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The Human Rights of LGBTQI Persons by the Numbers

April 7, 2021 – The State Department last week released its 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. The reports are required by Congress and chronicle human rights concerns in all countries around the world. Not surprisingly, the 2020 trends were deeply discouraging: democracy is in decline, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a grim toll, and abuses against LGBTQI persons are proliferating. The report covers 195 countries and territories and of those, the State Department identified anti-LGBTQI laws, violence, or discrimination as a significant concern in 112. That means that human rights abuses against LGBTQI individuals are a top-line U.S. foreign policy concern in 58% of all countries – and that increases to 60% of countries in which the United States has invested significant taxpayer money through U.S. foreign assistance to improve local conditions.  

In contrast to the magnitude of the problem, the House Appropriations Committee last year recommended that only about 5% of the State Department’s budget for global human rights initiatives – through the Human Rights and Democracy Fund – should be dedicated to LGBTQI programming. The recommended allocations at USAID were even worse.  Total LGBTQI-dedicated foreign assistance represents a mere .05% of our nation’s total overseas development funding.  That level of investment does not meet the pressing needs identified in this year’s human rights reports. Nor does it match commitments made in President Biden’s recent Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World

The Council, leading civil society organizations, and members of Congress are calling urgently for the Biden Administration and Congress to allocate at least $60 million to support LGBTQI human rights and development priorities in the FY2022 foreign operations budget – the first to be submitted to Congress by President Biden.  That is a significant increase from this year’s target of $16 million, but it still does not come close to meeting the needs identified by the State Department, U.S. embassies, and USAID missions themselves.  

President Biden’s global memorandum outlines how the U.S. will “lead by the power of our example” to end violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression, or sex characteristics and advance global LGBTQI rights. Issued early in Biden’s presidency, the memo specifically identifies development assistance as a mechanism to “protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination.” Now is the time for the Biden Administration to fund and operationalize those commitments.  

See also:

It’s Time to Fund the President’s Global LGBTQI Commitments | Global Equality Today

Standing for the Rights of LGBTQI Persons in the State Department’s Annual Human Rights Reports | Global Equality Today

Standing for the Rights of LGBTQI Persons in the State Department’s Annual Human Rights Reports

March 31, 2021 – Secretary of State Blinken yesterday released the State Department’s 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, and they reveal an all-too-familiar story of broad societal and government hostility and violence against LGBTQI people around the globe. The reports were prepared by U.S. embassies under problematic reporting instructions issued by the Trump Administration.  Fortunately, they were released by the new Biden Administration after a limited scrub and a promise to do better, including a promise to issue an addendum later this year “to include a broader range of issues related to reproductive rights,” an area of reporting eliminated by Trump officials.  

Sexual and reproductive rights are LGBTQI rights.  So, when the Trump Administration struck that reporting section in its entirety, it also significantly undermined LGBTQI reporting. The head of the State Department’s Human Rights Bureau, Acting Assistant Secretary Lisa Peterson, recognized in her remarks yesterday that the State Department is still trying to assess the cumulative harm caused by the failure of the previous administration to recognize and report on sexual and reproductive rights as human rights.  We know it was significant. 

Secretary Blinken also used yesterday’s release of the reports to repudiate his predecessor’s discredited Commission on Unalienable Rights, which sought to elevate religious rights and property rights over all other rights, including the rights of LGBTQI persons and sexual and reproductive rights.  Blinken noted:

“there is no hierarchy that makes some rights more important than others. Past unbalanced statements that suggest such a hierarchy, including those offered by a recently disbanded State Department advisory committee, do not represent a guiding document for this administration.  At my confirmation hearing, I promised the Biden-Harris administration would repudiate those unbalanced views. We do so decisively today.”

This year’s reports represent an improvement over the four years of Trump-era reporting, but to become the useful policy tools we ultimately need, particularly in documenting the full range of human rights abuses impacting LGBTQI communities abroad, the Biden Administration must move quickly to insist on more detailed reporting by U.S. embassies in next year’s reports – the first year that these reports will be fully prepared under the Biden Administration’s substantive instruction and guidance.  

Next year, under the direction of the Biden Administration and with careful attention to President Biden’s Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World, the Council is calling for more detailed reporting on the following points: 

