A U.S. diplomat on Monday acknowledged the coronavirus pandemic continues to have a disproportionate impact on LGBTQ people around the world.
“The COVID pandemic really highlights the challenges for the LGBTQ community,” said Acting U.S. Representative to the U.N. Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Courtney Nemroff during a virtual event organized by the U.N. LGBTI Core Group that commemorated the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. “We are particularly concerned about the fear, the real fear of discrimination against members of the community when they try to seek basic health care services.”
Nemroff added the issue is “something of concern to the U.S. as well.”
OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern moderated the IDAHOBiT event in which Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the U.N.’s LGBTQ rights watchdog, and diplomats from Nepal and other countries around the world participated. Billie Bryan, president of Colours Cayman, an advocacy group in the Cayman Islands, and Khawla Bouaziz, secretary general of Mawjoudin, a Tunisian LGBTQ rights organization, also spoke.
The IDAHOBiT event took place hours after a Ugandan court ordered the release of 19 LGBTQ people who were arrested at a shelter in the country’s capital of Kampala on March 29 and charged with violating coronavirus-related social distancing rules.
Uganda is among the dozens of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. Nemroff made a broad reference to a campaign led by acting national intelligence director Richard Grenell, who is also the U.S. ambassador to Germany, that encourages nations to legalize homosexuality.
“The United States has put a special accent this year on … amplifying our efforts on decriminalization and on equality,” said Nemroff.
IDAHOBiT, which was previously known as the International Day Against Homophobia, commemorates the World Health Organization’s decision to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder. Neither the White House, nor the State Department publicly acknowledged IDAHOBiT, but the U.S. Mission to the U.N. and many American embassies around the world did.
“In recognition of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, the United States Mission to the United Nations reaffirms its commitment to the principle that ‘the inherent dignity and … the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,'” reads a statement the U.S. Mission to the U.N. issued on Sunday. “Under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is the duty of every nation to protect and defend the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people.”
The U.S. Embassy in Spain on Sunday in a tweet said, “today and every day we affirm that human rights and fundamental freedoms are universal and that each person has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan in a statement it posted to its Twitter account said it “stands in solidarity with LGBTI Kazakhstanis and displays the rainbow flag today in recognition of this important day.” The U.S. Embassy in Germany in a tweet noted consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in more than a third of the world’s countries.
Today we commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia. #IDAHOBIT The U.S.Mission to #Kazakhstan stands in solidarity with LGBTI Kazakhstanis and displays the Rainbow Flag today in recognition of this important day. LGBTI rights are human rights pic.twitter.com/ir2Ds3bCvu
— U.S. Embassy to Kazakhstan (@USembassyKAZ) May 17, 2020
Over one-third of the world’s countries still criminalize #LBGTI people. Being LGBTI is #notacrime. The U.S. urges gov’ts to decriminalize and stands in solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex persons worldwide. On #IDAHOTB and every day. #IDAHOTB2020 pic.twitter.com/koaY3fL6bp
— US-Botschaft Berlin (@usbotschaft) May 17, 2020
This year’s IDAHOBiT commemorations took place against the backdrop of the pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 people around the world. They also coincide with continued criticism of the Trump administration’s domestic LGBTQ rights record and its overall foreign policy.
The U.S. is among the countries that are members of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group, which promotes LGBTQ rights at the U.N. The U.S. nevertheless did not sign the IDAHOBiT statement the group issued on Sunday.
“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is clear: Human rights are universal and should apply equally to all people everywhere,” reads the statement. “Today and every day the UN LGBTI Core Group works to address the silence around the ongoing discrimination against LGBTI people globally.”
The statement further states the “ongoing public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unprecedented challenges that affect the global community as a whole but additionally have a particular and unique effect on those who face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, including LGBTI persons.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a human security crisis that is widespread in scope and impact, with survival, health, safety, economic security and human rights being endangered as a result. In order to truly address the impacts and consequences of the pandemic, the needs of those most vulnerable and most affected must be addressed,” it reads.
A State Department official on Tuesday told the Washington Blade in response to its question about why the U.S. did not sign the U.N. LGBTI Core Group statement that American policy “on LGBTI human rights is focused on mitigating violence and the decriminalization of LGBTI conduct.”
“The statements issued by the Core Group and the Equal (Rights) Coalition included broad language that went beyond the scope of the department’s policy mandate,” said the official. “The statements also go beyond settled U.S. law.”
The official did not further elaborate on how the statements “went beyond the scope of the department’s policy mandate” and “go beyond settled U.S. law.” The official did stress the U.S.’ “longstanding commitment to protecting the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people, including LGBTI persons, is well-known” and “so too is its interest in ensuring that any statements it joins are consistent with U.S. law and policy.”
“In this case, a virtual abbreviated negotiation process for a lengthy statement made it preferable to release our own statement, which went up on the USUN Mission’s website and social media yesterday,” added the official.