Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Michael Guest: Anti-immigrant rhetoric ‘painful to hear’

Repost from the Washington Blade

Former U.S. Ambassador to Romania Michael Guest on Monday spoke forcefully against the anti-immigrant rhetoric that many Republican presidential candidates have used on the campaign trail.

“The America that we have heard painted during this presidential campaign is so, so different from the America that I used to represent as a diplomat,” said Guest during a Council for Global Equality reception that took place in Northwest D.C. “It’s so painful to hear the dialogue. It’s so impossible to understand how U.S. diplomats now describe and explain their country abroad because we know that America really is at its best when its doors are open, when it is a beacon of hope for people like the people who have just spoken about their ordeals, when it’s a harbinger of hope.”

Guest, who is the first openly gay ambassador confirmed by the U.S. Senate, represented then-President George W. Bush’s administration in Romania from 2001-2004. He currently works for the Center [sic] for Global Equality as a senior advisor.

Guest in his remarks did not specifically mention Republican frontrunner Donald Trump or any of his GOP challengers. The former ambassador did refer to “the hateful rhetoric that we’ve heard during this campaign so far” that includes “talk of building walls” and “xenophobia.”

“This is our country,” said Guest. “No presidential candidate, no presidency is going to take our values and our character away from us.” Continue Reading

Matters of the Heart

Matters of the Heart - The Council for Global EqualityOur country increasingly has come to terms with the need for fairness toward LGBT Americans – and few have questioned the premise that LGBT human rights abuse, like all human rights abuse, must be challenged.

But as we enter this election year, we’re disappointed to see how little discussion there’s been of human rights in either party’s presidential campaign. Fair treatment of human beings is, after all, common to many religious traditions, and it seems to us important that both major political parties regularly reaffirm the importance our country attaches to the protection of human rights for all.

Even more, we’re deeply concerned that the inflamed Republican primary rhetoric over immigration and refugees is harming our country’s image as a beacon of hope in today’s troubled world. It’s hardly a partisan comment to ask that both parties reaffirm our country’s proud tradition of welcoming those who flee persecution. Nor is it partisan to ask that those who call for the protection of Christian refugees from abuse and injustice show equal concern for the plight of LGBT refugees, who are among those most negatively impacted by wars across the Middle East.

We will continue to press the Obama Administration toward policies that assure the wellbeing of LGBT people worldwide – and we hope it will be eager to reach as broadly positive a legacy in this respect as possible. But we also want that legacy to carry over to a new Administration – one in which the new President, from whichever party, speaks to America’s strength as a nation of bright compassion, not as a nation of fear, and distrust, and hatred.

2016 will be crucial from both respects: an administration that can leave behind a powerful legacy of standing for fairness and equality, and an electoral cycle that should reaffirm those principles, rather than shrinking from their embrace. We ask that all of those who value liberty and equality, and who are committed to notions of fairness, make this a year of progress on both accounts.

Governments and Human Rights

Governments and Human RightsThe Council pays particular attention to the role that foreign governments play, or fail to play, in preserving and advancing the rights of their LGBT citizens. In our own country, we’ve seen how policies pursued by this President have helped empower greater respect and protections for LGBT persons. The same could happen in many countries abroad.

Moving the needle on respect for LGBT people is a process, of course. Governments must play a role in that process – in molding attitudes, not just reflecting them, and in forming policies that promote and reinforce cross-society acceptance and cooperation. We believe all governments – ours yes, but also those of every other country, friend and foe alike – should be held accountable for:

  • The tone that governing officials’ homo- or trans-phobic public rhetoric sets within society;
  • Failure to redress legally sanctioned discrimination or bias-motivated crimes against LGBT individuals;
  • The degree to which LGBT individuals are accorded equal access to services and opportunities, including health care, employment, education, and housing;
  • Whether LGBT civil society organizations are able to register and function unimpaired;
  • The prevalence of transgender-specific violence, abuse, and documentation issues, particularly in cases involving government action or inaction.
  • Abuse of government and police powers, e.g. the use of tangential laws regarding loitering to arrest or detain LGBT individuals arbitrarily; the use of foreign agent or tax laws to place disproportionate restrictions on LGBT civil society; physical abuses by police, prison, and hospital officials; and bribery solicited by such officials in order either to provide services or to avoid abusive treatment; and
  • The media climate in which LGBT rights are explained to and understood by the public, particularly when government-sponsored or –influenced media outlets are involved.

