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
Advancing an American Foreign Policy Inclusive of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
“As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened, which is why I’ve prohibited torture, and worked to make sure our use of new technology like drones is properly constrained. It’s why we speak out against the deplorable anti-Semitism that has resurfaced in certain parts of the world. It’s why we continue to reject offensive stereotypes of Muslims – the vast majority of whom share our commitment to peace. That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer.” – President Barack Obama, SOTU2015
A group of 24 leading LGBT rights advocates from every region of the world sent a joint letter to President Obama in late December asking him to stand with them in seeking fairness and equality. While applauding the President’s support, they noted inconsistencies in his Administration’s response to anti-LGBT laws that have been adopted recently in various countries. Without a more consistent approach, they pointedly asked President Obama: “How can we trust otherwise that the United States will, indeed, stand with us as we fight for our rights?”
Recognizing that the response to harmful laws adopted in different countries may not be identical in every case, and that any response must be tailored to fit the country context, the advocates nonetheless asked that the United States respond, without fail and in whatever way is most appropriate, whenever another country adopts a new law or a national policy that denies fundamental rights to LGBT citizens.
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
Repost 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.
Repost 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:
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.
Press 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.
EU Court: verification sexual orientation asylum seeker must not infringe fundamental rights (Intergroup on LGBT Rights)