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Pompeo’s Dangerously Misguided Human Rights Commission

Secretary Pompeo’s new “Commission on Unalienable Rights” met for five hours at the State Department yesterday to refocus our nation’s human rights policy on the principles contained in the  country’s founding documents and religious heritage, because Pompeo believes that the world is confused.  According to Pompeo, this confusion stems from the failure to distinguish God-given, “unalienable rights” from simple political claims or mere personal preferences.  The world is clamoring for moral clarity, and Pompeo’s Commission has stepped up to provide pastoral guidance based on our country’s founding texts – never mind that those early texts enshrined slavery and denied rights to all but a limited group of white men.

The Commission, stacked with religiously-focused academics who oppose the rights of LGBTI individuals and the sexual and reproductive rights of women, took a deep dive into the meaning of “unalienable rights” in the context of our founding texts, including the Declaration of Independence, which most famously affirmed the unalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” They didn’t quite get what they wanted.

The Commission’s first witness, Michael McConnel, a Constitutional scholar at Stanford Law School and a former justice on the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, warned that the term “unalienable rights,” which comes to us from our country’s protestant reform traditions, has never had a common or precise definition.  The phrase identifies a philosophical concept, rather than a concrete set of rights.  And while the concept often prioritizes freedom of religion, McConnel cautioned that our founders were ultimately more concerned with freedom of conscience, which includes but is not limited to a narrow understanding of religious freedom.

McConnell also recognized the implicit failures of this philosophical approach.  While the term “unalienable rights” makes for inspirational prose, the philosophical concept behind it embraced our country’s original sin of slavery and denied women full standing in society. Concepts of equal protection could not, and did not, exist at this time, under this philosophical tradition.

This all must have been a blow to the Commissioners, since Pompeo clearly wants them to propose a new hierarchy of unalienable rights — with religious freedom at the pinnacle and the rights of LGBTI and other individuals with specific “preferences” in the alienable category.  Indeed, Pompeo constantly speaks of religious freedom as the “first right” from which other rights flow, proclaiming, often in messianic terms, that human rights “came from our Lord, and when we get this right, we’ll have done something good, not just I think for the United States but for the world.”

While U.S. moral leadership ebbs and flows, and our commitment to human rights institutions has been uneven over the years, it is simply wrong-headed and ultimately self-defeating to create an artificial human rights hierarchy — one that strips away the universality of human rights and puts a limited number of political and religious rights above all others.  Indeed, this enterprise stands to harm religious freedom itself, as it gives philosophical justification to theocratic governments and religious majority populations who are, by far, the leading persecutors of religious minorities around the world. Those same oppressors also happen to be some of the leading persecutors of LGBTI individuals and other marginalized groups.

It is clear that our worst fears have been confirmed and that yesterday’s meeting was the christening of Pompeo’s intensely academic attempt to justify his efforts to elevate religious freedom to a position of dominance in our country’s human rights diplomacy.  This policy shift was already foreshadowed by Pompeo’s announcement in June, marking the release of the State Department’s 2018 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, that he would strip the State Department’s office of religious freedom out of the Department’s human rights bureau, where it long has served to integrate religious liberty concerns with other human rights priorities, to a position of independence and priority in the Department’s organizational hierarchy.

But this project also seems designed to justify America’s loss of moral authority by blaming it on a “crisis” in the modern human rights system, as described by Commission Chair Mary Ann Glendon. Apparently, it has nothing to do with President Trump’s delight in cozying up to the world’s worst human rights abusers, or to his chaotic policies that green-light human rights atrocities, like the current ethnic cleansing of Kurds in Syria.  This Commission is dedicated to the proposition that it’s all a matter of human rights confusion, not a failure of leadership.  Our best hope is that the Commission itself fails in this misguided enterprise.

Homophobia at Pompeo’s State Department

Last month, Dr. Kiron Skinner disappeared from her job as Secretary Pompeo’s Director of Policy Planning, allegedly ousted over poor and abusive leadership that included use of homophobic language.

Bravo, we guess:  by this point in our country’s history, surely homophobic leadership is beyond the pale.

But there’s been no public statement by Secretary Pompeo on the ouster, of course, so Pompeo’s motives in the dismissal are the stuff of conjecture.  Nor is there public evidence otherwise that Pompeo was displeased personally by anything that Skinner might have said:  no rumors of internal “team talk” to make clear that he won’t tolerate homophobic remarks, and no leaked internal memoranda to suggest concern about Department morale.

And importantly, despite a scathing Inspector General report rebuking yet another of Pompeo’s assistant secretaries for complicity in derailing an employee’s promotion partly for homophobic reasons, that assistant secretary remains in place.

So whatever the reasons for Skinner’s departure, one thing is clear:  Pompeo continues to tolerate homophobia in the workplace.

The aide in question — Kevin Moley, Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs — reportedly green-lighted cancellation of the selection process of a new Deputy Director for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs (IO/HRH) after the leading candidate was found to be someone that one of his senior bureau political appointees had “…found to be not ‘trustworthy’…,” partly because of “….his relationship with the gay and lesbian community.”**

There are regulations in place at State to guarantee a fair workplace and guard against these sorts of reprisals.  So why is Moley still there?

