Archive for the 'Barack Obama' Category

A Whole-of-Government Approach to Trade

Whitehouse-tpp-image-web-520px
President Obama’s groundbreaking December 2011 Presidential Memorandum calls for a cross-agency, whole-of-government approach to addressing LGBT human and civil rights shortcomings abroad. That effort surely will be a legacy of his presidency. But has the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiation honored that approach?

For several weeks, the Council for Global Equality has engaged the Administration on our concerns about the draft trade deal. We worry that the heightened intellectual property rights (IPR) restrictions being negotiated, and championed by the U.S., could make it harder for poorer signatory countries to access affordable HIV/AIDS and other life-saving communicable disease medicines in order to respond effectively to legitimate health care crises. We also find it troublesome that, as far as we can determine, the negotiations have minimized any discussion of the human rights situations in prospective signatory countries, including the treatment of LGBT individuals – issues bound to impact any long-term growth in bilateral relations, including in the trade arena.

We know, of course, that this is a trade deal, not a human rights pact. We know too that trade can be beneficial, not only to U.S. corporations, but to the populations of many other countries. But surely we can do a better job of reflecting our values and human rights priorities, even in the context of global trade.

We deeply believe in a whole-of-government approach – one in which all government foreign affairs agencies frame their individual substantive goals in such a way as to support overarching national purposes. Certainly that was implicit in the President’s 2011 Executive Order. It was even more explicit in former Secretary Clinton’s creation of a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), to marry more closely the policy goals and programmatic tools of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.   (We engaged former Congressman Tom Perriello on the latter, and were happy to see some of our focus on LGBT-fair policies included in the most recent QDDR.)

In the same sense, trade pacts, like other national instruments, should align with broad national policies. That is where our concerns with TPP lie. By letter, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has signaled U.S. support for flexibility in the IPR applications on life-saving pharmaceuticals needed to win the global war against HIV/AIDS.   We hope the commitment to the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health means that the U.S. will not pursue so-called “TRIPS-Plus” provisions in this context. Without concrete trip-wire mechanisms to ensure the flexibility that the Doha Declaration suggests, the strengthened IPR protections in the current draft TPP agreement are out of sync with our country’s humanitarian goals, as embodied most notably in our life-saving PEPFAR programs. The Trade Representative also points to the importance of regular engagement with TPP signatory countries on human rights issues. We appreciate this approach, and we look forward to concrete pledges that these concerns will be addressed as part of this and future trade agreements, consistent with the whole-of-government approach that is a hallmark of good governance.

As the House of Representatives takes up debate on the Administration’s request for fast-track authority, we hope it will make clear that USTR must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the State Department in making clear that public health takes precedence, and that human rights shortfalls only erode our ability to sustain any long-term growth in bilateral trade. Perhaps a case can be made that an eventual TPP trade agreement may be in our national interests – but not if our national commitment to fair treatment, inclusion and humanitarian values is cheapened by the result.

Obama Applauds LGBT Advocate During Jamaica Speech

Angeline Jackson. Photo: Michael KeyRepost from The Washington Blade

President Obama on Thursday applauded a prominent Jamaican LGBT rights advocate as he spoke during a town hall meeting in the country’s capital.

Angeline Jackson, executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, a group that advocates on behalf of lesbian and bisexual women and transgender Jamaicans, was among those in the audience at University of the West Indies in Kingston when Obama described her as one of the island’s “remarkable young leaders.”

Obama during his speech noted that Jackson founded Quality of Citizenship Jamaica after she and a friend were kidnapped, held at gunpoint and sexually assaulted.

“As a woman and as a lesbian, justice and society weren’t always on her side,” said the president. “But instead of remaining silent she chose to speak out and started her own organization to advocate for women like her, get them treatment and get them justice and push back against stereotypes and give them some sense of their own power. And she became a global activist.” Continue Reading

Advocacy Groups Seek U.S. Travel Ban Against Gambian President

Obama Jammeh White HouseRepost from the Washington Blade

More than a dozen LGBT advocacy groups on Friday called upon the Obama administration ban Gambian officials responsible for human rights abuses from entering the U.S.

