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Election 2020: Our Challenge to Presidential Candidates

Download our position paper here.

Suggested candidate questions.

The 2020 presidential elections are a crucible for our country, from many perspectives. These include the place of respect and insistence our country accords to the guarantee of human rights for all people — a long-cherished expression of American values that the Trump Administration has debased.

The Council for Global Equality challenges all presidential candidates, on each side of the political divide, to express their support for elevating our country’s human rights policy, and for ensuring that it addresses the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) communities worldwide. Specifically, we call on all candidates and their campaign staff to ensure that their policy positions:

  • Make specific their support for human rights as a basic tenet of U.S. foreign policy, contrasting that support with the Trump Administration’s embrace of dictators (e.g. Russian President Putin, Egyptian President Sisi, and Philippines President Duterte), withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council, and general lack of attention to human rights needs on our border with Mexico and in the world at large.
  • Underscore that the fair and equal treatment of minorities, including LGBTI populations, must be part of any genuine human rights policy, noting that neither President Trump nor Vice President Pence has spoken to global LGBTI rights issues.
  • Stress that the U.S. should use all available diplomatic tools to advance LGBTI-inclusive human rights abroad, including police and rule-of-law training, exchange and speaker programs, targeted development assistance, and consistent bilateral and multilateral diplomatic engagement, as a reflection of our country’s values of fairness and equality.
  • Insist that U.S. diplomats not strike references to sexual orientation, gender identity or sexual and reproductive health and rights in UN and other international texts, as this undermines years of human rights advocacy in support of women and LGBTI communities globally.
  • Explain the impact of the global gag rule on women and LGBTI communities abroad, including the diversion of lifesaving funding away from health care providers that traditionally have offered health services, including HIV prevention, care and treatment and psycho-social support, to LGBTI communities in many countries.
  • Show humanitarian understanding of the special plight of LGBTI refugees, who flee abuse at home only to find equal abuse in refugee camps and shelters – a problem the Trump Administration has refused to address.
  • Make clear than LGBTI and gender equality issues are grounded in long-held American principles and precepts and will be restored to a place of respect, drawing a sharp contrast with the current Administration’s lack of respect for both.
  • And affirm that sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex traits are not a bar to service to our country, whether at home or abroad, and that our country should set an example to others in demonstrating its commitment to inclusivity, including proud and open military service by transgender and intersex Americans.

We urge media organizations to explore candidates’ understanding of these issues and, at minimum, to ask each candidate for his or her views on three fundamental points:

  • What would your Administration do to elevate the importance of human rights in American foreign policy?
  •  Will your Administration include the fair and equal treatment of racial, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities as a cornerstone of U.S. human rights and democracy policies — and if so, how would that be expressed?
  •  What would your Administration do better to inform the American public of why respect, fairness and equality for all people, including LGBTI, should be a priority in both our foreign and domestic policies? What diplomatic or economic arguments would you offer to justify the use of U.S. taxpayer funding in support of LGBTI-affirming human rights and development policies?

The time to reaffirm our country’s leadership in advocating for the dignity, respect and human rights for all people is now. We have called repeatedly on the Trump Administration to do so, and we make that call again here. But in the absence of needed changes in Administration foreign policy, we cannot afford another four years of human rights neglect.

Celebrating the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia by Opposing Homophobic, Transphobic Leadership at the State Department

May 17, 2019 – Today, as we join colleagues around the world in celebrating the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB), it’s worth asking why President Trump – who calls himself a friend of the LGBT community – has nominated someone with a long history of anti-LGBT statements to serve as Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights.

Celebrated on May 17, IDAHOTB marks the anniversary of the World Health Organization’s decision to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1990.  That illicit stigma continues to be instilled by organizations that espouse so-called “conversion therapy,” a psychologically barbaric effort to change a person’s deeply innate sexual orientation or gender identity.  Some of the State Department’s recent human rights reports, such as that for Ecuador, confirm that these efforts exist not only in the U.S., but overseas as well.

