Archive for the 'White House' Category

When The U.S. Backs Gay And Lesbian Rights In Africa, Is There A Backlash?

Uganda 2014 Pride

Photo: Ben Curtis/AP

Repost from NPR

Everyone knew President Obama would say something about gay rights when he made his visit to Kenya last summer. Many American activists were pressing him to publicly condemn Kenya’s colonial-era law making homosexuality a crime.

But Kenyan gays and lesbians were wary. In the weeks leading up to Obama’s visit, Kenyan politicians took to the airwaves to assert their anti-gay bona fides. Deputy President William Ruto gave a guest sermon in a church to announce that Kenya “had no room” for homosexuality. As the vitriol increased, so did the incidents of violence, from assaults to rape.

“That was the most tense [period] in our life, before Obama came,” says John Mathenge, the director of a community center and health clinic in Nairobi called HOYMAS — Health Options for Young Men with HIV/AIDS and STIs. His clinic usually averages 50 visitors a day; in the weeks before Obama’s arrival there were no more than 2 or 3. “People weren’t even coming to collect their ARVs [anti-retroviral medication] because they feared they were going to be attacked.”

It wasn’t just Kenyans who were worried. OutRight Action International, a New York-based not-for-profit that advocates for LGBT rights around the world, took the position that President Obama should not mention gay rights when he visited Kenya.

“LGBTI rights have become a political lightning rod,” explained OutRight director Jessica Stern. Though the organization is devoted to pressing for gay rights overseas, she urged the U.S. government to push for “substance over symbolism” — that is, working behind the scenes to improve the legal and social climate for LGBT people rather than issuing too many public pronouncements that could be seen as finger-wagging and that could compromise the efforts of local activists. “We know it’s very easy for LGBTI Africans to be discredited as Western,” she said. (The acronym is a version of LGBT and stands for “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex.”)

Over the last four years, the American government has engaged in an ambitious campaign to defend the rights of gay and lesbian people overseas, especially in Africa, where the majority of countries outlaw homosexuality and anti-gay sentiment remains strong. But African activists struggle with the double-edged sword of American support. While they say that U.S. attention has given a needed boost to their movement, the protection of an outsider can complicate the path to true acceptance. Continue Reading at NPR

Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power at the White House Dialogue on Global LGBT Human Rights

Ambassador Samantha Power
U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
Washington, DC
June 29, 2016

It’s amazing to be here and to be with all of you. This is a really important thing to do, particularly in light of recent events, but anyway, to step back, and to look back at what has been achieved in this last five years. From the diplomatic corps representatives who are here, to civil society representatives – each of you have played a really critical role in bringing us to where we are today. I’m only going to speak very briefly, but do want to pull a few of the highlights out of the last five years and look at the legacy of the Presidential Memorandum, which is itself just a symptom of the President’s leadership.

Five years ago, when I was in the position occupied brilliantly now by Steve Pomper, I had the privilege, along with Ambassador David Pressman, who you will hear from a little bit later, of helping President Obama shepherd this historic LGBT memorandum through the U.S. government. When he signed the Presidential Memorandum – I remember as if it was yesterday – the response inside the government, as well as outside the government, was immediate. And in particular, I will never forget the outpouring of emotion from people around the United States – again, whether inside or outside the government – but also around the world, when they heard that LGBTI rights was being embedded, as Josh put it, into the DNA of the U.S. government.

I don’t know why it resonates so much more when one sees one’s own issue in the kind of sterile bureaucratese that is the lifeblood of government, but, you know, if every other issue that is a priority lives in those documents and in those directives, why not LGBTI rights? And sure enough, putting it into that form and having that directive go out to all the agencies and departments that are part of the U.S. government, it’s game-changing. It means it’s there forever; it means someone has to take it away. And it really was a historic step that the President took, and one of the many reasons I’m incredibly proud to get to work for him and to represent him.

So the idea that there’s this memorandum that dedicates the U.S. government and our foreign policies, a matter of national interest, to fighting the criminalization of LGBTI status; to directing significant resources to empowering LGBTI groups abroad; to responding swiftly and meaningfully when governments have repressed LGBTI rights. These are words on a page, but they spring off the page when they affect – as Josh, again, put it – real people.

