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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

###

Funding Opportunity: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Request for Statements of Interest: Promotion and Protection of the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons

The Global Equality Fund (GEF), managed by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL) announces a Request for Statements of Interest (SOIs) from civil society to promote and protect the human rights of LGBTI persons. LGBTI persons face violence and discrimination in all regions. Violence targeting any vulnerable group undermines collective security. This request is seeking creative and new ideas to address violence and discrimination targeting LGBTI persons, which undermine society’s collective security, and programs that provide LGBTI communities with the tools to prevent, mitigate and recover from violence.

The GEF supports civil society organizations working to protect and advance the human rights of LGBTI persons globally. Partners of the Global Equality Fund include the governments of Argentina, Australia, Chile, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Uruguay, as well as the Arcus Foundation, the John D. Evans Foundation, FRI: the Norwegian Organization for Sexual and Gender Diversity, the M•A•C AIDS Fund, Deloitte LLP, the Royal Bank of Canada, Hilton Worldwide, Bloomberg LP, Human Rights Campaign, Out Leadership, and USAID.

Programs supported by the GEF are part of DRL’s overall marginalized populations program, which aims to support the human rights of persons with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities, women and girls, LGBTI persons and other marginalized groups.

PLEASE NOTEDRL strongly encourages applicants to immediately access www.grantsolutions.gov or www.grants.gov in order to obtain a username and password. GrantSolutions.gov is highly recommended for all submissions and is DRL’s preferred system for receiving applications. To register with GrantSolutions.gov for the first time, Please refer to the Proposal Submission Instructions for Statements of Interest at: http://www.state.gov/j/drl/p/c12302.htm.

The submission of a SOI is the first step in a two-part process. Applicants must first submit a SOI, which is a concise, 3-page concept note designed to clearly communicate a program idea and its objectives before the development of a full proposal application. The purpose of the SOI process is to allow applicants the opportunity to submit program ideas for DRL to evaluate prior to requiring the development of full proposal applications. Upon review of eligible SOIs, DRL will invite selected applicants to expand their ideas into full proposal applications.

CLICK FOR MORE INFORMATION ON HOW TO APPLY

Council for Global Equality Releases Human Rights Rebuke in Advance of Trump-Putin Meeting this Week

Leading human rights and LGBT organizations in the Council for Global Equality wrote to Secretary Tillerson to express outrage at the Administration’s continued denigration of the value that the United States traditionally has placed on human and democratic rights in the conduct of U.S. diplomacy.  The letter expresses particular shock at Secretary Tillerson’s failure to raise bipartisan U.S. concerns over the ongoing kidnappings, torture and murders of those suspected of being gay, lesbian or bisexual in Chechnya.

The letter notes that neither President Trump nor Secretary Tillerson has spoken out against specific human rights infringements.  To the contrary, the Administration’s embrace of a range of dictators, from Russian President Putin to Egyptian President Sissi, sends a signal that is out of keeping with America’s character and interests.

The signatories call on the Administration to raise immediately, and with overdue stress, the need for Russia to investigate atrocities in Chechnya during a meeting with President Putin this week.  President Trump must demonstrate, in his statements and policies, that the values we express as a nation are core not only to our identity but to what we aspire to achieve in the world.


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