Posts Tagged 'US State Department'

A Call on Secretary Pompeo to Respond to Rising Violence and Discrimination Against LGBTI People Globally

Newly confirmed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pledged, in answers to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that he will “…ensure that human rights, democracy, and the equal treatment of all persons will remain fundamental to U.S. foreign policy.”  We call on Secretary Pompeo to set aside his anti-LGBT record to hold countries accountable for the grave human rights abuses catalogued, once again, in the State Department’s annual Human Rights Reports. 

While the latest round of State Department Human Rights Reports, released on April 20, fail to report adequately on reproductive rights (see the concerns reflected by our members Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch), they reveal an all-too-familiar tableau of societal and government hostility and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people around the globe.

The trends are alarmingly clear: LGBTI violence and discrimination remain on the rise in all geographic regions. 

Let’s look at the facts.

Government Incitement of Hate

Being gay, lesbian or transgender remains a death penalty offense in countries such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, with reports of executions carried out against two young men by militia in Somalia.  And no fewer than 102 country summaries (28 in Africa, 14 in East Asia and the Pacific, 16 in Europe and Eurasia, 13 in the Near East, 11 in South and Central Asia, and 20 in the Western Hemisphere) in this year’s State Department reports specifically cite violence against LGBTI people or criminalization of same-sex conduct as among the most significant human rights issues pervading those countries.

Many of the reports point to governing authorities as bearing responsibility for the climate of violence and abuse experienced by LGBTI people.  This is particularly the case in Chechnya, a federal republic of Russia, where officials are responsible for roundups and murders of more than 100 individuals suspected of being LGBTI – a genocidal tragedy that some believe may rise to the level of crimes against humanity.  Russian federal authorities have taken no action to stem that violence.

  • But the role of governing officials in encouraging violence against the LGBTI community is not confined to Russia. For example: In Tanzania, a deputy minister tweeted “The war against promotion and normalization of homosexuality in Tanzania is real.” As a result, the report notes that LGBTI persons were afraid to report violence and other crimes, including those committed by state agents.
  • In Azerbaijan, police arrested, beat and tortured 83 LGBTI people; in the Aceh province of Indonesia, two men were publicly caned 83 times for consensual private sex acts.
  • In Nigeria, police arrested approximately 70 individuals, including 13 minors, at a Lagos hotel. At the end of the year, 27 adults and 13 minors were still awaiting trial, and the hotel owner and two staff faced up to ten years in prison for “aiding and abetting homosexual activities” in violation of the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act.
  • In Egypt, Iran, Kenya, Liberia, Paraguay, Romania, South Africa, South Sudan and Tunisia, there were reports of harassment, arrests, detainment, violence, sexual assault or abuse by police or security forces of those suspected of being homosexual or transgender.
  • In Egypt, Uganda and Uzbekistan, increases in harassment and arrests were reported, along with the preposterous and egregious use of forced anal exams to “prove” homosexuality.
  • Brunei amended their secular penal code to increase the minimum punishment for male same-sex behavior to 20-50 years of incarceration.
  • In Tajikistan, government authorities compiled a registry of hundreds of persons in the LGBTI community as part of a purported drive to promote moral behavior and protect vulnerable groups in society.

In these circumstances, it comes as little surprise that country reports note that LGBTI populations fear seeking help from the police in a range of countries, from Armenia to Bosnia-Herzegovina to Sierra Leone.

Government Inaction Also a Problem

But government incitement to violence isn’t the only problem identified in the reports.  This year’s reports make clear that some governments simply don’t fulfill their responsibilities to protect LGBTI citizens, or indeed to ensure that LGBTI citizens are provided justice:

