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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

State Department travel advisory warns of potential anti-LGBTQ violence

FBI issued similar warning this week

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(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

The State Department on Friday issued a worldwide travel advisory that warns of potential violence against LGBTQ people and LGBTQ-specific events.

“Due to the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations, or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests, the Department of State advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution,” reads the advisory. “The Department of State is aware of the increased potential for foreign terrorist organization-inspired violence against LGBTQI+ persons and events and advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution.”  

The advisory further urges U.S. citizens to:

  • Stay alert in locations frequented by tourists, including Pride celebrations and venues frequented by LGBTQI+ persons.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive information and alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency overseas.
  • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Homeland Security Investigations earlier this week issued a similar advisory.

The advisory notes June 12 will mark eight years since the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

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State Department releases annual human rights report

Antony Blinken reiterates criticism of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

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(Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday once again reiterated his criticism of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act upon release of the State Department’s annual human rights report.

“This year’s report also captures human rights abuses against members of vulnerable communities,” he told reporters. “In Afghanistan, the Taliban have limited work opportunities for women, shuttered institutions found educating girls, and increasing floggings for women and men accused of, quote, ‘immoral behavior,’ end quote. Uganda passed a draconian and discriminatory Anti-Homosexuality Act, threatening LGBTQI+ individuals with life imprisonment, even death, simply for being with the person they loved.”

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last May signed the law, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The U.S. subsequently imposed visa restrictions on Ugandan officials and removed the country from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. The World Bank Group also announced the suspension of new loans to Uganda.

Uganda’s Constitutional Court earlier this month refused to “nullify the Anti-Homosexuality Act in its totality.” More than a dozen Ugandan LGBTQ activists have appealed the ruling.

Clare Byarugaba of Chapter Four Uganda, a Ugandan LGBTQ rights group, on Monday met with National Security Council Chief-of-Staff Curtis Ried. Jay Gilliam, the senior LGBTQI+ coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, in February traveled to Uganda and met with LGBTQ activists who discussed the Anti-Homosexuality Act’s impact. 

“LGBTQI+ activists reported police arrested numerous individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity and subjected many to forced anal exams, a medically discredited practice with no evidentiary value that was considered a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment and could amount to torture,” reads the human rights report.

The report, among other things, also notes Ugandan human rights activists “reported numerous instances of state and non-state actor violence and harassment against LGBTQI+ persons and noted authorities did not adequately investigate the cases.”

Report highlights anti-LGBTQ crackdowns in Ghana, Hungary, Russia

Ghanaian lawmakers on Feb. 28 approved the Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill. The country’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, has said he will not sign the measure until the Ghanaian Supreme Court rules on whether it is constitutional or not.

The human rights report notes “laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults” and “crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex persons” are among the “significant human rights issues” in Ghana. 

The report documents Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and members of his right-wing Fidesz party’s continued rhetoric against “gender ideology.” It also notes Russia’s ongoing crackdown against LGBTQ people that includes reports of “state actors committed violence against LGBTQI+ individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, particularly in Chechnya.”

The report specifically notes Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 24 signed a law that bans “legal gender recognition, medical interventions aimed at changing the sex of a person, and gender-affirming care.” It also points out Papua New Guinea is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.

The Hungarian Parliament on April 4, 2024. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his right-wing Fidesz party in 2023 continued their anti-LGBTQ crackdown. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The Cook Islands and Mauritius in decriminalized homosexuality in 2023.

The report notes the Namibia Supreme Court last May ruled the country must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed outside the country. The report also highlights the Indian Supreme Court’s ruling against marriage equality that it issued last October. (It later announced it would consider an appeal of the decision.)

Congress requires the State Department to release a human rights report each year. 

The Biden-Harris administration in 2021 released a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad.

The full report can be read here.

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Russian activist meets with US global LGBTQ, intersex rights envoy

Aleksander Voronov visited the State Department last week

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Aleksandr Voronov from Coming Out, a Russian LGBTQ rights group based in St. Petersburg, met with Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, at the State Department last week. (Photo courtesy of Stern's X account)

A Russian activist last week met with the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights at the State Department.

Jessica Stern on March 29 posted to her X account a picture of Aleksandr Voronov of Coming Out, an LGBTQ advocacy group that was previously based in St. Petersburg.

“I was honored to host Coming Out activist Aleksandr Voronov at the State Department,” said Stern. “Russia’s transgender ban and designation of the so-called ‘LGBT movement’ as extremist undermines the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Russians. We stand with all LGBTQI+ persons.”

Voronov told the Washington Blade he “gave her an update on the situation with LGBTQ rights in Russia.” Voronov said Stern “was very supportive and unbelievably kind.”

The Kremlin over the last decade has cracked down on LGBTQ rights.

The Russian Supreme Court last November ruled the “international LGBT movement” is an extremist organization and banned it. The Moscow Times on March 31 reported authorities in Orenburg, a city near the country’s border with Kazakhstan that is roughly 900 miles south-southeast of Moscow, arrested a gay bar’s owner and charged him with “extremism.”

Voronov fled Russia and now lives in Lithuania. 

“Most of the organizations and public activists, such as me and the organization I lead, were forced to leave the country, but continue working ‘in exile,'” Voronov told the Blade. “Most openly queer-places were closed during last months; but there are still lots of activists, organizations and of course ordinary LGBTQ individuals in Russia who are still there, and will be staying there. And we try to support them as much as we can.”

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