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Welcome Reception to Commemorate the Announcement of Randy Berry, First-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons

Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a welcome reception to commemorate the announcement of Randy Berry as the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.

Watch it live now


President Recognizes Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Americans for the First Time in State of the Union Speech

“As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I’ve prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained. It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world. It’s why we continue to reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims – the vast majority of whom share our commitment to peace. That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer.” – President Barack Obama, SOTU2015

To consolidate an Obama legacy, entrench support for global LGBT rights

White HouseRepost from The Hill by Raymond Smith

With attention increasingly turning to the legacy of the Obama administration, one area of civil rights seems sure to be viewed as a breakthrough success: the recognition and advancement of equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. And while this legacy is already on solid footing on the domestic front, many opportunities still exist to entrench support for LGBT rights globally.

In 2008, Obama ran as a “fierce ally” of the LGBT community, yet many were unimpressed by the early months of his administration. In 2009, the LGBT magazine The Advocate ran a parody of his iconic “Hope” poster with the caption “Nope?” Shortly before the 2012 election, however, the same magazine ran a cover with his face superimposed on the grand seated statue in the Lincoln Memorial.

What changed so drastically over time? The evolution of the administration began with a host of incremental steps, such as ensuring hospital visitation rights to same-sex partners and lifting the ban on entry to the U.S. to people with HIV. Over time, Obama led the successful repeal of the ban on “gays in the military” and ensured the enactment of an LGBT-inclusive hate crimes bill. Using the bully pulpit, he filmed a segment for the “It Gets Better” campaign in support of LGBT teens, and in his second inaugural address, he cited the landmark Stonewall Riots of 1969 alongside Seneca Falls and Selma as turning points in civil rights history.

Perhaps most of all, Obama personally endorsed same-sex marriage and his administration refused to defend the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Since the Supreme Court overturned DOMA in 2013, the administration has been diligent and proactive in extending the full range of marriage equality rights with regard to immigration, access to federal programs, taxation and more. At the same time, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act this year has begun to be interpreted, for the first time, to confer federal anti-discrimination protections on transgender people.

Much less noticed has been an equally impressive parallel track taken with regard to promotion of LGBT rights around the world. Three years ago this week, in December 2011, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech emphasizing that “gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights.” The phrasing echoed her famous speech as first lady on women’s rights, given in Beijing 15 years prior, which signaled the inclusion of gender equality as a central focus of U.S. foreign policy.

Concurrently, Obama issued a “Presidential Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.” Unlike on the more scattered and improvised domestic-policy side, this one landmark document has served as a coherent strategic blueprint for action by the federal government.

The memorandum contains several major elements, including combating anti-LGBT criminalization abroad, protecting LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, responding to anti-LGBT human rights abuses internationally, providing targeted foreign assistance and engaging international organizations to secure LGBT rights. In all of these areas, the State Department has outlined a range of accomplishments.

For example, a Global Equality Fund has been established to bridge government, companies and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to provide emergency and long-term assistance. The fund promotes LGBT rights through a small grants program, an emergency protection rapid response mechanism, and long-term capacity-building efforts for human rights organizations overseas. Protections for asylum seekers has also been expanded; in one notable case, a Ugandan LGBT rights activist was recently provided asylum rather than being forced to return to a potentially fatal environment in his home country.

Likewise, embassies around the world have begun proactively engaging with governments and human rights organizations. And at the United Nations, the U.S. is a charter member of the LGBT Core Group, which in September issued a ministerial declaration on “Ending Violence and Discrimination against Individuals Based on Their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.”

Despite these crucial steps, much more work remains to be done. “The U.S. blueprint for action can be a powerful force, but only if its approach is consistent and guided by the understanding that all rights are indivisible and universal,” said Jessica Stern, executive director of the New York-based International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

“Achieving change will demand focused attention. One crucial step forward would be the immediate creation of a Special Envoy for LGBT Rights at the State Department,” Stern noted. Such an envoy would act as a high-level advocate for LGBT concerns, working within the State Department, bilaterally with other countries and through multilateral organizations. The position of special envoy is the focus of bill introduced last summer by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.).