Pompeo himself, of course, hails from a fundamentalist religious culture and has characterized being gay as a “perversion.”  At his confirmation hearing to serve as Secretary of State, he notably declined to walk away from that characterization when pressed by Sen. Corey Booker. And in a speech to Concerned Women for America at the Trump hotel last week, he once again professed his personal belief, which is quickly becoming State Department policy, that human rights should be grounded in religion: “I know where those rights came from.  They came from our Lord, and when we get this right, we’ll have done something good, not just I think for the United States but for the world.”

But Pompeo’s personal views aren’t the question here.  Rather, the federal hiring and firing process is subject to federal rules, regulations and practices, and Pompeo’s role as leader of a diverse federal workplace makes it imperative that he ask Moley to leave.

There’s speculation that were Moley, like Skinner, an African-American and/or a woman, by now he would have been let go — or that if Skinner enjoyed Moley’s political connections, she might still be at Policy Planning’s helm.  Who knows?

But what we DO know is that Pompeo hasn’t honored his leadership obligations to ensure a fair government workplace.  Moley should be shown the door — and Pompeo should make clear to appointees and employees alike that homophobia has no place in the workplace he oversees.

**“Review of Allegations of Politicized and Other Improper Personnel Practices in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs,” Office of Inspector General, United States Department of State, August 2019, p. 18.

Rep. Titus Introduces GLOBE Act to Protect LGBTI Rights Worldwide

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 22, 2019
Contact: Kevin Gerson
Kevin.Gerson@mail.house.gov

Washington, D.C. – Today Representative Dina Titus of Nevada’s First Congressional District introduced the Greater Leadership Overseas for the Benefit of Equality (GLOBE) Act with the support of top House Democrats and leading LGBTI advocacy organizations. The legislation outlines a vision for U.S. leadership in the protection of LGBTI rights around the world.

Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced the creation of the Commission on Unalienable Rights to advise the State Department on human rights – and appointed several commissioners with troubling records on LGBTI issues. Meanwhile, the Trump Administration has refused to fill the State Department position of Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons.

The GLOBE Act would codify in law the Special Envoy position, require the State Department to document cases of human rights abuses and discrimination against LGBTI people around the world, and institute sanctions against foreign individuals who are responsible for egregious abuses and murders of LGBTI populations. Additionally, the bill ensures fair access to asylum and refugee programs for LGBTI individuals who face persecution because of their sexual orientation.

“No person should suffer from discrimination because of who they are or whom they love,” said Congresswoman Titus (NV-1). “Under the Trump Administration, the U.S. is failing to protect the rights of LGBTI people at home and abroad. This bill will help restore our role in promoting LGBTI rights around the world and punishing regimes that persecute people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“Around the world, far too many people face discrimination, harassment, and even violence because of who they are and who they love,” said Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Engel (NY-16). “We simply cannot look the other way when the human rights of LGBTI individuals are abused or ignored. This measure would ensure that pushing back against this sort of injustice is a foreign policy priority. I applaud Representative Titus for her leadership on this issue, and I’m glad to support her legislation.”

“As we continue to work toward full equality under the law for all Americans, we as a nation must also be champions for vulnerable LGBTI people abroad,” said Congressman Cicilline (RI-1). “Nobody should be forced to live in fear simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s long past time to pass the GLOBE Act to finally send the message that hatred and violence against the LGBTI community will not be tolerated. I’m proud to join with Congresswoman Titus, Chairman Engel, and our allies in the House to reintroduce this critical legislation.”

“Our nation was built on the basis of equality and justice, that we promote a system that enforces the precept that all people are entitled to the same set of basic human rights,” said Congressman Lowenthal (CA-47). “These rights include the right to love who they chose and to be who they are without fear of punishment or death. LGBTI rights are human rights.”

“As the State Department under Secretary Pompeo is creating a hierarchy of human rights with religious freedom as their sole priority, we fear that their true intention is to alienate the rights of LGBTI people,” said Chair of the Council for Global Equality Mark Bromley. “The GLOBE Act is a remedy to that dangerous, ideological shift in our nation’s long-standing human rights policy.”

“While the Trump-Pence White House refuses to speak out against anti-LGBTQ attacks worldwide, it is essential that the U.S. Congress defend the human rights and protections of all people — including LGBTQ people,” said Human Rights Campaign Government Affairs Director David Stacy. “With the introduction of this legislation, Congress sends an important message that U.S. leaders remain committed to advancing human rights around the globe. We thank Rep. Titus for her leadership and advocacy on behalf of LGBTQ people worldwide.”

The legislation has the support of 52 original co-sponsors and the Council for Global Equality, Human Rights Campaign, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Immigration Equality Action Fund, CHANGE, PFLAG National, American Jewish World Service (AJWS), Center for American Progress, GLAAD, International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), Amnesty International USA, PAI, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Advocates for Youth, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Anti-Defamation League (ADL), OutRight Action International, Church World Service (CWS), Equality California, and Silver State Equality.

