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State Department

Kimberly Zieselman named advisor to special U.S. envoy for LGBTQ, intersex rights

Intersex activist describes appointment as ‘milestone’

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Kimberly Zieselman (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Zieselman)

The State Department has named a prominent intersex activist as an advisor to the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad.

Kimberly Zieselman on Oct. 16 announced on her Twitter page that she will work with Jessica Stern.

Zieselman is the former executive director of interACT: Advocates for IntersexYouth and author of “XOXY: A Memoir.”

“As an intersex woman, it’s not only an incredible honor to serve this administration and work with Special Envoy Stern, but my appointment isalso a milestone for the intersex community which has been historically marginalized, if not entirely erased across the globe,” Zieselman told the Washington Blade this week in a statement.

President Joe Biden in 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 State Department earlier this year began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

“The Department of State is committed to promoting and protecting the human rights of all individuals, including intersex persons, who often face discrimination, harmful medical practices, violence, and social stigma solely based on their sex characteristics,” a State Department spokesperson told the Blade in response to Zieselman’s appointment. 

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State Department

US global LGBTQ, intersex rights envoy speaks at Mexico City conference

Jessica Stern reiterated condemnation of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

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Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, speaks at an LGBTQ+ Victory Institute co-organized conference in Mexico City on July 20, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Editor’s note: International News Editor Michael K. Lavers will be on assignment in Mexico City through Sunday.

MEXICO CITY — The special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad on Thursday said politicians around the world target LGBTQ and intersex people as a way to “distract” from their own governance failures.

Jessica Stern spoke at the opening of the LGBTI Political Leaders from the Americas and the Caribbean Conference in Mexico City that the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute co-organized with advocacy groups from Mexico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Honduras and Brazil.  

She once again condemned Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that President Yoweri Museveni signed in May.

The bill contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality” and criminalizes the “promotion of homosexuality” with up to 20 years in prison.

“One might argue that a meeting like this could be labelled promotion of homosexuality and we could all be held criminally liable for being in this conference room today,” said Stern.

“[The Anti-Homosexuality Act] includes a duty to report clause that would require doctors, landlords and even family members to report anyone that they have reason to suspect is homosexual and that basically creates a surveillance state for all LGBTQI+ persons just for being,” she added.

Stern said the Anti-Homosexuality Act and similar laws around the world contain provisions that “are intentionally and explicitly vague because the goal is not to keep anyone safe from LGBTQI+ people.” Stern added politicians use hate speech, blackmail, extortion and violence to target LGBTQ and intersex people and make them into “boogeymen.”

“The goal is to distract from crushing issues like corruption and poverty and climate change that don’t have easy solutions,” she said. “Scapegoating LGBTQI+ persons has real consequences. Turning an entire group of people into a threat to your society is not just a useful way to manipulate a domestic populace, in a world connected through social media the threats metastases regionally and globally.”

Stern in her speech cited Human Rights Campaign statistics that indicate more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in U.S. state legislatures in 2023, with nearly half of them specifically targeting transgender and nonbinary people. Stern noted state lawmakers have approved 70 of them: Fifteen ban gender-affirming care for minors, four “censor” school curricula and two “target drag performances.”

“What an absolute tragedy,” said Stern.

“The truth is the United States is not alone in these anti-LGBTQI attacks,” she added.

Stern noted Thalía Rodríguez, a prominent trans activist, is one of 32 LGBTQ or intersex people who were reported murdered in Honduras in the first 10 months of 2022. Stern also referenced statistics from Colombia Diversa, a Colombian LGBTQ and intersex rights group, that indicate 41 LGBTQ and intersex people — six of whom were activists — were killed in the South American country between January and August 2021.

“This is completely unacceptable, and this is why we come together in rooms like this,” said Stern.

Stern in her speech also highlighted LGBTQ and intersex rights advances in the Americas and the Caribbean.

She noted Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis and Barbados decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in 2022. Stern pointed out the Brazilian Supreme Court in 2021 ruled a law that seeks to combat domestic and gender-based violence “must be valid for all trans women.” 

Stern also referenced the 20 Mexican states that now allow people to update their names and gender markers “via a simple administrative process.”

“This region is setting an example that is inspiring others around the world,” she said.

President Joe Biden in 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. These efforts include support for marriage equality in countries where activists say it is possible through legislation or the judicial process.

The U.S. has imposed visa restrictions against Ugandan officials after Museveni signed their country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.

Stern in her speech said the Biden-Harris administration has pledged to combat so-called conversion in the U.S. and around the world. Stern also noted the Global Equality Fund, a U.S.-led initiative that seeks to promote LGBTQ and intersex rights around the world, has given more than $115 million to recipients in more than 100 countries since 2011.

“That would not be possible without the partnership of many governments in this region,” she said.

Stern also noted she is the highest-ranking lesbian woman at the State Department.

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State Department

Rufus Gifford steps down as State Department’s chief of protocol

Openly gay Mass. native was US ambassador to Denmark from 2013-2017

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Rufus Gifford (Photo via Twitter)

The State Department’s openly gay chief of protocol on Monday announced he is leaving his post.

Rufus Gifford in a tweet said he is “tremendously grateful” to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Joe Biden “to have been given the chance to serve as” chief of protocol.

“Was an honor like no other,” said Gifford.

“I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact of this State Department,” he added. “I leave believing in the power of diplomacy more than ever.”

Gifford was the U.S. ambassador to Denmark from 2013-2017. 

He unsuccessfully ran for Congress in his native Massachusetts in 2018. The U.S. Senate in December 2021 confirmed Gifford for the State Department position.

“On behalf of the State Department, I want to thank Rufus Gifford for his service as (chief of protocol),” said Blinken in a tweet. “Our relationships with countries around the world are stronger because of Rufus and his team’s important work on behalf of our nation.”

Biden’s re-election campaign on Monday named Gifford as its finance chair.

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State Department

US imposes visa restrictions on Ugandan officials

Country’s president on May 29 signed Anti-Homosexuality Act

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LGBTQ and intersex activists protest in front of the Ugandan Embassy in D.C. on April 25, 2023. (Washington Blade photos by Michael K. Lavers)

The State Department on Friday announced the U.S. has imposed visa restrictions against Ugandan officials after the country’s president signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller in a press release did not specifically identify the Ugandan officials who the U.S. sanctioned. The statement, however, noted Ugandan “individuals believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda” and specifically referenced human rights abuses against LGBTQ and intersex people and the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

“As directed by President Biden, the U.S. government will continue to evaluate additional actions under this policy, as well as the use of other tools at our disposal, to promote accountability for Ugandan officials and other individuals responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda, abusing human rights, including those of LGBTQI+ persons, or engaging in corrupt practices,” said Miller.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 29 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The Biden-Harris administration has said it will “evaluate” the law’s implications and how it may impact U.S. aid to Uganda. Miller in his statement noted the State Department has also “updated its travel guidance to U.S. citizens to highlight the risk that LGBTQI+ persons, or those perceived to be LGBTQI+, could be prosecuted and subjected to life imprisonment or the death penalty based on provisions in the law.”

“The United States strongly supports the Ugandan people and remains committed to advancing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Uganda and globally,” said Miller.

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