February 4, 2021 at 4:06 pm EST | by Michael K. Lavers
Biden memorandum to ‘reinvigorate’ US leadership on global LGBTQ rights
President Joe Biden speaks at the U.S. Department of State. (Screen capture via CSPAN)

President Biden on Thursday announced his administration will issue a memorandum that commits the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.

Biden in a speech he delivered at the State Department said “to reinvigorate our leadership on LGBTQI issues and to do it internationally, we will ensure diplomacy and foreign assistance are working to promote the rights of those individuals included by combatting criminalization and promoting LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers.” Biden did not provide a specific timeline as to when he would issue the memo, but he did reiterate his administration’s support of LGBTQ rights in the U.S. and around the world.

“When we defend equal rights of the people the world over, of women and girls, of LGBTQ individuals, indigenous communities and people with disabilities, the people of every ethnic background and religion, we also ensure that those rights are protected for our own children here in America,” he said.

“America cannot afford to be absent any longer on the world stage,” added Biden.

Biden, among other things, said his administration will seek to raise the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. each year to 125,000. Biden also reiterated calls for Russia to release jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Former President Obama in 2011 issued a presidential memorandum that directed agencies that implement U.S. foreign policy to promote LGBTQ rights abroad.

Then-Secretary of State John Kerry in 2015 created the position of special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. The position has not been filled since 2017.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken during his confirmation hearing pledged to raise the envoy to an ambassador level position. Blinken also said he would “repudiate” the Commission for Unalienable Rights — which sought to stress “natural laws and natural rights” — that former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced in 2019.

The Trump administration in 2019 also tapped then-U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell to lead an initiative that encouraged countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations.

The State Department under the previous White House, among other things, applauded the 2018 India Supreme Court ruling that repealed the country’s colonial-era sodomy law. Activists around the world were nevertheless highly critical of the Trump administration’s anti-LGBTQ rights record in the U.S. and of its overall foreign policy.

“Great to hear President Joe Biden reaffirm the administration’s dedication to protecting the rights of LGBTIQ people at home and abroad during today’s speech at the State Department,” tweeted OutRight Action International. “We look forward to reading the forthcoming memorandum.

Out and Equal Workplace Advocates in a statement said “America is at its best” when “it leads with the dignity and human rights of all as our North Star.” Council for Global Equality Chair Mark Bromley made a similar point.

“We are still waiting to see the text of the presidential memorandum that should be released momentarily,” he told the Washington Blade. “But we were pleased to see that refugee and LGBTQI concerns featured so prominently in the president’s first major foreign policy speech. And it was important for him to recognize that there is ‘no longer a bright line between foreign and domestic policy’ and that when we defend those rights abroad we are also making sure that they will be protected ‘for our own children.’”

“President Biden noted that ‘we’re a country that does big things,’ and we look forward to working with the Biden administration in going all out to promote the rights of LGBTQI persons globally,” added Bromley.

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

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