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Proposed US Ambassador to UN in Geneva Would Undermine LGBTI Rights – As UN Votes to Renew Mandate of Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, US Senate Considers Extremist Ambassador Who Would Sabotage That Work

United Nations GenevaThe UN Human Rights Council voted today to renew the mandate of its expert on sexual orientation and gender identity.  The vote gives the UN the political and financial resources needed to continue its groundbreaking work in support of fundamental rights for LGBTI individuals around the world.  Sadly, in Washington, the Senate soon will vote to confirm an extremist to serve as our ambassador to the UN human rights institutions in Geneva.  If confirmed, he would undermine that work.

The Council for Global Equality joined other groups in releasing a letter today calling on the Senate to oppose the confirmation of Andrew Bremberg to serve as US Ambassador in Geneva.  The vote on the LGBT expert in Geneva shows why we need an ambassador there who will support the UN’s human rights work, not a political extremist who would sabotage it at every turn.

The UN vote today was closer than it should have been but stronger than the original vote to establish the position three years ago.  Today’s vote had 27 countries supporting the position, with 12 opposing and 7 abstentions.  Sadly, the United States did not lend its support, having stepped off the world’s leading human rights body a year ago.  It’s time to renew US leadership on human rights.  Andrew Bremberg is not the one to lead.  We urge the Senate to oppose his confirmation and demand a new nominee with proven human rights leadership experience.

 

No Pride at State: 26 Human Rights and LGBTI Advocacy Groups Urge State Department to Clarify Policy Around Embassies and Dismantle ‘Natural Rights’ Commission

The Trump/Pence Administration’s exceptionally weak commitment to human rights and LGBTI rights just got a lot weaker.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has green-lighted a new “Commission on Unalienable Rights” to provide, according to the Federal Register, “fresh thinking” on “…human rights discourse where it has departed from our nation’s founding principles of natural law and natural rights….”  Those are code words for an effort that seems intended to deny equal rights to LGBTI individuals.  The commission — which we believe may be announced formally at the Secretary’s second ministerial-level meeting on religious freedom, scheduled for mid-July — will provide policy recommendations directly to the Secretary, not to the bureau in charge of human rights policy.

What possibly could go wrong?

On one level, the new commission is not much of a surprise.  Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is no friend of human rights — nor has he ever tolerated, let alone embraced, the LGBTI community. His refusal to back away, at his confirmation hearing, from previous suggestions that same-sex relationships are a perversion was an early indication of potentially discriminatory attitudes by the Secretary toward the Department’s LGBT employees.  And his refusal this month to issue, as Secretary, statements honoring the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB) and Pride only underscores the narrow constituency he serves in his official role.

But in forming the new commission, Pompeo has crossed a bridge too far — deliberately putting his personal and political anti-LGBTI bias ahead of clear national interest:

  • By design, the Commission on Unalienable Rights walks away from the broad and principled embrace of universal human rights that previous administrations, Republican and Democrat alike, have shared. It seeks, instead, to create a new hierarchy of rights, with the intention of “alienating” LGBTI citizens and perhaps others from that framework.
  • International religious freedom is unquestionably a worthy human rights priority for the United States, but it is not the only—or the supreme—human rights concern for our nation or the world, despite the personal religious commitment of Secretary Pompeo and others in this Administration.
  • It snubs a clear and growing consensus in this country that no individual characteristic — be it racial, ethnic, gender, or sexual orientation/identity — should be an impediment to full equality.
  • And it betrays to the world that America’s human rights policies are based less in fairness, justice, and equal opportunity than in narrow-minded religious exceptionalism — coincidentally a contributor to the instability seen in many foreign countries.

We’re under no illusion that the commission will be fair or balanced, or that it will do anything other than narrow the understanding of human rights that has guided American foreign policy for most of this century.  The “natural law” and “natural rights” terminology used in the Commission’s framing is code language that social extremists have used to bring God and religion into the legal realm, as a higher authority than the state. It’s been used primarily to oppose marriage equality and reproductive health services in recent years. And the two prospective commissioner names that have surfaced to date — Mary Ann Glendon and Robert George — are known as opponents of reproductive rights and equality for LGBTI citizens.

But we’re deeply saddened that anyone at the level of Secretary of State would allow personal bias and base (in both senses of the word) politics to deface America’s aspirational commitment to human rights leadership.  Fairer and more inclusive societies, after all, are at the very foundation of stable and secure countries, and of the health, development and judicial assistance goals our country has embraced. And Pompeo seems willfully ignorant that genuine support for human rights, in all of its manifestations, is a critical component not only of American leadership abroad, but of efforts to create a better and more just world.

We’ve written to Pompeo on these matters (see attached), as much in sadness as in outrage.  The United States has fallen short of its aspirational human rights goals, of course, on many occasions.  But both Republican and Democratic administrations have been right to see our leadership in the human rights struggle as critical to the values our country has embraced and projected in the post-war world.

Simply put, we’ve long been ashamed to see how far this Administration has fallen in ignoring the importance of human rights. Sadly, the new commission only lowers the bar.

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.


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