Archive for the 'foreign policy' Category

State Department Retains LGBTI Special Envoy: What Does It Mean? Will it Respond to Global Call from LGBT Advocates?

Last week’s Congressional notification that the Trump Administration has decided not to abolish the LGBTI human rights Special Envoy position was an unexpected surprise.

We know there are many dedicated State Department officials who believe passionately that the United States must stand for human rights, including equality and dignity for LGBT individuals everywhere, as a cornerstone of our foreign policy. And recent reports suggest Secretary Tillerson may have raised well-documented cases of LGBT persecution in Chechnya with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in a letter this summer. Yet, we’ve seen very little indication that Administration leaders care about a comprehensive human rights policy, or LGBT rights, after all:

  • A number of concrete actions – the ban on trans military service, opposition to federal employment protections, and the decision to rescind Obama-era guidance on protections for transgender students in public schools – have been injurious to LGBT citizens at home.
  • “America First” policies have slammed the door on refugees and immigrants, more than 75,000 LGBT DREAMers included – and on the international cooperation needed to stand for fairness and equality abroad.
  • Secretary Tillerson astoundingly has sought to separate democratic “values” from the pursuit of narrower, arguably raw, national “interests” (see his speech here) – turning his back on U.S. diplomatic priorities pursued across the postwar years.
  • President Trump’s expansion of the “Global Gag Rule” to all U.S. global health funding, including global AIDS funding through PEPFAR, undermines our investments in sexual and reproductive health and rights, with equally devastating impact for LGBT individuals who may now be forced to depend on faith-based implementers that are unlikely to be as welcoming or effective in supporting the health and rights of LGBT communities.
  • And the impact of these policy shifts is becoming clear: only last week, the Washington Post traced a sharp uptick in human rights abuses in Egypt to messages that President Trump conveyed in his May meeting with that country’s president.

In this light, how are we to understand retention of the Special Envoy position? Is it mere window dressing? Or will the Administration use the position vigorously to tackle a global crisis in hate crimes, abuse, and legal discrimination against LGBT people?

We are concerned that, in the first seven months of this Administration, the Department’s Special Envoy hasn’t been directed to make a single overseas trip to engage foreign governments on any of the LGBT-related human rights violations so carefully documented in the Department’s annual human rights reports. That concern is only amplified by Secretary Tillerson’s decision (as reflected in the Congressional notification) to co-hat the Special Envoy’s targeted responsibilities with the much larger duties of a Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) – a situation that exists now, but that was intended to be temporary, given personnel shifts and shortfalls. That co-hatting may well bury the Special Envoy’s substantive responsibilities under heavy managerial and substantive duties of the kind that any DAS carries.

But a broader question is whether the Administration can carry genuine moral authority to engage, even modestly, on LGBT human rights while its policies at home, and its lack of engagement on human rights abroad, have been so troubling.

The global credibility of the Special Envoy position, then, is directly proportional to the Administration’s record on Constitutional protections at home. It requires the thoughtful and deliberate inclusion of LGBT populations in appropriate bilateral economic, development, and health programs. It too requires regular engagement with other countries on problems impacting LGBT populations, all the while acknowledging that our country’s record in this sphere remains troubled. And it requires swift condemnation of hate crimes and hate groups – not the “blame on both sides” cop-out the President used in his troubling response to far-right violence in Charlottesville this summer.

LGBT advocates from around the world have urged President Trump to honor our country’s commitment to human rights. See their video here. Eight months later, we reiterate their call. Keeping the Special Envoy may be a start – but only if the Administration honors our country’s call to equality with humility, funding, and concrete action.

Council for Global Equality Releases Human Rights Rebuke in Advance of Trump-Putin Meeting this Week

Leading human rights and LGBT organizations in the Council for Global Equality wrote to Secretary Tillerson to express outrage at the Administration’s continued denigration of the value that the United States traditionally has placed on human and democratic rights in the conduct of U.S. diplomacy.  The letter expresses particular shock at Secretary Tillerson’s failure to raise bipartisan U.S. concerns over the ongoing kidnappings, torture and murders of those suspected of being gay, lesbian or bisexual in Chechnya.

The letter notes that neither President Trump nor Secretary Tillerson has spoken out against specific human rights infringements.  To the contrary, the Administration’s embrace of a range of dictators, from Russian President Putin to Egyptian President Sissi, sends a signal that is out of keeping with America’s character and interests.

The signatories call on the Administration to raise immediately, and with overdue stress, the need for Russia to investigate atrocities in Chechnya during a meeting with President Putin this week.  President Trump must demonstrate, in his statements and policies, that the values we express as a nation are core not only to our identity but to what we aspire to achieve in the world.

USAID Nominee Should Affirm that Investments in LGBT Development Have Real Impact

President Trump has nominated Ambassador Mark Green as the new Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).  The Council looks forward to his confirmation hearing, where we trust he will affirm USAID’s commitment to inclusive development that recognizes LGBT citizens as both agents and beneficiaries of effective U.S. development assistance.

The Council has worked closely with USAID to ensure that LGBT individuals are included in the full range of human rights, health, economic empowerment and development assistance policies that the United States carries out abroad.  We are particularly pleased that the Agency has adopted new regulations prohibiting USAID and its partners from discriminating against LGBT or other minority communities when providing taxpayer-funded goods and services from the American people.

During his confirmation hearing, we hope Ambassador Greene pledges to uphold the principle that USAID must not discriminate against LGBT communities, and that he affirms the Agency’s ongoing commitment to integrating the needs of LGBT populations into all sectors of development support.

Please watch this video to hear how our investments in LGBT development can have real impact on human lives.