Trump’s nominee, Dr. Robert Destro, has written extensively of his opposition to full civil rights for lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans.  But his most malicious writings deny the very existence of transgender individuals, essentially suggesting that they are psychologically disturbed and in need of some type of conversion or identity therapy.  As such, he defends the harmful psychological perspectives that the World Health Organization and all leading U.S. medical associations have long abandoned.  Indeed, his views represent the exact antithesis of the compassionate understanding of LGBTI identities that we celebrate on May 17.

The theme of the May 17 celebration this year is “Justice and Protection for All.”  In recent years, the United States has played an increasingly important role in promoting justice and protection for LGBTI communities globally.  The State Department’s annual human rights reports are by far the most comprehensive reports on human rights trends impacting LGBTI individuals around the world.  The United States administers the Global Equality Fund to support LGBTI rights and at-risk human rights defenders in hostile countries.  And our diplomats continue to support the Equal Rights Coalition and the “core group” of countries that defend LGBTI rights at the UN, OAS and through diplomatic engagement everywhere.

Robert Destro can’t credibly contribute to such efforts because of the heavy baggage he carries from his expansive public record opposing human rights for LGBTI individuals.  His confirmation is an affront to our country’s human rights legacy, and the U.S. Senate should reject his conformation.  That would be a fitting tribute to the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on this May 17.

The Wall Facing LGBTI Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Read our Appeal to the Trump Administration

While Congress and the courts deliberate on the legitimacy of the President’s emergency declaration for a wall along our border with Mexico, we ask a parallel question:  what’s happened to this country’s traditional, even foundational, willingness to shelter refugees from harm and injustice?

The wall has become a symbol of a country that’s turning away from its traditional role as a beacon of freedom.  But the Administration’s parallel claw-back of protections for the most vulnerable is no less worrisome.  Our country is being marched toward insularity – and away from the humanitarian principles our families, churches, temples and mosques have taught us to embrace.

The Administration’s wall-obsessed policies are having a profound – and too often deadly – impact on LGBTI asylum seekers at the Mexican border.  At the same time, the simultaneous effort to shut down the U.S. overseas refugee program, which has been a lifeline for LGBTI refugees who can’t make it to the United States or to any other safe border to seek asylum, represents an existential threat to LGBTI individuals worldwide.

In a letter to the Trump Administration sent earlier this week, the Council for Global Equality, together with many of its member organizations and groups that directly support LGBTI asylum seekers at the border, calls on the Trump Administration to take concrete steps to protect LGBTI asylum seekers and restore our overseas refugee program.  As a priority, the letter calls on the Administration to ensure that LGBTI asylum seekers fall under the category of “vulnerable populations” that may be excluded from the new “return to Mexico” policy, which forces asylum seekers to return to Mexico to wait in dangerous circumstances for their asylum cases to be adjudicated in the United States.

The letter also calls for a presumption of parole for LGBTI asylum seekers, given the unique dangers they face in immigration detention.  Unfortunately, the current Trump administration policies already have led to the death of at least one transgender woman, Roxsana Hernández Rodriguez.  The letter calls for these policy steps as an urgent attempt to prevent ongoing suffering and future deaths.

As a coalition of human rights and LGBTI rights organizations, our most immediate concern is that individuals are being punished for seeking asylum.  The violence, persecution and hate-motivated discrimination, even murder, that LGBTI individuals face in many countries around the world is precisely why our country has long-established asylum and refugee protections.  And in turning its back on men, women and children in danger, this Administration also turns its back on U.S. citizens who believe we can and should do more.

We don’t deny the right of any new Administration to pursue policies at variance with those of its predecessor.  But none of us, on either side of the aisle, should expect such a drastic rollback of American refugee and asylum policy without a genuine national discussion of what’s at stake.  This week’s letter is an urgent plea to restore some of those most fundamental protections for those most in need.

Read the community letter here.

