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World Bank’s U.S. executive director reaffirms ‘strong commitment’ to LGBTQ, intersex people

Adriana Kugler spoke exclusively with Washington Blade on Feb. 13

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Adriana Kugler, the U.S. executive director of the World Bank Group (Photo courtesy of the World Bank)

The U.S. executive director of the World Bank Group told the Washington Blade last month during an exclusive interview that she is committed to LGBTQ and intersex rights.

“As U.S. executive director, I certainly have a strong commitment, not only representing the U.S., but myself to advocate for inclusive development to address the needs of LGBTQI persons,” said Adriana Kugler during an interview at her D.C. office on Feb. 13.

Kugler, who was born in Colombia, has been in the position since May 2022. She is the first Latina woman named to the post.

Kugler was chair and chair-elect of the American Statistical Association’s Business and Economics Statistics Section in 2020 and 2019 respectively. She from 2019-2022 was a member of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Board on Science, Technology and Economic Policy and was on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Technical Advisory Committee from 2016-2019. 

Kugler was a chief economist at the U.S. Labor Department from 2011-2013. She has also been a professor of public policy and economics at Georgetown University since 2010, although she is currently on leave.

2021 presidential memo committed U.S. to promoting LGBTQ, intersex rights abroad

Kugler noted the Biden-Harris administration “have a strong commitment to promote inclusion of LGBTQI+ individuals.”

“This has been a priority,” she said, noting a number of executive orders and memorandums the administration has issued since it took office in 2021. One of them committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad as part of the White House’s overall foreign policy.

“That’s been definitely a driving force, understanding that multilateral engagement is really very important in terms of driving protections of LGBTQI persons around the world,” she said.

Kugler told the Blade one of her priorities has been to support the collection and dissemination of data that “can really help to drive support and drive demand for LGBTQ inclusion here at the bank.”

“That’s been one of my priorities, to support data efforts,” she said. “It has been a priority for the U.S. as well, and that has been something that I have put forward very firmly.”

Kugler last November held an “inaugural meeting with management board members and CSOs (civil society organizations) to discuss LGBTQI+ inclusion priorities.” M. V. Lee Badgett, a professor economics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst who co-directs its Center for Employment Equity, at the gathering presented information that showed the economic benefits of LGBTQ and intersex inclusion.

“That, I think, is a driver that can really help us make the case, just the same way we did it back in the day to drive support for gender equality in the multilateral organizations,” said Kugler. “I really believe in that.”

Kugler added the meeting was held to “restart the conversation, to prioritize inclusion of LGBTQ people and to make sure people understand the economic case for that.”

A specific issue on which Kugler has worked is “making sure that the standards of evidence for misconduct, for cases of misconduct, are coherent with the standards of evidence that we have here in the U.S. and that we have for cases of sexual harassment, as well as for cases of sexual misconduct.”

“That’s the prepondence of the evidence standard, as opposed to the clear and convincing evidence standard that is a very high standard to meet,” said Kugler. “So we’re making sure we work towards making progress so that cases are brought forward by those who suffer from harassment and to make sure that they have a voice and have a chance to make their cases.”

Kugler said another priority “is to engage really closely with colleagues in” GLOBE, a resource group for the World Bank’s LGBTQ and intersex employees. Kugler said a key priority “is to support, especially those LGBTQ staff who work abroad, either in those situations where being LGBTQ is criminalized, or where its a very unfriendly environment, even when it’s not criminalized.”

She told the Blade that it is important to ensure the World Bank “offers protections” for LGBTQ and intersex employees in countries with anti-LGBTQ and anti-intersex rights records. Kugler also said that it is particularly important to offer same-sex spouses and partners the opportunity to access jobs through World Bank offices and local staff in places where they would not be able to work elsewhere and to train local staff on LGBTQ and intersex issues to provide a safe workplace.

An example of an LGBTQ-inclusive project the board recently approved is the World Bank International Finance Corporation’s $275 million loan to Banco Davivienda in Colombia, which provides funding for advisory services to LGBTQ and intersex people and for the design of LGBTQ and intersex banking products.

The World Bank’s EQOSOGI Project has already collected LGBTQ- and intersex-specific data on legal gaps as well as practices that impact LGBTQ and intersex people in 16 countries, and it aims to expand its coverage to more countries in 2024. The EQOSOGI Project is also expanding its research to quantify the economic costs of excluding LGBTQ and intersex people, starting with Serbia and North Macedonia.

“We know the queer community is suffering very adverse consequences there, and it makes sense to have a legal mapping to understand the conditions on the ground that the queer community faces and to make sure that we protect — and at least — recommend anti-discriminatory practices,” said Kugler. 

