Archive for the 'SOGI' Category

The Equal Rights Coalition Gains Momentum on the Global Stage

Created two years ago at an international conference in Uruguay, the Equal Rights Coalition (ERC) is a new intergovernmental coalition of 40 governments and leading civil society and multilateral organizations that work together to protect the human rights of LGBTI people around the world.  (See the list of governments and civil society members here.)  The Canadian and Chilean governments, as the current co-chairs, hosted the second global conference of the ERC in Vancouver, Canada this August.

The United States has been a leading proponent of the ERC, and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan sent video remarks, pledging “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 both 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 theme of the Vancouver conference was “Leaving No One Behind,” and the final communiqué broke important ground, primarily by reaffirming that “LGBTI persons continue to face human rights abuses and violations . . . [that] include discrimination, violence and arbitrary arrests, on the basis of real or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics.”  The 40 governments together pledged “to encourage innovative and effective policy and assistance approaches tailored to the needs and experiences of diverse communities and to work closely with civil society organizations and all relevant stakeholders in our efforts.”  As a founding civil society member of the ERC, the Council for Global Equality will hold the governments – and most especially the U.S. government – to this pledge.

As they left Vancouver, the forty governments made ten concrete commitments in a final communiqué.  Those commitments must be monitored closely in advance of the next ERC global conference two years hence.  And while all ten of the commitments are important, at least three of them deserve heightened scrutiny because they break new ground and demand significant new domestic funding and new policy reforms over the coming two years.  Notably, the governments pledged publicly that:

  • “We commit to advancing the work of the ERC by further strengthening its collaboration with its key partners, including civil society, international organisations, multilateral agencies, academia, the private sector and all others working to promote and protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of LGBTI persons.” To honor this commitment, the ERC member governments must commit adequate annual funding to support a civil society secretariat and sufficient travel funds to ensure robust and geographically diverse participation by civil society in the work of the ERC.  This is the minimum funding requirement needed to honor the ERC’s Founding Principles.
  • “We commit to increasing the overall quantity and quality of assistance dedicated to protecting and promoting the human rights and inclusive development needs of LGBTI individuals, communities and organizations.” The Global Philanthropy Project tracks this funding, and we should all watch the data closely, but the governments also must commit publicly to disclose and disaggregate funding data across communities and sectors – albeit with appropriate safeguards for individuals and recipients operating in hostile legal environments around the world.
  • “We commit to working together to advocate appropriate protections for intersex persons and encourage states to implement policies and procedures, as appropriate, to ensure that medical practices are consistent with international human rights obligations.” As civil society, we believe that Malta alone, of all forty member governments, has adopted even the most basic legal standards to protect the human rights of intersex citizens.  Every government has significant progress to make to protect intersex individuals, including by prohibiting medically unnecessary normalizing surgeries and other treatments on infants and others who are unable to consent to those interventions.

Deputy Secretary Sullivan noted that “in just two years, our Equal Rights Coalition has made significant strides. The Coalition has been on the leading edge of the international community’s response to human rights violations and abuses such as those committed in Chechnya and elsewhere around the world.” For this to remain true, member governments must honor their commitments.  This is perhaps most important with respect to the domestic commitments of member governments.  Progress realized against these commitments at home will provide even more credibility – and an important measure of humility – when advocating for human rights on the global stage.

Reflections On Pride This Year

As Pride season ends, some reflections come to mind – less on Pride celebrations per se than on this Administration’s approach to global LGBTI fairness and equality.

Our country’s values of fairness and equality mean that we should stand against inequalities and discrimination impacting LGBTI populations abroad.  And across President Obama’s two terms of office, our country’s commitment to global LGBT human rights became clear:

  • Human rights reports were revamped to include attention to atrocities and discrimination against LGBT and intersex people.
  • A Presidential Memorandum was crafted to set the national interest context and interagency framework for how the U.S. would approach LGBTI human rights abuse and inequality abroad.
  • Within this framework, the tools of U.S. foreign affairs agencies – police training, exchange programs, and efforts to strengthen equality-minded organizations overseas – were appropriately brought on line in a range of countries where LGBT populations have suffered hate crimes and abuse.
  • A new Special Envoy position was created, better to integrate the often-unique challenges impacting LGBTI populations into our human rights policies, and to work with other countries to address LGBTI inequalities and partner on corresponding opportunities.
  • The U.S. actively led in supporting LGBTI rights at the UN, and in encouraging respect for international norms with regard to LGBT and intersex people.
  • And at key moments, the U.S. President and Secretary of State spoke out against state-sanctioned homophobia – most notably with regard to Russia and Uganda.