On the conference call that we convened to walk people through the components of this Presidential Memorandum – which I should say was issued the same day Secretary Clinton gave her amazing speech in Geneva, where you could’ve – I wasn’t there, but I gather – could’ve heard a pin drop when she said “LGBTI rights are human rights; human rights are LGBTI rights and all universal rights.” We convened a conference call, and what I remember most about that call was one woman, describing her life as a lesbian woman with her partner, deciding where she could travel with her children abroad, and knowing her whole life that there were “No Go Zones” that were sort of off-limits – parts of the map that may as well not have been on the map for the purposes of her and her children and her partner. And she said, “Suddenly with this memorandum – even though we’re so far from that day – it’s the first time I see my government announcing to the world that its ambition is that there will be no ‘No Go Zones’ for me and my family. And because if these rights were universal rights, it would be so weird! We would actually never have to have that thought, that voice in the back of our heads, of thinking, you know, is that a place that is going to be friendly to me? Is it going to be hostile to me? Is it going to be criminal to love in the way that I can love in my home?” And, you know, as someone who hasn’t had to have that voice in her head, it really, really struck me what universality actually means and what a denial of universality means concretely for people who don’t – who can’t experience and don’t see their rights fully realized.

So this Presidential Memorandum sets out to end the “No Go Zones” and to expand enjoyment of rights in a deep, deep way. We have been implementing it, also in a deep way. The progress abroad, of course, is not like what we have had the amazing fortune of witnessing or experiencing here in this room. In some ways, some of the setbacks abroad I feel are a reaction in a way to some of the progress that has been made here, for all of the challenges that lie ahead even within our own borders. But even abroad we are making headway, and I can see it, as someone who worked here at the White House on these issues for four years, and now up in New York for three years. It’s different, it’s really different pushing this agenda internationally.

Five years ago, I would never have foreseen being able to hold a UN Security Council meeting – a mere meeting – on the topic of violence against LGBTI persons. And yet on August 24, 2015, we and Chile co-sponsored this meeting. Also, lots of countries in the UN family – even those who aren’t great on these issues at home – they showed up. And they heard one of the most powerful presentations any of them will ever hear: Subhi Nahas sharing his story of fleeing his home in Syria after being threatened by ISIL and even threatened by his own family. Subhi was recently honored as a Logo Trailblazer and as one of the Grand Marshals of New York City’s 2016 Pride March.

But I compared to that day – I’m not sure which is more amazing, to actually be speaking in front of the world about the need to change norms and implement human rights standards equally, without prejudice to whom we are applying them to, versus hanging out with Bill de Blasio and the other Pride March. But Subhi did a tremendous job. And the way we will change policy is we will change hearts and minds. And that is the order in which we are progressing in New York.

Five years ago, the United Nations did not even think about granting benefits to the families of same-sex UN employees. But a courageous UN Secretary-General put forward a UN bulletin granting those benefits. And I’m very proud of the fact that last year, the United States and a group of countries committed to non-discrimination and equality were able to thwart a very spirited Russian effort to force the Secretary-General to pull back his directive actually securing same-sex benefits – benefits for same-sex couples. So, that was another one that if you look at the 193 countries in the UN and the policies they have at home, it was not obvious that we were going to be able to sustain support for the Secretary-General’s important directive. But because – as we always say on my team – we want it more, and because we had such great support from civil society, the Russians were thwarted in a very, very lopsided vote, in fact, and were unable to defy the will of the Secretary-General.

Five years ago, one could not have dreamed that we would end up, in any circumstance, able to secure a Security Council condemnation of the targeting of people on the basis of sexual orientation. But out of the horrific Orlando attack and the heartbreak of that, we knew that we had to do everything in our power to try to unite a very, very divided Security Council. And on Monday, June 13, for the first time in the UN’s 70-year history, the Security Council denounced violence targeting people “as a result of their sexual orientation.” Even countries like Russia and Egypt did not block this effort.