  • A comprehensive understanding of the impact of a full range of punitive laws on the on the lives of LGBTIQ persons globally.  President Biden’s Memorandum orders our diplomats to elevate decriminalization as a foreign policy priority by committing resources to “strengthen existing efforts to combat the criminalization by foreign governments of LGBTQI+ status or conduct.”  To deploy both diplomatic and financial resources effectively, the Administration must identify the diverse range of laws and administrative regulations that are used to penalize LGBTQI identities and expression; harass LGBTQI individuals and organizations and prevent them from meeting, organizing and building community; and limit comprehensive health and rights, including sexual and reproductive health information and LGBTQI-affirming health services.  All reports should consider the full range of laws that are deployed against LGBTQI communities. (For more, read the Council’s longstanding guidance: Toward an Inclusive and Effective Decriminalization Strategy.)
  • A careful focus on the ways in which government laws, policies and other actions – or corresponding inaction – sanction or encourage abuses by non-state actors – including persecution by gangs, semi-official or self-appointed morality police, teachers and other educational leaders, or close family members who may be encouraged to defend their “family honor” through violent persecution, house arrest, or so-called “corrective rape” or even “honor killings.”  This year’s reports on Kyrgyzstan and Poland provide a thoughtful analysis of the ways in which state policies encourage abuse by non-state actors.  This analysis should be standardized in all reports.  
  • For the first time, the human rights reporting instructions should mandate inclusion next year of detailed information on the use of forced anal exams by state officials as a discredited forensic tool to establish sexual activity in criminal prosecutions, along with detailed information on the legality and prevalence of the use of “conversion therapy” to persecute LGBTI or gender non-conforming individuals, including children.  Reports on Egypt, Iran, and Tanzania document the use of forced anal exams.  Likewise, reports on Iran and Kenya discuss the use of conversion therapy as a human rights abuse.  All embassies should collect data on these abuses and report accordingly.  
  • Groundbreaking campaigns in several countries to seek full marriage equality, or some lesser degree of same-sex partnership recognition, are ignored throughout the report.  This is true even in countries like Costa Rica, which began allowing same-sex couples the right to marry in 2020, or in the Czech Republic, Japan, or Panama where there are vibrant public campaigns to build formal equality and humanize same-sex relationships.  The Biden Administration should report on efforts to expand – or deny – marriage equality as human rights efforts worthy of our recognition and support. 
  • The Russia report includes information on coerced intersex “normalization” surgeries, also referred to as Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM).  More embassies should report on these abusive procedures, which often subjects intersex babies or youth to harmful and medically unnecessary surgeries without any informed consent. And the United States should institute a moratorium on those procedures as well.  
  • The reports this year provided a strong overview of the impact of COVID-19 on the human rights of marginalized people, recognizing in the introduction that “marginalized populations, including older persons, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQI+ persons, experienced particular vulnerability.”  The reports themselves bear witness to this in often stark and violent terms for the LGBTQI community. We fear that these same vulnerabilities will increase rather than decrease in the next year, as ongoing transmission and unequal vaccine distribution are likely to further marginalize LGBTQI communities in many developing world contexts. As an example, the Kazakhstan report notes that: 

the COVID-19 pandemic situation also impacted LGBTI communities negatively. Locked down in their houses, they often endured stress and abuse from family members who resented their status. Transgender persons were vulnerable to abuse during security checks by police patrols due to their lack of appropriate identification. Transgender persons were among the first whom employers dismissed from jobs because they often worked without official contracts, and they were often not eligible to relieve programs offered by the government to support needy individuals. Transgender persons, like many during the lockdowns, also faced difficulties receiving needed medical care because health facilities were restricted or closed. They often could not get necessary medicines, because they were not available in small pharmacies in their neighborhoods, or they could not afford them.  

  • Finally, reports this year on Hungary, Kyrgyzstan and Poland draw strong connections between ant-LGBTQI laws, anti-gender policies, religious-nationalist initiatives and far-right extremist groups.   These connections are informative.  President Biden and Secretary Blinken have spoken convincingly of the need to connect our domestic and foreign policies as never before.  This must include a better understanding of the connections between racist, xenophobic, white nationalist, anti-gender, anti-LGBTQI and other extremist religious organizations in the United States and their counterparts in other countries.  The State Department should give serious consideration to a new section examining the extraterritorial connections between domestic and international extremist groups for each country in next year’s report.  

Yesterday, Secretary Blinken recognized that: “Standing up for human rights everywhere is in America’s interests. And the Biden-Harris administration will stand against human rights abuses wherever they occur, regardless of whether the perpetrators are adversaries or partners.”  We will hold him to that.  

But for the annual human rights reports to be more relevant to policymakers who have been charged with developing new policies that truly stand up for LGBTQI rights abroad, as well as U.S. development agencies seeking to stand up new humanitarian funding for human rights campaigns that meet the most urgent needs of LGBTQI communities, a far more detailed snapshot of LGBTQI life in each country will be essential.  We hope next year’s reporting instructions address those gaps. 

Revisiting Last Year’s Reports: For comparison, it is useful to revisit our three-part analysis of last year’s reports, including political lapses in the reports, the ways in which the reports contradicted the Trump Administration’s refugee policies, and the ghosting of sexual and reproductive rights.  

It’s Time to Fund the President’s Global LGBTQI Commitments

As the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) prepares President Biden’s first budget for federal spending in fiscal year 2022, the Administration should seize the opportunity to increase funding to protect and promote the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) people globally. Whereas this fiscal year’s development assistance was a relatively paltry $16 million, a minimum increase to $60 million is needed to implement the President’s LGBTQI commitments globally. 

Such increase would match the clear intent of President Biden’s Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World. The memorandum outlines how the U.S. will “lead by the power of our example” to end violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression, or sex characteristics and advance global LGBTQI rights. Issued early in Biden’s presidency, the memo specifically identifies development assistance as a vessel to “protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination.” Now is the time for the Biden Administration to fund and operationalize those commitments.

