The Obama administration is preparing to unveil a report summarizing the progress U.S. agencies have made in combating LGBT human rights abuses overseas, according to the White House.
“The reports were submitted by agencies as required by the president’s memorandum, and we will issue a summary in the near future,” Caitlin Hayden, spokesperson for the White House National Security Staff, told the Washington Blade.
On Dec. 6, the same day that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a high-profile speech in Geneva, Switzerland, saying LGBT people across the world “have an ally in the United States of America,” President Obama issued a memorandum calling on all U.S. agencies doing work overseas to step up efforts promoting international LGBT rights. Six months later, has the U.S. government heeded the call for more action?
All agencies working in foreign countries had to prepare a report within 180 days of the date of the memorandum — and each year afterward — on their progress toward advancing these goals. The agencies were directed to submit their reports to the State Department, which in turn was directed to compile the reports to transmit to the White House.
The memorandum was issued on Dec. 6, which means that agencies would have had to submit their reports by June 6 to meet the deadline of 180 days.
Daniel Baer, who’s gay and the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor, confirmed in a Blade interview that the State Department submitted its contribution, but deferred to the White House about the status of the compiled reports.
Baer said his department’s submission was a “highlights reel” of recent work on LGBT human rights — such as U.S. embassies’ work in holding events, reaching out to LGBT communities advocating to foreign governments — which when all tied up will “show a picture of increasingly across the board engagement on these issues.”
“Advocating for the human rights of LGBT people is becoming part of the daily work of our embassies and officials here in Washington and is very much a central part of overall human rights policy,” Baer said.
On Tuesday, the U.S. embassy in Kenya hosted a Pride event in which MaqC Eric Gitau, general manager of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya gave remarks. Another Pride celebration took place earlier this month at the U.S. embassy in Tokyo. Also this month, the U.S. embassy in Albania hosted a regional LGBT conference.
For the domestic audience, Clinton issued a video in honor of June as Pride month, saying in her remarks, “United States embassies and missions throughout the world are working to defend the rights of LGBT people of all races, religions, and nationalities as part of our comprehensive human rights policy and as a priority of our foreign policy.”
Baer declined to comment on the content of the reports other agencies have submitted. According to the memorandum, among them are the Departments of State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, Agriculture, Commerce, Health & Human Services and Homeland Security as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Millennium Challenge Corp., the Export-Import Bank and the U.S. Trade Representative.
Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said he looks forward to reviewing the reports to evaluate the progress U.S. agencies have made on the policy announced last year.
“But clearly the State Department has taken this effort very seriously,” Bromley said. “The number of embassies around the world that have hosted Pride festivities or sponsored conferences or discussions with local LGBT communities during Pride month this June is an example of that. The effort now is to be sure that the goodwill of our embassies abroad is used as productively as possible to provide a venue and support for local LGBT voices and does not drown them out or overpower them.”
The White House prepares to unveil the compiled report as the issue of international LGBT rights continue to make headlines in the United States and draw the attention of public officials.
- In a letter dated June 26, 84 members of Congress — led by gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) — wrote to Clinton urging the State Department to press the Honduran government to investigate and resolve reports of continued violence against LGBT people in the country. In particular, lawmakers asked about the case of Walter Trochez, a prominent LGBT activist, and opponent of the 2009 coup, who was murdered in a drive-by shooting.
- In an earlier letter dated June 21, 50 members of Congress — led by Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) — wrote to Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban in objection to anti-Semitic and homophobic positions supported by the far-right political party, Jobbik. According to the letter, the party introduced a bill calling for the imprisonment of those who “promote” homosexuality and the ouster of Robert Alfoldi, the director of the National Theater, based on his presumed homosexuality. Lawmakers called on Hungary’s leaders to take a firm stand against these positions.
- Last week, Uganda reportedly banned 38 non-governmental organizations that it accused of promoting homosexuality and recruiting children into becoming gay.
- An anti-homosexuality bill that would institute the death penalty homosexual acts is also set to move through the Uganda legislature. Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokesperson, reiterated the Obama administration’s opposition to the bill last week, saying, “We are resolutely opposed to the bill. We think it’s inconsistent with Uganda’s international human rights obligations, and this just sets a bad, bad precedent in the neighborhood.”
One of the initiatives announced by Clinton during her Geneva speech last year was a Global Equality Fund geared toward supporting the work of organizations on LGBT issues around the world. The secretary announced the United States had contributed $3 million to the fund. Baer said the money is still in the process of being allocated.
“We trying to make sure that we’re focusing on ways to get resources and support and expertise to those small NGOs wherever they are in these smaller capitals around the world,” Baer said. “We’ve actually engaged our embassies to help us identify opportunities to do small grants programs.”
Still, some projects have already received funding. Baer said the Global Equality Fund helped finance a project working with local groups in a region of four or five countries helping to train participants in documenting incidents of abuse and violence and give them technical assistance to store and share that information securely. According to Bear, the multi-year contribution was between $300,000 and $500,000, but he didn’t want to disclose more details because he doesn’t want to expose the project to additional scrutiny.
Prior to the establishment of the fund, Baer said the State Department established another partnership with an LGBT organization in Mongolia where the U.S. embassy issued a small grant under $30,000. The Mongolia-based group designed a public advocacy campaign meant to be a tolerance promotion campaign using TV and radio.
Additionally, Baer said the State Department is looking for private organizations and foreign countries to contribute more resources to the fund, but declined to identify any particular organization or country because nothing has yet been made final.
“I’m not worried that we’re going to run out of money and there won’t be any resources to dedicate to this; I think there’s an institutional commitment,” Baer said. “But I think the fund also serves obviously a public purpose in highlighting that commitment and also giving us a chance to partner with particularly other governments that are interested in not only making a resource contribution, but a symbolic contribution to demonstrate a shared commitment to this area.”
At the same time, USAID was set this month to announce the creation of an LGBT Global Partnership. According to a notice, the initiative was set to advance LGBT equality by providing “a greater voice in civil society and political processes, increased access to services including police and justice systems and improved economic security.” USAID didn’t respond to multiple requests to provide more information about the initiative.