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U.S. ambassador to U.N. attends Summit of the Americas in Calif.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield says LGBTQ rights remain a top priority

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U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield. (Photo courtesy of Melissa Quartell)

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield on Friday said LGBTQ rights remain a top priority for her and her colleagues at the United Nations.

“There’s a lot of work to be done, but it’s very much a priority for us as we deal with numerous crises across the board,” Thomas-Greenfield told the Los Angeles Blade during a telephone interview from the Summit of the Americas, which took place this week in Los Angeles.

The U.S. Senate in February 2021 confirmed Thomas-Greenfield as the next U.S. ambassador to the U.N. 

The Louisiana native is a veteran American diplomat who was the U.S. Ambassador to Liberia from 2008-2012. Thomas-Greenfield was assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 2013-2017. 

Thomas-Greenfield in response to the Blade’s question about the previous administration’s campaign that encouraged countries to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations said “all of our embassies and our ambassadors had instructions to address issues of criminalization of the LGBTQI community.” Thomas-Greenfield also noted then-Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf refused to sign a bill that would have criminalized same-sex relationships after she “went to the president” with her concerns.

“They (Liberian officials) were very, very clear on what our position is,” said Thomas-Greenfield.

She pointed out the U.S. is a member of the LGBTI Core Group, a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ rights. 

Thomas-Greenfield said the U.N. General Assembly’s adoption of a free elections resolution last November that specifically includes sexual orientation and gender identity “was extraordinarily important for us.” Thomas-Greenfield also noted the U.S. Embassy in Guyana supported efforts to decriminalize cross-dressing in Guyana in accordance with a 2018 Caribbean Court of Justice ruling.

Guyanese lawmakers last August approved a bill that removed cross-dressing from the country’s Summary Jurisdiction (Offenses) Act. 

“Our embassy there advocated for the removal of this language and we were successful in doing that,” said Thomas-Greenfield.

President Biden in February 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. Thomas-Greenfield said the directive “was one of my guiding principles when I arrived in New York.”

“Having that memo in hand gave me the impetus to do those things that all of us care about anyways, but it made a difference having the president instruct us,” she said.

The Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are among the myriad crises to which Thomas-Greenfield has responded since her arrival at the U.N.

Advocacy groups continue to urge the U.S. and other Western governments to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans and other at-risk groups to leave the country. Reports from Ukraine indicate transgender people have not been able to leave the country because their gender presentation does not correspond with the gender marker on their ID documents.

“It’s so important that we are there to ensure that this community receives the protection that is afforded to them,” said Thomas-Greenfield.

Thomas-Greenfield said she and her U.N. colleagues in Geneva “are working to ensure that LGBTQI+ issues are taken into consideration in all of the work that the U.N. is doing around the world, including as it relates to refugees.”

She noted they “provide and encourage the U.N. to provide” the same human trafficking protections offered to young Ukrainian women “to the LGBTQI+ community when they’re crossing borders.” Thomas-Greenfield also acknowledged the difficulties that Trans Ukrainians who want to leave the country face.

“I’m aware of it and I know that the U.N. is aware of it and is making every attempt to address the issue,” she said. “The point I would make to these countries is when people leave their countries, they’re not racing to get documents to prove who they are or what they believe in. You race for your life.” 

“What people told us is that they were lucky to get out with a backpack,” added Thomas-Greenfield. “So, we have to press these countries to stop these restrictions that require people to show any kind of documentation when they’re fleeing for their lives.”

The Summit of the Americas took place in Los Angeles from June 6-10.

Thomas-Greenfield noted she attended President Biden’s meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. Thomas-Greenfield also met with Honduran government officials, among others.

Thomas-Greenfield on Thursday delivered the closing keynote speech at the Young Americas Summit. She noted that one of the people who she met at the event was an “extraordinary, extraordinary young man” from Colombia who works to implement the peace agreement between his government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that specifically acknowledges the conflict’s LGBTQ victims.  

“I was just amazed at his courage, his commitment, his passion for making change and ensuring the LGBTQI community in Colombia was protected and the necessary assistance that they need,” said Thomas-Greenfield.

Thomas-Greenfield also acknowledged criticisms over the decision not to invite Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela to the summit.

“We heard the concerns about this, but I will tell you that civil society was invited across the board from these countries,” she said. “We think it was important that the voices of those individuals who have been abused by these countries … got amplified, if not highlighted. I think that was an important result of this.”