As COVID-19 continues to fall disproportionately hard on the global LGBTQI community, the pressing need to fund LGBTQI organizations has only intensified. Many LGBTQI people depend on informal-sector jobs and have lost their livelihoods during the pandemic; are at increased risk for gender-based violence, food insecurity, and homelessness; and face even greater barriers to receiving needed services. In some countries, the LGBTQI community has been scapegoated and falsely charged for spreading COVID-19; in others, governments have effectively excluded LGBTQI people from relief or used lockdowns as a cover to crack-down on their rights. 

Funds to support LGBTQI people and the frontline organizations that serve them have so far been alarmingly scarce. Of all the supplemental COVID-19 relief funding administered by USAID, to our knowledge zero was allocated for LGBTQI organizations or populations. In April 2020, Outright Action International launched its COVID-19 Global LGBTIQ Emergency Fund — the world’s largest global COVID-19 response fund for LGBTQI communities — which received nearly 1,500 applications totaling about $12 million in urgent funding requests in its first three months. Despite strong fundraising efforts, Outright Action International was able to fulfill only 6.6% of these requests. 

While allocating immediate COVID-related relief funds is necessary, sustained and significant annual budgetary investments are critical to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination. To address this need, the President’s FY 2022 budget should allocate at least $30 million to the LGBTQI-specific Global Equality Fund (GEF) at the State Department and another $30 million to the USAID-based Protection of LGBTI Persons Program. The GEF, which is funded at $10 million for this current fiscal year, only is able to meet 6% of funding applications and expects to receive at least $50 million in urgent requests. Similarly underfunded, USAID’s LGBTQI program received just $6 million this fiscal year, which comes nowhere close to meeting the demands identified by USAID missions and experts around the world. These low funding levels for qualified proposals and urgent needs are vastly lower as a percentage than funding for many other human rights issues and marginalized groups.    

Investing in marginalized LGBTQI communities is not just the right thing to do, it is also a good return on our development investments. Studies have demonstrated that socioeconomic exclusion undermines development and a country’s macroeconomic growth, whereas inclusion supports them — and is directly correlated to increased GDP per capita and higher value in human development. If the U.S. intends to lead by example, the Biden-Haris Administration’s first budget must adequately fund its commitments.  The President’s first budget will be an immensely powerful statement of his Administration’s four-year policy priorities — and neither LGBTQI funding nor our communities can be sacrificed. 

Most Inclusive U.S. Delegation Ever Named to UN Signals New Direction and Leadership

March 16, 2021 – The Council for Global Equality applauds Vice President Harris for her comments today at the UN’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the preeminent intergovernmental body dedicated to the promotion of gender equality. In her address, Vice President Harris pledged to revitalize our partnership with UN Women and strengthen our engagement with the United Nations and the broader multilateral system. She noted that “the status of women is the status of democracy,” and that “for our part, the United States will work to improve both.”  

Vice President Harris is co-leading with Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield a talented U.S. delegation to the CSW, composed of both government officials and civil society leaders. The delegation will meet over the next two weeks to advance an agenda dating back to the creation of the CSW in 1946 to promote “women’s rights in political, economic, social, and educational fields.” As Vice President Harris noted, “that work is as urgent now as it was at the start.” The theme that frames the CSW debate this year is: “Women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life, as well as the elimination of violence, for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.” 

The symbolism of our first female vice president addressing this year’s topic was not lost on anyone. Nor is the fact that, for the first time ever, our CSW delegation is represented at the White House level and led by two women of color. Indeed, the Vice President’s remarks, coupled by the decision by the Biden-Harris Administration to engage the CSW at the level of the Vice President, sends at least three important messages. 

First, the diversity of the U.S. delegation speaks not only to the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to diversity, but to the crucial importance the Administration places on an intersectional approach to gender equality. This means recognizing that gender equality is undermined not just by gender-based discrimination and stereotypes but also by overlapping forms of discrimination based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity and other unique identities that should be celebrated but too often lead to multiple cross-cutting forms of discrimination and abuse.

The diverse public delegation representing the United States also includes, for the first time, a non-binary transgender woman: Lourdes Ashley Hunter, Executive Director and Global Initiatives Officer of Trans Women of Color Collective. “Now more than ever, it is critical that the voices and narratives of transgender women must be included in dialogs at every level as we face the same forms of violence at the hands of the state,” Lourdes Ashley Hunter declared, adding, “this historic appointment reinforces that trans women are women and our lives matter.”  

Diverse representation on the U.S. delegation is particularly crucial given that the CSW has not been a an LBTQI-friendly space at the United Nations. To date, the CSW has largely ignored and even at times denied the existence of LBTQI women. We trust that our delegation will help ensure that the rights of LBTQI persons are included on the CSW’s agenda going forward.

