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Obama Administration Brings Global LGBTI Community Together to Advance Human Rights and Development

Todd Larson- USAIDRepost from the White House blog

Last month, the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development, where I work, co-hosted the third-annual Conference to Advance the Human Rights of and Promote Inclusive Development for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) Persons. The international conference brought together public and private donors, civil society activists, and the private sector.

While this gathering wasn’t the first of its kind — previous such conferences were held in 2010 in Stockholm and in 2013 in Berlin — participation in this year’s event grew significantly, including representation from 30 governments from all regions of the world. When combined with advocates from civil society organizations, more than 50 countries were represented, as well as 9 multilateral agencies, including the United Nations and the World Bank.

More than 25 governments and multilateral organizations signed a joint communiqué affirming their commitment to increased cooperation, coordination, and communication to advance the human rights of and promote inclusive development for LGBTI persons around the world.

Take a look at the communiqué. It is historic. It is inspirational. And as Americans, we can be particularly proud of it. The resounding international LGBTI-affirming commitments in the communique are a direct result of strong U.S. government support to organize as inclusive a convening as possible.

Activists present at the conference weren’t just observers, but active participants, proudly sharing their inspirational stories of courage, explaining to donors what their needs are, and working with donors to conceptualize creative solutions to advance the rights and livelihoods of their LGBTI brothers and sisters.

The conference underscored a number of themes, including that more research and data are needed. I am proud that USAID is already working with partners like UNDP in Asia and, most recently, the Williams Institute, through the Agency’s LGBTI Global Development Partnership, to publish reports that can inform and guide LGBTI inclusive development programming going forward. And through the Global Equality Fund and other assistance and diplomatic tools, the U.S. Department of State is working to support civil society organizations on the ground, to help ensure that the human rights of all persons, including LGBTI persons, are protected.

The conference also made clear that there is much more work to be done. Recent backsliding, such as the passing of anti-LGBTI legislation in The Gambia, and similar renewed threats in Uganda, is tragic proof.

So it was a convening of critical importance — with more than 50 nationalities taking their own leadership seat at the table.

Three years ago, the Obama administration laid out its pioneering support for the international LGBTI community. By hosting the recent forum to address issues of most pressing concern for LGBTI persons around the world, the Administration continued to deliver on its promise.

Todd Larson is the Senior LGBT Coordinator at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

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.

 

International Olympic Committee Adopts Proposal to Include Sexual Orientation in Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter

IOC-Dec-8-VoteToday the International Olympic Committee (IOC) unanimously voted in favor of adopting “Proposal 14″ of the Olympic Agenda 2020. This vote will add non-discrimination language regarding sexual orientation in Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter. The vote took a positive step forward in promoting equality in the Olympic games. In September, the IOC announced that they would add an anti-discrimination clause to host cities’ contracts.

“There is no greater sign of progress in combating homophobia in sports than to have the oldest organized athletic competition in the history of the world saying enough is enough,” Hudson Taylor, executive director of gay rights group Athlete Ally, said in a statement regarding the vote.

In April 2014 the Council for Global Equality sent a letter to IOC President, Thomas Bach, asking that four areas be addressed:

  1. Amend Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter, to include “sexual orientation and gender identity”
  2. Strengthen the Olympic Host City Bid process
  3. Future host city contracts should include specific human rights pledges and a commitment not to introduce laws or policies that violate human rights law before the Games
  4. Make Host City Contracts public

Read the full letter here.


Related Content:

IOC Adopts Proposal to Include Sexual Orientation in Olympic Charter’s Non-discrimination Principle (Human Rights First)

Joint Letter to IOC President Bach Regarding “Agenda 2020″ (Human Rights Watch)

ORAM Congratulates EU Court of Justice for Landmark Decision on Credibility Assessment in LGBTI Asylum Claims

EU FLAGPress Statement from ORAM

The Court of Justice of the European Union has issued a landmark decision on assessing the credibility of sexual minority asylum seekers. In A, B and C vs. Staatssecretaris van Veiligheiden Justitie, the Court disallowed inappropriate practices in evaluating the claims of asylum applicants claiming persecution based on their sexual orientation. ORAM hopes the Court’s ruling will bring about more consistent and humane treatment of these asylum seekers.

