevaThe UN Human Rights Council voted today to renew the mandate of its expert on sexual orientation and gender identity.  The vote gives the UN the political and financial resources needed to continue its groundbreaking work in support of fundamental rights for LGBTI individuals around the world.  Sadly, in Washington, the Senate soon will vote to confirm an extremist to serve as our ambassador to the UN human rights institutions in Geneva.  If confirmed, he would undermine that work.

The Council for Global Equality joined other groups in releasing a letter today calling on the Senate to oppose the confirmation of Andrew Bremberg to serve as US Ambassador in Geneva.  The vote on the LGBT expert in Geneva shows why we need an ambassador there who will support the UN’s human rights work, not a political extremist who would sabotage it at every turn.

The UN vote today was closer than it should have been but stronger than the original vote to establish the position three years ago.  Today’s vote had 27 countries supporting the position, with 12 opposing and 7 abstentions.  Sadly, the United States did not lend its support, having stepped off the world’s leading human rights body a year ago.  It’s time to renew US leadership on human rights.  Andrew Bremberg is not the one to lead.  We urge the Senate to oppose his confirmation and demand a new nominee with proven human rights leadership experience.

 

Trump Administration Torpedoes Human Rights at State Department

Earlier today, Secretary Pompeo formally launched a new commission aimed at narrowing our country’s human rights advocacy to fit with the “natural law” and “natural rights” views of social and religious extremists.

The formal announcement was read awkwardly by Secretary Pompeo at a July 8 press briefing, at which he took no questions.  Pompeo referred without specificity to concern that human rights not be “hijacked” by those who would use the name for their own purposes.  He suggested that the institutions designed to protect human rights had drifted from their mission and claimed that the new commission will offer an “…informed view of the role of human rights in foreign policy….”  Most of the commissioners he named publicly are known for their highly conservative views, often framed with a religious slant.  The Chair of the Commission, Mary Ann Glendon, a former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, has long opposed sexual and reproductive rights, and, as documented by Equity Forward, has written in the most alarmist of terms about the supposed social harms of marriage equality in our country.

We have written earlier of our suspicions that the so-called “Unalienable Rights Commission” is but a thinly guised mechanism to jettison LGBT populations and reproductive rights from the purview of U.S. human rights policies and protections. To date, at least five Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have raised questions about the new committee’s purpose and membership.  They also have questioned the way in which the committee was conceived, noting in particular its circumvention of the very bureau (Democracy, Human Rights and Labor) charged with integrating human rights concerns into U.S foreign policy at the State Department.

But our concern goes far deeper.  In an OpEd in the Wall Street Journal, Secretary Pompeo worries that we have lost our focus, and that today “[r]ights claims are often aimed more at rewarding interest groups and dividing humanity into subgroups.”  With language like that, we see this as part of a broader effort to push back against human rights for LGBTI individuals and other “subgroups” by creating a hierarchy of rights – with religious freedom at the pinnacle and the rights of LGBTI and other individuals in the “alienable” category.  We believe it wrong-headed to create an artificial human rights hierarchy — one that strips away the universality of human rights and puts political and religious rights above all others.

This seems all the more concerning coming just before the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the State Department next week.  We categorically reject these hierarchies and insist on an integrated approach to human rights for all.  Freedom of religion must be integrated within – and reinforcing of – the full range of human rights protections that honor the dignity of all persons in all of our many pursuits.

The Commission on Unalienable Rights Pompeo announced is less a group of thoughtful experts than a narrowly gauged, packed court.  In so blatantly appealing to their political base, Trump, Pence and Pompeo are dimming our country’s beacon of principle and freedom, hobbling U.S. human rights leadership, and thoughtlessly undermining the wider human rights platform on which other strategic U.S. interests rest.

With its embrace of dictators, its walk away from the UN Human Rights Commission, which is still the world’s most important human rights mechanism despite its faults, and its diminution of LGBT and gender rights as a legitimate part of policy, this Administration already has done far less to advance the cause of human rights than to harm it.  The new Commission seems designed to continue that retreat from U.S. leadership in forging a better world.  What a disgraceful — and steadily worsening — legacy.