In addition, we should work with countries to understand intersex issues as a related set of human rights concerns. In this context, governments must be held accountable for policies or practices that unnecessarily and adversely impact the childhood development and adult health and sexuality of intersex persons. Appropriate government officials, including our own, must also enter into a new dialogue with intersex persons to identify best practices in the diagnosis, treatment and lifelong support for intersex health.

We know that the U.S. does not run the world by fiat. But we also recognize our responsibility, as citizens of a country that wields outsized influence in the world, to ensure this influence is put to positive use. We therefore hold our government accountable for encouraging foreign counterparts to guarantee the conditions in which the promise of the Universal Declaration can be realized for all citizens.

If fault is to be found in U.S. human rights policy, it certainly isn’t in our country’s attention to LGBT human rights, as the December 20 New York Times article alleges. Nor is it in failing to listen to the voices of local activists, as the Times article also suggests has been the case: to the contrary, we’ve found this Administration very much attuned to those local voices in framing its diplomatic dialogue and actions.

The fault we find, rather, is in this Administration’s lack of consistency in showing that human rights matter – and that deliberate abuse of those rights damages the fabric of our bilateral relationships.

Across this Administration’s tenure, the Council has urged that actions by foreign governments that abridge the human rights of any minority group automatically trigger a measured review of how those actions might impact U.S. programs in-country and, of consequence, potential U.S. policy responses.

We know, of course, that U.S. policy goals in any given country sometimes compete against each other. But if support for human rights is a principle, neither it nor its deterrent value should be shunted aside when inconvenient – not even when Nigerian oil contracts, Pacific trade deals, or terrorism concerns are in play.

We also see an urgent need for greater Administration transparency in the funding it provides for LGBT and other human rights programs, and in how those programs are evaluated. The State Department and USAID are embarrassingly far apart in how they measure their LGBT-related programming dollars – no doubt a contributing factor to the highly inflated, erroneous figure of $700 million reported in the New York Times. And unfortunately the World Bank and other multilateral development funders have yet to institute mechanisms needed to include LGBT minorities – who are so often denied basic livelihoods and excluded from the economic life of their own country – in the development opportunities that Bank programs are intended to promote.

Common counting practices, clear programmatic goals, and honestly reflective measurements of program results are basic to good governance.

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.

 

Gambia: President Should Reject Homophobic Law

President Yahya Jammeh of GambiaRepost from Human Rights Watch

(Dakar) – President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia should not sign a new Criminal Code amendment that would increase the punishment for “aggravated homosexuality” to life in prison, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today. The measure would further add to the climate of fear for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in Gambia.

Several provisions of the law violate international human rights law and amount to persecution on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Sections of the law are similar to the harsh homophobic legislation that was annulled in August 2014 in Uganda.

“President Jammeh should not approve this profoundly damaging act that violates international human rights law,” said Stephen Cockburn, deputy regional Director for West and Central Africa director at Amnesty International. “Gambia’s National Assembly and the President should not endorse state-sponsored homophobia.” Continue Reading

International Law and the Uncertainty of Rights for LGBT People

Human Rights WatchRepost from Human Rights Watch
Written by Graeme Reid

For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)people the law is a paradox. The law can operate as an instrument of repression and control, but also as a tool for resistance and liberation. We find fragments of our collective histories in court records. Here we find a sorry history of people in countries across the world convicted of loitering, sodomy, cross-dressing or so-called “crimes against nature.”