Some of the tools referenced above remain in place.  Police sensitization on LGBTI population issues continues.  So do exchange programs, and other efforts to address the short shrift given to LGBT people in so many countries of the world.  A number of talented civil servants continue to give these issues their attention and ideas.

But the Trump Administration has cold-shouldered human rights as a guiding principle, and has no vision of a cohesive approach to LGBTI inequalities abroad.  It has dismembered the interagency coordination on global LGBT issues that began under Obama, providing political appointees with scant guidance as to how these issues should be folded into their programs.  The Administration has rescinded U.S. participation in the UN Human Rights Council, and no longer provides the same leadership in the UN’s core group on LGBTI issues – both vital fora for addressing LGBTI abuses and advancing fairness objectives.  It has left unfilled the Special Envoy position and gutted global women’s health programs that impact LGBT communities.  Increasingly it uses the principle of religious freedom to justify discrimination against our community, at home and abroad.  It has turned its back on refugees, including LGBT and intersex men and women fleeing the most vile and heart-wrenching repression of their very being.  And rather than embracing human rights, President Trump has chosen to embrace dictators that violate those rights – from Russia and Egypt, to Turkey and the Philippines.

If Trump had used his contacts with these dictators to insist on respect for human rights principles, we might have a different view of this strange and unprecedented embrace.  But there’s no reason to believe he has done so, and no evidence of any change either.  There’s also no reason to accept assertions that the U.S. voice and impact on human rights will be stronger, now that we’re outside the UN Human Rights Council, than it was when the U.S. debated in that body.

The only glimmer we’ve seen has been the President’s application of the Magnitsky Act sanctions to those most responsible for the carnage that Chechen authorities have inflicted against gay and lesbian citizens of that region.  But the buck on that carnage stops with Putin – and so far as we know, Trump has done nothing to press Russia’s president to stop these abuses.  Nor has he spoken critically – in public or, as far as anyone can tell us, in private – to atrocities carried out by the many other human rights abusers with whom he sadly has allied our country.

The human rights community has called “nonsense ” to any notion that this Administration is a defender of human rights.  So have a growing number of Congressional voices, in both houses, who have taken a stand that this country will not abandon its human rights mantle and heritage, nor its embrace of the principle that all men and women – including those in the LGBTI community – are created equal, and deserve equal protection under law, whether at home or abroad.

This is the heart and message of Pride.  It is what our country has stood for, and will stand for again.  We ask all who believe in America’s support for equality to join in insisting that those who represent us – and those who seek or claim the mantle of leadership – recommit to these values.  And we ask this Administration to do the same.

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.

Kenya’s Reelected Leader Must End Horrifying Anal Exams

Repost from the Advocate

Kenya, the economic and political powerhouse of Eastern and Central Africa, held an election this week to choose the fifth president of the country since independence. While the vote is still being contested by opposition leader Raila Odinga, it appears that incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta just won a second and final term. When it comes to defending the human rights of Kenya’s LGBTIQ citizens, Kenyatta’s record is critically important to our emerging democracy.

During President Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2015, Kenyatta said, “We share a lot of things, but gay issues are not among them. … There are some things that we must admit we don’t share. It’s very difficult for us to impose on people that which they themselves do not accept. This is why I say for Kenyans today the issue of gay rights is really a nonissue.” Kenyatta was responding to Obama, who emphasized the need for Kenya to stop discriminating against gays and lesbians, saying, “I’ve been consistent all across Africa on this. When you start treating people differently because they’re different, that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode. And bad things happen.”

