February 1, 2017 at 5:36 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Rex Tillerson confirmed as next secretary of state

Rex Tillerson, gay news, Washington Blade

The U.S. Senate on Feb. 1, 2017, confirmed Rex Tillerson as the next secretary of state. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday voted 56-43 to confirm former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as the next secretary of state.

“Following a fair and exhaustive review in our committee, I am confident Rex Tillerson has the ability to be the effective leader the State Department needs,” said U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Mr. Tillerson led a global enterprise with 75,000 employees, possesses deep relationships around the world and understands the critical role of U.S. leadership. He has expressed a commitment to defend American values and to restore U.S. credibility by strengthening old alliances and building new ones.”

The committee on Jan. 23 approved Tillerson’s nomination.

Tillerson raised eyebrows among LGBT rights advocates during his confirmation hearing when he declined to specifically say whether “gay rights are human rights” in response to a question that U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) asked. Tillerson also did not say whether President Trump’s administration would promote LGBT and intersex rights abroad as the previous White House did.

OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern in a statement noted Tillerson during his confirmation hearing “condemned discrimination on any basis and recognized the need for the United States to stand by human rights and human dignity globally.”

“However it is significant that Secretary Tillerson did not specifically name lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people in his statements,” added Stern. “When LGBTIQ people are not specifically named, we see direct consequences on LGBTIQ safety and livelihoods.”

“America must refute political isolationism and prioritize human rights in US foreign policy,” she said. “We call on Secretary Tillerson to ensure that the U.S. continues to fund LGBTIQ rights organizations around the world, condemn acts of homophobic and transphobic violence, support the United Nations and other multilateral institutions, and uphold human rights and justice for LGBTIQ people and other vulnerable groups.”

Tillerson’s ties to Russia spark concern

Tillerson was ExxonMobil’s CEO when the company added sexual orientation and gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy in 2015. Freedom to Work, an LGBT advocacy group, alleged in a 2013 complaint that the company showed bias against prospective employees who were gay.

A spokesperson for the Illinois Human Rights Commission told the Washington Blade late last year that a second lawsuit accusing ExxonMobil of anti-gay discrimination is “still pending.”

Tillerson’s ties to Russia have also sparked concern among advocates and lawmakers.
ExxonMobil in 2011 signed a $300 billion agreement with Russia that would allow the company to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean. The sanctions that former President Obama imposed against Russia in 2014 over the annexation of Crimea and other military interventions in Ukraine derailed the project.

Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2013 signed a controversial law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors in his country. Tillerson’s confirmation hearing took place against the backdrop of allegations the Kremlin sought to interfere with the election.

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

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