Archive for the 'Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe' Category

Remembering LGBT Hate Crimes in October

Hate Crime October 7, 2011 – Thirteen years ago this week, Matthew Shepard was attacked and left to die on a deserted road in Laramie, Wyoming. The month of October, in addition to being LGBT history month, is also an appropriate month to remember the tragic legacy of LGBT hate violence. Matthew Shepard was killed in October. Eleven years later, in October 2009, President Obama signed a law named after Matthew Shepard that extends federal authority over LGBT hate crimes. And every October, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also meets in Warsaw, Poland to discuss a range of human rights issues in Europe and North America, including persistent patterns of hate violence targeting LGBT individuals.

The OSCE is an obscure but influential international organization that focuses on a range of security and human rights issues. Created as a mechanism to engage the Soviet Union and its satellite states, in the messy aftermath of the Cold War, the OSCE has emerged as an important platform for promoting tolerance and non-discrimination. Every October the OSCE holds a human rights conference in Warsaw, and for several years now, the issue of LGBT rights has been an important topic. During the Bush administration, the United States worked with the Vatican to block discussion of LGBT human rights concerns. In the Obama administration, the United States is now one of the leading voices insisting that the OSCE must respond to LGBT concerns in Europe and North America. Indeed, the head of the official U.S. delegation to the meeting, Ambassador David Johnson, addressed a reception on Wednesday that was dedicated to the many LGBT activists who traveled to Warsaw to expose the violence that continues to shatter lives and destabilize communities. Continue reading ‘Remembering LGBT Hate Crimes in October’

Pride Retrospective: the U.S. Helsinki Commission Should Engage

Baltic Pride

photo: Associated Press

It’s common to think of Pride-related events as celebrations of gay and lesbian diversity, and indeed of community. Certainly that’s the spirit that pervades the Pride season in major U.S. cities. But Pride events in Eastern Europe and the Baltic region often carry a more basic message: that gays and lesbians deserve the same rights and privileges as any other people. And that message is not, of course, always welcome.

This as in past years, Pride events were a source of controversy, even hostility, in much of the east European region. In Poland and Croatia, anti-gay protesters disrupted parades – and while police generally sought to protect Pride participants, many observers saw the response in Croatia as inadequate to the task. Permits were denied in St. Petersburg. In Moscow, Russian security forces detained Pride marchers, ignoring the right of free assembly that the Russian constitution ostensibly protects.

While the State Department rightly protested Russian actions, the U.S. Helsinki Commission was silent.  A bipartisan Congressional panel, the Commission traditionally has been a fierce advocate of protecting and advancing what we see as fundamental freedoms, including the rights to free speech, peaceable assembly and freedom of expression. However, the Commission took no public stand against the abuses witnessed in this year’s Pride season, nor did it publicly commend those governments that properly sought to protect these basic rights.

Speaking loudly to broad principles but remaining silent when those principles are not applied – in this case, to gay people – is an all-hat-and-no-cattle approach that undercuts our county’s foreign policy credibility. It hollows out the bipartisan U.S. foreign policy priority of developing a greater understanding that countries which respect and protect their citizens’ rights are, in fact, our best partners in enlarging the boundaries of freedom and prosperity worldwide. And it undercuts U.S. leadership in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), where America’s voice has been crucial in forging a better transatlantic understanding of the democratic rights and obligations that governments must protect.

That OSCE leadership can be regained if, over the next nine months, the Commission finds ways to advocate that the rights of gay and transgender people must be protected, at Pride events and beyond. Through briefings or hearings, public statements and private communications to OSCE partners, the Commission can make clear that the civil and human rights of LGBT people are no less important than those enjoyed by any other segment of the population. In this way, the Commission can convincingly reassert fundamental U.S. principles while establishing its own relevance to some of the most active and fractious battles for human rights in the world today.

Ambassador Michael Guest Interview at the 2010 OSCE Review Conference Warsaw, Poland (video)

From the U.S. Mission to the OSCE
As the OSCE Review Conference drew to a close, Head of the U.S. Delegation,  Ambassador Michael Guest, talks about the role of the OSCE, the value of such conferences, and the importance of Non-Governmental Organization access.

Gay diplomat presses LGBT issues at int’l conference

photo: OSCE/Curtis Budden

Washington Blade | Chris Johnson | Oct 21, 2010

A gay diplomat led a U.S. delegation at an international conference earlier this month that touched on the importance of LGBT rights as a human rights issue.

Michael Guest, former U.S. ambassador to Romania, headed a delegation of about 25 U.S. diplomats during the human rights portion of an annual review conference for the Organization for Security & Cooperation in Europe. The review conference took place between Sept. 30 and Oct. 8 in Warsaw, Poland.

The Warsaw Review Conference was a primer engagement for trans-Atlantic countries to discuss human rights principles — including hate crimes against LGBT people and the freedom to association to have Pride celebrations across the globe — in anticipation of a later OSCE summit that this year is set to take place in December in Astana, Kazakhstan.

In an interview with the Washington Blade, Guest said that his sexual orientation made his designation as head of the delegation representational of the Obama administration’s stated principle that international LGBT rights are human rights.

“I also think that it made an impact with other delegations,” Guest added. “It was clearly a prominent feature of my biography, so there were a number of delegation members that come and it’s representative in their eyes as a sense of progress that an openly gay man would be appointed.”

Still, Guest said he thinks his 26-year service as a diplomat was the primary reason he was selected for the position and noted that during much of his career he focused on OSCE policy.

“I dealt with it at the time when all these changes were happening in Europe in 1989, 1990 and 1991 and when most of the commitments on fundamental freedoms and human rights were signed by the newly independent countries of the former Soviet Union and the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe,” he said.

Guest attained notoriety in 2007 when he retired from the State Department in protest because it didn’t offer certain benefits — such as security training and free medical care — to the same-sex partners of Foreign Service officers. The situation has since been rectified by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, which took part in the review conference as an non-governmental organization, said the selection of an out gay man to lead the U.S. delegation was significant because previous administrations have been reluctant to incorporate LGBT issues in foreign policy.

“The United States in the past has been reluctant to address LGBT concerns within this forum,” Bromley said. “I think the fact that they selected Michael Guest as someone who is openly gay and works with organizations that promote issues on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity was an important statement.” continue reading story


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