For the first time in Congressional history, a full committee in the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing with a witness whose exclusive focus was on the human rights of LGBTQ people around the world. On July 12, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled “Human Rights Under Siege Worldwide,” which included testimony from Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, a coalition of human rights groups - including HRC - that seeks to encourage greater U.S. support for LGBTQ people and communities around the world.
“Human rights protections are indeed under siege and that is particularly true for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals globally,”Bromley said in his testimony. “The targeted attack on a gay bar in Orlando just one month ago today, which killed 49 young persons and wounded scores more, provides a sobering reminder of that fact, and it lends a jarring perspective from which to consider the global human rights landscape today.”
A number of Committee members used the hearing as a chance to focus attention on the human rights of LGBTQ people, including the chairman of the committee, Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), and the committee’s top Democrat, Eliot Engel (D-NY, and one of the key champions of LGBTQ human rights abroad, Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI). Members of the LGBTQ community have experienced “horrific violence” in many parts of the world, Cicilline said, which puts them “at grave risk for injury or death, simply because of who they are.”
HRC’s Government Affairs Director David Stacy also submitted testimony for the hearing. Setbacks for LGBTQ people around the world have “real consequences for the U.S. and our national interests,” said Stacy. “A world that is more free and tolerant is one that will lead to more stability and more peace, since countries that respect human rights and freedoms have a proven track record of greater stability and peace.”
As President Obama said in his 2015 State of the Union address, the United States must “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...not only because they are the right thing to do, but because ultimately they will make us safer.”
Stacy offered several ways that members of Congress can help to defend the human rights of LGBTQ people around the world, including passing legislation like the Global Respect Act, which would stop human rights violators from coming to the U.S., or the International Human Rights Defense Act, which would permanently codify the State Department’s Special Envoy for LGBT Human Rights.
Judy Shepard, who has served on the HRC Board of Directors since 2001 and has appeared at HRC Foundation’s Time to THRIVE conference, also submitted testimony for the hearing. Her son, Matthew Shepard, was attacked in a brutal hate crime in 1998. Following the death of their son, Judy and her husband Dennis established the Matthew Shepard Foundation to continue championing social justice, diversity awareness and education and equality for LGBTQ people.
“We need to promote human rights and civil rights for LGBTI people around the world before another family loses a child. We cannot wait for tragedy to inspire good intentions,” she wrote.
Stacy also urged the U.S. to continue accepting refugees, “since LGBTQ people in particular view the U.S. as a beacon of hope, a place where they can flee to in order to live out their lives free from fear and the specter of death looming over them.” While there has been an impulse to keep refugees out after the attacks in Paris and San Bernadino, that would be “inhumane,” and send the wrong signal.
“The United States must not surrender to nativist instincts when so many people need our help and need to flee to safety,” Stacy wrote. HRC recently hosted a summit and released a paper outlining ways the U.S. government and other bodies, such as the United Nations, can help LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers reach freedom and safety.
Stacy also encouraged members of Congress to raise LGBTQ human rights issues in meetings with foreign leaders and to meet with LGBTQ advocates and activists when traveling abroad. Additionally, he pushed for additional funding for LGBTQ human rights groups through the State Department’s Global Equality Fund and through other mechanisms.