Second, the U.S. delegation and agenda at the CSW also reflect a strong repudiation of Trump-era policies that attacked the very notion of gender. The Trump Administration spoke consistently in strictly binary terms of men and women, seeking both to deny the rights of LBTQI persons and, especially, to erase the existence and rights of transgender women. Indeed, four years ago, in March 2017, the Council wrote to then-Secretary of State Tillerson to express outrage at the Trump Administration’s decision to include on that year’s U.S. delegation a representative of an organization designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by The Southern Poverty Law Center. The group, Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM), supported laws criminalizing homosexuality and LGBTQI recognition, including for example Russia’s harmful anti-propaganda law that attacks the rights of LGBTQI individuals and organizations. Indeed, C-FAM’s public delegate herself authored incendiary articles attacking the LGBTQI community. This year’s delegation could not be more different.

Third, high-level engagement at the level of the Vice President reaffirms the Biden-Harris Administration’s clear understanding that vigorous use of multilateral channels is needed to advance in areas of common interests and values. The new Administration has signaled that it intends to shape the UN’s human rights agenda through leadership and example, rather than following the Trump Administration’s efforts to undermine UN institutions from within. This is important. While the UN’s human rights mechanisms are under political attack and are badly strained, they are more important than ever. It will take White House-level engagement to help stabilize these mechanisms and ensure they live up to their founding potential.

Much work lies ahead for the CSW, of course. We are pledged to support that work in any way possible and know that other partner organizations and supporters of the UN will do the same.

Leading on LGBTQI Issues at the World Bank and in other International Financial Institutions

March 5, 2021 – As the World Bank’s annual Spring Meetings approach, it is important to reflect on President Biden’s recent far-reaching Presidential Memorandum committing that “[i]t shall be the policy of the United States to pursue an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, and to lead by the power of our example in the cause of advancing the human rights of LGBTQI persons around the world.”  Extending this policy to include new U.S. funding and leadership at the World Bank and in other international financial institutions (IFIs) could have an extraordinary impact on the lives and opportunities of LGBTQI persons in some of the most challenging economic contexts around the world.

IFIs provide vast resources that can help lift vulnerable countries – and the most vulnerable individuals within those countries – out of poverty. Covid-19 will almost certainly delay the World Bank’s goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030, but the Center for Strategic and International Studies estimates that IFIs together approved $237.2 billion in Covid-19-support in 2020. The potential development resources from these institutions are unparalleled, but hardly any of that has trickled down to marginalized LGBTQI persons – only a few million dollars for limited LGBTQI pilot projects. That could change with leadership from the Biden Administration.

With encouragement and support from the U.S. Treasury Department and the U.S. Executive Director’s Office at the World Bank during President Obama’s Administration, the World Bank took small but significant steps to address LGBTQI inclusion. During that time, the World Bank added a new position of Global Advisor on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI); it allocated very limited but important new LGBTQI-dedicated program funds; and it began adding SOGI indicators to its project review criteria. More recently, this culminated in new Bank guidance on risk minimization to support LGBTQI development. None of this would have happened without the initial leadership of the U.S. government, together with our closest Canadian, European, and Latin American allies at the Bank.

Renewed Treasury Department engagement with the World Bank and in other IFIs in response to President Biden’s new policy directive could leverage significant new funding and propel existing LGBTQI investments and policies to a new level of effectiveness. Pilot research supported by the World Bank, such as studies looking at the economic costs of LGBTQI exclusion in Serbia and North Macedonia, could be expanded quickly and broadened to include other LGBTQI communities. In addition, the World Bank’s leadership has played an increasingly important behind-the-scenes diplomatic role in mitigating LGBTQI-related human rights abuses in client countries, particularly in Africa. The U.S. director at the Bank should offer support for this quiet but effective brand of development diplomacy.

Regionally based international financial institutions, including the African Development Bank, Asian Development Bank (ADB), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) have been less focused on LGBTQI inclusion, but they all have engaged at some level, and with renewed U.S. government leadership and support the potential for future investments is significant. The Biden Administration should prioritize a leadership appointment to the Asian Development Bank, the safeguard policy of which currently is being rewritten. Having an LGBTQI-competent person in that role could significantly impact the result of that review in ways that integrate LGBTQI populations more forcefully into ADB development priorities and safeguards, potentially even leading to the adoption of the first-ever SOGI-specific IFI safeguard policy.

The Inter-American Development Bank also stands poised to provide major funding and is cooperating with the World Bank to understand the economic impacts of LGBTQI-exclusion in Latin America. Fortunately, several countries in Latin America have indicated their interest in investing in LGBTQI development to address discrimination and leverage economic gains. That is more than justified by initial research from the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank suggesting exponential economic growth potential from even limited investments to support LGBTQI workers in the formal labor sector.

As the Biden Administration frames its IFI policy priorities in the coming months, we encourage the following support from the Treasury Department.