No Pride at State: 26 Human Rights and LGBTI Advocacy Groups Urge State Department to Clarify Policy Around Embassies and Dismantle ‘Natural Rights’ Commission

The Trump/Pence Administration’s exceptionally weak commitment to human rights and LGBTI rights just got a lot weaker.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has green-lighted a new “Commission on Unalienable Rights” to provide, according to the Federal Register, “fresh thinking” on “…human rights discourse where it has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights….”  Those are code words for an effort that seems intended to deny equal rights to LGBTI individuals.  The commission — which we believe may be announced formally at the Secretary’s second ministerial-level meeting on religious freedom, scheduled for mid-July — will provide policy recommendations directly to the Secretary, not to the bureau in charge of human rights policy.

What possibly could go wrong?

On one level, the new commission is not much of a surprise.  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is no friend of human rights — nor has he ever tolerated, let alone embraced, the LGBTI community. His refusal to back away, at his confirmation hearing, from previous suggestions that same-sex relationships are a perversion was an early indication of potentially discriminatory attitudes by the Secretary toward the Department’s LGBT employees.  And his refusal this month to issue, as Secretary, statements honoring the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB) and Pride only underscores the narrow constituency he serves in his official role.

But in forming the new commission, Pompeo has crossed a bridge too far — deliberately putting his personal and political anti-LGBTI bias ahead of clear national interest:

  • By design, the Commission on Unalienable Rights walks away from the broad and principled embrace of universal human rights that previous administrations, Republican and Democrat alike, have shared. It seeks, instead, to create a new hierarchy of rights, with the intention of “alienating” LGBTI citizens and perhaps others from that framework.
  • International religious freedom is unquestionably a worthy human rights priority for the United States, but it is not the only—or the supreme—human rights concern for our nation or the world, despite the personal religious commitment of Secretary Pompeo and others in this Administration.
  • It snubs a clear and growing consensus in this country that no individual characteristic — be it racial, ethnic, gender, or sexual orientation/identity — should be an impediment to full equality.
  • And it betrays to the world that America’s human rights policies are based less in fairness, justice, and equal opportunity than in narrow-minded religious exceptionalism — coincidentally a contributor to the instability seen in many foreign countries.

We’re under no illusion that the commission will be fair or balanced, or that it will do anything other than narrow the understanding of human rights that has guided American foreign policy for most of this century.  The “natural law” and “natural rights” terminology used in the Commission’s framing is code language that social extremists have used to bring God and religion into the legal realm, as a higher authority than the state. It’s been used primarily to oppose marriage equality and reproductive health services in recent years. And the two prospective commissioner names that have surfaced to date — Mary Ann Glendon and Robert George — are known as opponents of reproductive rights and equality for LGBTI citizens.

But we’re deeply saddened that anyone at the level of Secretary of State would allow personal bias and base (in both senses of the word) politics to deface America’s aspirational commitment to human rights leadership.  Fairer and more inclusive societies, after all, are at the very foundation of stable and secure countries, and of the health, development and judicial assistance goals our country has embraced. And Pompeo seems willfully ignorant that genuine support for human rights, in all of its manifestations, is a critical component not only of American leadership abroad, but of efforts to create a better and more just world.

We’ve written to Pompeo on these matters (see attached), as much in sadness as in outrage.  The United States has fallen short of its aspirational human rights goals, of course, on many occasions.  But both Republican and Democratic administrations have been right to see our leadership in the human rights struggle as critical to the values our country has embraced and projected in the post-war world.

Simply put, we’ve long been ashamed to see how far this Administration has fallen in ignoring the importance of human rights. Sadly, the new commission only lowers the bar.

Election 2020: Our Challenge to Presidential Candidates

Download our position paper here.

Suggested candidate questions.

The 2020 presidential elections are a crucible for our country, from many perspectives. These include the place of respect and insistence our country accords to the guarantee of human rights for all people — a long-cherished expression of American values that the Trump Administration has debased.

The Council for Global Equality challenges all presidential candidates, on each side of the political divide, to express their support for elevating our country’s human rights policy, and for ensuring that it addresses the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities worldwide. Specifically, we call on all candidates and their campaign staff to ensure that their policy positions:

