Posts Tagged 'Rex Tillerson'

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.

Council for Global Equality Releases Human Rights Rebuke in Advance of Trump-Putin Meeting this Week

Leading human rights and LGBT organizations in the Council for Global Equality wrote to Secretary Tillerson to express outrage at the Administration’s continued denigration of the value that the United States traditionally has placed on human and democratic rights in the conduct of U.S. diplomacy.  The letter expresses particular shock at Secretary Tillerson’s failure to raise bipartisan U.S. concerns over the ongoing kidnappings, torture and murders of those suspected of being gay, lesbian or bisexual in Chechnya.

The letter notes that neither President Trump nor Secretary Tillerson has spoken out against specific human rights infringements.  To the contrary, the Administration’s embrace of a range of dictators, from Russian President Putin to Egyptian President Sissi, sends a signal that is out of keeping with America’s character and interests.

The signatories call on the Administration to raise immediately, and with overdue stress, the need for Russia to investigate atrocities in Chechnya during a meeting with President Putin this week.  President Trump must demonstrate, in his statements and policies, that the values we express as a nation are core not only to our identity but to what we aspire to achieve in the world.

Ending the Lavender Scare: Why the Love Act of 2017 Matters

By Michael Guest

On June 22, Senator Cardin introduced legislation to mitigate the consequences of the “Lavender Scare” – the1950’s-era witch hunt that resulted in the dismissal of hundreds of State Department employees owing to their perceived sexual orientation.

Cardin’s bill (the Lavender Offense Victim Exoneration Act, or “LOVE Act”) accepts overdue Senate responsibility for the its role in spurring on that witch hunt – responsibility shared of course by the State Department, and for which former Secretary Kerry apologized earlier this year. It directs that a “reconciliation board” be established to clear the names of those who were wrongly dismissed. And it asks the Department to commemorate the period with a suitable display in State’s soon-to-be-opened Museum of American Diplomacy.

Cardin deserves credit for his leadership in setting the record straight on the injustices of that period directed at gay Americans. Many Americans were victimized in the McCarthy era, of course. But at a time when homosexuals already were closeted and marginalized, few if any groups were more systemically impacted by anti-communist hysteria than was the LGBT community.

At the State Department, the Lavender Scare ruined careers (and arguably lives) of men and women who wanted nothing more than to serve their country. It deprived that country of foreign policy expertise and talent. And it helped ensconce a Foreign Service that, for many decades, remained a bastion of conservative, straight white men – an image of America that was hardly representative of the country as a whole.

The Lavender Scare ended long before I began my quarter-century Foreign Service career in 1981. The Department’s imperfect record of dealing with diversity, including LGBT diversity, did improve. But for many years there appeared to be a “lavender glass ceiling” at the ambassadorial level, and how one looked and acted was seen as impacting promotions. Most glaringly, regulatory discrimination persisted too – not directed against gay and lesbian employees per se, but at inequalities in how regulations accommodated their families. The very organization charged with proclaiming American fairness and equality to other countries, in other words, honored those principles only in the breach.

It wasn’t until 2009 that the State Department, under then-Secretary Clinton’s leadership, equalize the Department’s accommodations to gay and straight families – a step I’m proud to have helped spur through my work on the State Department Transition Team after the November 2008 election.

In that respect, Cardin’s bill rightfully tackles a lagging problem that still deeply impacts gay Foreign Service personnel: homophobic countries’ denial of family visas to spouses of our gay and lesbian diplomatic personnel. By bowing to this disrespect toward our country’s judicial institutions, we’ve allowed other countries to dictate our personnel policies.

Resolving this problem needs high-octane attention. If a solution can’t be found, perhaps it’s time for our country to apply reciprocity by denying visas to the spouses of those countries’ diplomats, duly married in their own legal systems.

Secretary Tillerson has shown no attention to this problem to date, so perhaps this bill’s push from the outside is needed. Tillerson was uncommonly slow in overturning LGBT-discriminatory policies during his leadership at Exxon, after all, and his embrace of deep budget cuts at State, paired with failure to fill leadership positions, shows a reckless disrespect for the needs of his workforce more broadly.

It’s time to support equality and fairness for those who work tirelessly to advance American ideals – and for that support to enjoy a non-partisan, all-American embrace. Notably, Cardin’s bill has no Republican co-sponsors – a fact that puzzles us as much as it disappoints. Surely that should change. We hope, too, that the new Administration will embrace the purposes and goals of Cardin’s bill with the same pride that those of us who are LGBT have embraced the call of representing our country’s ideals abroad.

Michael Guest is Senior Advisor to the Council for Global Equality. America’s first openly gay, Senate-confirmed Ambassador (to Romania, 2001-04), he ended his career in 2007 in protest of the Department’s unfair family policies for gay and lesbian personnel.

