Archive for the 'White House' Category

State Department Retains LGBTI Special Envoy: What Does It Mean? Will it Respond to Global Call from LGBT Advocates?

Last week’s Congressional notification that the Trump Administration has decided not to abolish the LGBTI human rights Special Envoy position was an unexpected surprise.

We know there are many dedicated State Department officials who believe passionately that the United States must stand for human rights, including equality and dignity for LGBT individuals everywhere, as a cornerstone of our foreign policy. And recent reports suggest Secretary Tillerson may have raised well-documented cases of LGBT persecution in Chechnya with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in a letter this summer. Yet, we’ve seen very little indication that Administration leaders care about a comprehensive human rights policy, or LGBT rights, after all:

  • A number of concrete actions – the ban on trans military service, opposition to federal employment protections, and the decision to rescind Obama-era guidance on protections for transgender students in public schools – have been injurious to LGBT citizens at home.
  • “America First” policies have slammed the door on refugees and immigrants, more than 75,000 LGBT DREAMers included – and on the international cooperation needed to stand for fairness and equality abroad.
  • Secretary Tillerson astoundingly has sought to separate democratic “values” from the pursuit of narrower, arguably raw, national “interests” (see his speech here) – turning his back on U.S. diplomatic priorities pursued across the postwar years.
  • President Trump’s expansion of the “Global Gag Rule” to all U.S. global health funding, including global AIDS funding through PEPFAR, undermines our investments in sexual and reproductive health and rights, with equally devastating impact for LGBT individuals who may now be forced to depend on faith-based implementers that are unlikely to be as welcoming or effective in supporting the health and rights of LGBT communities.
  • And the impact of these policy shifts is becoming clear: only last week, the Washington Post traced a sharp uptick in human rights abuses in Egypt to messages that President Trump conveyed in his May meeting with that country’s president.

In this light, how are we to understand retention of the Special Envoy position? Is it mere window dressing? Or will the Administration use the position vigorously to tackle a global crisis in hate crimes, abuse, and legal discrimination against LGBT people?

We are concerned that, in the first seven months of this Administration, the Department’s Special Envoy hasn’t been directed to make a single overseas trip to engage foreign governments on any of the LGBT-related human rights violations so carefully documented in the Department’s annual human rights reports. That concern is only amplified by Secretary Tillerson’s decision (as reflected in the Congressional notification) to co-hat the Special Envoy’s targeted responsibilities with the much larger duties of a Deputy Assistant Secretary (DAS) – a situation that exists now, but that was intended to be temporary, given personnel shifts and shortfalls. That co-hatting may well bury the Special Envoy’s substantive responsibilities under heavy managerial and substantive duties of the kind that any DAS carries.

But a broader question is whether the Administration can carry genuine moral authority to engage, even modestly, on LGBT human rights while its policies at home, and its lack of engagement on human rights abroad, have been so troubling.

The global credibility of the Special Envoy position, then, is directly proportional to the Administration’s record on Constitutional protections at home. It requires the thoughtful and deliberate inclusion of LGBT populations in appropriate bilateral economic, development, and health programs. It too requires regular engagement with other countries on problems impacting LGBT populations, all the while acknowledging that our country’s record in this sphere remains troubled. And it requires swift condemnation of hate crimes and hate groups – not the “blame on both sides” cop-out the President used in his troubling response to far-right violence in Charlottesville this summer.

LGBT advocates from around the world have urged President Trump to honor our country’s commitment to human rights. See their video here. Eight months later, we reiterate their call. Keeping the Special Envoy may be a start – but only if the Administration honors our country’s call to equality with humility, funding, and concrete action.

USAID Nominee Should Affirm that Investments in LGBT Development Have Real Impact

President Trump has nominated Ambassador Mark Green as the new Administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).  The Council looks forward to his confirmation hearing, where we trust he will affirm USAID’s commitment to inclusive development that recognizes LGBT citizens as both agents and beneficiaries of effective U.S. development assistance.

The Council has worked closely with USAID to ensure that LGBT individuals are included in the full range of human rights, health, economic empowerment and development assistance policies that the United States carries out abroad.  We are particularly pleased that the Agency has adopted new regulations prohibiting USAID and its partners from discriminating against LGBT or other minority communities when providing taxpayer-funded goods and services from the American people.

During his confirmation hearing, we hope Ambassador Greene pledges to uphold the principle that USAID must not discriminate against LGBT communities, and that he affirms the Agency’s ongoing commitment to integrating the needs of LGBT populations into all sectors of development support.

Please watch this video to hear how our investments in LGBT development can have real impact on human lives.

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. Continue reading ‘Remarks by Ambassador Samantha Power at the White House Dialogue on Global LGBT Human Rights’

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.


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