May 28, 2017 at 4:52 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Wasserman Schultz: U.S. foreign policy must promote human rights

Debbie Wasserman Schultz, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) speaks at the World OutGames Miami Human Rights Conference in Miami Beach, Fla., on May 27, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) on Saturday said the promotion of human rights must remain part of U.S. foreign policy.

The Florida Democrat who is the former chair of the Democratic National Committee pointed out in her remarks at the World OutGames Miami Human Rights Conference in Miami Beach that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier this month said the U.S. “would have to sacrifice possibly America’s values when dealing with other countries in order to achieve sort of greater good or more broad goals, even if it meant sacrificing our values that matter to us when it comes to human rights.”

Tillerson told State Department employees in a May 3 speech that “in some circumstances, if you condition our national security efforts on someone adopting our values, we probably can’t achieve our national security goals or our national security interests.”

“If we condition too heavily that others must adopt this value that we’ve come to over a long history of our own, it really creates obstacles to our ability to advance our national security interests, our economic interests,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that we leave those values on the sidelines. It doesn’t mean that we don’t advocate for and aspire to freedom, human dignity and the treatment of people the world over. We do. And we will always have that on our shoulder everywhere we go.”

“To me that is morally repugnant and unacceptable to suggest that we would ever set aside or drop off the priority list standing up for the human rights and the values that go with that as Americans in American foreign policy,” said Wasserman Schultz.

Wasserman Schultz noted the ongoing crackdown against gay men in Chechnya. She also pointed out the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia — which commemorates the World Health Organization’s decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder — took place on May 17.

“It’s so important for us to be standing up not just for the rights of our LGBT Americans, but for our sisters and brothers all across the globe,” said Wasserman Schultz.

She also described the gay crackdown in Chechnya as “an example of where America has to lead the way and use every tool at our disposal to be able to lean on countries that really are not only violating basic human rights but are going far beyond that and engaging in violence and outrageous, unacceptable treatment of people for simply trying to live their truth.”

Wasserman Schultz has previously criticized former President Obama’s 2014 decision to begin the process of normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba. She remains opposed to ending the U.S. embargo against the Communist island.

The White House on Saturday did not include the name of Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel’s husband, Gauthier Destenay, in the caption of a picture it released that included first lady Melania Trump and other spouses of heads of state who attended last week’s NATO summit in Brussels.

Wasserman Schultz in her remarks did not mention the omission. She did, however, say it “was really neat to see the pictures of the first ladies and then the first man who is married to the prime minister” of Luxembourg.

“This is the kind of progress that we are making that we can celebrate the relationships of all types by world leaders,” said Wasserman Schultz. “That picture will be iconic, as it should be.”

Equality Act supporters ‘going to be pressing for’ it

Wasserman Schultz also talked about the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal civil rights law.

Lawmakers reintroduced the bill on May 2.

Wasserman Schultz — who is a co-sponsor of the Equality Act — conceded the measure faces an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Congress. She nevertheless said she and other Equality Act supporters are “going to be pressing for” it.

“We really need to not be doing this in a peace meal way,” said Wasserman Schultz.

Decision to cancel most OutGames sporting events ‘unacceptable’

Wasserman Schultz spoke to conference participants a day after OutGames organizers abruptly cancelled nearly all of the sporting events and the games’ opening and closing ceremonies.

Organizers in an email said “financial challenges” prompted them to cancel the events, even though the city of Miami Beach gave them $200,000 and waved permit fees associated with the games. Miami-Dade County also agreed to reimburse organizers $18,000 in expenses.

The Miami Beach Police Department and the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office have launched a “fraud investigation” into “the potential misappropriation of funds.”

The conference took place as scheduled.

“Thank you all for your perseverance and your resilience,” Wasserman Schultz told conference attendees at the beginning of her remarks.

She described OutGames organizers’ decision to cancel most of the sporting events and opening and closing ceremonies as a “very disappointing and unacceptable situation.”

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

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