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LGBT issues discussed at first-of-its-kind U.N. meeting

Funders of global gay initiatives met in NYC, Kerry signs onto declaration

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Rajiv Shah, USAID, United Nations General Assembly, gay news, Washington Blade

Rajiv Shah, USAID, United Nations General Assembly, gay news, Washington Blade

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah is among those who attended a meeting of global LGBT funders on September 24 during the U.N. General Assembly in New York. (Photo courtesy of USAID.)

Global LGBT advocacy efforts were among the issues discussed during the U.N. General Assembly this week in New York.

USAID, the Swedish International Development Corporation Agency (SIDA,) the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice and the Ford Foundation on Tuesday hosted a meeting of funders of global LGBT advocacy efforts.

USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah, SIDA Director General Charlotte Petri Gornitzka and former Planet Out CEO Megan Smith, who is now vice president of Google[x], attended the gathering alongside high level officials from Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Swedish, the United Kingdom, the U.N. Development Program, the State Department and the World Bank.

Representatives from the American Jewish World Service, the Arcus Foundation, the Fund for Global Rights, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute, the Dutch foundation Mama Cash, the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, the Open Society Foundation and the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights are among the other groups that took part in the meeting. Organizers said it drew 85 percent of groups around that contribute to global LGBT efforts.

“It was a seminal moment in history because it is the first global meeting where public and private donors for LGBT equality came together to discuss priorities, programs and potential collaboration for ways forward,” senior USAID advisor Claire Lucas told the Washington Blade on Friday.

USAID in April announced the LGBT Global Development Partnership with the Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute, (SIDA) and other groups will contribute $11 million over the next four years to advocacy groups in Honduras and other developing countries. The initiative’s first two trainings took place in the Colombian cities of Cartagena and Bogotá late last month and in the spring respectively.

Denis Dison of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Institute added his organization remains “proud” to “partner in this work” with USAID and Astraea as he discussed Tuesday’s meeting with the Blade.

“This meeting was an important step in recognizing the truly global effort to advance LGBT human rights, and the leadership role now being played by the U.S. is a remarkable turnaround from just a few years ago,” he said.

Funders of global LGBT initiatives met in New York two days before Secretary of State John Kerry and representatives from 10 countries issued a declaration that calls for an end to anti-LGBT violence and discrimination.

Members of the LGBT Core Group at U.N. that includes the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton and ministers from Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, El Salvador, France, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway declared their “strong and determined commitment to eliminating violence and discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“We reaffirm our conviction that human rights are the birthright of every human being,” the statement reads. “Those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) must enjoy the same human rights as everyone else.”

Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Affairs Dean Pittman told the Blade during an interview from New York on Friday the meeting and the declaration underscores the U.N. and the U.S. are committed to “pursuing and advancing LGBT rights around the world.”

“Everybody’s reinforced the idea that everyone deserves human rights,” Pittman said. “It shouldn’t be a decision of who you are, who you love, what your gender is.”

Pittman further categorized the statement as “really strong, powerful.”

“This really has a ripple effect that sort of goes out through LGBT communities around the world who see this as sort of a vote of confidence,” he told the Blade. “[It] sort of gives them the ability to go into their own communities with the backing of a global organization like the U.N. to pursue some of these human rights issues in their own countries.”

The meeting took place two months after the U.N. officially launched a public campaign that seeks to increase support for LGBT rights around the world. It’s been endorsed by singer Ricky Martin and others.

More than 70 countries around the world continue to criminalize consensual same-sex sexual acts in spite of a 2011 resolution in support of LGBT rights the U.N. Human Rights Council passed. Gambian President Yahya Jammeh on Friday said in his speech during the U.N. General Assembly that homosexuality is among the three “biggest threats to human existence” as the Associated Press reported.

85 countries have also backed a U.N. General Assembly declaration in support of LGBT rights.

President Obama earlier this month met with two Russian LGBT rights advocates during the G-20 summit. Both he and Kerry have also criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin over his country’s LGBT rights record, which includes a law that bans gay propaganda to minors.