And five years ago, I would never have imagined that we would be able to bring a diverse, regionally cross-cutting group of UN ambassadors to Stonewall for a monumental meeting of a new network that we are part of in New York, called the LGBT Core Group. And this was just an amazing meeting, where you had countries from Asia, Latin America, Europe – not yet Africa – but sitting around the table and talking about redoubling our efforts to push this agenda around the world. The UN is just a venue; it’s a forum – we shouldn’t confuse forum with substance. But if we can work it at the center and then get the change out into the capillaries, through the governments and their representatives and their citizens, we will turn the tide against discrimination internationally.

So we have come a long way in these five years, but the next five years start today. And I think it is invigorating that the Obama Administration – and thanks hugely to the leadership of Steve Pomper and Ambassador Rice – are not letting up in our efforts to promote LGBTI rights internationally.

I think we need to work very concretely to try to get more countries, more governments, to issue directives along the lines that President Obama had the foresight to issue five years ago. I will have the privilege of attending, with Special Envoy Berry, the Global LGBTI International Conference in Montevideo, Uruguay on July 13. And there, ministers and civil society activists from around the world will discuss how we can better promote LGBTI rights and inject, again, this agenda into various countries’ foreign policy agenda, but also into inclusive development. And I hope that any of the governments represented here will send ministers to that meeting. We are seeking to secure the highest level of representation possible.

I want to end just on a sobering note, and the reminder that for all of this progress – some of it in form, a lot also in substance – more than 70 countries still criminalize same-sex relationships, legislators continue to pass discriminatory laws, and LGBTI civil society actors face harassment and discrimination. And we need a global coalition of diverse voices, but also of united voices, standing up against hatred. We should all be able to love openly without hiding in the shadows. Nobody should ever have to have that voice in their head. We’ve got to eliminate the “No Go Zones” once and for all.

And I want to thank you, really and truly, for all of your work in this regard. We wouldn’t be here without you. And we won’t get where we need to get going forward unless we stay united. So I thank you, and I thank you very much for having me.

LGBT Human Rights and Foreign Policy

The Council for Global Equality posted a series of four blog posts on LGBT human rights issues and foreign policy over the past week. The posts touch on public diplomacy, national values, the current Administration’s actions and the lack of discussion of human rights during this presidential election cycle. Below is roll up of all four posts with links to the full postings.

The Place of Human Rights The Place of Human Rights

Another new year. Another chance to put things right. For the Council for Global Equality, that means elevating the place of human rights – including those of LGBT, intersex and other vulnerable minorities – in America’s foreign policy. Continue Reading 


LGBT Human Rights in U.S. Foreign Policy

LGBT Human Rights in U.S. Foreign Policy

A December 20 New York Times story alleged that U.S. attention to discrimination and hate crimes against LGBT people in Nigeria had worsened, in fact, their plight. Others – including the State Department, Ugandan LGBT rights defenders Frank Mugisha and Adrian Jjuko, and Nigeria’s LGBT rights community – already have pointed out the flaws in that article. Continue Reading.


Governments and Human Rights Governments and Human Rights

The Council pays particular attention to the role that foreign governments play, or fail to play, in preserving and advancing the rights of their LGBT citizens. In our own country, we’ve seen how policies pursued by this President have helped empower greater respect and protections for LGBT persons. The same could happen in many countries abroad. Continue Reading.


Matters of the Heart Matters of the Heart

Our country increasingly has come to terms with the need for fairness toward LGBT Americans – and few have questioned the premise that LGBT human rights abuse, like all human rights abuse, must be challenged. Continue Reading.

Matters of the Heart

Matters of the Heart - The Council for Global EqualityOur country increasingly has come to terms with the need for fairness toward LGBT Americans – and few have questioned the premise that LGBT human rights abuse, like all human rights abuse, must be challenged.

But as we enter this election year, we’re disappointed to see how little discussion there’s been of human rights in either party’s presidential campaign. Fair treatment of human beings is, after all, common to many religious traditions, and it seems to us important that both major political parties regularly reaffirm the importance our country attaches to the protection of human rights for all.

Even more, we’re deeply concerned that the inflamed Republican primary rhetoric over immigration and refugees is harming our country’s image as a beacon of hope in today’s troubled world. It’s hardly a partisan comment to ask that both parties reaffirm our country’s proud tradition of welcoming those who flee persecution. Nor is it partisan to ask that those who call for the protection of Christian refugees from abuse and injustice show equal concern for the plight of LGBT refugees, who are among those most negatively impacted by wars across the Middle East.