Statement from U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley on Reports of Detentions and Killings in Chechnya

Statement from Ambassador Nikki HaleyNikki Haley, United States Ambassador to the United Nations

We continue to be disturbed by reports of kidnapping, torture, and murder of people in Chechnya based on their sexual orientation and those persecuted by association. If true, this violation of human rights cannot be ignored – Chechen authorities must immediately investigate these allegations, hold anyone involved accountable, and take steps to prevent future abuses.

We are against all forms of discrimination, including against people based on sexual orientation. When left unchecked, discrimination and human rights abuses can lead to destabilization and conflict.

Tomorrow, the United States will lead a first-ever meeting on human rights in international conflicts in the UN Security Council to underscore our commitment to addressing human rights abuses wherever they threaten international peace and security.

When The U.S. Backs Gay And Lesbian Rights In Africa, Is There A Backlash?

Uganda 2014 Pride

Photo: Ben Curtis/AP

Repost from NPR

Everyone knew President Obama would say something about gay rights when he made his visit to Kenya last summer. Many American activists were pressing him to publicly condemn Kenya’s colonial-era law making homosexuality a crime.

But Kenyan gays and lesbians were wary. In the weeks leading up to Obama’s visit, Kenyan politicians took to the airwaves to assert their anti-gay bona fides. Deputy President William Ruto gave a guest sermon in a church to announce that Kenya “had no room” for homosexuality. As the vitriol increased, so did the incidents of violence, from assaults to rape.

“That was the most tense [period] in our life, before Obama came,” says John Mathenge, the director of a community center and health clinic in Nairobi called HOYMAS — Health Options for Young Men with HIV/AIDS and STIs. His clinic usually averages 50 visitors a day; in the weeks before Obama’s arrival there were no more than 2 or 3. “People weren’t even coming to collect their ARVs [anti-retroviral medication] because they feared they were going to be attacked.”

It wasn’t just Kenyans who were worried. OutRight Action International, a New York-based not-for-profit that advocates for LGBT rights around the world, took the position that President Obama should not mention gay rights when he visited Kenya.

“LGBTI rights have become a political lightning rod,” explained OutRight director Jessica Stern. Though the organization is devoted to pressing for gay rights overseas, she urged the U.S. government to push for “substance over symbolism” — that is, working behind the scenes to improve the legal and social climate for LGBT people rather than issuing too many public pronouncements that could be seen as finger-wagging and that could compromise the efforts of local activists. “We know it’s very easy for LGBTI Africans to be discredited as Western,” she said. (The acronym is a version of LGBT and stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex.”)

Over the last four years, the American government has engaged in an ambitious campaign to defend the rights of gay and lesbian people overseas, especially in Africa, where the majority of countries outlaw homosexuality and anti-gay sentiment remains strong. But African activists struggle with the double-edged sword of American support. While they say that U.S. attention has given a needed boost to their movement, the protection of an outsider can complicate the path to true acceptance. Continue Reading at NPR

Mark Bromley Testifies Before the U.S. Congress

Mark Bromley Testifies at Foreign Affairs Committee Hearing on Global Human Rights

Council Chair Mark Bromley testified before the U.S. Congress in a hearing focused on “Human Rights Under Siege Worldwide.”  The hearing was convened on the one-month anniversary of the tragic massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and it was the first time that the foreign affairs committee had ever invited a witness to speak to global human rights trends impacting LGBT individuals.  He testified that “targeted LGBT violence, and anti-LGBT propaganda in general, challenge fundamental democratic values and pluralistic societies everywhere.”  He concluded by noting that “countries that turn on their own LGBT citizens, or that scapegoat their LGBT citizens to distract from broader political or economic failings, are equally likely to turn on other ethnic or religious minorities and on human rights and democracy groups writ large.

You can watch the testimony here and read the statement for the record here.

Diversity In All of its Forms is a Shared Civic Value

Last weekend’s brutal massacre at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando is a stunning reminder that homophobic hatred continues to scar both our community and our country. Our hearts go out to the victims of this rampage, as well as to their families and friends. We acknowledge and share their grief.

In our work, the Council for Global Equality has been deeply impressed by the resilience of LGBT communities around the world. We are profoundly touched by the expressions of sadness and solidarity from these communities. Their love and support stand in stark contrast to the hatred that fueled this tragedy. The breadth of supportive government statements also heartens us, from countries that include Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.

From this massacre, no doubt there will be calls for greater gun control, mental health awareness, and a strengthened fight against ISIS and all extremism. We strongly support these calls. But we are struck, too, by the cultural divide over the dignity and worth of LGBT people that this attack calls to mind. Diversity in all of its forms is a shared civic value, after all – a quality essential to our national fabric, and one that must be taught and understood more broadly in this country, even after – or maybe because of – the significant legal advances that the LGBT community has achieved in recent years.

The Obama Administration has done much to integrate LGBT human rights into our country’s overall human rights policy. We urge that these efforts be redoubled, with a view to helping all people understand that the rights of any minority group cannot be lower than those of the country as a whole.

That lesson begins at home. The call by some for a ban on Muslims entering our country is wholly at odds with the founding values of our country, and with the dignity and respect we seek from others. That exclusionary vision also runs counter to the Council’s mission, which is to build bridges across cultural divides.

Yesterday’s UN Security Council statement on Orlando’s tragedy – OUR tragedy – is an important and groundbreaking step in expressing the sadness of the international community at a tragedy that impacts not only LGBT people, but how the world embraces human rights. That, in fact, is a precious learning from Sunday’s tragic loss of life.

 

Related Content: After Orlando, Gay Rights Moves off Diplomatic Back Burner (NYT)


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