National Security Advisor Susan Rice on Tuesday criticized several countries, including Russia, for their treatment of LGBT citizens during a White House forum on international LGBT issues.
Rice also singled out Uganda and Nigeria over draconian anti-gay laws that took effect in those countries earlier this year.
She noted that Brunei could become the eighth country in which those found guilty of consensual same-sex sexual acts could face the death penalty if the second phase of the new Bruneian penal code takes effect.
Rice categorized the Russian law that bans the promotion of so-called propaganda to minors as “pernicious” and noted a proposal seeks to allow the government to take children away from their gay parents. She also highlighted Harvey Milk, murdered Cameroonian LGBT rights advocate Eric Ohena Lembembe and slain Ugandan activist David Kato.
“Change never happens without passionate people willing to sacrifice for what is right,” said Rice, referring to the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and other civil rights milestones in the U.S. “Unfortunately in too many places, being gay or transgender is enough to make someone the target of slurs, torment and violence.”
Rice also announced the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce has joined a U.S.-backed initiative designed to bolster global LGBT advocacy efforts.
“Political and social progress indeed go hand in hand,” she said during a speech at a White House forum on global LGBT rights that took place at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. “America’s support for LGBT rights is not just a national cause, but a global enterprise.”
National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce President Justin Nelson told the Washington Blade that his organization through the nearly $4 million public-private partnership the U.S. Agency for International Development launched last April will seek to develop national LGBT chambers of commerce and other business groups. He said his organization hopes to cultivate LGBT entrepreneurship in Europe, Colombia, India and other countries in which it currently works.
“When you empower LGBT people through economics, you give an economic identity to people,” said Nelson. “People listen. It moves minds.”
LGBT rights advocates from the U.S. and around the world were among the hundreds who attended the White House forum.
Activists from Jamaica, Ukraine, Colombia, Venezuela, Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria and the Philippines on Monday discussed the support they said they receive from the U.S. during a panel at the Russell Senate Office Building the Council for Global Equality organized.
Angie Umbac of the Rainbow Rights Project in the Philippines said the U.S. Embassy in her country has sponsored trainings for authorities who investigate human rights abuses. She said a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union has also spoken with Filipino law students.
“The embassy’s been very, very good to the community,” said Umbac.
Mauricio Albarracín Caballero, executive director of Colombia Diversa, a Colombian LGBT advocacy group, described the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá, the South American country’s capital, as “our most important ally in the fight for LGBT rights.”
USAID in 2009 began working with the Colombian National Police on how to more effectively work with the country’s LGBT advocacy organizations. Colombia Diversa and the Santamaría Fundación, a transgender rights organization in the city of Cali, have received USAID grants and other support to expand their efforts to document anti-LGBT violence and work with authorities to better prosecute those responsible.
The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, which are also part of the LGBT Global Development Partnership, over the last year have conducted two trainings in Colombia that are designed to allow LGBT Colombians to become more engaged in their country’s political process.
“This support is fundamental for our actions,” said Albarracín.
Tamara Adrián Hernández, a trans Venezuelan lawyer and LGBT rights advocate, said the U.S. and her country continue to have a “very hostile bilateral relationship” amid ongoing protests between supporters and opponents of President Nicolás Maduro who took office last year after his predecessor, Hugo Chávez, succumbed to cancer.
“Our activities with the U.S. Embassy are limited,” she said.
Rashidi Williams of Queer Alliance Nigeria said the Nigerian LGBT rights movement’s relationship with the U.S. Embassies and American consulates in his country “has been very important for us.”
He said the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, worked with local advocates to develop media strategies around a bill that sought to punish those who enter into same-sex marriages with up to 14 years in prison, ban anyone from officiating a gay union or entering into a same-sex “amorous relationship” and joining an LGBT group.
Williams said American officials have not done any programmatic work with local activists “beyond meetings.” He said the U.S. Embassy has “been very quiet” since Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan signed the anti-gay bill into law in January.
President Obama in 2011 ordered agencies responsible for the implementation of U.S. foreign policy to support LGBT rights.
Obama last December selected retired tennis champion Billie Jean King, figure skater Brian Boitano and former hockey player Caitlin Cahow to join the U.S. delegation to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The White House last week announced a travel ban against Ugandan officials responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses.
Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline on June 19 introduced a bill that would ban officials responsible for anti-LGBT human rights abuses in their respective countries from entering the U.S. and mandate the State Department to document them in its annual human rights report. U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) last week introduced a bill that would create a special envoy within the State Department who would coordinate Washington’s efforts in support of global LGBT rights.