Leading lawmakers on the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner drawing attention to a recently approved amendment advocating that foreign governments receiving multilateral development bank funds don’t engage in LGBT persecution.
In a letter dated March 30 and obtained by the Washington Blade, Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), chair of the committee, and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who’s gay and ranking Democrat on the panel, ask Geithner to inform U.S. officials at multilateral development institutions — including the World Bank — of the committee’s recently adopted position against funding for governments that allow abuses against LGBT people and religious minorities overseas.
“We urge you to be mindful of the Committee’s views on this matter, and particularly in light of the important authorization requests that Treasury has made this year, we also urge you to relay these views to the executive directors who represent the [United States] at these institutions,” Bachus and Frank write. “We believe this is important not only as a matter of public policy and the advancement of American values, but also politically in terms of our ability to generate the necessary support to enable the [United States] to continue to play a significant and influential role at these institutions.”
Natalie Wyeth, a Treasury Department spokesperson, said the department has received the letter and is reviewing it.
On March 15, the House Financial Services Committee approved by a voice vote the amendment as part of legislation that outlines fiscal year 2012 budget priorities for issues under its jurisdiction, including recommended funds for the Treasury Department and the World Bank.
The amendment urges the Treasury Department to advocate that foreign governments receiving assistance from the multilateral development banks don’t engage in gross violations of human rights, such as the denial of freedom of religion and physical persecution based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Bachus and Frank’s letter make particular note of persecution of LGBT people in Uganda as a reason for passing the amendment.
Legislation that would institute the death penalty for homosexual acts has been pending before the Ugandan parliament, although foreign media has recently reported the measure has been shelved. Additionally, David Kato, an activist who was working against the pending measure, was brutally murdered after a publication in the country identified him as gay.
“In some African countries, we have seen the physical persecution of people who are members of sexual minorities,” Bachus and Frank write. “In Uganda, which was a major beneficiary of the multilateral debt relief initiatives, there is active persecution of people who are members of sexual minorities.”
In addition to advocating against LGBT abuses abroad, the letter also decries persecutions of religious minorities, such as the reported hostility towards Christianity in the Middle East.
“We have seen troubling examples of people being persecuted, imprisoned and threatened with execution, for example, in Pakistan, simply for converting from one religion to another,” Bachus and Frank write. “Often, it is people being punished for converting to Christianity.”
The letter notes the United States isn’t entirely responsible for setting policies at multilateral institutions such as World Bank, but says the U.S. role is important.
“We recognize that the United States does not set the policies at these institutions, but we do have an influential voice, and we believe that it is in our interest to use that voice to support what we view to be fundamental human values, regardless of whether a particular government is fully democratic or not,” Bachus and Frank write.
Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said the letter and the adoption of the amendment by the committee is “a big deal.”
“The United States has significant leverage and a strong voice in the World Bank and the regional development banks,” Bromley said. “Until now, these development institutions have largely shied away from LGBT issues, even in terms of reaching out and supporting access by marginalized LGBT communities to social development and public health programs.”
Bromley encourage the U.S. executive director of these development banks — especially the U.S. director of the World Bank — to leverage U.S. investments to “ensure equal access for all individuals to the public health services and economic opportunities that Americans are supporting through our annual development contributions.”
Bachus’ signature to the letter is noteworthy because he has an anti-gay voting record in Congress and in recent years has consistently scored a “0” on the Human Rights Campaign’s congressional scorecard. The Alabama lawmaker has voted against hate crimes protection legislation, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and a version of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act.
R. Clarke Cooper, executive director for National Log Cabin Republicans, said the values of protecting human freedoms and individual liberty that espouses are conservative values.
“Further, no member of Congress should ever be be ruled out as a potential ally to the LGBT community,” Cooper said. “Log Cabin Republicans continuously seek to foster friends in development among elected Republican office holders as well as their staff and campaigns.”
Download a copy of the letter here.