  • The President should prioritize the nomination of new U.S. Executive Directors at the World Bank and Asian Development Bank and quickly fill other senior U.S. positions within IFIs. These nominations are not often seen as a priority by a new presidential administration, but given the growing importance of LGBTQI issues within World Bank and other IFI-financed projects, the reforms under way at the Asian Development Bank, and the severe economic and development challenges posed by COVID-19, these appointments should be seen as a 100-day priority.
  • Nominees to lead U.S. efforts in any of the IFIs must understand the importance and effectiveness of an LGBTQI-inclusive development agenda. In other words, they must demonstrate LGBTQI competency.
  • The Treasury Department should instruct the U.S. Executive Director at the World Bank, along with other officials representing U.S. interests in other IFIs, to use their influence and voting to support the development needs of LGBTQI communities, especially in programs targeting marginalized or excluded individuals, public health, social protection, education, and economic empowerment. This should include a review of recently approved development projects as well as those still in the approval pipeline to analyze their attention to the needs of LGBTQI communities and the steps taken, if any, to ensure their inclusion, consultation, and protection. It also should include robust financial and technical support for new research to understand the full impact of LGBTQI inclusion on economic development and individual opportunity.
  • The Treasury Department should instruct the U.S. Executive Director at the World Bank, along with other officials representing U.S. interests in other IFIs, to ensure that mandated consultations with civil society are sensitive to and include representatives of local LGBTQI communities. The World Bank has piloted some of these consultations, but they are mostly driven by Washington, not by local country offices and staff who could provide a better local point of contact and reach groups in more remote parts of a country. This is crucial, as LGBTQI groups in rural areas often face different challenges and more severe obstacles in accessing project benefits. All other IFIs need to follow the World Bank’s lead on consultations. These civil society consultations must account for the safety and security of LGBTQI individuals and the local civil society organizations representing them. But in no circumstance should these consultations be scrapped altogether just because they require additional sensitivity and security. In particularly hostile or criminalized country contexts, global LGBTQI advocacy organizations should be consulted first and relied on as a resource to ensure safe and effective introductions and communications with local LGBTQI leaders and organizations.

The World Bank’s Spring Meetings in April provide an important opportunity for the Biden Administration to demonstrate leadership in support of this work and deliver on the President’s commitments to the rights, dignity and opportunities of LGBTQI persons globally.

Global Equality Today: March 2021 Newsletter

The Council for Global Equality and our thirty institutional members are actively engaged with the new Biden-Harris Administration to restore U.S. leadership in support of human rights for LGBTQI individuals everywhere. Immediately after the November election, we released a set of transition policy papers that serve as a blueprint for Centering the Rights of LGBTI Individuals in U.S. Foreign Policy.

President Biden’s first major foreign policy speech embedded LGBTQI rights squarely within our human rights policy, and a parallel Presidential Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Intersex Persons Around the World, released on the same day, now commits foreign affairs agencies to advance a genuinely LGBTQI human rights policy in ways rejected by the Trump Administration. (Read our analysis here.)

PRIORITES for 117th Congress

Working with a new HFAC Chair

CGE released a public letter calling on House Democrats to select a new Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee who would leverage the jurisdiction of the Committee to promote LGBTQI rights. All three candidates pledged their commitment to global equality, and CGE looks forward to working with Chairman Meeks to help implement President Biden’s LGBTQI agenda. 

Senate Confirmation Hearings

CGE is working with Senate offices to ensure that President Biden’s Cabinet members are asked to explain how they will support LGBTQI rights through U.S. diplomacy. Secretary Blinken gave a heartfelt response to an LGBTQI question in his confirmation hearing and pledged to repudiate the findings of Pompeo’s Commission on Unalienable Rights. We also have offered UN Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield a set of recommendations to support her pledge to advance LGBTQI rights at the United Nations. We will continue to encourage similar LGBTQI-focused questions to ensure that all of President Biden’s foreign affairs appointees are LGBTQI competent

Legislative Priorities

CGE also supports the reintroduction and passage of the following bills in the 117th Congress.  

  • CGE’s priority bill is the “GLOBE Act” – Greater Leadership Overseas for the Benefit of Equality. Rep. Titus (D-NV) and Senator Markey (D-MA) introduced GLOBE in the last Congress (H.R. 3874S.3004 in the 116th). As a comprehensive vision bill that also was endorsed by President Biden’s political Campaign, the bill provides a broad roadmap to restore U.S. leadership in advancing the human rights of LGBTQI and other vulnerable minority communities around the world. There were 87 cosponsors in the House and 20 cosponsors in the Senate in the last Congress. Reintroduction is expected by June 2021. (Read the Council’s endorsement and a blog explaining the bill’s impact here.) 
  • Rep. Lowenthal (D-CA) and Sen. Markey (D-MA) just reintroduced the International Human Rights Defense Act (H.R. 1857S. 861 in the 116th) to protect the human rights of LGBTQI individuals by codifying the position of Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTQI Persons at the State Department and requiring the State Department to develop a global strategy to respond to criminalization, discrimination, and violence against LGBTQI people internationally. There were 214 cosponsors in the House and 40 cosponsors in the Senate in the last Congress. 
  • Rep. Cicilline (D-RI) and Senator Shaheen (D-NH) lead on the Global Respect Act (H.R. 3252S.1825 in the 116th). The bipartisan bill would require a biannual list of foreign individuals who commit human rights violations targeting the LGBTQI community. Those individuals would then be subject to U.S. visa sanctions. It also would codify LGBTQI reporting requirements in the State Department’s annual Human Rights Report. The bill had 94 cosponsors in the House and 9 cosponsors in the Senate during the last Congress and it was the only international LGBTQI bill to get a committee markup in the House. The bill is expected to be reintroduced by summer 2021. 
  • Rep. Castro (D-TX) and Sen. Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the “LOVE Act” – the Lavender Offense Victim Exoneration Act (H.R. 8809S. 1252 in the 116th), which accepts overdue responsibility for the consequences of the “Lavender Scare” – the1950’s-era witch hunt that resulted in the dismissal of hundreds of State Department employees owing to their perceived sexual orientation. Importantly, the bill requires the State Department to consult with Congress on steps taken to ensure LGBTQI employees and their families may now serve in any of our diplomatic missions abroad, calling for the elimination of visa reciprocity for countries that persistently deny visas to the families of our LGBTQI diplomats. There were 20 cosponsors in the House and 22 cosponsors in the Senate in the last Congress. Reintroduction is expected soon.
  • CGE’s leadership worked with member organizations and appropriation staff to secure a set-aside for LGBTI programming at State Department and USIAD in the State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act (SFOPS) report language. The FY 2020 appropriation for the Global Equality Fund at the State Department was set at $7.5 million and this was increased to $10 million in FY 2021. USAID funding was set at $5 million in FY 2020 and increased to $6 million in FY 2021. Based on an analysis of global funding dedicated to LGBTI programming from other leading donor governments, CGE is advocating for an immediate jump to $60 million for State Department and USAID in the FY 2022 appropriation. 


