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USAID highlights work to promote LGBTQ, intersex rights in Latin America, Caribbean

Blade spoke with Deputy Administrator Paloma Adams-Allen on Oct. 24

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Deputy U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Paloma Adams-Allen. (Photo courtesy of USAID)

Deputy U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Paloma Adams-Allen during a recent interview with the Washington Blade highlighted USAID’s efforts to promote LGBTQ and intersex rights in the Caribbean, Latin America and around the world.

Adams-Allen on Oct. 24 noted USAID has “invested” in programs that seek to fight gender-based violence against LGBTQ and intersex people in Honduras and Guatemala. 

She, like Vice President Kamala Harris and other U.S. officials, acknowledged violence based on gender identity and sexual orientation is among the “root causes” of migration from the two countries and neighboring El Salvador.

“Migration is a human right,” said Adams-Allen. “Folks are allowed to migrate, but what we’ve discovered, particularly with the LGBTQI+ population is that, not surprisingly, violence against this community is a driver.”

Adams-Allen noted USAID in Guatemala through its Electoral Governance and Reforms Project provides what she described as “technical assistance to help advance LGBTQI+ rights through legal reforms initiatives.” Adams-Allen also told the Blade that USAID in Guatemala supports efforts to invest “more directly in local organizations as implementing partners” for election observation and in other areas.

“We’re looking to strengthen local LGBTQI+ organizations to enhance their capacity,” she said.

USAID continues to support the implementation of Colombia’s peace agreement that specifically includes LGBTQ and intersex people through the Youth Resilience Activity, a program that works with vulnerable young people across the country. USAID also works with the U.N. Development Program’s Being LGBTI in the Caribbean initiative that seeks to promote LGBTQ and intersex rights in the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Barbados.

USAID Senior LGBTQI+ Coordinator Jay Gilliam last week announced during the initiative’s second National LGBTI+ Dialogue in the Dominican Republic that USAID will donate an additional $2 million for economic programs for transgender women.

Adams-Allen noted USAID supports the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice’s Multi-Donor LGBTI Global Human Rights Initiative that supports efforts to decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations in countries throughout the Caribbean and to reduce stigma, discrimination and violence against LGBTQ and intersex people. Adams-Allen also highlighted CuéntaNos, an initiative in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras that provides information about access to safe housing, health care and other basic services for LGBTQ and intersex people and other vulnerable groups who are fleeing from natural disasters.

“It helps guide them to where safe places are,” said Adams-Allen.

Adams-Allen, who was born in Jamaica, was previously the president and CEO of the Inter-American Foundation. Adams-Allen was a deputy assistant USAID administrator and a senior advisor in the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean from 2010-2016. 

Jamaica is among the countries in the Caribbean in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

Then-President Barack Obama in 2015 applauded Angeline Jackson-Whitaker, a prominent Jamaican LGBTQ and intersex rights activist, during a town hall meeting in Kingston, the country’s capital. Adams-Allen referenced the trip to the Blade, noting there was “definitely pushback, even against him.”

The Blade spoke with Adams-Allen a few days after Fox News reported USAID gave a $20,600 grant to a cultural center in the Ecuadorian city of Cuenca that hosts drag shows.

Adams-Allen declined to specifically comment on the report, but she did say USAID does “support the full richness of the LGBTQI+ community in Latin America and the Caribbean and that may include folks that Fox may not be interested in working with.” Adams-Allen further stressed that President Joe Biden’s 2021 memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy is “a North Star for our work to advance LGBTQI+ programming, but also just our broader, truly development.”

USAID co-hosted 2022 Hispanic Serving Institutions/LatinX Conference in Miami

Adams-Allen on Oct. 20 delivered the keynote address at the 2022 Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs)/LatinX Conference in Miami that USAID co-hosted with Florida International University.

USAID in a readout notes Adams-Allen’s speech highlighted “the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in USAID’s recruiting, programming and partnerships.” Adams-Allen noted the conference is the second such event that USAID has organized “to really to start to gin up more interest among Hispanic and Latino-serving institutions in working at USAID as well as being implementing partners, potentially, of USAID.”

“I wanted to go down and really to try to put some more energy into just underscore, now that we’re coming out of the virtual world, I wanted to do this in person, to really underscore quickly to this population … that there’s a place for Hispanic Americans, Latino Americans, Latinx Americans, at USAID if they’re interested, particularly in international careers, but even if they’re not,” she said.

“I think students tend to think that they have to be technical experts in global health issues and maternal and child health or emergency response. And they don’t realize necessarily that we need everyone, we need writers, we need lawyers, we need communicators,” added Adams-Allen. “That particularly this community has certain, what I would say, cultural competencies that makes them particularly aligned with USAID’s whether it be experience living in Latin America in the Caribbean, or family from those regions, experience navigating several languages at home or in school, in the workplace. So they already have some inbuilt some inbuilt strengths, that makes them particularly well suited to consider careers at USAID. And I really wanted to just bolster folks’ confidence and let them know that there’s a place for them if they’re interested in their support for them if they’re interested. And so that was really the thrust of my participation.”

