January 8, 2017 at 11:06 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Kerry highlights LGBT rights in exit memo

John Kerry, GLIFAA, gay news, Washington Blade

Secretary of State John Kerry highlights LGBT rights in his exit memo to President Obama. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted U.S. efforts to promote LGBT rights abroad in his exit memo to President Obama.

Kerry described the appointment of Randy Berry as the first-ever U.S. envoy for LGBT and intersex rights as “an unprecedented effort to defend the rights of LGBTI individuals.”

Kerry noted the U.S. “mobilized international support for” three “historic” U.N. resolutions “embracing LGBTI rights.” The 21-page memo he sent to Obama last week also highlighted the Global Equality Fund, a public-private partnership that seeks to promote LGBT rights around the world.

The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development manage the initiative that began in 2011. Kerry noted the Global Equality Fund has spent more than $33 million in 80 countries “in support of civil society efforts to advance the human rights of LGBTI persons.”

The promotion of LGBT rights abroad has been a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy during Obama’s second term.

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins last month requested President-elect Trump remove officials from the State Department who promote LGBT and reproductive rights overseas.

A spokesperson for the Trump transition team told the Blade the president-elect “campaigned on a message of unity in order to bring all Americans together” and the suggestion that “discrimination of any kind will be condoned or tolerated in a Trump administration is simply absurd.”

Vice President-elect Pence opposed efforts to promote gay rights abroad when he was a member of the House of Representatives. It remains unclear whether the promotion of LGBT rights will be part of the Trump administration’s foreign policy.

“The U.S. must continue to recognize that LGBTIQ rights are human rights,” said OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern in a statement that her organization released after Trump’s election.

Trump has nominated ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to succeed Kerry.

Tillerson’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin — who signed a 2013 law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors — have sparked concern amid allegations the Kremlin sought to influence the outcome of the presidential election. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday is scheduled to hold Tillerson’s confirmation hearing.

U.S. ‘left isolated’ by Cuba policy

The resumption of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba in 2014 is among the other issues that Kerry highlighted in his memo.

“Our efforts to isolate Cuba failed to advance our objective of empowering Cubans to build an open and democratic country,” he wrote. “In fact, it was often the United States — not Cuba — that was left isolated by this policy.”

Kerry added the normalization of relations between Washington and Havana “removed an irritant in our relationships throughout the Western Hemisphere.”

Obama in March 2016 became the first sitting U.S. president in 88 years to visit Cuba.

Two LGBT rights advocates were among the members of Cuban civil society who met with Obama in Havana. The president also spoke publicly about human rights while he was on the Communist island.

“Every person should be equal under the law, every child deserves the dignity that comes with education and health care and food on the table and a roof over their heads,” said Obama in a speech he delivered at Havana’s Alicia Alonso Grand Theater. “Citizens should be free to speak their mind without fear, to organize and to criticize their government and to protest peacefully and that the rule of law should not include arbitrary detentions of people who exercise those rights.”

Cuban President Raúl Castro was among those who attended Obama’s speech.

Efforts to repeal the U.S. embargo against Cuba remain stalled in Congress, even though direct flights have resumed between the two countries. Cuba’s Office of National Statistics indicates the number of Americans who traveled to the island during the first six months of 2016 increased nearly 80 percent from the same period in 2015.

Reports that emerged before the election indicate Trump’s company violated the embargo in 1998 and again in late 2012 or early 2013. He has nevertheless criticized the normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba.

It remains unclear whether Trump will reverse the current administration’s policy towards Havana.

Juana Mora Cedeño, Havana, Cuba, gay news, Washington Blade

Juana Mora, an independent Cuban LGBT rights advocate, met with President Obama in Havana in March 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

Comments are closed
© Copyright Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc. 2017. All rights reserved.