Likewise, the Council for Global Equality, a Washington-based NGO with the goal of advancing an American foreign policy inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity, “has identified a series of actionable next steps that could advance the Administration’s commitment by moving the government from a reactive posture to a longer-term human rights protection agenda,” according to the council Chair Mark Bromley. These objectives, added Bromley, “are designed to harmonize the Administration’s commitments into a coherent human rights policy — and an enduring legacy of President Obama.”

In addition to creation of the special envoy position, other priority areas include:

  • Requiring automatic policy reviews whenever foreign countries enact new anti-LGBT policies. The review could be triggered by legislation, changes in enforcement patterns or failure to protect LGBT populations. Such a thorough review was conducted after the passage of a particularly repressive anti-gay law in Uganda last year, but it’s unclear that comparable reviews have been undertaken in the case of similar laws enacted in Nigeria and, most recently, Gambia.
  • Mandating that government contractors and grantees globally have LGBT non-discrimination policies as pre-conditions for contracts or assistance. Such a move would parallel an executive order issued last summer banning anti-LGBT discrimination policies among government contracts within the U.S. for domestic contactors.
  • Strengthening policies to protect LGBT rights in multilateral organizations such as the U.N., the World Health Organization, the World Bank, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the Organization of American States. The U.S. should also advocate for adequate funding and staffing for such policies to be enforced and monitored.
  • Establishing annual reports and other mechanisms to make information more widely available about federal effort in the realm of global LGBT rights, and also holding more extensive consultations with a range of stakeholders about how best to implement the memorandum.

Whatever further steps the Obama administration takes, some critics will inevitably dismiss the relevance of LGBT rights, or consider LGBT rights a marginal issue when it comes to the forging of a presidential legacy that will stand the test of time.

But such voices have been proven wrong before. They’re the same ones that in the 1960s saw no need for the Civil Rights Act, in the 1970s resisted signing the Helsinki human rights accords, in the 1980s rejected sanctions against apartheid South Africa, in the 1990s mocked steps to advance a global women’s rights agenda and in the 2000s endorsed human rights abuses in the name of fighting terrorism.

Yet, today, each of these incidents is recalled as a badge of honor — or a mark of shame — for the president who presided over them. So, too, will today’s struggle for LGBT rights, both at home and abroad, be recalled as a substantive and productive element of the Obama legacy.


Smith is a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute; an adjunct assistant professor of political science at Columbia University and New York University; and author of Importing Democracy: Ideas from Around the World to Reform and Revitalize American Politics and Government.


Video: Secretary Kerry Delivers Remarks at the GLIFAA Pride Event

If you cannot see the video please follow this link

On June 19, Secretary of State, John Kerry addressed the audience at the LGBT+ Pride in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA) LGBT pride celebration.

For a written transcript click here

Ban Ki-moon condemns persecution of gay people in Russia

Click image to watch short video of the speech

Click image to watch short video of the speech

Repost from The Guardian

The United Nations secretary-general has used a speech ahead of theWinter Olympics in Sochi to condemn attacks on the LGBT community, amid growing criticism of Russia‘s so-called “gay propaganda” laws.

Ban Ki-moon, addressing the IOC before Friday’s opening ceremony, highlighted the fact that the theme of the UN’s human rights day last December was “sport comes out against homophobia”.

“Many professional athletes, gay and straight, are speaking out against prejudice. We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people,” he said. “We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face.”