President Biden issued a Presidential Memorandum to prioritize the advancement of human rights of LGBTQI persons. The President has called on our diplomats to begin building coalition of like-minded governments to advance these efforts, recognizing that “[b]ilateral relationships with allies and partners, as well as multilateral fora and international organizations, are key vehicles to promote respect for and protection of the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons and to bring global attention to these goals.” Read our analysis here.

The Presidential Memorandum further requires all foreign affairs agencies to take steps in the next 100 days to rescind Trump-era directives, orders, regulations, policies, or guidance that may be inconsistent with the memorandum. There were many.

The Presidential Memorandum also ordered the administration to restore LGBTQIcommitments torefugees and asylum seekers and expedite refugee resettlement for the most at-risk LGBTQI refugees. He ordered U.S. embassy direct referrals to the resettlement program for LGBTQI individuals facing severe persecution. A parallel Executive Order returns U.S. refugee admissions to historic levels, expedites the resettlement process, and calls on the State Department to “enhance access to the refugee program for people who are more vulnerable to persecution, including women, children, and other individuals who are at risk of persecution related to their gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation.” It also creates a process to recognize the unmarried same-sex partners of refugees to allow joint resettlement.

Secretary Blinken addressed the UN Human Rights Council for the first time since the Trump Administration decided to undermine it rather than trying to fix it. The Council has many obvious flaws, but it is an essential institution, and it has provided important leadership on LGBTQI rights. Speaking with both humility and determination, Blinken announced that the United States would once again seek election to the Council – and that we would use our seat at the table to fix its more obvious delinquencies, while supporting its work to address racial discrimination, gender equality and the rights of LGBTQI and other minority communities. 


In recent good news…

  1. After years of advocacy, the Parliament in Montenegro passed a partnership law, making it the first non-EU European country to recognize same-sex couples’ ights. 
  2. Building on Costa Rica’s success securing marriage equality, Panama has launched a similar campaign to secure the freedom to marry called Si Acepto
  3. The government of South Africa is reviewing its regulations for changing gender on identity documents. The Department of Home Affairs recently issued a draft Identity Management Policy for public review that would provide important avenues for transgender, intersex and non-binary South Africans. 
  4. The European Union issued its first ever five-year LGBTQI Equality Strategy, which identifies actions needed by member states to address inequalities, discrimination, safety and inclusivity of LGBTQI communities in Europe. 
  5. Germany issued a new LGBTI inclusion strategy, pledging that “German foreign policy and development cooperation will provide structurally sustainable support to the LGBTI human rights work undertaken by civil society, with particular attention to specific vulnerabilities and multiple discrimination.”

In bad news…

  1. A number of LGBTI students were part of the more than 300 students detained in Turkey in increasingly violent and politically-charged altercations with the police in February. Erdoğan’s comparison of the protesters to “terrorists” and condemnation of LGBTI youth played a role in inciting violence. The State Department condemnedthese acts and Representatives Maloney and Cicilline led a Congressional sign-on letter condemning them as well. 
  2. After an LGBTI organization publicly opened its new offices in Ghana, Church groups succeeded in getting the government to shut it down. Ghana’s LGBTI community has grown significantly over the last few years, despite a lack of support from their government. This incident helped garner significant support from Black celebrities for Ghana’s LGBTI community. 
  3. spate of arrests and even murders have plagued the LGBTI community in Cameroon this past month. Cameroon is a country where the anti-sodomy law is regularly utilized
  4. In January, the Parliament in Honduras proposed a Constitutional Amendment to enshrine existing prohibitions on abortion and marriage equality, and to raise the number of votes to three-quarters to ever change this back. Activists have initiated a lawsuit to challenge this “super ban.” 
  5. Two young gay men were captured from a safe house in Russia and returned toChechnya to be put on trial for aiding terrorism. They are only 17 and 20 years old. The House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Equality Caucus put out this statement.

