Archive for the 'White House' Category

US government says it will now use the term ‘sexual rights’

Repost from the Washington Post

UNITED NATIONS — The U.S. government says it will begin using the term “sexual rights” in discussions of human rights and global development.

The statement at a U.N. meeting this week comes after years of lobbying from groups who have argued that the U.S. should show global leadership on the rights of people of all gender identities and sexual orientations.

The statement, posted on a State Department website, says sexual rights include people’s “right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including sexual and reproductive health, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.”

The Washington-based Center for Health and Gender Equity pointed out the statement Thursday and said it was delighted.

“On one level, it’s symbolic. It also sends a signal to the global community that sexual and reproductive health and rights are a part of the global development agenda,” Serra Sippel, the center’s president, told The Associated Press. She said it follows “huge strides” made under the Obama administration on LGBT issues.

The announcement comes days before more than 150 world leaders gather at the U.N. to launch an ambitious set of development goals, including one of gender equality. One of the agenda’s many targets is to ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights by 2030. Continue Reading

The State of LGBT Rights Abroad

The State of LGBT Rights Abroad

The three-month-late State Department release of the 2014 country human rights reports on June 25 passed largely under the radar. We’ll leave aside the obvious question as to why the Department, and Congress, allowed this mandated report to slide so far down the calendar. The substance of the report, after all, deserves note.

As in previous years, the newly released reports document a continued lack of respect for the lives, livelihoods and rights of LGBT people around the world:

  • Laws criminalizing LGBT relations and relationships exist in every corner of the globe, from Kuwait to Singapore and from Turkmenistan to Zambia; anti-discrimination protections exclude LGBT people from the Czech Republic to Egypt and from Pakistan to the Philippines.
  • In countries as wide-ranging as Algeria, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia and Sierra Leone, LGBT populations face barriers to critical health service needs.
  • Media – even including government outlets – have engaged in anti-gay public messaging from Armenia to Angola and from Georgia to Mongolia and Singapore.
  • LGBT organizations have been denied registration in Botswana, Bulgaria, and Afghanistan, and in many more countries it would be unthinkable to attempt to register such an organization.
  • Transgender people lack protections or find it difficult, if not impossible, to change their identity documents in countries ranging from Ecuador to Cyprus, from Tajikistan to Vietnam and even in countries such as Thailand and the Philippines, with increasingly strong and visible transgender rights movements; many more countries require unwanted medical procedures or forced sterilization before a person can access appropriate identity documents, including countries ranging from Belgium to Iran.
  • And, like in our own country, there is ample evidence that LGBT people too often are denied employment, education and housing opportunities or are subjected to inhumane and coercive medical practices and so-called “conversion therapies.”

These cases, of course, are in addition to the well-known and –documented homophobia of countries like Russia, Uganda and much of the Arab world.

The most egregious violations documented in the reports center on bias-motivated crimes and abuse – committed far too often, and with impunity, by government authorities. Many reports describe national police as subjecting LGBT people to arbitrary arrest or extortion, or even of being complicit in LGBT-directed hate violence. In dozens of countries, the reports describe police and other government authorities as having turned a blind eye to LGBT hate crimes, failing either to protect against or to prosecute those crimes.

By commission or omission, these violations challenge the integrity of the governments concerned. But the integrity of our own government’s human rights credentials is also at stake. A country that documents and champions human rights must make clear that LGBT human rights abuse has real consequences to the strength and extent of bilateral relations – something that this Administration has recognized but which has not occurred with the consistency required to have a deterrent effect. Equally important, the U.S. needs to use its bilateral law enforcement tools imaginatively to help partner countries prevent, investigate, and prosecute human rights abuse. In so doing, U.S. support must help change the fundamental mindset of other governments, especially those close U.S. friends and allies who insist on treating their LGBT citizens as criminals undeserving of protection – or, indeed, of the rule of law.

At a White House conference earlier this summer, the Administration showcased some of those international law enforcement tools. An important conclusion from that conference was that “improving access to justice for LGBT persons will require both an overall strengthening of the institutions that safeguard the rule of law, and increased education and training for law enforcement officials on promoting human rights and protecting vulnerable communities, including LGBT communities.”

The U.S. can, and should, take immediate action to impact that conclusion. U.S. Legal Attaches stationed abroad can proactively urge foreign governments to collect and disaggregate data on hate crimes abuse directed against LGBT people, to focus attention toward needed areas. Indeed, the United States is one of the few countries around the world that is trying to collect and disaggregate this data within its own jurisdiction. Justice Department legal advisors can provide host governments with needed expertise on legal reform tools. Overseas police training programs can offer greater attention to international LGBT bias-motivated violence. Inter-agency attention to bias-motivated violence abroad might benefit from enhanced coordinative structures or processes. And the U.S. can more purposefully support LGBT-affirming policies in other countries, and better match foreign assistance to LGBT civil society needs.

In short, the State Department devotes sizeable resources to documenting human rights abuses abroad each year; it needs to more purposefully use that documentation to drive U.S. human rights policy and funding priorities overseas. This is not only a matter of using taxpayer dollars wisely, but of demonstrating our commitment to the fundamental human rights that our country is right to champion.

A Whole-of-Government Approach to Trade

President Obama’s groundbreaking December 2011 Presidential Memorandum calls for a cross-agency, whole-of-government approach to addressing LGBT human and civil rights shortcomings abroad. That effort surely will be a legacy of his presidency. But has the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiation honored that approach?

For several weeks, the Council for Global Equality has engaged the Administration on our concerns about the draft trade deal. We worry that the heightened intellectual property rights (IPR) restrictions being negotiated, and championed by the U.S., could make it harder for poorer signatory countries to access affordable HIV/AIDS and other life-saving communicable disease medicines in order to respond effectively to legitimate health care crises. We also find it troublesome that, as far as we can determine, the negotiations have minimized any discussion of the human rights situations in prospective signatory countries, including the treatment of LGBT individuals – issues bound to impact any long-term growth in bilateral relations, including in the trade arena.