The Court ruled that EU states credibility assessment methods must comply with the Charter of Fundamental Rights — particularly the rights to human dignity and to private and family life.

The Court rejected several practices found in these cases: Intrusive questioning about an applicant’s sexual acts, use of explicit evidence like films documenting applicants’ intimate sexual conduct, and physical or medical tests purportedly revealing one’s sexual orientation.

Finally, the court held that a delay in asserting one’s LGBTI status does not necessarily indicate fraud, as allowances must be given to LGBTI applicants for the special kinds of difficulties they face.

ORAM will soon publish the first volume of its legal guidance series on refugee and asylum claims based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This meticulously researched and clearly written comparative work provides unparalleled guidance for adjudicators on credibility indicators used by major asylum countries in claims based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The volume draws on ORAM’s extraordinary expertise and field leadership in refugee protection training, as well as its research in international law, psychology and sociology. Together with ORAM’s other publications and materials, this work will be a significant contribution to the growing library of tools for LGBTI refugee adjudication and protection available to refugee professionals worldwide.

Related Reading:

Court of Justice of the European Union full judgement

EU Court: verification sexual orientation asylum seeker must not infringe fundamental rights (Intergroup on LGBT Rights)

Reflecting UN Progress on Transgender Day of Remembrance

Transgender Day of RemembranceNovember 20, 2014 — Today, on Transgender Day of Remembrance, we remember brave transgender individuals around the world who have been killed because of who they are or how they appear in the world. It therefore seems fitting, on a day like today, to reflect on a draft resolution adopted yesterday by the United Nations that recognizes the sad reality that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals are too often targeted and killed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The UN resolution, which condemns “extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions” committed by both government and non-governmental agents, recognizes that certain vulnerable groups of persons – generally those who face broader social exclusion and discrimination – are at particular risk of targeted killing. And when they are attacked, governments are far less likely to investigate the cases or prosecute the perpetrators. Perhaps no such group is at greater risk than transgender individuals – those who dare to live authentic lives in defiance of gender expectations or stereotypes.

Public health groups estimate that the life expectancy of a transgender woman in Latin America is between 30 and 35 years, and possibly lower in parts of Central America. And for regions where transgender homicides are completely ignored and statistics purposefully obscured, the measure of a transgender life may be even lower. Extreme violence goes a long way in explaining these shocking disparities.

In the context of this somber day of remembrance, it is comforting to recognize that the struggle for global equality is gaining ground, even in the culture wars of the United Nations. An effort yesterday by Saudi Arabia to strip the reference to vulnerable groups in the resolution on extrajudicial killings, which was clearly understood as an attempt to strip the sexual orientation and gender identity language from the text, was roundly defeated, with eighty-two governments across all regions voting to name the violence against LGBT individuals and keep the reference to vulnerable groups in the text. Only fifty-three governments supported the Saudi deceit, which represents a growing consensus around LGBT rights as human rights.

The final text was adopted in committee yesterday with only one vote in opposition, and it will now go to the full UN General Assembly for a vote in December. The United States, which in the past has supported the spirit of the text but abstained on technical legal grounds, joined the growing majority in voting for the resolution this year. That represents an additionally important victory for human rights.

The vote at the United Nations yesterday, on the heels of the adoption of another, stand-alone resolution on “human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity” at the United Nations last month, represents a turning point in the way the United Nations responds to human rights violations targeting LGBT individuals. And while its impact may not yet be measured in lives saved or years lived, it represents concerted advocacy and increasing political will within the United Nations. And that growing consensus will eventually be measured in human development – in both the quantity and the quality of the years lived by transgender youth of tomorrow.

President Kim’s Clarion Call

Repost from Huffington Post by Maria Burnett (Human Rights Watch)

In February, the World Bank delayed a $90 million loan for health care in Uganda out of concern over its new Anti-Homosexuality Act. Since then, the Constitutional Courtnullified the law for lack of a parliamentary quorum during the vote. But the government quickly filed a notice of appeal. Members of parliament are also pressing to bring the law back to the floor, swearing they can gather the constitutionally-required numbers.

Just as troubling, another law came into force in July that criminalizes even unintentional HIV transmission and requires HIV testing of pregnant women without their consent, and forced disclosure.

In a personal and thought-provoking Washington Post op-ed earlier this year, World Bank President Jim Kim said that discrimination is bad for economies, societies and individuals. It can prevent people from fully participating in the work force and discourage multinational companies from investing or locating activities in countries with discriminatory laws, he said.