We will continue to press the Obama Administration toward policies that assure the wellbeing of LGBT people worldwide – and we hope it will be eager to reach as broadly positive a legacy in this respect as possible. But we also want that legacy to carry over to a new Administration – one in which the new President, from whichever party, speaks to America’s strength as a nation of bright compassion, not as a nation of fear, and distrust, and hatred.

2016 will be crucial from both respects: an administration that can leave behind a powerful legacy of standing for fairness and equality, and an electoral cycle that should reaffirm those principles, rather than shrinking from their embrace. We ask that all of those who value liberty and equality, and who are committed to notions of fairness, make this a year of progress on both accounts.

Governments and Human Rights

Governments and Human RightsThe Council pays particular attention to the role that foreign governments play, or fail to play, in preserving and advancing the rights of their LGBT citizens. In our own country, we’ve seen how policies pursued by this President have helped empower greater respect and protections for LGBT persons. The same could happen in many countries abroad.

Moving the needle on respect for LGBT people is a process, of course. Governments must play a role in that process – in molding attitudes, not just reflecting them, and in forming policies that promote and reinforce cross-society acceptance and cooperation. We believe all governments – ours yes, but also those of every other country, friend and foe alike – should be held accountable for:

  • The tone that governing officials’ homo- or trans-phobic public rhetoric sets within society;
  • Failure to redress legally sanctioned discrimination or bias-motivated crimes against LGBT individuals;
  • The degree to which LGBT individuals are accorded equal access to services and opportunities, including health care, employment, education, and housing;
  • Whether LGBT civil society organizations are able to register and function unimpaired;
  • The prevalence of transgender-specific violence, abuse, and documentation issues, particularly in cases involving government action or inaction.
  • Abuse of government and police powers, e.g. the use of tangential laws regarding loitering to arrest or detain LGBT individuals arbitrarily; the use of foreign agent or tax laws to place disproportionate restrictions on LGBT civil society; physical abuses by police, prison, and hospital officials; and bribery solicited by such officials in order either to provide services or to avoid abusive treatment; and
  • The media climate in which LGBT rights are explained to and understood by the public, particularly when government-sponsored or –influenced media outlets are involved.

In addition, we should work with countries to understand intersex issues as a related set of human rights concerns. In this context, governments must be held accountable for policies or practices that unnecessarily and adversely impact the childhood development and adult health and sexuality of intersex persons. Appropriate government officials, including our own, must also enter into a new dialogue with intersex persons to identify best practices in the diagnosis, treatment and lifelong support for intersex health.

We know that the U.S. does not run the world by fiat. But we also recognize our responsibility, as citizens of a country that wields outsized influence in the world, to ensure this influence is put to positive use. We therefore hold our government accountable for encouraging foreign counterparts to guarantee the conditions in which the promise of the Universal Declaration can be realized for all citizens.

If fault is to be found in U.S. human rights policy, it certainly isn’t in our country’s attention to LGBT human rights, as the December 20 New York Times article alleges. Nor is it in failing to listen to the voices of local activists, as the Times article also suggests has been the case: to the contrary, we’ve found this Administration very much attuned to those local voices in framing its diplomatic dialogue and actions.

The fault we find, rather, is in this Administration’s lack of consistency in showing that human rights matter – and that deliberate abuse of those rights damages the fabric of our bilateral relationships.

Across this Administration’s tenure, the Council has urged that actions by foreign governments that abridge the human rights of any minority group automatically trigger a measured review of how those actions might impact U.S. programs in-country and, of consequence, potential U.S. policy responses.

We know, of course, that U.S. policy goals in any given country sometimes compete against each other. But if support for human rights is a principle, neither it nor its deterrent value should be shunted aside when inconvenient – not even when Nigerian oil contracts, Pacific trade deals, or terrorism concerns are in play.

We also see an urgent need for greater Administration transparency in the funding it provides for LGBT and other human rights programs, and in how those programs are evaluated. The State Department and USAID are embarrassingly far apart in how they measure their LGBT-related programming dollars – no doubt a contributing factor to the highly inflated, erroneous figure of $700 million reported in the New York Times. And unfortunately the World Bank and other multilateral development funders have yet to institute mechanisms needed to include LGBT minorities – who are so often denied basic livelihoods and excluded from the economic life of their own country – in the development opportunities that Bank programs are intended to promote.