Robert Destro Can’t Credibly Lead America’s Human Rights Policy

The Council rarely takes positions on nominations for high-level positions.  However, we urge that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote against Robert Destro’s nomination to serve as Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL).

The job of DRL Assistant Secretary is foundational to our work.  To serve effectively, there can be no doubt that the person in that position fully and credibly embraces the equal respect, dignity, and protection due to all people.  These principles, core to American belief, are embodied not only in U.S. law, but in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights conventions.

To his discredit, Mr. Destro has a long history of inflammatory statements that denigrate the rights of LGBTI people in this country.  To wit:

  • He has suggested that transgender gender identity is a “hotly disputed proposition,” and has asked whether someone who disagrees with transgender gender identity is obliged to treat a person according to his or her identity.  How might this position impact Destro’s stewardship of DRL policies and programs aimed at challenging transgender stereotypes and affirming related sexual orientation and gender identity rights?
  • He has asserted the right of Catholics not only to think like Catholics, but to act like Catholics by discriminating against LGBTI people as a religious precept.  How can this not impact his own embrace and advocacy, as Assistant Secretary, for the fair and equal treatment of LGBTI people?
  • And how can that same view, along with Mr. Destro’s more straightforward defense of the right of Christians to deny services to LGBTI people, be squared with the Department’s embrace of non-discrimination in the delivery of U.S.-funded humanitarian and development services abroad?

Mr. Destro did nothing at the hearing to distance himself from these points – or to explain how, in view of such baggage, he can be credible, as Assistant Secretary, in asking other countries to treat LGBTI people with the fairness, equality and respect that he himself has opposed for LGBTI Americans.  Senator Menendez valiantly asked that question repeatedly; the best he was able to elicit from Destro was a low-bar pledge to seek equal protection for all.  But how can you protect LGBTI individuals, particularly transgender individuals, when you deny the reality of their identity?

We are troubled by the gap between Destro’s record and the requirements of this job – and the gap, indeed, between equal protection and the broader advocacy needs of a DRL Assistant Secretary.  Nor were we encouraged by Destro’s repeated touchstone of religious freedom, given how fervently that freedom has been abused to justify discrimination against LGBTI people.

Destro’s answers to other questions were no more comforting.  He dodged Senator Murphy’s question regarding the damage done to human rights policy by this Administration’s embrace of dictators near and far.  He pointedly sidestepped Senator Shaheen’s questioning of the Administration’s newly announced efforts to restrict funding for organizations that exert their freedom of speech in advocating for abortion among a spectrum of family planning options – even when those organizations themselves do not carry out abortions.  He would not commit to restoring reproductive rights descriptions in the Department’s annual human rights reports.  His anecdotal recounting of having supported a person with AIDS, in the context of claiming that he is not anti-LGBT, was patronizing at best. And his past and current affiliations with extreme anti-LGBT groups make his testimony about “protecting” LGBT rights nearly impossible to believe, including his membership on the Board of Advisors of the anti-LGBT Catholic League, speaking on panels for the notoriously anti-LGBT Family Research Council, serving on the board of the anti-equality Marriage Law Foundation, and signing a public letter to Congress calling for an amendment to ban marriage equality.

Senator Menendez was right to ask whether Mr. Destro’s claim of not being anti-LGBT amounts to a case of “nomination conversion,” in view of Destro’s contrary record.  We ask the same question here.  But even if his conversion is heartfelt, he still can’t credibly lead America’s human rights policy because of the heavy baggage he carries from his expansive public record.  He should not be confirmed.

Read more about his record from GLAAD here.

Investigation and Legislation

Capitol Hill ImageLike many, we were struck by the false alternative given in President Trump’s “State of the Union” address between legislation and investigation.  Surely the Congress has the constitutional responsibility to do both, and surely both are needed in our system of government.

But on human rights, we offer this spin:  Congress should investigate the Administration’s arm’s-length stance from our country’s traditional embrace of human rights and the rule of law as core elements of our foreign policy.  That investigation may inform the need for new human rights legislation to follow.