Adams-Allen noted LGBTQ and intersex people were among those who participated in the conference, which took place at Florida International University’s Miami campus.

“LGBTQI+ issues are sort of crosscutting of the ethnic group that we are engaging,” she said. “We are always engaging with full diversity of that ethnic group, in that ethnic community. We definitely had participation from folks representing the LGBTQI+ community at FIU and among the Hispanic-serving institutions, so we’re always thinking about that population as part of our diversity efforts, our retention efforts, our inclusion and equity efforts with the workforce, as well as looking at our programming.” 

“It’s so crucial to have that voice,” she said. “As we are thinking about our programming … it’s important to have people with the lived experience of the populations for which you’re designing, whether they be long term development programs, short term projects, or responding to humanitarian crisis, who really understand that experience. So, we need them, we need that population as a part of our team and we also do quite a bit of programming focused on protecting the human rights, the civil rights, defending the equal rights of LGBTQI+ populations in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

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Federal Government

Department of Education to investigate Nex Benedict’s Okla. school district

Nonbinary student died last month after students assaulted them

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Nex Benedict (Family photo)

On Friday the U.S. Department of Education informed Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson that the department will open an investigation in response to HRC’s letter regarding Owasso Public Schools and its failure to respond appropriately to sex-based harassment that may have contributed to the death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old nonbinary teenager of Choctaw heritage. 

This investigation was triggered by a formal complaint made last week by Robinson, who wrote to Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and asked his department to use the enforcement mechanisms at its disposal to prevent similar tragedies from taking place in the future and to help hold accountable those responsible for Benedict’s death.

The letter from the Department of Education reads: “the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), is opening for investigation the above-referenced complaint that you filed against the Owasso Public Schools (the District.) Your complaint alleges that the District discriminated against students by failing to respond appropriately to sex-based harassment, of which it had notice, at Owasso High School during the 2023-2024 school year,” said Robinson.

“Nex’s family, community and the broader 2SLGBTQI+ (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex+) community in Oklahoma are still awaiting answers following their tragic loss. We appreciate the Department of Education responding to our complaint and opening an investigation — we need them to act urgently so there can be justice for Nex, and so that all students at Owasso High School and every school in Oklahoma can be safe from bullying, harassment and discrimination,” Robinson added.

According to the letter, OCR is opening the following issues for investigation:

  • Whether the District failed to appropriately respond to alleged harassment of students in a manner consistent with the requirements of Title IX.
  • Whether the District failed to appropriately respond to alleged harassment of students in a manner consistent with the requirements of Section 504 and Title II.

HRC sent a second letter to the Department asking it to promptly begin an investigation into the Oklahoma State Department of Education, as well as the current State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Ryan Walters. In addition:

  • Robinson wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the Department of Justice to begin an investigation into Nex’s death.
  • Robinson wrote to Dr. Margaret Coates, superintendent of the Owasso School District in Oklahoma, calling for the superintendent to take advantage of HRC’s Welcoming Schools program — the most comprehensive bias-based bullying prevention program in the nation to provide LGBTQ and gender inclusive training and resources — and offering to bring experts to the district immediately.

The full text of the letter from the Department of Education in response to HRC can be found here.

The full text of the initial letter from Robinson to Cardona can be found here.

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Federal Government

Schools are the third most popular location for hate crimes, FBI says

Agency previously found anti-LGBTQ incidents increased significantly

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FBI Director Christopher Wray (Screen capture/NBC News)

Statistics released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on Monday reveal that schools were the third most popular spot for bias-motivated hate crimes that were reported between 2018-2022.

Primary and secondary schools and university campuses accounted for 10 percent of all hate crimes reported in 2022, while the first and second most common locations were homes and residences and highways, roads and alleyways, the FBI said in its report.

Data comes from the agency’s Uniform Crime Reporting program. The FBI’s annual crime report from 2022, which was released in October, found that anti-LGBTQ hate crimes rose precipitously from the previous year.

Specifically, there with a 13.8 percent increase in crimes motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation and a 32.9 percent increase in crimes motivated by the victim’s gender identity.

In the five years covered in the FBI’s report on Monday, anti-LGBTQ crimes were the third most common, behind those perpetrated against Black or African American victims and those targeting those from certain religious groups, most often Jewish people.

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Federal Government

Trans veterans sue the VA for coverage of surgeries

Case filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

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U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough (Screen capture/YouTube)

A group of transgender veterans on Thursday sued the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to compel the agency to cover gender affirming surgeries, following verbal assurances that it would begin providing these services.

The lawsuit, filed by the Transgender American Veterans Association, aims to reduce the risk of adverse health outcomes that can result from lack of access to medically necessary healthcare interventions for people with gender dysphoria.

This includes suicides, depression and psychological distress.

In its complaint before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, the group argued gender affirming surgeries are often prohibitively expensive when administered by private doctors.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough in 2021 said the agency was engaged in a rule making process to provide these services to trans veterans such that they can “go through the full gender confirmation process with VA by their side.”

The process, he said, would take a few years to “develop capacity to meet the surgical needs.”

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