Posts Tagged 'State Department'

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.

Employee Plus One: Marriage and the War for Talent

Michael Guest, The Council for Global EqualityBy Michael Guest, Senior Advisor, The Council for Global Equality, as published in The Foreign Service Journal

In 2001, I was sworn in as our country’s first Senate-confirmed, openly gay ambassador. Six years later, I pulled the plug on my Foreign Service career, in protest of the State Department’s refusal to remedy policies that discriminated against gay and lesbian Foreign Service families stationed abroad.

Those twin milestones seem like ancient history now. Today partnered gay and lesbian employees are covered by the same transfer, housing, training and other support policies their straight married colleagues have long enjoyed. The policy changes pioneered at State have become a template for similar accommodations across the federal foreign affairs agency community.

In addition, six openly gay ambassadors, one a career officer, have been tapped by the Obama administration to serve our country. A new special envoy position has been created to strengthen how we integrate lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues into our broader human rights policy goals.

Yet these appointments are less remarkable than the paucity of organized public or congressional opposition to the notion that LGBT human rights matter, or that a gay person can represent our country abroad. Continue Reading.

America’s new LGBT envoy

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Photo: John Shinkle/POLITICO

Repost from Politico by

When officials at the State Department began mulling the notion of creating a special LGBT envoy, there was some trepidation.

A few worried that designating an envoy expressly for the purpose of promoting the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people around the world — an official goal of U.S. diplomacy since 2011 — would stovepipe the issue and lead others at State to neglect it. Others, according to a State employee involved in the process, wondered if including “LGBT” in the title would hurt the envoy’s ability to get meetings with senior officials in countries such as Uganda and Russia, where gays have increasingly come under legal attack.

In February, veteran U.S. diplomat Randy Berry was named to the carefully titled position of America’s “special envoy for the human rights of LGBT persons,” and it’s clear he has no intention of being isolated either at State or by any state. Read more.

Welcome Reception to Commemorate the Announcement of Randy Berry, First-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons

Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a welcome reception to commemorate the announcement of Randy Berry as the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.

Watch it live now http://bcove.me/0rfa86u8

 

U.S. Kicks African Nation From Trade Agreement Over Anti-LGBT Crackdown

Repost from BuzzFeed

The United States on Tuesday dropped The Gambia from a popular free trade agreement in response to a crackdown on LGBT rights and other human rights concerns.

The decision to drop the small West African nation from special trade status under the African Growth and Opportunity Act of 2000 came late Tuesday afternoon, just after media in The Gambia announced that three men would be put on trial for homosexuality. These are the first to face trial since police began arresting people on allegations of homosexuality in November. At least sixteen more are known to be in detention, and Gambian human rights activists do not know if they are even still alive.

“The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has been monitoring the human rights situation in The Gambia for the past few years, with deepening concerns about the lack of progress with respect to human rights, rule of law, political pluralism, and the right to due process,” said Ned Price, a spokesman for the White House, in an email to BuzzFeed News. “In addition, in October, Gambian President Jammeh signed into law legislation that further restricts the rights of LGBT individuals, including life imprisonment for so-called ‘aggravated homosexuality.’ Reports have surfaced of arrests, detention, and torture of individuals because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The move comes after Gambian human rights activists were able to secure their first meetings with high-ranking US officials after years of unsuccessfully trying to get the State Department to respond to the abysmal human rights during President Yahya Jammeh’s 20 years in power. The meeting coincided with a petition drive launched by the largest American LGBT organization, the Human Rights Campaign, calling on the Obama administration to “take swift action against President Jammeh for his intolerable actions.” LGBT rights advocates say their role in opening doors to the Obama administration suggests they have fully arrived as a force in influencing US foreign policy.

“For the first time the gay community really is coming together to get equal consideration in U.S. foreign policy,” said Mark Bromley of the Council for Global Equality, which lobbies for LGBT rights in international affairs. Bromley said that only in recent years have LGBT groups been able to exert the kind of influence that certain religious or ethnic communities have exerted to focus the U.S.’s foreign policy when their counterparts in other countries are under threat. Continue Reading at BuzzFeed

Related Content: Read the full statement from the White House regarding The Gambia’s AGOA status

 

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.

 


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