Archive for the 'LGBTI Rights' Category

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.

December 2018 Newsletter

** The Council for Global Equality respectfully offers this edition of “Global Equality Today” – a periodic newsletter to inform Hill staff of priority policy issues impacting LGBTI people abroad.

December 2018

Happy Human Rights Week (read the Presidential Proclamation of Human Rights Week here). December 10 marked the 70-year anniversary of U.S. leadership in drafting and championing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Secretary Pompeo released a statement recognizing that: “The Declaration’s fundamental principles remain as relevant today as they were seventy years ago.”  Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi marked the anniversary with a statement reminding us that: “As Americans we have a duty to maintain our critical leadership in the defense of human rights both at home and around the world.”  The Council is proud to recognize Human Rights Week by supporting Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) and other leading members of both the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House LGBT Equality Caucus in their introduction of the Greater Leadership Overseas for the Benefit of Equality (GLOBE) Act (H.R. 7291).

CONGRESSIONAL ACTION

 

 House Introduces GLOBE Act to Advance LGBTI Equality Abroad

In recognition of Human Rights Week in the United States, Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) joined foreign affairs and LGBT equality leaders in Congress to introduce the Greater Leadership Overseas for the Benefit of Equality (GLOBE) Act (H.R. 7291).  The Council is working with Sen. Markey and other Senate human rights champions to introduce a companion bill in the Senate.  This comprehensive “vision bill” provides a broad roadmap for U.S. leadership to advance the human rights of LGBTI and other vulnerable minority communities around the world.  Upon introduction, Rep. Titus noted: “The GLOBE Act builds on the accomplishments of the Obama Administration and the work of various members, groups, and coalitions to establish a broad set of directives to reinstate our leadership in advancing equality.”  Read the Congressional press release here.  And read the Council’s endorsement and a blog explaining the bill’s impact here.  Please contact the office of Rep. Titus to co-sponsor.

LGBTI Funding Hangs in Balance in Ongoing Budget Negotiations

The Senate Appropriations Committee allocated global LGBTI funding in its report accompanying the 2019 State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Bill (S.3108).  The Council calls on members of the House and Senate to include that language in the omnibus appropriation bill that is being negotiated.  The funding includes $3.5 million for LGBTI issues within USAID and $250,000 for the State Department’s Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons.  (Although Secretary Pompeo pledged to re-fill that position during his April 2018 confirmation hearing, he has yet to do so as of this writing, eight months later.)  The report also directs the State Department to allocate additional resources to the Global Equality Fund and to continue reporting on LGBTI issues in its annual Human Rights Reports.

Congress Denounces Treatment of Vulnerable LGBTI Refugees in the “Caravan” at the Southern Border

On social media, Members of Congress have recognized the life-threatening circumstances of LGBTI refugees seeking asylum at the U.S. southern border, including the LGBT Equality Caucus, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA), Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ), Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) and  Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY).  Senators Kamala Harris (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Tom Udall (D-NM) also sent a letter demanding answers after the tragic death in U.S. immigration detention of Roxana Hernandez, a transgender asylum seeker.

Senate Confirms Former Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons as Ambassador to Nepal

In September, the Senate confirmed Randy Berry, formerly Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Nepal.  Ambassador Berry, a career Foreign Service officer, was an effective Special Envoy and a strong civil society partner.  The Council welcomes his confirmation to a country that has become a regional leader on LGBTI issues.

Retiring Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen Challenges Her Colleagues on LGBTI Rights

In a powerful speech describing her support for LGBTI equality in the U.S. Congress, retiring Congresswoman and former Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) concluded with a final plea to her House colleagues: “I ask us all to commit, beginning today, to working across the aisle with a view to becoming more consistent, more fair, more respectful, and more principled on this issue. We as a country need to take action to set the right example.”

EXECUTIVE BRANCH ACTION

 

President to Nominate Heather Nauert to Be UN Ambassador

The President announced that he will nominate Heather Nauert, Acting State Department Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and State Department Spokesperson, to be our next UN Ambassador.  The Council has not taken a position on the nomination but notes that, at the Residence of the Chilean Ambassador earlier this year, Nauert spoke forcefully in support of global LGBTI rights in her role as Acting Under Secretary, noting that: “protecting and promoting human rights abroad is a core element of our foreign policy. Societies are more secure when they respect individual human rights, democratic institutions, and the rule of law.”

