Archive for the 'LGBTI Rights' Category

First Meeting of State Department’s Dangerous Commission on Unalienable Rights

U.S. Department of StateThis week, Secretary Pompeo’s 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 will meet in Washington.  We know that the Commission on Unalienable Rights is stacked with religious activists who oppose the rights of LGBTI individuals, along with the sexual and reproductive rights of women and girls, so we can only expect the worst.

The meeting this week will examine the ways in which our country’s founding documents — texts that enshrine slavery and deny rights to all but a limited group of privileged white men — should inform our human rights priorities in the modern age.  That focus hardly allays our concerns.

The formal announcement of the Commission was read awkwardly by Secretary Pompeo at a July 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.  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 in the context of Pompeo’s two high-powered Ministerials to Advance Religious Freedom at the State Department.  And in a speech to Concerned Women for America at the Trump Hotel, Pompeo professed his personal belief, which is quickly becoming State Department policy, that human rights should be grounded in religion: “I know where those rights came from.  They came from our Lord, and when we get this right, we’ll have done something good, not just I think for the United States but for the world.”

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 Council, 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.

A Call for Human Rights Submissions to U.S. Embassies

The Council for Global Equality urges LGBTI organizations and advocates around the world to submit human rights information to U.S. embassies for the State Department’s annual reports on human rights practices and religious freedom.  These reports are prepared yearly by the State Department based on submissions from U.S. embassies and they both provide opportunities to highlight violations of human rights targeting LGBTI individuals globally.

The two reports are distinct, but the embassies generally collect information for the two reports at the same time each year — usually in September with drafts due to Washington later in the fall.  Now is the time to reach out to U.S. embassies with information that they can include in both reports.

The annual human rights reports have included a dedicated section on the rights of LGBTI individuals since 2009.  Given the current political context, however, we fear that the Trump Administration could take steps to limit this reporting next year, and that embassies are increasingly reluctant to engage with LGBTI groups in this climate.  As a result, we urge our colleagues around the world to make a special effort this year to ensure that U.S. embassies have the information they need to offer robust reports to Washington on LGBTI issues.

To date, the annual religious freedom reports have included very little information on prohibitions that limit LGBTI communities and LGBTI-affirming ministries from practicing their faith, including the affirmative decisions of religious congregations to marry or bless the relationships of same-sex couples.  Nor have they contained information on the use of religiously justified laws to persecute LGBTI individuals or faith institutions.  The Council is particularly interested in collecting that information to inform future religious freedom reports and would appreciate your partnership in submitting those stories to U.S. embassies.

A simple guide to providing information to U.S. embassies for these reports is available here.  The final reports are public documents and can be found on the State Department’s website at: Annual Human Rights Reports and Annual Religious Freedom Reports.

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.

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 Question Looming Over Trump Nominee Robert Destro

To the Council for Global Equality, the protection of human rights globally is hardly a luxury.  It’s integral to democratic values, to humanitarian values, and to the genuine rule of law – and it’s a critical component of America’s strategic interests in reducing the causes of instability, conflict, and emigration.

So we take seriously nominations to government positions intended to safeguard human rights.  For that reason, we are deeply concerned at the background and philosophy of President Trump’s nominee for Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL).

Robert Destro is known as a religious freedom academic, not a human rights expert.  His focus and credentials suggest, indeed, that if confirmed, his service in this position might duplicate that of the Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom position that Sam Brownback now encumbers.

Viewed in the broader human rights perspective of the DRL Assistant Secretary job, there’s a serious question of whether Destro is the right person for these duties.  The top DRL job, after all, is an advocacy position, not just for religious freedom but for all human rights.  And at the core of human rights advocacy is the belief that all individuals deserve equal respect, equal dignity, and equal protection under the law.

Robert Destro has denigrated the legitimacy and equality of LGBT persons.  Destro argues that Christians who oppose homosexuality, on the basis of religious belief, should be permitted to deny equal treatment and services to LGBT individuals. He questions whether a transgender person must be accepted as such by someone who doesn’t accept the basis of gender identity.  And he opposes the Equality Act – legislation re-introduced less than a week ago – that focuses on the need for protections against LGBT-focused discrimination in employment and housing and opportunity.  If these precepts are fundamental to a fair and equal society, how can DRL’s Assistant Secretary find himself so far from the mark?

At a bare baseline, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has an obligation to ask whether Destro would speak clearly in favor of the human rights of LGBT people in every country in which the Department’s own human rights reports have signaled problems.  The Committee needs to ask, too, whether Destro would ensure that DRL programs are used to address, in every country, structural challenges to LGBT fairness and equal treatment under the law.  And it needs to probe deeply into how Destro’s support for religious exemptions might negatively impact the use of taxpayer funds to promote the equal treatment of LGBT people abroad.