  • The investigation and/or prosecution of violent crimes against LGBTI people is cited as unreliable or insufficient in a wide range of countries, including Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, El Salvador, Greece, South Africa, Ukraine and Iraq. And in Chile, government authorities were reluctant to use new hate crimes laws to charge violent offenders.
  • Lesbians endure the practice of “corrective rape” to “cure” their homosexuality in places such as Democratic Republic of Congo, Kyrgyz Republic and Zimbabwe.
  • In countries such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Latvia, Turkey, and in much of Africa, anti-discrimination laws fail to specify sexual orientation or gender identity as classes worthy of protection.
  • There is weak enforcement of existing anti-discrimination laws in a range of countries, including Albania, Bulgaria, Georgia and South Africa.
  • In Sierra Leone, school authorities expelled two female secondary school students for kissing, although they were eventually allowed to return after local groups pressed authorities to reverse the decision.
  • In Ecuador, LGBTI organizations and the government both reported that private centers confined LGBTI persons involuntarily to “cure” or “dehomosexualize” them, using exceptionally cruel methods, including sexual violence.
  • And in Poland, the office charged with monitoring discrimination against the LGBTI community showed little engagement in its areas of responsibility.

Societal Discrimination Remains Unchecked

In these circumstances, it’s no surprise that in many countries, LGBTI people face discrimination that negatively impacts their housing, employment, health care and educational access, and indeed family relations.

  • Reports on Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Honduras, Pakistan and Romania make clear that employment in particular is a problem for openly-LGBTI individuals.
  • LGBTI activists in Mozambique, Senegal, Timor Leste and Namibia reported discrimination in access to social services, including educational and public health facilities.
  • In Bolivia, the Bolivian Coalition of LGBTI Collectives reported that 72 percent of transgender individuals abandoned their secondary school studies due to intense discrimination.
  • Religious leaders in Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe are singled out for fueling discrimination and violence.
  • In Saint Lucia, the report notes widespread societal discrimination, recognizing that LGBTI persons face daily verbal harassment.
  • And though many countries forcibly exclude LGBTI citizens from military service, in Armenia and Azerbaijan that exclusion comes at a steep price: it results in documentation noting that the person in question has a mental disorder, clearly a red flag in their ability to obtain future employment.

Transgender Recognition

Many of this year’s reports more fully reference problems impacting transgender communities around the globe – a welcome change in reporting.  Still, the reports make clear a patchwork of national efforts – coupled with a fair amount of confusion —in dealing with transgender issues.  The overall picture remains severely troubling:

  • In countries from Oman to Peru and the Philippines, and many other countries cited throughout the reports, the existence of transgender persons as a group of people is not recognized by law, nor (consequently) are their rights protected, including their right to change national identity documents to recognize their gender identity.
  • In Burma, transgender women reported being frequently charged under so-called shadow and disguise laws, reporting higher levels of police abuse and discrimination than other members of the LGBTI community. In Malaysia, a survey by a local transgender rights group reported more than two-thirds of transgender women experienced some form of physical or emotional abuse.
  • At the other extreme, the report highlights a High Court ruling in Botswana that allows individuals to change their gender upon declaration, and without having to undergo surgery, a best practice that is also singled out for commendation in Argentina, Belgium, Norway and Ukraine.  And in Argentina, the report notes that the law also requires public and private health-care plans to cover some parts of hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery.
  • Laws and/or standard procedures governing the ability of transgender individuals to change their identity remain vague and incomplete in countries from Russia to Romania. In the latter, there was no right to a preferred gender identity in the absence of sex-reassignment surgery, an invasive requirement that is documented in too many countries to highlight here.
  • In Lithuania, individuals are now permitted to go through gender reassignment procedure, but in the absence of corresponding legislation, civil authorities still refuse to register gender reassignment.
  • Sterilization is still a subject of debate in many countries and is listed throughout the report as a human rights abuse under the term “coercion in population control.” It is not, however, reported under that category as it impacts transgender people around the world. In Slovakia, authorities generally required confirmation that a person had undergone permanent sterilization before issuing new identity documents. While Turkey’s Constitutional Court revoked a Civil Code provision requiring that transgender persons be sterilized prior to the formal gender reassignment, that sterilization requirement remained in force at the end of 2017. In many other reports that claim there is no forced sterilization, the Council for Global Equality notes that while this may be true in respect to many citizens, there is in fact a forced sterilization requirement for transgender citizens in countries ranging from Japan to approximately 20 European countries.
  • In Ukraine, regulations still prevent sexual identity reassignment for married individuals or those with minor children.
  • And in Moldova, as in many other countries, the government flatly disallows persons to change the gender listed on their identity cards or passports.

