January 11, 2017 at 10:06 am EST | by Michael K. Lavers
10 ways Obama promoted LGBT rights abroad
The promotion of LGBT and intersex rights abroad was a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy during President Obama's second term. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The promotion of LGBT rights abroad was a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy during President Obama’s second term. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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

Here is a look back at 10 of the Obama administration’s most notable achievements for LGBT rights abroad.

#1 2011 presidential memorandum

Obama on Dec. 6, 2011, directed agencies that implement U.S. foreign policy to promote LGBT and intersex rights abroad. He issued the presidential memorandum on the same day that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered her “gay rights are human rights” speech in Geneva.

#2 Randy Berry’s appointment

The State Department on Feb. 23, 2015, announced it had named Randy Berry as the first special U.S. envoy to promote LGBT and intersex rights abroad.

J-Flag, Randy Berry, Dane Lewis, Todd Larson, gay news, Washington Blade

From left; Special U.S. Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry, J-FLAG Executive Director Dane Lewis and Todd Larson of the U.S. Agency for International Development attend a reception at the home of U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Luis Moreno in Kingston, Jamaica, on May 21, 2015. (Photo courtesy of J-FLAG)

Berry assumed his post within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in April 2015. The career foreign service officer has traveled to Jamaica, Uganda, Australia and more than 40 other countries.

#3 Openly gay ambassadors

Obama in 2013 nominated six openly gay men to represent his administration overseas.

James “Wally” Brewster, James Costos, Rufus Gifford, John Berry and Dan Baer assumed their posts in the Dominican Republic, Spain and Andorra, Denmark, Australia and at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in Vienna after the U.S. Senate confirmed their respective nominations.

Ted Osius, who is a founding member of GLIFAA, an organization that represents LGBT foreign service personnel, was sworn in as the U.S. ambassador to Vietnam on Dec. 10, 2014. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg on Aug. 8, 2015, presided over the ceremony during which Osius and his husband, Clayton Bond, renewed their wedding vows.

#4 Global Equality Fund

The Global Equality Fund is a public-private partnership the State Department manages with the U.S. Agency for International Development. It has contributed more than $33 million to global LGBT advocacy efforts since its 2011 inception.

#5 USAID bans discrimination among contractors

A USAID rule that formally bans contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity took effect on Oct. 25, 2015.

The new policy does not require contractors to extend nondiscrimination protections to employees of organizations abroad that receive U.S. funding. It also does not include USAID grantees.

#6 Uganda sanctioned after anti-gay law signed

The Obama administration in 2014 announced a series of sanctions against Uganda after the country’s president signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill that sought to impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

The White House banned Ugandan officials responsible for human rights abuses from entering the U.S. The Obama administration also discontinued or redirected funds for programs with the Ugandan Police Force, the Ugandan Ministry of Health and National Public Health Institute.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agreement that funded the salaries of Ugandan Ministry of Health employees who supported the country’s response to the HIV/AIDS ended in February 2014. The U.S. later suspended a study to identify groups at risk for HIV/AIDS the CDC had planned to conduct with a Ugandan university.

President Yoweri Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law on Feb. 24, 2014. The Constitutional Court of Uganda a few months later struck down the statute on a technicality.

#7 Obama meets with Cuban LGBT activists

Two LGBT rights activists were among the members of Cuban civil society who met with Obama in Havana on March 22, 2016. The meeting took place during the president’s historic trip to the Communist island.

Cuba, Pride flag, gay news, U.S. Embassy, Washington Blade

The U.S. Embassy in Havana flies a rainbow flag in honor of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba)

Obama on Dec. 17, 2014, announced the U.S. would restore diplomatic relations with Cuba that had ended in 1961.

#8 LGBT-inclusive delegation travels to Sochi Olympics

Obama tapped three openly LGBT athletes to represent the U.S. at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

Retired tennis champion Billie Jean King was unable to attend the games’ opening ceremony with the rest of the U.S. delegation because of her mother’s health. Figure skater Brian Boitano and Caitlin Cahow, an Olympic ice hockey player, traveled to Sochi.

Caitlin Cahow, gay news, Washington Blade

Olympian Caitlin Cahow was the keynote speaker at the Team D.C. Night of Champions at the Renaissance Hotel on Nov. 8, 2014. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2013 signed a law that bans the promotion of so-called gay propaganda to minors. The statute and the Kremlin’s overall LGBT rights record overshadowed the games.

#9 Obama talks LGBT rights in Africa

Obama throughout his second-term has spoken publicly against anti-LGBT laws in Africa.

The president spoke against the criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations during a June 27, 2013, press conference in Dakar, Senegal, with the country’s president.

Senegal is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. The press conference took place a day after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act in its landmark Windsor decision.

Obama again raised LGBT rights during a July 25, 2015, press conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta in Nairobi.

#10 U.S. seeks release of Malaysian opposition leader

The State Department and other administration officials have urged the Malaysian government to release a leading opposition figure who is serving a 5-year prison sentence for sodomy.

Senior members of the National Security Council met with the family of former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur on Nov. 21, 2015. The meeting coincided with Obama’s visit to the Southeast Asian country.

Kerry raised Anwar’s case with Prime Minister Najib Razak during their meeting on Aug. 5, 2015.

Anwar Ibrahim, gay news, Washington Blade

Senior National Security Council officials on Nov. 21, 2015, met with the family of former Deputy Malaysian Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim who is serving a 5-year prison sentence for sodomy. (Photo by Johnleemk of LensaMalaysia; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

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

1 Comment
  • One of the most powerful things US Pres. Obama did for LGBTI rights globally was on his trip to Jamaica, where he singled out a young lesbian activist at a mixed rally, saluting her nation-building commitments, despite a punitive sexual assault. In an address that opened with a Jamaican patois greeting, “Wha gwaan?” that simple gesture did more to reshape the message young LGBTI people in the Global South are constantly sent by US media that the states they were born in are irredeemable and unlivable and they have to flee and It Will Never Get Better. Amid strident calls in the US for him to call out the Jamaican government for its homophobia on his visit, Pres. Obama instead modelled one of best ways US diplomacy can work: by valuing and empowering local LGBTI voices. I’ve always asked who was responsible for that.

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