Multilateralism is Back: Engaging the UN Human Rights Council with Humility

United Nations Geneva

February 24, 2021 – Secretary of State Antony Blinken today addressed the UN Human Rights Council, the world’s leading human rights body that the Trump Administration decided to cold-shoulder. While the Human Rights Council has many obvious flaws, it is an essential institution, and it has provided important leadership on LGBTQI rights.

In addition to today’s welcome announcement that the U.S. will again seek a seat on the Human Rights Council, it is also important to highlight the difference between today’s speech by Secretary Blinken and the contrasting vision of America that Secretary Pompeo put forward in his speech last July releasing the report of his discredited Commission on Unalienable Rights. It’s a vastly different reading of our history and what true leadership looks like on the world stage. And Secretary Blinken, unlike his predecessor, not only recognized the need for inclusive policy action, but he explicitly referenced sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics – signaling commitments to the full range of identities in the LGBTQI+ community.

Now more than ever, the United States needs to stand for human rights by openly admitting our own flaws and struggles, and our power to address them. This is true in terms of the enduring legacy of structural racism, a subject Secretary Blinken addressed head-on today, as well as our history of systematic LGBTQI discrimination.  Today’s speech was an important step in that direction.

The contrasting understanding of America’s history is obvious – and the humility in addressing it significant. See here:

“[A]ny pledge to fight human rights around the world must begin with a pledge to fight human rights at home. People of color in the U.S. deal every day with the consequences of systemic racism and economic injustice. . . . We must do more to advance racial justice globally. . . . And we will pursue a policy to end violence and discrimination of all kinds, including on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics. The United States does not claim to be perfect, but we strive every day to improve, to hold ourselves accountable, and to become a more perfect union.”

Secretary Blinken, speaking today to the UN Human Rights Council

“[T]the very core of what it means to be an American, indeed the American way of life itself, is under attack. Instead of seeking to improve America, too many leading voices promulgate hatred of our founding principles. . . . They want you to believe that America’s institutions continue to reflect the country’s acceptance of slavery at our founding. . . . This is a dark vision of America’s birth. I reject it. It’s a disturbed reading of history. It is a slander on our great people. Nothing could be further from the truth of our founding . . . .”

Former Secretary Pompeo, speaking in July 2020 at the release of the report of the Commission on Unalienable Rights

Multilateralism is back, and we must strive every day with humility and dedication to make both the United States and the United Nations live up to their full potential.

“Diplomacy is Back”: Presidential Leadership and the Task of Advancing LGBTQI+ Equality

February 4, 2021 – The Council for Global Equality welcomes today’s affirmation by President Biden of the primacy of robust diplomacy in American foreign policy. The President’s speech embedded LGBTQI+ rights clearly within our human rights policy, and a parallel Presidential Memorandum released by the White House commits foreign affairs agencies to advance a genuinely LGBTQI+ human rights policy in ways rejected by the Trump Administration.  

The Presidential Memorandum builds on a similar directive issued by President Obama in 2011, but true to the Biden-Harris campaign, this latest presidential action seeks to “build back better,” through new provisions and new foreign policy tools. Key provisions in today’s executive action commit the Biden Administration to:

  • Elevate decriminalization as a foreign policy priority by committing resources to “strengthen existing efforts to combat the criminalization by foreign governments of LGBTQI+ status or conduct.”
  • Identify and expedite refugee resettlement for the most at-risk LGBTQI+ refugees by instructing U.S. embassies to provide direct referrals to our U.S. refugee resettlement program for LGBTQI+ individuals facing severe persecution. A parallel  Executive Order also was released today that takes important additional steps to revive that refugee resettlement program, which was largely dismantled by the Trump Administration.  In addition to returning U.S. refugee admissions to historic levels, today’s refugee Executive Order will streamline and expedite the entire resettlement process, allowing NGOs to play a critical new partnership role, while calling on the State Department to “enhance access to the refugee program for people who are more vulnerable to persecution, including women, children, and other individuals who are at risk of persecution related to their gender, gender expression, or sexual orientation.”  The Executive Order also creates a new process to recognize the unmarried same-sex partners of refugees to allow them to resettle to the United States with their same-sex partners.
  • Engage in diplomacy to advance the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.  Specifically, the President calls on our diplomats to begin building coalition of like-minded governments to advance these efforts. In a refreshing nod to multilateralism, the President recognizes that “[b]ilateral relationships with allies and partners, as well as multilateral fora and international organizations, are key vehicles to promote respect for and protection of the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons and to bring global attention to these goals.”  
  • Identify and take steps to rescind “any directives, orders, regulations, policies, or guidance inconsistent with this memorandum” that were issued by the Trump Administration. There were many.
  • Report regularly on progress made in advancing this policy – that reporting requirement was crucial in pushing the policy forward during the Obama Administration.  Importantly, a version of those reports also must be made public. 