The Colombian Congress in Bogotá, Colombia. The World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation’s $275 million loan to Banco Davivienda in Colombia provides funding for advisory services to LGBTQ and intersex people and for the design of LGBTQ and intersex banking products. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

She added she asks questions to her fellow board members “as far as standards and protections for projects in those contexts where the LGBTQI community is criminalized, so that we are sure that those communities have a voice when the bank comes in, if anything goes wrong.”

“We are very strong on that,” said Kugler. “We will continue to support communities and all communities, including the queer community, to be heard if anything goes wrong so that we can make sure that they are widely protected.”

“This will also send a message to these countries that at some point they have to start considering legal changes,” she added. “It starts with raising the issue in front of the rest of the board, all of the world, that these issues of inclusion should be lifted up and they need to be rethinking their legal framework.”

Then-World Bank President Jim Yong Kim in 2014 postponed a $90 million loan to the Ugandan government in response to President Yoweri Museveni’s decision to sign the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which imposed a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts. 

The Ugandan Constitutional Court later struck down the “Kill the Gays” law on a technicality, but Kim’s decision to postpone the loan without first consulting the World Bank’s board sparked widespread criticism among board members. Advocacy groups had asked the World Bank not to fund future projects in Uganda, but they did not ask for the cancellation of existing loans.

“We are all very aware of the Uganda case that went wrong,” Kugler told the Blade.

“We’re absolutely firm as part of the World Bank Group’s work and as the U.S. chair that we will protect anybody, to make sure that our projects not only do more good than bad, but that they actually do no harm,” she added. “They shouldn’t be harming communities and they should certainly not be harming LGBTQI communities around the world.”

Kugler acknowledged the World Bank still does not have LGBTQ-specific safeguards, but she added it “is something that is still being discussed.”

The Treasury Department last May endorsed an LGBTQ-specific Asian Development Bank safeguard. The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights is among the organizations that have also backed it.

Chantale Wong, the U.S. director of the Asian Development Bank who is the first openly lesbian American ambassador, last fall told the Blade the Biden-Harris administration continues to push for the Philippines-based ADB to implement the safeguards. Kugler — who described Wong as “an amazing advocate” — noted the World Bank will soon release its new Gender Strategy that will include a nonbinary approach to gender.

“It is helpful when the CSO community engages in these processes, because they help us to lift up these issues with the management of the bank as well,” said Kugler.

“The voices from outside help put pressure … on the countries themselves and how the board proceeds,” she added.  

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The White House

Press secretary addresses ‘gut-wrenching’ death of Nex Benedict from the briefing room

‘Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported in school’

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White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre delivers a briefing on Feb. 23, 2024 (Washington Blade photo by Christopher Kane)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre began Friday’s press briefing by expressing how “absolutely heartbroken” she was to learn about the death of nonbinary Oklahoma teenager Nex Benedict.

“Every young person deserves to feel safe and supported in school,” she said. “Our hearts are with Nex Benedict’s family, friends, entire school community in the wake of this horrific and gut wrenching tragedy.”

Jean-Pierre added, “I know that for many LGBTQ+ students across the country this may feel personal and deeply, deeply painful. There’s always someone you can talk to if you’re going through a hard time and need support.”

“The president and his administration launched the 988 line to help, and we have a line dedicated to serving LGBTQ+ young people that can be reached by dialing 933 and pressing 3,” she said. “Through devastating tragedies like these we must support each other and lift one another up.”

Authorities are still investigating the circumstances surrounding Benedict’s death on Feb. 8, which allegedly came the day after they were attacked in a restroom at Owasso High School, which followed months of bullying from peers.

This week, political leaders including Vice President Kamala Harris, Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Jean-Pierre issued statements on X, formerly Twitter.

In recent years the state of Oklahoma has become a hotbed of anti-LGBTQ legislation, including an anti-trans bathroom bill signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt in 2022.

Many LGBTQ advocates responded to news of Benedict’s death by calling out the escalation of hostile policies and rhetoric targeting transgender and gender-diverse communities, which advocates have warned can carry deadly consequences.

Human Rights Campaign President Kelley Robinson has urged federal investigators at the Justice and Education Department to get involved in the case.

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The White House

Biden nears Obama’s record of LGBTQ appointments to federal bench

Judge Melissa Dubose nominated for RI District Court Wednesday

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Judge Melissa R. DuBose (Screen capture: Roger Williams University School of Law/YouTube)

President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced his nomination of Judge Melissa DuBose to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, where she would be the first person of color and the first LGBTQ judge.

If DuBose is confirmed by the U.S. Senate along with Nicole Berner, who was nominated to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the Biden-Harris administration will have appointed 11 openly LGBTQ judges to serve on the federal bench, tying with the number who were appointed over two terms by former President Barack Obama.