  • Make specific their support for human rights as a basic tenet of U.S. foreign policy, contrasting that support with the Trump Administration’s embrace of dictators (e.g. Russian President Putin, Egyptian President Sisi, and Philippines President Duterte), withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council, and general lack of attention to human rights needs on our border with Mexico and in the world at large.
  • Underscore that the fair and equal treatment of minorities, including LGBTI populations, must be part of any genuine human rights policy, noting that neither President Trump nor Vice President Pence has spoken to global LGBTI rights issues.
  • Stress that the U.S. should use all available diplomatic tools to advance LGBTI-inclusive human rights abroad, including police and rule-of-law training, exchange and speaker programs, targeted development assistance, and consistent bilateral and multilateral diplomatic engagement, as a reflection of our country’s values of fairness and equality.
  • Insist that U.S. diplomats not strike references to sexual orientation, gender identity or sexual and reproductive health and rights in UN and other international texts, as this undermines years of human rights advocacy in support of women and LGBTI communities globally.
  • Explain the impact of the global gag rule on women and LGBTI communities abroad, including the diversion of lifesaving funding away from health care providers that traditionally have offered health services, including HIV prevention, care and treatment and psycho-social support, to LGBTI communities in many countries.
  • Show humanitarian understanding of the special plight of LGBTI refugees, who flee abuse at home only to find equal abuse in refugee camps and shelters – a problem the Trump Administration has refused to address.
  • Make clear than LGBTI and gender equality issues are grounded in long-held American principles and precepts and will be restored to a place of respect, drawing a sharp contrast with the current Administration’s lack of respect for both.
  • And affirm that sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex traits are not a bar to service to our country, whether at home or abroad, and that our country should set an example to others in demonstrating its commitment to inclusivity, including proud and open military service by transgender and intersex Americans.

We urge media organizations to explore candidates’ understanding of these issues and, at minimum, to ask each candidate for his or her views on three fundamental points:

  • What would your Administration do to elevate the importance of human rights in American foreign policy?
  •  Will your Administration include the fair and equal treatment of racial, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities as a cornerstone of U.S. human rights and democracy policies — and if so, how would that be expressed?
  •  What would your Administration do better to inform the American public of why respect, fairness and equality for all people, including LGBTI, should be a priority in both our foreign and domestic policies? What diplomatic or economic arguments would you offer to justify the use of U.S. taxpayer funding in support of LGBTI-affirming human rights and development policies?

The time to reaffirm our country’s leadership in advocating for the dignity, respect and human rights for all people is now. We have called repeatedly on the Trump Administration to do so, and we make that call again here. But in the absence of needed changes in Administration foreign policy, we cannot afford another four years of human rights neglect.

Celebrating the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia by Opposing Homophobic, Transphobic Leadership at the State Department

May 17, 2019 – Today, as we join colleagues around the world in celebrating the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB), it’s worth asking why President Trump – who calls himself a friend of the LGBT community – has nominated someone with a long history of anti-LGBT statements to serve as Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights.

Celebrated on May 17, IDAHOTB marks the anniversary of the World Health Organization’s decision to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1990.  That illicit stigma continues to be instilled by organizations that espouse so-called “conversion therapy,” a psychologically barbaric effort to change a person’s deeply innate sexual orientation or gender identity.  Some of the State Department’s recent human rights reports, such as that for Ecuador, confirm that these efforts exist not only in the U.S., but overseas as well.

Trump’s nominee, Dr. Robert Destro, has written extensively of his opposition to full civil rights for lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans.  But his most malicious writings deny the very existence of transgender individuals, essentially suggesting that they are psychologically disturbed and in need of some type of conversion or identity therapy.  As such, he defends the harmful psychological perspectives that the World Health Organization and all leading U.S. medical associations have long abandoned.  Indeed, his views represent the exact antithesis of the compassionate understanding of LGBTI identities that we celebrate on May 17.

The theme of the May 17 celebration this year is “Justice and Protection for All.”  In recent years, the United States has played an increasingly important role in promoting justice and protection for LGBTI communities globally.  The State Department’s annual human rights reports are by far the most comprehensive reports on human rights trends impacting LGBTI individuals around the world.  The United States administers the Global Equality Fund to support LGBTI rights and at-risk human rights defenders in hostile countries.  And our diplomats continue to support the Equal Rights Coalition and the “core group” of countries that defend LGBTI rights at the UN, OAS and through diplomatic engagement everywhere.

Robert Destro can’t credibly contribute to such efforts because of the heavy baggage he carries from his expansive public record opposing human rights for LGBTI individuals.  His confirmation is an affront to our country’s human rights legacy, and the U.S. Senate should reject his conformation.  That would be a fitting tribute to the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on this May 17.

Ending the Lavender Scare

U.S. Department of StateOn May 1, Senator Menendez introduced legislation to mitigate 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.

Menendez’s bill (the Lavender Offense Victim Exoneration Act, or “LOVE Act”) accepts overdue Senate responsibility for its role in spurring on that witch hunt.  It directs that a “reconciliation board” be established to clear the names of those who were wrongly dismissed.  And it asks the Department to commemorate the period with a suitable display in State’s Museum of American Diplomacy.