Each of these steps demonstrates the Biden Administration’s pledge to support principled human rights leadership, multilateral coordination, and an integrated approach to development. Importantly, the President also noted in his speech today that there is “no longer a bright line between foreign and domestic policy,” and that when we defend LGBTQI+ and other rights abroad we are also securing those rights at home – “for our own children.” The Council looks forward to even greater integration of our domestic and foreign policy work to achieve greater equality based on race, sex, gender identity, sex characteristics, and sexual orientation.

Today’s executive action is in fact a concrete repudiation of failed “America First” policies that undermined our credibility and significantly impacted our ability to stand up for human rights for LGBTQI+ individuals globally. And indeed, even though President Trump claimed to support decriminalization as well, his rhetorical commitment was never backed up by any diplomatic muscle — and was undermined at every turn by his own Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

At the end of the speech, President Biden noted that “we are a country that does big things.”  We look forward to working with the Biden Administration to go big and to promote the rights of LGBTQI+ persons everywhere. That will be a very big thing.

Read More: How Leading on LGBTIQ Rights Abroad Could Restore U.S. Credibility.

International Human Rights Defense Act Introduced in Congress to Promote Rights of LGBTQI Individuals Globally

February 3 – The Council for Global Equality applauds Sen. Markey and Rep. Lowenthal for reintroducing legislation to codify the State Department position of Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTQI Persons. The bill, known as the International Human Rights Defense Act, also requires the Special Envoy to develop a comprehensive global strategy to respond to criminalization, discrimination, and violence against the LGBTQI community globally.

The Council and its member organizations promoted this bill in the last Congress, drawing 214 cosponsors in the House and 40 cosponsors in the Senate. We will redouble our efforts to build support for the bill in the new Congress, and we call on the new Chairs of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Foreign Affairs Committee to push for a markup of the bill by Pride month this June.  There is no reason not to include this on the must-pass list for the new Congress. 

We also call on the Biden Administration to appoint a Special Envoy as a priority, even before the legislation is adopted. The Special Envoy position was first created and staffed in the Obama Administration, but it went vacant for the past four years. We desperately need a new Special Envoy to lead our diplomatic efforts in this area – and to repair the lasting harm to LGBTQI issues caused by the last administration’s efforts to undermine human rights norms at the United Nations and beyond. Upgrading the position to the rank of ambassador, as suggested in the bill, could send an even more powerful message about our country’s commitment to global equality and the importance of centering the rights of LGBTQI individuals in U.S. foreign policy.  

Read the press release and the text of the bill here.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield at the UN

January 27, 2021 – Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a nomination hearing for Linda Thomas-Greenfield to serve as our ambassador to the United Nations. Over the past four years, we have sorely missed the creative and principled leadership that U.S. diplomats regularly bring to the corridors of the United Nations, and we are eager to see Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield reinvigorate our human rights commitments within that institution.

On that point, because the United Nations has provided such an important forum for promoting the human rights of LGBTIQ individuals globally, we look forward to Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield setting out her human rights vision for the United Nations in more detail.  We trust both her words and actions when she gets to New York will prove what we know to be true: that all senior foreign affairs leaders in the Biden Administration will be LGBTIQ champions. We urge Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield to highlight her leadership by meeting with LGBTIQ activists in her first weeks at the United Nations and by considering these three concrete gestures that would send a powerful message to the global community.

  • Chair a meeting of the “LGBTI Core Group” at the United Nations. The United States is one of the founding members of a core group of States that supports LGBTIQ engagement across the broad range of UN agencies and functions. Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield should hold an ambassadorial-level meeting of that Core Group early in her term to demonstrate her commitment to its work and mandate.
  • Chair a meeting at the UN Security Council. Concerns over the human rights of LGBTIQ persons have only been raised once in the context of the Security Council, and that was at the request of Ambassador Samantha Power, when she was our UN ambassador. We ask Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield to organize an “Arria-formula” meeting with LGBTI civil society while the United States holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this March.
  • Chair a meeting with the UN Secretary-General.  The UN Secretary-General has yet to offer high-level public remarks pledging his support for LGBTIQ rights and commitments.  Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield should ask him to join one of the two meetings identified above, or another appropriate public gathering, to call on the heads of all UN agencies to allocate core staff and funding to LGBTIQ issues, LGBTIQ-inclusive programs, and positions.

The incoming chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Menendez, recognized in his opening comments that the Trump Administration “undermined international protections for women, girls, and LGBTI individuals.” Senator Kaine noted that without U.S. engagement at the United Nations, and on the UN Human Rights Council in particular, human rights questions such as LGBTIQ equality would not be on the UN agenda at all.  And Senator Merkley suggested that LGBTIQ concerns could be on the agenda of President Biden’s upcoming Democracy Summit. 

Even President Trump, who despised the United Nations and undermined human rights norms at every turn, used his 2019 address to the UN General Assembly to pledge that the United States would work with other nations at the United Nations to decriminalize homosexuality and that the United States would “stand in solidarity with LGBTQ people who live in countries that punish, jail, or execute individuals based upon sexual orientation.”

Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield has an incredible chance to demonstrate our country’s commitment to LGBTIQ equality and to fulfill President Biden’s campaign pledge to do just that.  We eagerly anticipate her confirmation and her arrival in New York in time to chair the UN Security Council this March as its rotating president.

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