We easily can imagine that Destro will offer carefully parsed pablum in response to these points.  But one question he should be made to answer meaningfully is this:  how can Destro be credible, to any foreign official or public, in demanding that LGBT citizens be treated fairly and respectfully, given what he has written and said on these matters?

That question is critically important to Destro’s effectiveness, which should be paramount in the minds of those reviewing his qualifications for the job.  How incisively Senate Foreign Relations Committee members question Destro will tell us whether they are committed to truly inclusive human rights – and whether he, or they, should be out of a job.

State Department Releases Human Rights Reports

U.S. Department of StateThe State Department’s annual country human rights reports were released today, to little fanfare.  And the news of the day – Paul Manafort’s sentencing and his parallel indictment in New York – virtually guarantees that these important analyses will sink to the bottom of the news feed.  They already have.

In general, we are pleased that the reporting on abuses targeting LGBTI individuals remains strong, but we also are deeply disappointed that, for the second year in a row, the State Department has refused to report on women’s sexual and reproductive rights as human rights.  We’ll have more to say about the contents of the reports after we’ve parsed them.  But if best practices on human rights begin at home, we ask this question today:  will any of the worst human rights violators abroad take these human rights critiques seriously?

Respect for human rights is hardly a feature of Trump Administration foreign policies, after all:

  • The Administration has separated children from their parents at our southern border, and hasn’t complied with court orders to reunite them.
  • It has thumbed its nose at longstanding refugee policy, snuffing out the very beacon of hope that has made America a multiethnic and multicultural success.
  • President Trump continues to embrace some of the world’s most human rights-challenged dictators, from Putin to Sisi to Duterte.
  • His administration has stepped away from the challenge of holding Russia accountable for the arbitrary arrests and murders of LGBT Chechens.
  • Ten months into his tenure, Secretary Pompeo still has not fulfilled his commitment to Congress to appoint a Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons.
  • And the nominations of two individuals for the Administration’s senior-most jobs with human rights-specific attributions – Marshall Billingslea as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, and Robert Destro as Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor – show a worrisome lack of concern about their record of engagement, respect and support for human rights and the advancement thereof.

To be clear, we fully support the dedicated efforts of U.S. embassy and consulate personnel abroad to prepare the human rights reports that were released today.  We believe it critical that respect for human rights remain a central foreign policy goal, and thus that these reports be compiled.  But if these efforts are to carry impact, the Trump Administration needs to reverse or revise policies that lay bare its own hypocrisy in criticizing others.

The question in our mind is not how to change Trump.  He has shown no interest in becoming a better man.  But what of Congress, which commissioned these reports?  What will Congress do to challenge the Administration’s lapses and excesses, as noted above?  Will the Congress that legislated these reports exercise its oversight into why the Administration’s human rights policy has become so calcified, so pained, so denuded?

In our last blog, we called for Congress to exercise greater oversight regarding the degree to which this Administration’s foreign policies demonstrate respect for, and advancement of, human rights.  We renew that call today.

Wall Debate Holds U.S. Strategic Interests Hostage

Rarely does the Council wade into matters beyond its immediate concern for the human rights of LGBTI people around the world.  But we cannot be silent when President Trump’s fixation on a wall of questionable value is having such pernicious impacts – on government employees and their families, to be sure, but also on the performance of critical government roles and functions, including with respect to advocating for and protecting the human rights of people around the world.

Others have spoken of vital domestic government functions for the American people that have suffered during this shutdown, and indeed of the long-term economic and security impacts to our country that mount up every day.  We will not repeat those concerns, which we share.

But the State Department’s ability to stand against human rights injustices, and to promote the kind of fair and open societies that are critical to the success of American policies abroad, also are casualties of this shutdown.  So is USAID’s ability to implement sound and inclusive development policies.  So, too, are international programs of the Departments of Justice, and of Health and Human Services, and of Commerce, all vital to the mission of this Council and to the values of our country.  And surely any appeal to common sense would also reveal that these programs are equally vital to our country’s long-term effort to redress the political, social and economic instability that is driving the migration crisis in Central America today.

The President prides himself as an artful dealer.  But this shutdown – with his ham-fisted insistence on forcing a policy change that fails to enjoy either public or political support – shows him to be a clumsy blackmailer, and a blunt-edge abuser of constitutional powers.  He has given the world a compelling and troublesome image of American self-absorption.  And his statements and actions only underscore the absence of American leadership in world affairs, including with regard to the protection of human rights, at the core of American values.

We are open to a reasoned conversation about whether a wall has any place in meeting American security.  But we are unwilling to see America, and broader American values and strategic interests, held hostage.  We call on those on Capitol Hill who are enabling the President’s shutdown to end their support and put American leadership back to work.


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