“The United Nations stands strongly behind our own ‘free and equal’ campaign, and I look forward to working with the IOC, governments and other partners around the world to build societies of equality and tolerance. Hatred of any kind must have no place in the 21st century.” Continue Reading

Why Inclusion of Sexual Minorities Is Crucial to Gender Equality

Repost from The World Bank by Fabrice Houdart

In previous articles we discussed why inclusion of sexual minorities is instrumental to the World Bank’s goal of shared prosperity and constitutes smart economics. This piece focuses on how sexual minority inclusion is crucial to achieve progress on our gender equality agenda.

One of the background papers to the World Bank’s 2012 Gender World Development Report, “Masculinities, Social Change and Development,” alluded to Raewyn Connell’s theory of “hegemonic masculinity” as well as the strong correlation between heterosexism and gender inequalities.

Hegemonic masculinity is defined as the gender practice that guarantees the dominant social position of men and the subordinate social position of women. As summarized by Schifter and Madrigal (2000), it is the view that “Men, by virtue of their sex, [are] naturally strong, aggressive, assertive, and hardworking, whereas women [are] submissive, passive, vain, and delicate.” Hegemonic masculinity justifies the social, economic, cultural, and legal deprivations of women.

Its perpetuation is also widely understood to be the reason sodomy is criminalized in more than 76 countries, cross-dressing is criminalized in countless others, and hostility, discrimination, and violence against sexual minorities are often justified in patriarchal cultures. If masculinity is more valuable than femininity, then it is threatening for men to want to be women, display feminine characteristics, or adopt sexual practices that are not “manly.” Similarly, it is not acceptable for women to renounce male sexual partners.

The background paper highlighted the finding of the International Men and Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES) – a quantitative household survey carried out with men and women in seven countries in 2009-2010 – that homophobia is an unfortunate correlate of dominant masculinity. The more patriarchal the society, the more homophobic it is.

As an example, IMAGES data showed that 92% of respondents in India, which ranks 101st in the 2013 WEF Global Gender Gap, said they would be ashamed to have a gay son, and 89% of them said that being around homosexual men makes them uncomfortable. This echoes the findings of the Bank’s recent “Inclusion Matters” report which found that, for example, Georgia, which ranks 86th in the WEF Global Gender Gap, has the third-highest antipathy towards homosexuals as neighbors.  Finally, this is reflected in the latest World Values Survey, which finds a high correlation between attitudes toward the superiority of male political leadership and attitudes against homosexuality. Continue reading ‘Why Inclusion of Sexual Minorities Is Crucial to Gender Equality’

President Obama Comments on Yesterday’s DOMA Supreme Court Ruling

President Obama’s remarks at a joint press conference in Senegal, where after speaking about yesterday’s Court decision on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), he addressed the treatment of LGBT people in Africa.

You can read the transcripts from the full press conference here.

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, first of all, I think the Supreme Court ruling yesterday was not simply a victory for the LGBT community, it’s a victory for American democracy.  I believe at the root of who we are as a people, who we are as Americans is the basic precept that we are all equal under the law.  We believe in basic fairness.  And what I think yesterday’s ruling signifies is one more step towards ensuring that those basic principles apply to everybody.

When I spoke to Ms. Windsor — 83 years old — and I thought about the 40 years of her relationship and her partner, who is now passed, for her to live to see this day where that relationship was the vehicle whereby more people received their rights and are recognized as a testament to the love and commitment that they have made to each other, that was special.  And that’s just a microcosm of what it meant for families and their children all across America.  So it was a proud day I think for America.

Now, as you point out, there are a whole lot of implications that flow from it, because the Supreme Court did not make a blanket ruling that applies nationally, but rather lifted up the ability of states to recognize the dignity and respect of same-sex marriage, and that the federal government couldn’t negate the decision by those states.  We now have to comb through every federal statute.  And although we hadn’t pre-judged what the ruling had been, I had asked my White House Counsel to help work with lawyers across every agency in the federal government to start getting a sense of what statutes would be implicated and what it will mean for us to administratively apply the rule that federal benefits apply to all married couples.