Pittman declined to say whether Kerry discussed Russia’s LGBT rights record during his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday during the U.N. General Assembly. He said Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, briefed Kerry and other ministers on the country’s gay propaganda law before they issued their declaration.

“This is an issue we’ve raised with the Russians at many levels and repeatedly,” Pittman told the Blade. “It’s obviously unacceptable.

Council for Global Equality Chair Mark Bromley welcomed the meeting and the resolution.

“One would expect Syria and Iran to be on the agenda, but not necessarily human rights for LGBT people,” he told the Blade, referring to the U.N. General Assembly. “For a group of committed foreign ministers to come together during this time, including Sec. Kerry, to pledge collective action to respond to human rights abuses directed at LGBT communities worldwide is unprecedented.”

Chris Johnson contributed to this article.

John Kerry, United States Department of State, LGBT, United Nations General Assembly, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry participates in an LGBT ministerial event in New York on Thursday during the U.N. General Assembly. (Photo courtesy of the State Department.)

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Russia

U.S. official meets with Brittney Griner

Consular visit took place on May 19

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A mugshot of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was arrested on drug charges in the country after Russian officials say cannabis oil was found in her luggage. (Russian television screenshot)

A U.S. consular official on May 19 visited detained WNBA star Brittney Griner in Russia.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Friday told reporters during a virtual briefing the officer “found her continuing to do as well as could be expected under these exceedingly challenging circumstances.” The officer met with Griner two days after U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan said Russian officials had denied consular visits with her three times this month.

“Our message is a clear and simple one,” said Price. “We continue to insist that Russia allow consistent and timely consular access to all U.S. citizen detainees. One-off visits are not sufficient, and we will continue to call on Moscow to uphold its commitments under the Vienna Convention for consistent and timely access as well.”

Griner — a center for the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife — was taken into custody at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February. Russian officials said customs inspectors found hashish oil in her luggage.

The State Department has determined Russia “wrongfully detained” Griner. 

A Russian court on May 13 extended her detention for another month. The Women’s National Basketball Players Association, a union that represents WNBA players, has endorsed a petition that urges the Biden administration to “prioritize” Griner’s release.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner, on May 14.

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Latin America

U.S. announces more funding to fight HIV/AIDS in Latin America

Jill Biden made announcement on Saturday in Panama

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Former Panamanian first lady Lorena Castillo and UNAIDS in 2017 launched a campaign to fight discrimination against Panamanians with HIV/AIDS. Panama will receive $12.2 million in new PEPFAR funding to further combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Latin America. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

First lady Jill Biden on Saturday announced the U.S. will provide an additional $80.9 million to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Latin America.

Biden during a visit to Casa Hogar el Buen Samaritano, a shelter for people with HIV/AIDS in Panama City, said the State Department will earmark an additional $80.9 million for President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief-funded work in Latin America. A Panamanian activist with whom the Washington Blade spoke said LGBTQ people were among those who met with the first lady during her visit.

Pope Francis visited the shelter in 2019.

“I’m glad we have the opportunity to talk about how the United States and Panama can work together to combat HIV,” said the first lady.

Michael LaRosa, the first lady’s spokesperson, noted Panama will receive $12.2 million of the $80.9 million in PEPFAR funding.

“This funding, pending Congressional notification, will support expanded HIV/AIDS services and treatment,” said LaRosa.

UNAIDS statistics indicate an estimated 31,000 Panamanians were living with HIV/AIDS in 2020. The first lady’s office notes the country in 2020 had the highest number of “newly notificated cases of HIV/AIDS” in Central America.

The first lady visited Panama as part of a trip that included stops in Ecuador and Costa Rica.

The Summit of the Americas will take place next month in Los Angeles. The U.S. Agency for International Development and PEPFAR in April announced they delivered more than 18 million doses of antiretroviral drugs for Ukrainians with HIV/AIDS.

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Politics

Republican Pa. governor nominee opposes LGBTQ rights

Former President Trump backed state Sen. Doug Mastriano

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Pennsylvania State Sen. Doug Mastriano (Screenshot/NBC News)

Republican leadership in the Keystone State are expressing quiet alarm over the emergence of radical-right state senator who secured his place as the party’s nominee in the race against Democratic nominee for governor, Josh Shapiro, who is himself currently serving as the commonwealth’s attorney general.