U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrats of Rhode Island, recommended the appointment of DuBose, a former teacher who started her legal career as a special assistant attorney general in the criminal division of the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office before serving as in-house counsel for Schneider Electric and then on the state District Court, where she was appointed by former Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo.

In a statement, Lena Zwarensteyn, senior director of the fair courts program at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, praised the president’s nomination of DuBose, along with the other picks for the federal bench who were announced on Wednesday.

“We’re thrilled that President Biden is beginning the year with a new slate of highly qualified and diverse nominees to serve on our federal bench,” she said.

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Country’s first nonbinary state lawmaker participates in Gaza ceasefire hunger strike

Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner is Muslim

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Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner in front of the White House on Nov. 30, 2023, while taking part in a hunger strike for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The country’s first nonbinary state lawmaker last week participated in a hunger strike for a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip that took place in front of the White House.

Oklahoma state Rep. Mauree Turner took part in the 5-day action alongside actress Cynthia Nixon, Virginia state Del. Sam Rasoul, Delaware state Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton, New York State Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani, Michigan state Rep. Abraham Aiyash, former New York Congressional candidate Rana Abdelhamid, Muslim Girl.com Founder Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, Adalah Justice Project Director of Strategy and Communications Sumaya Awad and Linda Sarsour. The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, Democratic Socialists of America, IfNotNowMovement, Dream Defenders, the Institute for Middle East Understanding and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee are the organizations that either participated in the hunger strike or endorsed it. 

“This is the place where you should be,” Turner told the Washington Blade on Nov. 30 while they were standing in front of the White House.

Turner is from Ardmore, Okla., and has been a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives since 2021. They are the first Muslim person elected to the Oklahoma Legislature.

“Oklahoma is no stranger to genocide, displacement, uprooting communities — beautiful, vibrant, vulnerable communities — just because they could,” said Turner, referring to the treatment of Native Americans in what became Oklahoma during the 1800s and early 1900s. “Specifically as a Muslim and as an Oklahoman it is my duty to be here.”

The hunger strike took place nearly two months after Hamas, which the U.S. has designated a terrorist organization, launched a surprise attack against communities in southern Israel from Gaza.

The Israeli government has said roughly 1,200 people have been killed, including at least 260 people who Hamas militants murdered at an all-night music festival in a kibbutz near the border between Israel and Gaza. The Israeli government also says more than 5,000 people have been injured in the country since the war began and Hamas militants kidnapped more than 200 others.

Yarden Roman-Gat, whose gay brother, Gili Roman, spoke with the Washington Blade on Oct. 30 in D.C., is one of the 105 people who Hamas released during a truce with Israel that began on Nov. 24 and ended on Dec. 1.

The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry says more than 15,000 people have died in the enclave since the war began. Israel after Oct. 7 cut electricity and water to Gaza and stopped most food and fuel shipments.

“It’s absolutely wild to think about what is happening to the Palestinian people in Gaza and in the West Bank,” said Turner.

Turner noted the war began two days before Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“By October the 10th, when the world was really seeing what was happening in Gaza,” they said. “So many people who had celebrated specifically Indigenous Peoples’ Day had also sided with the Israeli government over the indigenous people of the land.”

‘The death of civilians is absolutely horrible’

Turner in response to the Blade’s question about the Israelis who militants killed on Oct. 7 emphatically said “the death of civilians is absolutely horrible.” Turner added they “cannot stress enough that when we back people into a corner, we don’t know what will happen.”

“The truth of the matter is our governments, our governmental officials do not have to put people in a corner,” said Turner.

Turner was particularly critical of the Israeli government’s actions in Gaza after Oct. 7.

“I don’t think there’s any place where a government has the power to shut off right water, food, healthcare supplies, things like that,” they said. “It’s just in doing so against a population that has 2 million people … that’s not anyone looking for equitability or justice. That is genocide against its people.”

Turner noted Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt continues to publicly support Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Turner told the Blade “when we oppress people over decades and decades … we cannot, we don’t get to cherry pick” or “we don’t get to tone police or however they are fighting back to be heard, to be, to live for vibrant lives.”

“We cannot tell oppressed people how to hurt out loud,” they said, specifically referring to Palestinian people. “We can create governments that care for people from a community standpoint who are thinking creatively about how we provide aid and support and we can ask our elected officials (members Congress, President Joe Biden, state and local officials) to teach truth. We can ask them to continuously make sure that we are providing the best care and understanding of the situations at hand. We can ask them to do a ceasefire to stop sending aid to the Israeli government and emboldening their military forces.”

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