Last week, the Council wrote to the President with our concerns about Russia’s failure to investigate and hold accountable Chechen leaders responsible for the unlawful round-ups, detentions, and murders of LGBT Chechen citizens.  (Read our letter here.)  These reprehensible actions – occurring as they did barely a week after a report by a human rights expert, commissioned by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), into responsibility for this latest round of anti-LGBT repression – are hardly an accident.  Nor is Russia’s cold-shouldered response to this tragedy.

But we are concerned at how little the Administration appears to have done in response to this recurrent tragedy.  the brutality being carried out in Chechnya deserves more than a tepid, three-day-late statement by a Deputy Spokesperson at the State Department, distributed in writing in the Department’s briefing room.  It needs to be raised – with outrage, by the way – in bilateral dialogue between our senior-most leaders.  It deserves a concerted interagency response, one that evidences how a lack of accountability may imperil bilateral science, exchange, and business relations that Russia reputedly wants to preserve.  And it requires, too, a strong and clear public response by the President.

Congressional hearings, in both houses, should examine this matter.  They should examine, too, other questions that have been raised regarding our government’s attachment to human rights.  What are we doing in response to the gruesome murder in Turkey of a U.S.-based journalist – a crime that our country’s own intelligence community lays at the door of Saudi Arabia?  Why has the President embraced so many dictators – Putin, el-Sisi, Erdogan, Duterte – who are violating human rights in their own countries, with impunity?  What practical impact do our annual human rights reports have on U.S. bilateral policies and programs?  And which of these tools and programs can be put in play to encourage reform?

Americans are taught in school the value of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Political leaders – including in the White House – regularly affirm these values.  We have every right to know why this Administration has done so little in that vein.

So let’s have that investigation.  Let’s have hearings in each house of Congress, and invite the White House to offer its best evidence that human rights remain at the core of our foreign policy.  We’re not seeing it.  It’s time to ask why.

Congress Introduces GLOBE Act

Capitol Hill Image#GLOBEAct December 13, 2018 — Today’s introduction of the “Greater Leadership Overseas for the Benefit of Equality (GLOBE) Act” by House Representative Dina Titus (D-NV) represents a high-water mark in Congress’s awareness of, and commitment to, advancing and protecting LGBTI human rights.  Read the press release here.

Titus’ bill sets a high bar for what U.S. leadership can and should do to advance LGBTI human rights and to include those populations within our country’s strategic development goals.  This is more than appropriate, given the strong role the U.S. traditionally has played in advancing human rights, a role that includes advocacy for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 70th anniversary of which was celebrated earlier this week.

That leadership has been sorely absent in recent years.  President Trump’s embrace of dictators, from Russian President Putin to Egyptian President Sisi, is far removed from traditional U.S. efforts to support resilient and fair democratic development as a long-term strategic priority.  His treatment of immigrant and refugee communities, and his shoulder-to-shoulder stance beside those responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, have shocked the world.  And his development and gender policies have short-changed the needs of marginalized communities around the world.

The new bill would correct this imbalance with regard to one of those communities, that of LGBTI people – documented in many State Department country human rights reports as among society’s most disadvantaged populations.  It would strengthen our country’s attention to bias-motivated violence directed against LGBTI populations; encourage sanctions against those deemed responsible for human rights abuse; support decriminalization for LGBTI communities; and codify assistance tools and health program availability for those communities.  Importantly, it also would simplify and speed the accommodation of LGBTI refugees; encourage leadership on LGBTI equality issues in multilateral organizations; and better support the families of U.S. LGBTI diplomatic, consular and technical staff in their assignments to advance American interests abroad.

In all of these respects, the GLOBE Act offers a full-throated embrace of democratic and human rights values.  The Council for Global Equality is proud to be among the many endorsers of this legislation.  We urge its speedy re-introduction and passage in the next Congress.

Read the full text and an outline of the bill. 

