Institutionalizing U.S. LGBTQ Work Abroad

Jeremy Kadden

With the Obama Administration beginning to wind down, HRC and its allies have begun taking steps to ensure that the significant and historic progress made on LGBTQ rights during the last eight years will be continued by the next administration. This includes the enormous strides taken to prioritize LGBTQ human rights in U.S. foreign policy agencies.

“President Obama has taken a number of historic steps to prioritize the human rights of LGBTQ people around the world,” said David Stacy, HRC’s Government Affairs Director. “It is crucial that this work continue in the years ahead, no matter who sits in the Oval Office next year, so that LGBTQ people around the world continue to feel the vital support of the U.S. government.”

Most recently, a group of 85 Members of Congress, both from the House and Senate, signed on to a letter authored by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Reps. David Cicilline (D-RI) and Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), which called for “the institutionalization of programs that address the global challenges of the LGBT community.”

The letter was addressed to Secretary of State John Kerry and Gayle Smith, the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and called on them to support “robust funding for USAID’s LGBT portfolio” as well as “the creation of permanent positions at USAID” to focus on LGBT human rights. The letter’s signers also “strongly urge full support for institutionalizing the Department of State Office of the Special Envoy,” a position now occupied by Randy Berry. “This will be critical to its ability to carry out its mission in the years ahead — affirming and strengthening the U.S. commitment to LGBT equality as a permanent and critical component of our international human rights policy."

The letter from the Members of Congress follows a letter that HRC sent last month, along with the Council for Global Equality and the American Jewish World Service, calling for USAID “to direct available funding towards strengthening USAID’s commitment to protecting LGBTI populations.” This would be done “by increasing staffing levels within USAID’s LGBTI Office and through financial resources to LGBTI populations and civil society abroad.”Some of the major Obama Administration achievements on LGBTQ human rights abroad include:

  • A 2011 Presidential Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons, the first ever of its kind;
  • Launching the Global Equality Fund in 2011, a private-public partnership that provides resources and diplomatic support to civil society organizations (CSOs) and human rights defenders working to advance and protect the rights of LGBTI persons in over eighty countries.
  • The appointment of LGBTQ-focused staff at USAID in 2014; and
  • The 2015 creation at the U.S. State Department of the position of Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons.

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