U.S. Joins 16 OSCE Countries to Launch an Investigation into LGBTI Atrocities in Chechnya

The U.S. joined 16 like-minded member countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to launch an official investigation into LGBTI atrocities and other human rights abuses in Chechnya.  This OSCE investigative mechanism has rarely been invoked and the action speaks both to the egregious nature of the abuses and the intransigence of Russian officials in responding to the allegations.  The investigator’s report will be presented to the OSCE Permanent Council before the end of year.  In a statement explaining the investigation, the governments noted that “[t]hose concerns centered around allegations of impunity for reported human rights violations and abuses in Chechnya from January 2017 to the present, including, but not limited to, violations and abuses against persons based on their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as against human rights defenders, lawyers, independent media, civil society organizations, and others.”

State Department Supports Equal Rights Coalition at Vancouver Conference

The United States has been a leading proponent of the Equal Rights Coalition (ERC), a new intergovernmental coalition of 40 governments and leading civil society organizations that work together to protect the human rights of LGBTI people around the world.  U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan sent video remarks to open a major ERC conference in Vancouver, pledging that “the United States will remain a steadfast partner” of the ERC in “addressing the threats and unique human rights challenges of LGBTI persons.”  The U.S. government was represented in Vancouver by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scott Busby and by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Robert Moossy, reflecting the dual internal/external focus of the ERC.  At its best, the ERC is an institution that coordinates external diplomacy while simultaneously promoting internal best practices across member countries.  The Council also welcomes the upcoming rotation of leadership of the ERC from Canada and Chile to Argentina and the United Kingdom in June 2019.  Read more about the ERC on our blog here.

GLOBAL LGBTI DEVELOPMENTS

 

In recent good news…

The Supreme Court of India issued a unanimous decision decriminalizing same-sex relationships across the country. The landmark case will buttress similar legal challenges to colonial-era sodomy laws in other former British colonies, including pending cases in Botswana, Jamaica and Kenya.  Read our blog here, as well as the Equal Rights Coalition of 40 governments’ statement here.

— In the South American country of Guyana, the LGBT community secured a victory in the Caribbean Court of Justice, striking down the country’s anti-cross dressing law, which advocates claim will help decrease violence toward trans and gender non-conforming people in Guyana, and also potentially pave the way for decriminalization.

— The Chilean legislature passed a groundbreaking legal gender recognition law, which allows transgender individuals ages 14 and older to self-determine their legal gender in all official documents without a judicial determination or medical interventions. President Pinera signed the law into effect, despite right-wing opposition and following the remarkable public acknowledgement of trans lives as a result of the activism of the trans actress in the Oscar-winning Chilean film A Fantastic Woman.  Similarly in Uruguay, a broad transgender rights law was passed that provides legal recognition and also requires that the state pay for all gender-confirming surgeries and provide job training programs for the community.

— In Romania, the LGBT community succeeded in defeating a referendum that sought to enshrine heterosexual marriage and heterosexual concepts of family in the constitution. Opponents led a successful boycott campaign that tapped into broader anti-corruption sentiments and negativity toward the leader of the country’s ruling party. Proponents of the referendum failed to muster the necessary participation threshold of 30% of the electorate during the 2-day referendum.  LGBT Advocates are now engaging with the ruling party and other parties to demand that they honor their pledge to pass a civil union law in the coming year.

In bad news…

In Taiwan, U.S.-funded right wing groups put several anti-LGBT referenda on the ballot, in an effort to thwart government efforts to provide equal marriage benefits to LGBT people. Unfortunately, they succeeded in passing a number of ballot measures that would create separate and unequal relationships, and also potentially eliminate comprehensive sexuality education in the schools. It is unclear how the legislature will respond, since Taiwan’s Constitutional Court has mandated equal marriage by May 2019.

— Another crackdown against the LGBT community in Tanzania occurred after a regional commissioner in Dar-es-Salaam announced that he was creating a task force to hunt down LGBT people. In reaction to the witch-hunt, numerous governments, including the United States, and entities such as the World Bank, responded with both public and private diplomacy, which resulted in the country’s president distancing himself from Commissioner Makonda’s comments. This was considered a diplomatic success, although dangers for the LGBT community in Tanzania persist.

Watch this space…

— In February, the Kenyan Constitutional Court will rule on that country’s colonial-era sodomy law.

— In Thailand, the current government has pledged to create a civil marriage mechanism for same-sex couples in the coming months.

 

CIVIL SOCIETY LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES

 

We urge your ongoing support for these bills in the U.S. Congress – and urge their reintroduction in the next Congress – to promote U.S. leadership on human rights:

GLOBE Act (H.R. 7291)

— Global Respect Act (S.1172, HR.2491)

— Dream Act (S.1615, HR. 3440)

— Global HER Act (S.210, HR.671)

— Trans Service Act (S.1820, HR. 4041)

— LOVE Act (S.1420)

 


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