Implicit in the message was that discrimination is bad for governments receiving development assistance too. It would appear that President Yoweri Museveni is alsostarting to understand the economic cost of anti-equality policies, but his rhetoric has been inconsistent. The World Bank/International Monetary Fund annual meetings in Washington this week give President Kim a critical opportunity to stand up for these concerns and push Uganda’s government to take meaningful steps to address discrimination in health services.

The frequently reported discrimination in Ugandan health centers against sex workers and gay men discourages people from seeking care. Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, the former health minister, in August admitted to two groups that discrimination exists and that the government is not equipped to monitor or respond to it.

Last week, in a letter to President Kim, 16 Ugandan and international organizations laid out enforceable steps the bank should take to see that discrimination in care for marginalized groups ends before releasing the loan. Steps include requiring the government to prohibit discrimination in healthcare delivery on grounds of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and all other grounds articulated under international law, and requiring government health care workers to respect patient confidentiality, privacy and informed consent to all treatment.

The World Bank should also fund activities to promote patients’ rights, including providing patient advocates and legal counsel for people who face discrimination, breach of confidentiality or other abuses in health settings and training for Ugandan health workers to respect these rights. The groups also pressed the bank to urge the government to guarantee that it wouldn’t interfere with independent monitoring of health services.

It is crucial for the World Bank to urge the Ugandan government, publicly and privately, to repeal all discriminatory laws and end discriminatory practices. The bank should emphasize the importance of non-discrimination for health and economic development.

After 28 years in power, President Museveni is gearing up to run again in 2016. Aid has continued to flow despite large-scale corruption scandals, but this time should be different. The bank’s decision on the loan will affect the bank’s credibility in Uganda and beyond.

President Kim’s statement about the deleterious economic impact of discrimination was a precedent-setting decision to stand up for human rights. Pushing for real safeguards could significantly contribute to mitigating discrimination against LGBTI patients, women and other marginalized populations who are at disproportionately high risk of negative health outcomes and poverty.

Releasing the loan without meaningful safeguards, while Uganda’s parliamentarians continue to pass discriminatory laws and urge more discriminatory measures, would show a profound disregard for President Kim’s clarion call.

U.N. Human Rights Council adopts LGBT resolution

Photo: @gustavopecoraro

Photo: @gustavopecoraro

Press Statement from ARC International

(Geneva, September 26, 2014) – The United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on combatting violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (L.27/Rev.1), adopted today, Is a critically important achievement for upholding the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 25 human rights groups said today. The resolution follows a resolution adopted three years ago in June 2011, when the Council passed the first ever UN resolution on human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, and 42 additional co-sponsors introduced the resolution. In its presentation to the Council, Chile stated that “this resolution does not seek to create new rights…there are some whose rights are more violated and need more protection.“ Colombia added “the report that we request is part of existing international law.“ The resolution survived a total of seven hostile amendments, introduced by Egypt on behalf of ten States, seeking to strip the resolution of all references to sexual orientation and gender identity. Brazil stated that the proposed amendments would “seek to radically change the purpose and focus of the resolution and changes its substance.”  Ultimately, the resolution was passed by a vote of 25 in favor, 14 against, and 7 abstentions, with support from all regions and an increased base of support since 2011.

“The leadership of these Latin American states reflects strong commitment to human rights for all and follows the significant progress that is being made by governments and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, travesti, and intersex activists in the region,” said Andres Rivera Duarte from the Observatorio Derechos Humanos y Legislación, Chile.

The resolution asks the High Commissioner for Human Rights to update a 2012 study on violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (A/HRC/19/41), with a view to sharing good practices and ways to overcome violence and discrimination. The resolution expresses grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination in all regions of the world committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. This resolution demonstrates that this issue remains on the agenda of the Human Rights Council and sends a message of support to people around the world who experience this type of violence and discrimination, said the 25 groups.

“While we would have preferred to see an institutionalized reporting mechanism, the council has still sent a strong message of support to human rights defenders working on these issues. We look forward to States implementing the outcomes of these reports,” said Jonas Bagas, of TLF Share in the Philippines. Continue reading ‘U.N. Human Rights Council adopts LGBT resolution’


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