Menendez was joined by 19 co-sponsors.  Why isn’t there a single Republican Senator on the list?

The Lavender Scare ruined careers – and arguably lives – of State Department men and women who wanted nothing more than to serve their country.  It deprived our country of foreign policy expertise and talent.  And it helped ensconce a Foreign Service that, for many decades, remained a bastion of conservative, straight white men – an image of America that was hardly representative of the country as a whole.

The Department’s imperfect record of dealing with LGBT diversity has improved.  By now there have been several out-gay ambassadors, and regulations that enshrined discriminatory treatment for the families of gay and lesbian Foreign Service personnel while posted abroad have been changed.

But Menendez’s bill tackles a lagging problem that still deeply impacts gay Foreign Service personnel:  the denial, by homophobic countries, of family visas to spouses of our gay and lesbian diplomatic personnel.  By bowing to this disrespect toward our country’s judicial institutions, we’ve essentially allowed other countries to dictate this aspect of federal personnel policies.

Since the LOVE Act’s original introduction in 2017, neither Secretary Pompeo nor his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, has shown any attention to this family visa reciprocity problem.  Their inaction is limiting the career options available to LGBT personnel – and limiting, too, the workforce flexibility our Foreign Service needs.

The bill requires the Secretary of State to report to Congress on countries refusing these visas, and to recommend responses that might include reciprocal denial of those countries’ requests for diplomatic family visas.  It thereby puts the issue squarely on the bilateral agenda – a first step toward resolution.

If Republicans won’t support Menendez’s bill, perhaps the Democratic-controlled House should take the matter up, to show that at least half of our country’s political elite care about fairness and equality for its LGBT public servants.

The Wall Facing LGBTI Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Read our Appeal to the Trump Administration

While Congress and the courts deliberate on the legitimacy of the President’s emergency declaration for a wall along our border with Mexico, we ask a parallel question:  what’s happened to this country’s traditional, even foundational, willingness to shelter refugees from harm and injustice?

The wall has become a symbol of a country that’s turning away from its traditional role as a beacon of freedom.  But the Administration’s parallel claw-back of protections for the most vulnerable is no less worrisome.  Our country is being marched toward insularity – and away from the humanitarian principles our families, churches, temples and mosques have taught us to embrace.

The Administration’s wall-obsessed policies are having a profound – and too often deadly – impact on LGBTI asylum seekers at the Mexican border.  At the same time, the simultaneous effort to shut down the U.S. overseas refugee program, which has been a lifeline for LGBTI refugees who can’t make it to the United States or to any other safe border to seek asylum, represents an existential threat to LGBTI individuals worldwide.

In a letter to the Trump Administration sent earlier this week, the Council for Global Equality, together with many of its member organizations and groups that directly support LGBTI asylum seekers at the border, calls on the Trump Administration to take concrete steps to protect LGBTI asylum seekers and restore our overseas refugee program.  As a priority, the letter calls on the Administration to ensure that LGBTI asylum seekers fall under the category of “vulnerable populations” that may be excluded from the new “return to Mexico” policy, which forces asylum seekers to return to Mexico to wait in dangerous circumstances for their asylum cases to be adjudicated in the United States.

The letter also calls for a presumption of parole for LGBTI asylum seekers, given the unique dangers they face in immigration detention.  Unfortunately, the current Trump administration policies already have led to the death of at least one transgender woman, Roxsana Hernández Rodriguez.  The letter calls for these policy steps as an urgent attempt to prevent ongoing suffering and future deaths.

As a coalition of human rights and LGBTI rights organizations, our most immediate concern is that individuals are being punished for seeking asylum.  The violence, persecution and hate-motivated discrimination, even murder, that LGBTI individuals face in many countries around the world is precisely why our country has long-established asylum and refugee protections.  And in turning its back on men, women and children in danger, this Administration also turns its back on U.S. citizens who believe we can and should do more.

We don’t deny the right of any new Administration to pursue policies at variance with those of its predecessor.  But none of us, on either side of the aisle, should expect such a drastic rollback of American refugee and asylum policy without a genuine national discussion of what’s at stake.  This week’s letter is an urgent plea to restore some of those most fundamental protections for those most in need.

Read the community letter here.


Stay Informed

Subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 233 other followers

Follow us on Twitter

Categories