RELATED CONTENT:

Read more about how our embassies are now supporting LGBT Efforts.

Cardin Introduces Bill to Address Former Sexual Orientation Discrimination by State Department

Cardin Statement on LGBT Rights, Issues at Start of Trump Administration

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released the following statement Tuesday:

“At the confirmation hearings of Rex Tillerson and Nikki Haley, it caught my attention when neither of them would say the phrase ‘LGBT’. I’ve now heard from constituents and activists that the State Department and White House websites have been scrubbed of LGBT content at the outset of the Trump Administration, including the recent apology former Secretary Kerry issued in response to my letter regarding the Department’s disturbing role in the McCarthy Era’s Lavender Scare – when approximately 1,000 dedicated civilians lost their jobs due to their perceived sexuality. This is alarming to me. I encourage the Administration to makes its public information portals reflective of all Americans and our values, and I will be monitoring this closely. We cannot and will not turn back the clock on the hard-fought civil rights of the LGBT community. Instead we must strengthen and expand them. I am continuing to ready legislation to compel the State Department to review its actions during the Lavender Scare and make amends.”


Related Content: U.S. State Department Should Apologize for “Lavender Scare

Rex Tillerson’s Nomination

Rex TillersonWhen Rex Tillerson goes before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, he should be given the professional respect to which anyone of his achievement is entitled. But before he is confirmed, he owes the American people some clear answers.

With the title of America’s top diplomat comes responsibility for advancing a broad array of national interests. These include energy security, where Tillerson’s history of back-room deals for the benefit of Exxon shareholders may at least hold the appearance of some use.

But that history and style of operation raise questions, too, of Tillerson’s attachment to broader national interests and, indeed, to the American people. We want to see evidence of his past commitment to fighting the corruption that erodes the future of so many countries and their populations. We want to know what effort he made to ensuring that Exxon’s extraction of natural resources has benefited not only oligarchs and shareholder profits, but to the needs of countries where Exxon has engaged. And we want to understand how he will ensure that his 40-year history in the oil industry will not conflict with the interests of the American people through the full disclosure and explanation of his current and future financial relationship to this industry.

These questions go to the heart of Tillerson’s ethical moorings – important in turn to the respect he must command if he is to advance effectively American interests as Secretary of State. They also target the breadth of interests he must steer, if confirmed.

As a Washington-based advocacy organization that fights for fundamental rights and economic opportunities for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) individuals around the world, we are particularly interested in learning how he will promote America’s longstanding interests in supporting democratic societies and vibrant economies that respect and empower minority citizens. Countries that respect the rights of minorities understand their commitment to democracy and make strong diplomatic and economic partners; countries that persecute their minorities do not make stable allies. Unfortunately, LGBTI individuals and religious minorities are among the most violently persecuted minorities in most countries. And some of the worst examples of such persecution, and indeed overtly hostile leadership, occur in countries that happen to be led by some of the world’s worst oligarchs and dictators, including Russia.

U.S. foreign policy has clear reason to promote sound economic development and fully inclusive prosperity, both of which reinforce long-term stability in the foreign partnerships we seek to build. Our country traditionally stands against human rights abuse for this and broader ethical reasons. We advocate for vibrant civil societies that enjoy fundamental freedoms, rights and protections rooted in the rule of law – rights and protections that shouldn’t be limited by national borders, of course, but that also strengthen business and cultural and social ties. We know that sound and inclusive global health policies maximize our country’s generous investments in global health and positively impact, too, the health interests of the American people. And all of these interests are tied intrinsically to success in both eroding the appeal of terrorism and reducing the risk of war.

If confirmed, Tillerson will be charged with building bilateral and multilateral commitment to these and other goals – often against the will and narrow interests of the many government leaders and other officials he has cultivated as CEO. That task is far more challenging, and requires far greater finesse, than does negotiating the price and terms for a commodity that a country’s oligarchs seek to sell.

As a measure of his commitment to human rights and democracy, we encourage discussion of whether Tillerson is prepared to push for full citizenship rights for disfavored LGBTI minority communities in many of the countries around the world where he led Exxon to make significant investments. We deserve to understand how he will prioritize these and other human rights concerns, and there is no better way to judge the balance he will take than to weigh his support for some of the most commonly persecuted minority communities around the world.

We urge that Tillerson speak clearly to these points, and to the leadership he would provide to advancing these paramount interests. We would far rather see policy guided by seasoned career diplomats for a time, than to leave these questions unanswered. A speedy confirmation might be in the narrow partisan interests of the President-elect – but not in the interests of our country.


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