The Human Rights Campaign, the Council for Global Equality, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Human Rights First, GLAAD, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the Global Justice Institute with the Metropolitan Community Churches, the National Center for Transgender Equality, Out and Equal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in a letter urged the White House to institute a visa ban on Gambian President Yahya Jammeh and other “key Gambian officials” who “have promoted discriminatory laws and who are responsible for grave human rights abuses.” The groups also called upon the Obama administration to freeze Jammeh’s U.S. assets that include a multi-million dollar home in Potomac, Md.

“It is not too late for the United States to send President Jammeh and his regime a clear and unequivocal message: human rights violations will not be tolerated and the U.S. government will respond with actions, as well as with strong condemnation,” reads the letter. “It is crucial that the United States take concrete action whenever countries enact discriminatory laws, and the Gambia should be no exception.” Continue Reading

President Recognizes Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Americans for the First Time in State of the Union Speech


“As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I’ve prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained. It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world. It’s why we continue to reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims – the vast majority of whom share our commitment to peace. That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer.” – President Barack Obama, SOTU2015

Global LGBT Rights Advocates Send Joint Letter to President Obama

Photo: Pete Souza

Photo: Pete Souza

A group of 24 leading LGBT rights advocates from every region of the world sent a joint letter to President Obama in late December asking him to stand with them in seeking fairness and equality. While applauding the President’s support, they noted inconsistencies in his Administration’s response to anti-LGBT laws that have been adopted recently in various countries. Without a more consistent approach, they pointedly asked President Obama: “How can we trust otherwise that the United States will, indeed, stand with us as we fight for our rights?

Recognizing that the response to harmful laws adopted in different countries may not be identical in every case, and that any response must be tailored to fit the country context, the advocates nonetheless asked that the United States respond, without fail and in whatever way is most appropriate, whenever another country adopts a new law or a national policy that denies fundamental rights to LGBT citizens.

Click here to read the full letter.

To consolidate an Obama legacy, entrench support for global LGBT rights

White HouseRepost from The Hill by Raymond Smith

With attention increasingly turning to the legacy of the Obama administration, one area of civil rights seems sure to be viewed as a breakthrough success: the recognition and advancement of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. And while this legacy is already on solid footing on the domestic front, many opportunities still exist to entrench support for LGBT rights globally.

In 2008, Obama ran as a “fierce ally” of the LGBT community, yet many were unimpressed by the early months of his administration. In 2009, the LGBT magazine The Advocate ran a parody of his iconic “Hope” poster with the caption “Nope?” Shortly before the 2012 election, however, the same magazine ran a cover with his face superimposed on the grand seated statue in the Lincoln Memorial.

What changed so drastically over time? The evolution of the administration began with a host of incremental steps, such as ensuring hospital visitation rights to same-sex partners and lifting the ban on entry to the U.S. to people with HIV. Over time, Obama led the successful repeal of the ban on “gays in the military” and ensured the enactment of an LGBT-inclusive hate crimes bill. Using the bully pulpit, he filmed a segment for the “It Gets Better” campaign in support of LGBT teens, and in his second inaugural address, he cited the landmark Stonewall Riots of 1969 alongside Seneca Falls and Selma as turning points in civil rights history.

Perhaps most of all, Obama personally endorsed same-sex marriage and his administration refused to defend the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Since the Supreme Court overturned DOMA in 2013, the administration has been diligent and proactive in extending the full range of marriage equality rights with regard to immigration, access to federal programs, taxation and more. At the same time, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act this year has begun to be interpreted, for the first time, to confer federal anti-discrimination protections on transgender people.

Much less noticed has been an equally impressive parallel track taken with regard to promotion of LGBT rights around the world. Three years ago this week, in December 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech emphasizing that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” The phrasing echoed her famous speech as first lady on women’s rights, given in Beijing 15 years prior, which signaled the inclusion of gender equality as a central focus of U.S. foreign policy.

Concurrently, Obama issued a “Presidential Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.” Unlike on the more scattered and improvised domestic-policy side, this one landmark document has served as a coherent strategic blueprint for action by the federal government.

The memorandum contains several major elements, including combating anti-LGBT criminalization abroad, protecting LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, responding to anti-LGBT human rights abuses internationally, providing targeted foreign assistance and engaging international organizations to secure LGBT rights. In all of these areas, the State Department has outlined a range of accomplishments.