What’s true though is that you still have a whole bunch of states that do not recognize it.  The Supreme Court continues to leave it up to the states to make these decisions.  And we are going to have to go back and do a legal analysis of what that means.  It’s my personal belief — but I’m speaking now as a President as opposed to as a lawyer — that if you’ve been married in Massachusetts and you move someplace else, you’re still married, and that under federal law you should be able to obtain the benefits of any lawfully married couple.  But I’m speaking as a President, not a lawyer.

So we’re going to be evaluating all these issues and making sure that we work through them in a systematic and prompt way, because now that the Supreme Court has spoken it’s important that people who deserve these benefits know that they’re getting them quickly.  And I know that, for example, Chuck Hagel already mentioned some work that the Department of Defense is doing on that front.  And I think we’re going to be seeing that in all the various agencies.

Now, this topic did not come up in the conversation that I had with President Sall in a bilateral meeting.  But let me just make a general statement.  The issue of gays and lesbians, and how they’re treated, has come up and has been controversial in many parts of Africa.  So I want the African people just to hear what I believe, and that is that every country, every group of people, every religion have different customs, different traditions.  And when it comes to people’s personal views and their religious faith, et cetera, I think we have to respect the diversity of views that are there.

But when it comes to how the state treats people, how the law treats people, I believe that everybody has to be treated equally.  I don’t believe in discrimination of any sort.  That’s my personal view.  And I speak as somebody who obviously comes from a country in which there were times when people were not treated equally under the law, and we had to fight long and hard through a civil rights struggle to make sure that happens.

So my basic view is that regardless of race, regardless of religion, regardless of gender, regardless of sexual orientation, when it comes to how the law treats you, how the state treats you — the benefits, the rights and the responsibilities under the law — people should be treated equally.  And that’s a principle that I think applies universally, and the good news is it’s an easy principle to remember.

Every world religion has this basic notion that is embodied in the Golden Rule — treat people the way you want to be treated.  And I think that applies here as well.

International Conference on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: Desmond Tutu on LGBT Rights in Africa

Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, Welcomes Participants to the International Conference on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

South Africa and Norway are co-hosting The International Conference on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity with over 200 government and NGO’s are participating in the dialog. You can follow the discussions for a second Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity resolution at the United Nations, happening now in Oslo, on Twitter with the hashtag #hr4all. Or you can live stream video from the conference here.

Julie Dorf of The Council for Global Equality is participating in this conference and we will bring you updates from the conference periodically.

For written transcripts of the video click here.

Global Reactions to the U.S. National Election

Global Activists Meeting in Washington DC - The Council for Global Equality

Global Activists Meeting in Washington DC. Photo: Munya K.

From Uganda:

I stayed all night watching the results come in and at 4am on the election night, I joined hundreds of Ugandan activists, Diplomats, MPs and civil society at the US embassy in Kampala. Minute by minute we watched and when Obama got the required 270 electoral college votes, I simply sat down and enjoyed the celebration . My fellow activist Bishop Christopher Senyonjo (I have never seen him so over-joyed) danced as did many of the guests. It was merry. I could not stand to imagine what Mr. Romney would have done about passing the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, given that there are strong links between The Family, the US funder of the author of the bill Mr. Bahati, and Republicans.

The LGBTI community in Kampala held a music show at the national theatre later in the evening, but police stopped it after two hours. We are used to that. The big picture is that we have an advocate in the White House. Humanity prevailed……and we shall prevail. It may not come during my lifetime, because I can easily expire in this struggle, but one day, we shall be free.

Kikonyogo Kivumbi
Executive Director, Uhspa-Uganda

From Russia:

News of Obama’s victory couldn’t be more timely. Russian LGBT people are facing extreme pressures, with the “propaganda” laws aiming to take away their basic rights and making a stab at their dignity itself. The entire civil society is experiencing an all-out attack by the government, with civil freedoms rapidly diminishing. Despite these grave challenges, the LGBT movement is more vibrant and stronger than ever, with gay people ready to go out on the streets to protest, go to court to defend their rights. If this momentum is kept, anything is achievable, and with Obama’s victory we can hope that the diplomatic missions in Russia will continue taking on a leading role in supporting gay rights.