Common counting practices, clear programmatic goals, and honestly reflective measurements of program results are basic to good governance.

LGBT Human Rights in U.S. Foreign Policy

theplaceofhumanrights-cge-blogA December 20 New York Times story alleged that U.S. attention to discrimination and hate crimes against LGBT people in Nigeria had worsened, in fact, their plight. Others – including the State Department, Ugandan LGBT rights defenders Frank Mugisha and Adrian Jjuko, and Nigeria’s LGBT rights community – already have pointed out the flaws in that article.

We found especially unfortunate the Times article’s failure to recognize that a country’s foreign policy must be rooted in national values – and that if we are to stand for human rights, that stand must be made on principles, not on convenience. As such, we cannot prioritize one set of rights or one persecuted group above another. As a corollary, nor can we remain silent when any one group is persecuted.

For over 100 years, advancing human rights has been a U.S. foreign policy goal. That goal achieved particular prominence during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt: his wife Eleanor, known as an outspoken human rights advocate, chaired the committee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and gave birth to the modern human rights movement.

The Obama Administration’s advocacy of LGBT human rights is part of that proud tradition. At heart, the Administration’s policy simply reaffirms the Universal Declaration’s namesake principle that no part of humanity – no individual, no minority group – can be excluded from the promise of fundamental human rights. Making that promise explicitly applicable to LGBT people in Nigeria and other countries where LGBT lives and liberties are under vicious attack isn’t a mistake – indeed, failure to do so would be the shameful mistake. Speaking out against injustice is sound and principled policy. It should be a mark of pride for all Americans and for each successive Administration after President Obama leaves office.

The Place of Human Rights

The Place of Human RightsAnother new year. Another chance to put things right.

For the Council for Global Equality, that means elevating the place of human rights – including those of LGBT, intersex and other vulnerable minorities – in America’s foreign policy.

The year of 2015 brought incredible progress on LGBT rights around the world. Marriage equality was won here in the United States as well as in Mexico and Ireland; Malta passed the world’s most protective law for transgender and intersex citizens; and Mozambique got rid of its colonial-era anti-sodomy law once and for all.

Yet challenges and dangers continue to confront LGBT people. ISIS continues to hunt down and kill suspected LGBT individuals in its territory. Refugees fleeing persecution last year reached a new post-World War II high, with LGBT refugees among the most vulnerable of them. And from Russia to Egypt, a broad array of countries continue to deny rights to their own LGBT citizens while leading the charge at the United Nations to deny human rights to LGBT individuals everywhere.

We enter the last full year of the Obama Administration with pride and respect for what our country has helped accomplish to ensure that LGBT people are no longer excluded from universal human rights protections. A White House conference last year identified new opportunities for our embassies to respond to escalating violence against LGBT persons globally. A new U.S. Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons is mobilizing diplomatic efforts to challenge LGBT human rights violations and to build alliances in the quest for equality. And last year, the Administration sought to build a case for global support for LGBT refugees fleeing targeted persecution, including through the first-ever briefing on that topic for the UN Security Council in August.

Perhaps most important, the Obama Administration last year leveraged our public diplomacy and development tools as never before to promote citizen exchanges, highlight the voices and messages of local LGBT leaders and help fund LGBT organizations to promote global equality. The President himself spoke in support of LGBT rights in many of his travels abroad. These efforts, amplified by our investments in educational and development opportunities through USAID and the State Department’s growing Global Equality Fund, bear witness to the Obama Administration’s unprecedented commitment to equality for LGBT individuals everywhere.

If we are to hold other governments accountable for how they honor and safeguard the rights of their LGBT citizens, we must continue to push our own towards even greater consistency and impactful actions. Over the next two weeks, we will set forth the expectations we hold of our own government in this regard.

The steps that are – or aren’t – taken in 2016 will etch the final and most compelling stories of this Administration’s human rights legacy. Then it will be up to us, the human rights community, to hold the next Administration accountable to this country’s proud tradition of standing up for universal human rights at every turn.


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