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United Nations

Biden notes LGBTQ, intersex rights in UN General Assembly speech

President stressed ‘fundamental freedoms’ at risk around the world

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President Joe Biden speaks at the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 21, 2022. (Photo courtesy of the White House/Twitter)

President Joe Biden on Wednesday reiterated his administration’s commitment to LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad.

“The future will be won by those countries that unleash the full potential of their populations, where women and girls can exercise equal rights, including basic reproductive rights and contribute fully to building stronger economies and more resilient societies, where religious and ethnic minorities can live their lives without harassment and contribute to the fabric of their communities, where the LGBTQ+ community, individuals live and love freely without being targeted with violence, where citizens can question and criticize their leaders without fear of reprisal,” said Biden in his speech at the U.N. General Assembly.

Biden specifically referenced the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the U.N. General Assembly ratified in 1948. Biden also noted “fundamental freedoms are at risk in every part of our world” with specific references to the Taliban’s repression of women and girls in Afghanistan, the persecution of pro-democracy activists in Myanmar and human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other predominantly Muslim ethnic groups in China’s Xinjiang province that now former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet documented in a report her office released just before her tenure ended on Sept. 1.

Biden also sharply criticized Russia over its war against Ukraine.

“The United States will always promote human rights,” he said.

Biden in February 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday spoke at a meeting of the LGBTI Core Group, a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ and intersex rights. Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, was among those who were in attendance.

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U.N. expert ‘alarmed’ over curtailment of LGBTQ, intersex rights in U.S.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz traveled across country in August

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Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ and intersex issues, speaks at a reception at the Icelandic Embassy in D.C. on Aug. 25, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ and intersex issues has expressed concern over efforts to curtail the rights of LGBTQ and intersex people in states across the U.S.

“I am deeply alarmed by a widespread, profoundly negative riptide created by deliberate actions to roll back the human rights of LGBT people at (the) state level,” said Victor Madrigal-Borloz on Tuesday during a press conference. “The evidence shows that, without exception, these actions rely on prejudiced and stigmatizing views of LGBT persons, in particular transgender children and youth, and seek to leverage their lives as props for political profit.”

Madrigal-Borloz last month traveled to D.C., Alabama, Florida and California.

Madrigal-Borloz met with officials from the State and Justice Departments, the National Security Council and the Departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services. 

Florida state Sen. Shevrin Jones and staffers of the Birmingham (Ala.) Civil Rights Institute and the Human Rights Campaign are among those with whom Madrigal-Borloz sat down. A U.N. press release also notes Madrigal-Borloz met “with authorities” at a detention center for asylum seekers at the San Ysidro Port of Entry in San Diego.

“Despite five decades of progress, equality is not within reach, and often not even within sight, for all persons impacted by violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the United States,” said Madrigal-Borloz.

Madrigal-Borloz in his comments noted the White House continues to promote LGBTQ and intersex rights in the U.S. and around the world.

President Joe Biden on June 15 signed a sweeping executive order that, among other things, directs federal government agencies to develop policies that will counter Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law and other anti-LGBTQ laws that states have enacted.

Biden during his remarks at a White House Pride event that took place on the same day he issued the directive noted violence against transgender people of color and other vulnerable LGBTQ people has increased in the U.S. 

Biden in February 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. The White House a few months later appointed Jessica Stern as the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad.

The State Department in April began to issue passports with “X” gender markers. Stern later noted to the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview that marriage equality “is one element of our longstanding and ongoing commitment to advance the rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”

“The Biden-Harris administration has adopted powerful and meaningful actions that are in conformity with international human rights law, reveal a thoughtful strategy created through participative approaches, and provide significant capacity for their implementation,” said Madrigal-Borloz. “This is exactly the combination of values, knowledge, and muscle that can drive social change.

“In light of a concerted attack to undermine these actions, I exhort the administration to redouble its efforts to support the human rights of all LGBT persons living under its jurisdiction, and helping them to safe waters,” he added. 

The Blade has reached out to the White House for comment on Madrigal-Borloz’s comments.

A State Department spokesperson on Thursday told the Blade the State Department supports “the important work of (the) Independent Expert for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and look forward to reviewing his final report in the coming months.”

“We welcomed the Independent Expert and coordinated meetings with federal, state and local governments and civil society organizations across the country,” said the spokesperson.

The spokesperson referred the Blade to Biden’s June 15 executive director. The spokesperson further stressed that “human rights are at the core of U.S. foreign policy, and that includes standing up for and defending the full recognition of the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”

“We engage in this work with humility, knowing that our road forward on these issues at home has been complex, and progress has been non-linear, and has come at the cost of great struggle and loss,” said the spokesperson. “We believe LGBTQI+ rights are human rights.”

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