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, who represents Cumberland, Adams, Franklin and York Counties in the South Central Pennsylvania area bordering Maryland, was not seen as a truly viable candidate in the primary race to be the party standard-bearer until he was endorsed by former President Trump.

Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race has serious implications for the outcome of the 2024 presidential election cycle as well. The commonwealth is a strategic swing state and the occupant of the governor’s chair in Harrisburg will lend considerable influence to a final vote count.

Mastriano is a polarizing figure within the state’s Republican Party.

The retired U.S. Army colonel has campaigned at political events that included QAnon adherents, he espoused a political agenda that embraced Trump’s Big Lie about the 2020 election, rejected measures taken to protect Pennsylvanians including masks in the coronavirus pandemic, holding an anti-vaccine “Medical Freedom Rally” rally on the state Capitol steps days after declaring his candidacy for the GOP governor’s primary race, and also mixing in messaging of Christian nationalism.

He also supports expanding gun rights in Pennsylvania and in the state Senate sponsored a bill to ban abortion once a heartbeat is detected.

NBC News noted that Mastriano pledged in his election night address that on the first day of his administration he would crack down on “critical race theory,” a catchall term Republicans have used to target school equity programs and new ways of teaching about race, transgender rights and any remaining COVID-19 vaccine requirements.

“CRT is over,” Mastriano declared. “Only biological females can play on biological females’ teams,” he added, and “you can only use the bathroom that your biology and anatomy says.”

His anti-LGBTQ views have long been part of his personal portfolio. The Washington Post reported that 21 years ago while attending the Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College in 2001, then-Maj. Mastriano wrote his master’s thesis on a hypothetical “left-wing ‘Hitlerian putsch'” that was caused by “the depredations of the country’s morally debauched civilian leaders.” Among those “depredations,” in his words, was the “insertion of homosexuality into the military.”

As the Post reported, his paper shows “disgust for anyone who doesn’t hold his view that homosexuality is a form of ‘aberrant sexual conduct.'”

The paper is posted on an official Defense Department website and lists Mastriano as the author at a time when he said he received a master’s degree from the school.

This is not the only instance of Mastriano professing anti-LGBTQ beliefs. 

In 2018, he stated his belief that LGBTQ couples should not be allowed to adopt a child. During an interview with 103.7 FM, when asked “should LGBTQ couples, i.e. two moms or two dads, be allowed to adopt?” Mastriano answered, “No.” [This takes place at the 16:00 mark.]

NBC News interviewed David La Torre, a Republican and former adviser to fellow gubernatorial candidate Jake Corman.

“As far as what a Pennsylvania government would look like with Mastriano in charge, quite frankly, it’s just not something I’m ready to think about at this point,” La Torre said, adding that while there are many unknowns, the dynamic between Mastriano and the state General Assembly, currently controlled by Republicans, would be one to watch. 

“All I know is this — he will govern as governor like he campaigned,” he said. “He would govern with a sledgehammer and expect Republicans to fall in line. And it would be one of the more fascinating tugs of war we’ve seen in Harrisburg.”

Dave Ball, chairman of the Washington County GOP, told NBC News that Mastriano’s victory was “a shame” for the party, the product of “a phenomenon that I truly don’t understand.” But any misgivings won’t stop Ball from working toward the ultimate goal: taking back the governor’s mansion, saying it’s a must-win race. (The two-term incumbent, Tom Wolf, a Democrat, is term-limited.)

As if telegraphing the battles to come should he take the governor’s chair, Politico reported: “Our biggest problem,” said Mastriano on Steve Bannon’s “War Room: Pandemic” podcast on Tuesday, “is going to be these feckless RINO-type Republicans here that will not allow us to have a fighter as governor. But we’re going to beat them and they’re going to lose power, and they’re going to be put to shame.”

Mastriano lists agenda as governor during Pa. GOP nominee victory speech:

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