For a vulnerable minority, and an unpopular one, domestic and international law has proven to be an indispensable tool, sometimes the only tool, for LGBT people to claim a space in the world. Two decades ago in a 1994 case, the UN Human Rights Committee in Toonen v. Australia asserted the right to privacy for same-sex consenting adults under international law. In 1998, South African courts repealed the Immorality Act and five years later, in 2003, Lawrence v. Texas saw the remaining sodomy laws in the US declared unconstitutional.

Yet some 76 countries around the world maintain discriminatory LGBT laws. Britain exported its sodomy laws to the empire, where many remain in force. These laws not only hold the threat of arrest and prosecution, but have other profound implications for LGBT people as well. Even in the many countries where sodomy laws are seldom enforced, such as India and Uganda, they still symbolize national discrimination against LGBT people.

Human Rights Watch has reported these laws are routinely used for blackmail and extortion, in settings as diverse as KyrgyzstanJamaica and Uganda. Such laws contribute to a climate of prejudice and hostility in which violence occurs with impunity. The passage of the anti-propaganda laws in Russia led to a peak in violence against LGBT people. In Nigeria, the immediate effect following the enactment of draconian legislation was mob violence against gay men. The law in these places means that LGBT people must live a shadow existence under the threat of violence. Continue Reading

Syariah Law in the Penal Code of Brunei: Stoning is Inhuman, Uncompassionate, and a Gross Violation of Human Rights

Press Statement by the ASEAN SOGIE Caucus(ASC)

The ASEAN SOGIE Caucus (ASC) condemns the regressive and inhuman revision of the penal code of Brunei Darussalam that introduces stoning to death as a specific method of execution for same sexual activities. The ASC is somewhat comforted by the postponement of the implementation of the new code. However, the ASC maintains its position on the introduction of the law, albeit the delay.

Same sex activities between men are already criminalized under the Penal Code, and if found guilty, one can be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 10 years, and will also be liable to fine. The revision of the Penal Code is uncompassionate, and will maintain the disgracefully low standards of human rights in the ASEAN.

The ASC is further saddened by the use of religion to justify the regulation of our bodily autonomy and integrity, violence and killing of other human beings. This is a blatant and gross violation of human rights, and far from the teaching of any religion, including Islam, that promotes compassion and equality.

We are extremely concerned of the psycho-social impact that this law will create on the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons in Brunei, increase of violence towards LGBTI persons, and the restriction of other rights, such as freedom of expression, assembly and association for both local and regional groups. Effectively, this derails the ASC’s advocacy to promote and protect the fundamental human rights of all persons regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression (SOGIE) in the ASEAN to live free without fear and as equals.

The ASC calls Brunei to remove the revision and fulfill its obligation as a state to promote and protect human rights of all people. Laws and policies must protect people and not further violate the oppressed. ASEAN has bloc needs to place equal emphasis and commitment on development, security and human rights. If ASEAN aims to be an ASEAN community by 2015, it needs to ensure that the people are the priority.

Over the last few years, we are thankful to have witnessed some progress in the promotion and protection of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in the some member states of ASEAN; some of which are state initiated. We call on these countries to show leadership in the area of human rights and take a progressive stand as human lives are at stake.

The ASC recalls its recommendations to:

  1. Immediately repeal laws that directly and indirectly criminalize SOGI, recognizes LGBTIQ rights as human rights, and harmonizes national laws, policies, and practices with the United Nations Human Rights Treaties and the Yogyakarta Principles.
  2. Establish national level mechanisms and review existing regional human rights instruments (e.g. AICHR, ACWC) to include the promotion and protection of the equal rights of all people regardless of SOGI with the active engagement of the LGBTIQ community.
  3. Depathologize SOGI and promote psychological well being of people of Diverse SOGIE in accordance with the World Health Organization (WHO) standards, and ensure equal access to health and social services.

 


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