Coming Out St. Petersburg

From St. Lucia:

Kenita Placide

From Venezuela:

Obama’s victory is also a victory for LGBTI human rights defenders all around the world. The continuous support to our activities will continue, and we will therefore able to further develop our actions in view of getting equal rights in our countries. On the other hand, the example of Obama’s actions with regard to LGBTI rights is an example to be used to force changes where radical and fundamentalists forces still in place, such as it is the case in Venezuela, where no significant improvements had been achieved, and in many cases we may detect a withdraw with regard to previous situations.

Tamara Adrián
DIVERLEX Diversidad e Igualdad a través de la ley

From Nepal:

The US Embassy in Kathmandu had invited us to observe the US presidential election yesterday; there were many Nepali from all walks of lives observing the election. The US embassy also put a mock pooling booth and allowed us to vote with a fake ballot. Many of us voted for Obama.

With Obama’s reelection LGBTI rights will make significant improvements not just in the US but all over the world. Obama is very popular in Nepal and people know him also for being LGBTI friendly. This makes us feel easier as activists to work on LGBTI rights in Nepal and around the world.

Congratulations to you all. Congratulations to all of us.

Sunil Pant
Director, Blue Diamond Society

From Mexico:

We are celebrating the re-election of Obama for another four-year period. It means that we still have an ally to go forward in the international struggle for LGBTI human rights and lot of hope for human rights advances for LGBTI people within the USA.

We know that since his first election we had a lot of expectations, and that it has not been easy for him. But we hope that in these next four years he will be able to build a broad alliance with other governments and advance the protection of LGBTI people. It is a profound democratic project promoting welfare and protecting human rights in which immigrants and LGBTI are clearly included.

We congratulate all American citizens that supported Obama´s agenda of respect for social, cultural and sexual diversity as a key contribution towards a better world!

Gloria Careaga
ILGA Co-Secretary General

From Moldova:

For us, the victory of Barack Obama is a victory of equal rights for all people, not only in the United States but all over the world including the small countries like Moldova. USA is a very influential country and this effect is not aggressive but pro-development. The government of Barack Obama has raised debate of LGBT issues to a new level in the world and we are confident that in the next four years it will be able to do more. U.S. President’s clear position on the rights of LGBT people became clear position of US Embassies in our countries. With their help and support, we will be able to further develop of democracy principles and the importance of each person, regardless of his/her sexual orientation and gender identity.

Anastasia Donilova
Director of Gender DOC-M

From Spain:

In Spain the LGBT movement has received with happiness news about President Obama´s re-election. November 6 was a great day for LGBT people in Spain because our Constitutional Court confirmed that the law that permitted marriage for same sex couples since 2005 is completely constitutional. The right-wing party Partido Popular (now in the Government) that were against the law, yesterday accepted the High Court decision and declared that they will maintain the law without any change. And after that, we learned early morning that President Obama, who has supported LGBT equality, will have four years more. The US election is important for us because Fundación Triángulo is concerned not just about Spanish domestic issues but also for the global fight for equality everywhere.  And we know that, with Obama, the USA will be a great ally against discrimination for LGBT people all over the world. Congratulations to all North-American people.

Miguel Ángel Sánchez Rodríguez.
Fundación Triángulo, for Social Equality of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Trans.

From Canada:

We congratulate our American friends on an impressive election night yesterday. The election results saw many important achievements for LGBT rights in the United States. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) becomes the first openly gay member of the US Senate, while Maine and Maryland have approved same-sex marriage.  Though votes continue to be counted in Washington State, marriage equality remains in the lead. Overall, a great night for LGBT rights!

Helen Kennedy
Executive Director, Egale Canada

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