November 3, 2017 at 8:36 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Chad Griffin urges Tillerson to ‘speak out’ on anti-LGBT crackdowns

Chad Griffin, Women's March, HRC, Human Rights Campaign, gay news, Washington Blade

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin on Nov. 3, 2017, urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to “speak out” on anti-LGBT crackdowns that are underway around the world. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin on Friday urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to “speak out” on anti-LGBT discrimination around the world.

Griffin in a letter he wrote to Tillerson referenced a bill that Egyptian lawmakers introduced last week that would criminalize their country’s LGBT community. Griffin also noted the “onslaught of state-sponsored persecution of LGBTQ people in Chechnya, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Georgia, Tanzania, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan.”

“We urge you to personally speak out,” wrote Griffin. “Doing so will save lives. When you are silent, the perpetrators of this violence see America not as a moral leader — but as a government that will look the other way.”

State Department remains ‘concerned’ by LGBT arrests

Tillerson in June in a Pride month statement said the State Department “affirms its solidarity with the human rights defenders and civil society organizations working around the world to uphold the fundamental freedoms of LGBTI persons to live with dignity and freedom.” He also said “LGBTI persons continue to face the threat of violence and discrimination.”

“When all persons are protected on the basis of equality and with dignity, global stability is strengthened,” said Tillerson. “We will continue to support the human rights of LGBTI persons together with like-minded governments, businesses and civil society organizations globally.”

Tillerson himself has yet to publicly comment on the ongoing crackdown against LGBT Chechens, but the State Department told the Blade in September that he raised it in a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. A State Department spokesperson last week declined to comment on HRC’s Freedom of Information Act request for “all records” relating to Tillerson’s letter to Lavrov.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert last month expressed concern over the anti-LGBT crackdowns in Egypt and Azerbaijan. She and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley have also condemned the crackdown against LGBT Chechens that began earlier this year.

President Trump has yet to publicly comment on Chechnya.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told the Blade on Oct. 27 during her daily press briefing that she would have to “check into” the Egyptian criminalization bill. She has yet to provide a follow-up statement.

“The U.S. response to this wave of anti-LGBTQ violence has been far too weak,” said Griffin in his letter to Tillerson. “While there have been important statements from Ambassador Haley, State Department spokesman Heather Nauert and a few other U.S. ambassadors, and while State Department staff continue to support civil society organizations and individuals under threat, it has not been nearly enough to focus international attention and create pressure to stop the surge in anti-LGBTQ violence.”

A State Department spokesperson on Friday said the agency remains “concerned by reports of detentions and arrests of LGBTI persons.” The spokesperson also referred the Blade to Tillerson’s Pride month statement.

“As Secretary Tillerson has stated, we affirm our solidarity with civil society organizations and human rights defenders working to uphold the fundamental freedoms of LGBTI persons,” said the spokesperson. “This holds true globally.”

“We urge countries to uphold and respect their international human rights obligations and commitments,” added the spokesperson. “The United States will continue to engage on issues of universal human rights and democracy.”

Griffin: U.S. is ‘beacon of hope’ around the world

The promotion of LGBT and intersex rights around the world was a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration.

Tillerson indicated the special U.S. envoy for the human rights of LGBT and intersex people will remain in place under a State Department overhaul. The U.S., France and Brazil in recent weeks blocked Egyptian and Russian efforts to remove a reference to discrimination that includes sexual orientation from an Olympics resolution at the U.N.

The U.S. on Sept. 29 voted against a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution that includes a provision condemning the death penalty for those found guilty of committing consensual same-sex sexual acts.

A U.S. official told the Blade after the vote the U.S. “did support language in the resolution against the discriminatory use of the death penalty based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, while also requesting changes to make the larger resolution in accordance with U.S. law” that says the death penalty is legal. The official noted the resolution’s main sponsors “did not take those edits onboard, so we were unable to support the larger resolution, which called for a global moratorium on the death penalty, in spite of the fact that it included parts that we support.”

The State Department on Oct. 26 issued a statement that acknowledged Intersex Awareness Day. Nauert a week earlier acknowledged Spirit Day, which is a campaign that seeks to combat bullying.

Activists in Chile and Honduras with whom the Blade spoke in recent weeks said U.S. officials in their respective countries continue to work with them. Griffin in his letter to Tillerson asked him to increase U.S. funding for LGBT and intersex advocacy groups around the world and make “it clear to the American people, the international community and State Department staff that supporting and protecting the human rights of LGBTQ people remains a State Department commitment and priority.”

“The United States has long been a beacon of hope for oppressed people around the globe, and we are at our strongest when we affirm the values we hold dear before the rest of the world,” wrote Griffin. “On the global stage that means championing the dignity of all individuals, no matter how vulnerable or disenfranchised.”

“I urge you to speak out against the serious attacks on LGBTQ people around the world by loudly condemning these arbitrary arrests, detentions and persecution of LGBTQ people,” he added. “There are countless lives — in these countries and many others across the globe — depending on America’s action and leadership.”

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

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