For example, a Global Equality Fund has been established to bridge government, companies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to provide emergency and long-term assistance. The fund promotes LGBT rights through a small grants program, an emergency protection rapid response mechanism, and long-term capacity-building efforts for human rights organizations overseas. Protections for asylum seekers has also been expanded; in one notable case, a Ugandan LGBT rights activist was recently provided asylum rather than being forced to return to a potentially fatal environment in his home country.

Likewise, embassies around the world have begun proactively engaging with governments and human rights organizations. And at the United Nations, the U.S. is a charter member of the LGBT Core Group, which in September issued a ministerial declaration on “Ending Violence and Discrimination against Individuals Based on Their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.”

Despite these crucial steps, much more work remains to be done. “The U.S. blueprint for action can be a powerful force, but only if its approach is consistent and guided by the understanding that all rights are indivisible and universal,” said Jessica Stern, executive director of the New York-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

“Achieving change will demand focused attention. One crucial step forward would be the immediate creation of a Special Envoy for LGBT Rights at the State Department,” Stern noted. Such an envoy would act as a high-level advocate for LGBT concerns, working within the State Department, bilaterally with other countries and through multilateral organizations. The position of special envoy is the focus of bill introduced last summer by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

Likewise, the Council for Global Equality, a Washington-based NGO with the goal of advancing an American foreign policy inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity, “has identified a series of actionable next steps that could advance the Administration’s commitment by moving the government from a reactive posture to a longer-term human rights protection agenda,” according to the council Chair Mark Bromley. These objectives, added Bromley, “are designed to harmonize the Administration’s commitments into a coherent human rights policy — and an enduring legacy of President Obama.”

In addition to creation of the special envoy position, other priority areas include:

  • Requiring automatic policy reviews whenever foreign countries enact new anti-LGBT policies. The review could be triggered by legislation, changes in enforcement patterns or failure to protect LGBT populations. Such a thorough review was conducted after the passage of a particularly repressive anti-gay law in Uganda last year, but it’s unclear that comparable reviews have been undertaken in the case of similar laws enacted in Nigeria and, most recently, Gambia.
  • Mandating that government contractors and grantees globally have LGBT non-discrimination policies as pre-conditions for contracts or assistance. Such a move would parallel an executive order issued last summer banning anti-LGBT discrimination policies among government contracts within the U.S. for domestic contactors.
  • Strengthening policies to protect LGBT rights in multilateral organizations such as the U.N., the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Organization of American States. The U.S. should also advocate for adequate funding and staffing for such policies to be enforced and monitored.
  • Establishing annual reports and other mechanisms to make information more widely available about federal effort in the realm of global LGBT rights, and also holding more extensive consultations with a range of stakeholders about how best to implement the memorandum.

Whatever further steps the Obama administration takes, some critics will inevitably dismiss the relevance of LGBT rights, or consider LGBT rights a marginal issue when it comes to the forging of a presidential legacy that will stand the test of time.

But such voices have been proven wrong before. They’re the same ones that in the 1960s saw no need for the Civil Rights Act, in the 1970s resisted signing the Helsinki human rights accords, in the 1980s rejected sanctions against apartheid South Africa, in the 1990s mocked steps to advance a global women’s rights agenda and in the 2000s endorsed human rights abuses in the name of fighting terrorism.

Yet, today, each of these incidents is recalled as a badge of honor — or a mark of shame — for the president who presided over them. So, too, will today’s struggle for LGBT rights, both at home and abroad, be recalled as a substantive and productive element of the Obama legacy.

 

Smith is a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute; an adjunct assistant professor of political science at Columbia University and New York University; and author of Importing Democracy: Ideas from Around the World to Reform and Revitalize American Politics and Government.

 

Council Calls for President Obama to Raise LGBT Issues at Africa Summit

White HouseIn August, President Obama will host the first-ever U.S.- Africa Summit.  The theme, “Investing in the Next Generation,” raises the hope that the next generation of LGBT Africans will have an equal opportunity to participate, as equal citizens, in the future of the continent.

To promote an LGBT perspective, the Council wrote to President Obama to ask that the official program include LGBT individuals, organizations and experiences to enrich both the Summit and the generational advance to which it aspires.  The letter also highlights opportunities to make the business case for inclusion during business and trade forums at the Summit.

See a copy of the letter here.


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