Some Good News

There was some good news impacting LGBTI communities in a variety of countries:

  • Ukraine’s report assesses that freedom of assembly for LGBTI groups is somewhat greater than in past years.
  • In Morocco and Namibia, questions of sexuality, sexual orientation, and gender identity have been addressed more openly than in the past, and Namibian authorities authorized a Pride parade along the main thoroughfare of the capital for the first time.
  • In Germany, a constitutional court ruled that birth certificates cannot offer only a binary choice of “male” or “female.” And in Canada, the government pledged to review its policy on collecting personally identifiable gender information and further pledged to do so only if there are “legitimate purposes.”
  • The government of the Netherlands increased efforts to counter discrimination against transgender individuals.
  • In Serbia, an openly lesbian woman became the country’s first Prime Minister, and in India, the first transgender person joined the state police force.
  • The Constitutional Court of Colombia ruled that transgender persons faced discrimination and social rejection and recommended measures to increase respect in the classroom.
  • And the report describes a whole-of-government effort by the government of Spain to tackle the issue of LGBTI hate crimes through police training, better reporting, and victim assistance.

And Now – A Call on Secretary Pompeo….

As we read the reports, we can’t help asking how Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will fulfill his leadership duties in responding to this deteriorating human rights landscape.  To wit:

  • This year the State Department specifically calls out public officials in countries from Albania to Tanzania for their homophobic statements. If the statements and actions of foreign government officials constitute an incitement to hate, will Secretary Pompeo condemn them?  And will he apologize for his own past homophobic statements, in order for our condemnations to be credible?
  • Will Secretary Pompeo recognize the rights and concerns of LGBTI Americans who seek to confront foreign officials with these human rights concerns?
  • And can we realistically expect Secretary Pompeo – who, at his confirmation hearing, refused to distance himself from past negative judgments of gay people – to show leadership in advancing LGBTI rights abroad?

These issues weigh heavily as Secretary Pompeo takes up the reins of the State Department. We remain concerned.  But if he stands with us – with all fair-minded Americans – to support human rights for everyone, we, in turn, will stand with him, to advance universal human rights and full inclusion for vulnerable and marginalized minority communities everywhere.

Our Secretary of State must reflect Constitutional principles and America’s call to equality.  We call on Secretary Pompeo to set aside his well-documented prejudices and do just that.

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

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.

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.

U.S. State Department Should Apologize for “Lavender Scare”

U.S. Department of StateThe Obama Administration clearly deserves great credit for turning the page on our country’s inattention to LGBT human rights abuse abroad. And we’re immensely proud of the State Department’s increasingly robust advocacy for LGBT-fair policies and practices in other countries.

But Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) has pointed to a hole in the State Department’s advocacy for LGBT fairness: there’s been no Department apology to the victims and families of the so-called “Lavender Scare” of the 50’s and 60’s, in which those suspected of being gay lost their Foreign and Civil Service jobs, or were denied prospective State Department employment.

That Cold War period seems, of course, strikingly outdated. Current federal employment policies prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBT employees now serve proudly, and openly, in support of government missions and, indeed, the American people.

But Senator Ben Cardin’s call for an apology remains principled and right. An apology would only strengthen the integrity of State Department’s human rights advocacy abroad for those who are gay, lesbian and transgender. It equally would remind the incoming Trump Administration that there can be no rollback of fairness at home – and, indeed, that contract employees and their employers should be covered by LGBT non-discrimination provisions, too.

There’s time in this Administration for Secretary Kerry to act. We hope and urge that he will support Senator Cardin’s call.


Stay Informed

Subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 223 other followers

Follow us on Twitter

Categories