McCain & Cardin Urge President Trump To Recommit To Upholding Human Rights

Sen. John McCain and Sen. Ben CardinPress Statement from Sen. John McCain and Sen. Ben Cardin

Washington, D.C. ­– U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Ben Cardin (D-MD), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, sent a letter to President Trump today as the world marks the 69th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Human Rights Day this Sunday, December 10th. In their letter, the senators expressed concern about the Trump administration’s failure to strongly assert the United States’ commitment to human rights at home and abroad, and urged the President to recommit the nation to these fundamental values as we mark this important occasion.

“Since its ratification nearly 70 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been a beacon of hope for the world’s most oppressed peoples. The declaration serves as the basis of our country’s human rights policy and the United States has continued to rely on its legal significance and international standing to advance human rights across the globe. However, for much of the past year, our national voice on international human rights issues has been largely silent,” the senators wrote.

They continued: “This was strikingly apparent during your recent trip to Asia, where our delegation failed to raise major human rights concerns or name dissidents who languish in dark prisons across the region for no other reason than their brave defense of democracy and human rights. The Administration’s silence combined with confusing statements from Secretary Tillerson, who has suggested that our country’s fundamental values can be separated from the foreign policies we pursue, sows confusion both at home and abroad. At this time of increasing uncertainty and growing security challenges, it is imperative that we reassert the United States’ commitment to our human rights obligations, and ask other countries to join us in reaffirming the centrality of human rights as the cornerstone of peace and security.”

 

The letter is below and here.

December 8, 2017

President Donald J. Trump
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20500

Mr. President:

The world will mark the 69th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Human Rights Day this December 10. On this momentous occasion, we write to ask that you recommit our country to upholding human rights as one of our founding principles, and respectfully call on other countries to do the same.

Since its ratification nearly 70 years ago, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been a beacon of hope for the world’s most oppressed peoples. The declaration serves as the basis of our country’s human rights policy and the United States has continued to rely on its legal significance and international standing to advance human rights across the globe. However, for much of the past year, our national voice on international human rights issues has been largely silent.

This was strikingly apparent during your recent trip to Asia, where our delegation failed to raise major human rights concerns or name dissidents who languish in dark prisons across the region for no other reason than their brave defense of democracy and human rights. The Administration’s silence combined with confusing statements from Secretary Tillerson, who has suggested that our country’s fundamental values can be separated from the foreign policies we pursue, sows confusion both at home and abroad. At this time of increasing uncertainty and growing security challenges, it is imperative that we reassert the United States’ commitment to our human rights obligations, and ask other countries to join us in reaffirming the centrality of human rights as the cornerstone of peace and security.

Sadly, disregard for fundamental freedoms and human dignity has too often become the norm. Iran, Turkey, Russia, Egypt, and Venezuela currently hold scores of political prisoners, torturing them and trampling on their fundamental freedoms. Sri Lanka, Burma, and China continue to repress their religious and ethnic minorities. Security forces in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have unlawfully detained and tortured civilians. The Philippines has reported an unprecedented number of extrajudicial killings by police. LGBT individuals are deprived of their basic human rights in dozens of countries. Worse still, at this time of growing human rights abuses, human rights organizations are being shut down at an alarming rate by countless repressive governments around the world.

These are only a few of the many instances in which America’s voice cannot remain silent. Protecting human rights at home and abroad is important not only to our national character, but also to our security interests as countries that respect their citizens are less likely to breed terrorism and are better able to focus on political and developmental problems that otherwise undermine stability. Governments who respect human rights also serve as more capable and reliable partners when facing common security threats, and they help provide business climates in which bilateral trade and investment interests grow.

As President, we need your voice in strongly asserting our country’s respect for human rights at home and abroad. We ask that you use the upcoming anniversary of the Universal Declaration to reaffirm that no government can be legitimate if it abuses the people it is meant to serve – and that this rule is universal, without exception.

Sincerely,

John McCain

Benjamin L. Cardin

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