During an interview with CNN in October 2015, Kenyatta underlined that what he meant when responding to Obama was not that gays have no rights. “I will not allow people to persecute any individuals, or beat and torture them,” he said, adding that “we have to understand that these are processes and they take time … and this is where I am saying we have to get synergies. You are not going to create the U.S., Great Britain, or Netherlands in Kenya, or in Nigeria or Senegal overnight.”

President Kenyatta’s lack of leadership on LGBTIQ issues is of great concern. The unsupportive public statements have offered license to state officers who continue to harass and arrest gays and lesbians; political cover to those who deny LGBTIQ citizens access to medical, educational, and other social services; and a justification for hate crimes committed by the general public. The use of forced anal exams to “prove” homosexual activity stands out as a particularly brutal form of torture in this larger context. Continue Reading

House LGBT Caucus Commends Foreign Affairs Committee Approval of Bipartisan Chechnya Resolution

Washington D.C.— The Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus commended the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) for passing H.Res.351, a bipartisan resolution condemning the detention, torture, and murders of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya.  H.Res.351 was introduced by LGBT Caucus founding member and former HFAC Chair Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) on May 23rd and has 52 bipartisan cosponsors, including HFAC Chairman Rep. Ed Royce (CA-39) and Ranking Member and LGBT Caucus Member Rep. Eliot Engel (NY-16).  H.Res.351 passed in committee by a unanimous voice vote.

“This resolution demands that Russian and Chechen authorities end the violence against innocent men in Chechnya, and hold the perpetrators accountable.  The rights to personal safety, freedom of association and freedom from violence are universal values, regardless of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, or any other characteristic,” said LGBT Equality Caucus Co-Chair Rep. David Cicilline (RI-01).  “I commend Rep. Ros-Lehtinen for introducing this resolution and for her ongoing leadership on LGBT equality.  I also thank Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel for making passage of this resolution a priority and their dedication to ending this horrible situation in Chechnya.  We hope that Speaker Ryan will call a floor vote on this resolution and show the world that the United States is still a leader on human rights for all.”

Since early March, Chechen law enforcement officials have arrested and detained over 100 gay men in prisons, with reports of torture and starvation. Initial reports and confirmation by human rights organizations confirmed three deaths, with up to 20 deaths now reported. Both the U.S. State Department and US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley have condemned the reports. On April 7th, 2017, Rep. Cicilline and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) led a bipartisan letter signed by 50 members of Congress calling on Secretary of State Tillerson to condemn the violence during his trip to Russia.

Please contact Roddy Flynn at 202-257-8416 or roddy.flynn@mail.house.gov with press inquiries.

The mission of the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus is to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) equality. The bi-partisan LGBT Equality Caucus is strongly committed to achieving the full enjoyment of human rights for LGBT people in the U.S. and around the world. By serving as a resource for Members of Congress, their staff, and the public on LGBT issues, the Caucus works toward the extension of equal rights, the repeal of discriminatory laws, the elimination of hate-motivated violence, and the improved health and wellbeing for all regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

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.

Cardin Statement on LGBT Rights, Issues at Start of Trump Administration

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released the following statement Tuesday:

“At the confirmation hearings of Rex Tillerson and Nikki Haley, it caught my attention when neither of them would say the phrase ‘LGBT’. I’ve now heard from constituents and activists that the State Department and White House websites have been scrubbed of LGBT content at the outset of the Trump Administration, including the recent apology former Secretary Kerry issued in response to my letter regarding the Department’s disturbing role in the McCarthy Era’s Lavender Scare – when approximately 1,000 dedicated civilians lost their jobs due to their perceived sexuality. This is alarming to me. I encourage the Administration to makes its public information portals reflective of all Americans and our values, and I will be monitoring this closely. We cannot and will not turn back the clock on the hard-fought civil rights of the LGBT community. Instead we must strengthen and expand them. I am continuing to ready legislation to compel the State Department to review its actions during the Lavender Scare and make amends.”


Related Content: U.S. State Department Should Apologize for “Lavender Scare


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