We know, of course, that this is a trade deal, not a human rights pact. We know too that trade can be beneficial, not only to U.S. corporations, but to the populations of many other countries. But surely we can do a better job of reflecting our values and human rights priorities, even in the context of global trade.

We deeply believe in a whole-of-government approach – one in which all government foreign affairs agencies frame their individual substantive goals in such a way as to support overarching national purposes. Certainly that was implicit in the President’s 2011 Executive Order. It was even more explicit in former Secretary Clinton’s creation of a Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), to marry more closely the policy goals and programmatic tools of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.   (We engaged former Congressman Tom Perriello on the latter, and were happy to see some of our focus on LGBT-fair policies included in the most recent QDDR.)

In the same sense, trade pacts, like other national instruments, should align with broad national policies. That is where our concerns with TPP lie. By letter, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has signaled U.S. support for flexibility in the IPR applications on life-saving pharmaceuticals needed to win the global war against HIV/AIDS.   We hope the commitment to the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health means that the U.S. will not pursue so-called “TRIPS-Plus” provisions in this context. Without concrete trip-wire mechanisms to ensure the flexibility that the Doha Declaration suggests, the strengthened IPR protections in the current draft TPP agreement are out of sync with our country’s humanitarian goals, as embodied most notably in our life-saving PEPFAR programs. The Trade Representative also points to the importance of regular engagement with TPP signatory countries on human rights issues. We appreciate this approach, and we look forward to concrete pledges that these concerns will be addressed as part of this and future trade agreements, consistent with the whole-of-government approach that is a hallmark of good governance.

As the House of Representatives takes up debate on the Administration’s request for fast-track authority, we hope it will make clear that USTR must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the State Department in making clear that public health takes precedence, and that human rights shortfalls only erode our ability to sustain any long-term growth in bilateral trade. Perhaps a case can be made that an eventual TPP trade agreement may be in our national interests – but not if our national commitment to fair treatment, inclusion and humanitarian values is cheapened by the result.

Sen. Markey & Rep. Lowenthal Introduce Legislation Affirming U.S. Commitment to International LGBT Rights


Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.)

Press Statement from the office of Senator Edward J. Markey

Washington (January 29, 2015) – In the wake of President Obama’s commitment in the State of the Union to defend the human rights of the LGBT community, today Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) introduced bicameral legislation to affirm that LGBT human rights are a foreign policy priority for the U.S. government. Originally introduced last year by Senator Markey, the International Human Rights Defense Actwould direct the State Department to make preventing and responding to discrimination and violence against the LGBT community a foreign policy priority and devise a global strategy to achieve those goals. The legislation would establish a Special Envoy position in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor to coordinate that effort. More than 80 nations around the world have laws that criminalize homosexuality, prohibit public support for the LGBT community, or promote homophobia. In seven countries, homosexuality is punishable by death.

“When President Obama addressed the nation and committed to defending the human rights of the LGBT community, we made that commitment to the world,” said Senator Markey, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. “With the rights of the LGBT community under attack around the globe, we must stand hand-in-hand with them in the struggle for recognition and equality everywhere. It is vital to have a dedicated position at the State Department spearheading that effort.  The International Human Rights Defense Act will promote a coordinated effort across the federal government to support our position as a model for defending LGBT and human rights around the world, and I thank Rep. Lowenthal for his partnership on this important legislation.” Continue Reading

A copy of the International Human Rights Defense Act can be found HERE. A one-page summary can be found HERE.

Advocacy Groups Seek U.S. Travel Ban Against Gambian President

Obama Jammeh White HouseRepost from the Washington Blade

More than a dozen LGBT advocacy groups on Friday called upon the Obama administration ban Gambian officials responsible for human rights abuses from entering the U.S.

The Human Rights Campaign, the Council for Global Equality, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Human Rights First, GLAAD, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the Global Justice Institute with the Metropolitan Community Churches, the National Center for Transgender Equality, Out and Equal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce in a letter urged the White House to institute a visa ban on Gambian President Yahya Jammeh and other “key Gambian officials” who “have promoted discriminatory laws and who are responsible for grave human rights abuses.” The groups also called upon the Obama administration to freeze Jammeh’s U.S. assets that include a multi-million dollar home in Potomac, Md.

“It is not too late for the United States to send President Jammeh and his regime a clear and unequivocal message: human rights violations will not be tolerated and the U.S. government will respond with actions, as well as with strong condemnation,” reads the letter. “It is crucial that the United States take concrete action whenever countries enact discriminatory laws, and the Gambia should be no exception.” Continue Reading

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

Global LGBT Rights Advocates Send Joint Letter to President Obama

Photo: Pete Souza

Photo: Pete Souza

A group of 24 leading LGBT rights advocates from every region of the world sent a joint letter to President Obama in late December asking him to stand with them in seeking fairness and equality. While applauding the President’s support, they noted inconsistencies in his Administration’s response to anti-LGBT laws that have been adopted recently in various countries. Without a more consistent approach, they pointedly asked President Obama: “How can we trust otherwise that the United States will, indeed, stand with us as we fight for our rights?

Recognizing that the response to harmful laws adopted in different countries may not be identical in every case, and that any response must be tailored to fit the country context, the advocates nonetheless asked that the United States respond, without fail and in whatever way is most appropriate, whenever another country adopts a new law or a national policy that denies fundamental rights to LGBT citizens.

Click here to read the full letter.

Stay Informed

Subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 197 other followers

Follow us on Twitter



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 197 other followers