June 29, 2016 at 11:26 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
USAID honors murdered Bangladeshi activist at Pride reception

Gayle Smith, USAID, gay news, Washington Blade

USAID Administrator Gayle Smith speaks at her agency’s Pride reception in D.C. on June 28, 2016. (Photo by Ellie Van Houtte/USAID)

The U.S. Agency for International Development on Tuesday paid tribute to a murdered Bangladeshi LGBT activist during its annual Pride reception.

USAID Senior LGBT Coordinator Todd Larson noted that Xulhaz Mannan, who founded Bangladesh’s first LGBT magazine, was working for the agency when members of an al-Qaida branch in the country hacked him and his friend, Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy, to death on April 25. Mannan’s nephew, Raj Islam, who is a member of the Virginia Beach Human Rights Commission, told the Washington Blade earlier this month that the militants “took both of (his uncle’s) eyes out in front of” his elderly mother who was inside the apartment in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka in which the attack took place.

“USAID lost one of our own in a heinous murder,” said Larson.

USAID Administrator Gayle Smith was among the U.S. officials who expressed their condolences to Mannan’s family when they traveled to Bangladesh less than two weeks after the attack. USAID earlier this month placed a brick with Mannan’s name on it near the entrance to its downtown Washington headquarters.

“Xulhaz, like so many LGBTI advocates and defenders in Bangladesh and around the world over years and years and years paid the ultimate price for his beliefs and efforts to make the world a better place,” said Larson. “Xulhaz was a son, a brother, a friend and a colleague.”

Tuesday’s event took place less than three weeks after a gunman killed 49 people and injured 53 others inside the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

Larson led a moment of silence to honor the victims of the June 12 massacre, Mannan and other LGBT activists around the world who have been killed. Smith specifically referenced the Pulse nightclub in her remarks.

“At any moment when we can feel confidence, determination, the winds at our back, we experience Orlando and realize that the struggle is far from over so even as we celebrate what we’ve achieved,” she said. “It’s equally important that we recommit.”

GLIFAA President Regina Jun made a similar point.

“The brutal murder of our USAID colleague Xulhaz Mannan and the recent attack against LGBT and ally community members in Orlando, Fla., remind us that challenges still exist for the LGBTI community and that hate must still be overcome here at home and around the world,” she said. “However, every day, people work to overcome these challenges.”

Smith: LGBT movement has ‘momentum to succeed’

President Obama in 2011 issued a memorandum that directed agencies charged with implementing U.S. foreign policy to promote LGBT rights.

USAID in 2013 launched the LGBT Global Development Partnership, a public-private initiative that seeks to promote LGBT rights around the world over four years.

LGBT activists from across Colombia have attended several USAID-supported trainings that focused on how to become more involved in the South American country’s political process. Smith noted that USAID has also supported efforts to help transgender Guatemalans access identification documents that allow them to participate in their country’s electoral process and provided assistance to Albanian activists who are working to open a shelter for “vulnerable LGBTI people facing homelessness, violence and abuse.”

The Associated Press in 2014 reported that USAID hired nearly a dozen men from Latin American countries to covertly undermine the Cuban government through an HIV prevention workshop and other means.

“I believe that this movement has the momentum to succeed,” said Smith, referring to the LGBT rights movement.

USAID on Tuesday also honored Denise Herbol, the agency’s outgoing mission director to Jamaica, for her efforts in support of LGBT-specific issues in the Caribbean country.

Larson said USAID works with J-FLAG, a Jamaican LGBT advocacy group, and another organization that supports homeless LGBT youth and combats gender-based violence. He also noted Herbol was among the keynote speakers at Jamaica’s first-ever Pride celebration that took place last August in the country’s capital of Kingston.

“The U.S. is standing up for the human rights of Jamaicans,” said Herbol. “We are proud to be there to help elevate and support those who are most vulnerable and disenfranchised.”

The U.S. Embassy in Jamaica raised the rainbow flag to honor the victims of the Pulse nightclub massacre. Jamaican Attorney General Marlene Malahoo faced widespread criticism when she described the decision as “insensitive” in a tweet.

“This allowed us to elevate the discourse on the issue,” said Herbol, referring to LGBT rights in Jamaica. “And we are very proud of that fact.”

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

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