Throughout the Obama Administration, the promotion and protection of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ( LGBT ) persons has been a specific focus of our engagement around the world.
U.S. diplomacy, foreign assistance and other activities abroad have all sought to advance this goal, ensuring that efforts to promote and protect LGBT human rights are fully integrated into our broader attempts to advance freedom and dignity for all people.
Making the Advancement of LGBT Rights a Foreign Policy Priority
On December 6, 2011, President Obama released the Presidential Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of LGBT Persons, which directs departments and agencies to combat criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad; protect vulnerable LGBT refugees or asylum seekers; enhance assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination for LGBT persons; advance LGBT issues in multilateral fora; and help ensure swift and meaningful responses to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad. The White House has since coordinated regular meetings among U.S. departments and agencies to ensure that the Presidential Memorandum is being fully implemented.
Also in 2011, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a landmark speech in Geneva, stating that "The Obama Administration defends the rights of LGBT people as part of our comprehensive human rights policy and as a foreign policy priority," and underscoring that LGBT rights are human rights, and human rights are LGBT rights.
During the course of this Administration, we have launched two global funding partnerships — the Global Equality Fund and the LGBT Global Development Partnership — which have provided millions of dollars in assistance, including emergency assistance, to LGBT civil society activists and organizations.
Our diplomats have opened U.S. embassies and consulates to LGBT communities around the world, marched in Pride parades, and raised the human rights of LGBT persons in countless bilateral and multilateral meetings. In forums ranging from the UN General Assembly to The Human Rights Campaign to the Tonight Show, President Obama and senior administration officials have spoken publicly, engaged privately, and made clear our conviction that all persons deserve to live lives free from violence and discrimination.
Changes to Department and Agency Staffing, Policies, and Practices
The State Department revised its Foreign Affairs Manual to allow same-sex couples to obtain passports under the names recognized by their state through their marriages or civil unions and in 2010, the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs announced new procedures for changing the sex listed on a transgender American's passport, streamlining the process and simplifying requirements to ensure greater dignity and privacy for the applicant.
We have steadily expanded coverage of the conditions for LGBT persons in every country in the world in the State Department's annual Human Rights Reports. The State Department continues to provide information on discriminatory laws and societal practices for U.S. citizen travelers through the Bureau of Consular Affairs' Country Specific Information ( CSI ).
A number of Departments and Agencies, including State, USAID, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and the Peace Corps are providing new training for staff and implementing partners to better understand the issues of gender identity and sexual orientation and agency roles in advancing the human rights of LGBT persons.
In June 2014, USAID launched its LGBT Vision for Action, a landmark document that demonstrates USAID's commitment to LGBT inclusion both internally and externally. In February 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the appointment of Randy Berry as the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons. Since his appointment. Special Envoy Berry has traveled to more than 40 countries in every region of the world, engaging with government, civil society organizations, faith leaders and the private sector to build a stronger global coalition in support of the human rights of LGBT persons.
In February 2014, USAID appointed Senior LGBT Coordinator Todd Larson to ensure that the promotion and protection of LGBT rights is fully integrated into all aspects of USAID's vital work overseas.
Seven openly gay U.S. Ambassadors are serving at Embassies around the world. And, this year, the Peace Corps also created a position devoted to training staff to support LGBT Peace Corps Volunteers.
Work in the Multilateral Arena
In 2010, the United States joined the UN LGBT Core Group, a cross-regional group of countries working together to promote and protect LGBT rights at the UN in New York, for the first time. That year, on Human Rights Day, Ambassador Susan Rice spoke alongside the UN Secretary General at a panel discussion on the Human Rights of LGBT individuals — marking the first time the United States had co-sponsored such an event.
In December 2010, the United States led efforts at the UN General Assembly to reinsert language on sexual orientation into a resolution on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions, after the language's removal in committee. The amendment was approved by a 93-55 margin. In 2012, that resolution included language on gender identity for the first time. The United States again defended that language in 2014.
At the UN Human Right's Council's June 2011 session, South Africa, the United States, and Latin American and EU countries led efforts to pass the first UN resolution on the human rights of LGBT persons. The resolution also called on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to produce the first global report, published in November 2011, on discrimination and violence toward persons based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. In September 2014, the United States co-sponsored and lobbied on behalf of the second UN Human Rights Council resolution on the human rights of LGBT persons, led by four Latin American countries.
With the support of the United States, the World Health Organization has begun discussions on the negative repercussions of stigma, discrimination, and other barriers to care for LGBT persons in the health system as a whole. In 2013, the Pan-American Health Organization passed a ground-breaking resolution on LGBT health, which emphasized that equal access to care is a health issue and called on countries to collect data on access to health care and health facilities for their LGBT population.
At the 2013, 2014, and 2015 high-level meetings of the UN General Assembly ( UNGA ), the United States co-sponsored ministerial level events on the human rights of LGBT people, with Secretary Kerry speaking in 2013 and 2014. In 2014, USAID co-hosted an UNGA event on LGBT Inclusion, Extreme Poverty, and Religion. In collaboration with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the Arcus Foundation, the event featured a conversation with religious leaders on the importance of religion as a positive force to advance the human rights and livelihoods LGBT persons around the world.
In March 2015, the United States worked with partners to defeat a proposal in the Fifth Committee of the UNGA that would have rescinded a UN Secretary General administrative bulletin allowing the same-sex spouses of all UN staff, regardless of their nationality, to receive spousal benefits.
The Doha Declaration, a consensus document adopted by Member States in April 2015 during the Thirteenth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, includes groundbreaking language that the United States introduced on the need to provide "specialized training to criminal justice professionals to enhance capacities for recognizing, understanding, suppressing and investigating hate crimes motivated by discrimination of any kind, to help engage effectively with victim communities and to build public confidence and cooperation with criminal justice agencies."
The Treasury Department encourages the multilateral development banks ( MDBs ) to strengthen attention to LGBT issues in their human resources policies, and to protect the human rights of LGBT persons and advance social inclusion and non-discrimination through MDBs' projects, including, for example, studies to measure the economic cost of discrimination against LGBT persons, and steps to ensure that LGBT persons can access projects' benefits without being exposed to harm.
In August 2015, the United States co-sponsored with Chile the first-ever UN Security Council meeting on LGBT issues in the context of ISIL crimes against LGBT persons in Iraq and Syria. The UN Security Council heard first-hand from a gay Syrian man who was targeted and sought asylum in the United States.
In May 2016, the United States opposed efforts to block LGBT civil society groups from attending a high-level UN meeting on ending HIV/AIDS. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power wrote to the President of the UN General Assembly warning that the exclusion of certain groups would only impede global progress in combatting the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
After the terrorist attack in Orlando on an LGBT nightclub, the U.S. worked with other UN Security Council members to issue a strong condemnation that marked the first time the Security Council used the term "sexual orientation" in any of its products or otherwise acknowledged specific acts of violence targeting LGBT persons.
Supporting LGBT Activists and Individuals around the world
Since its inception in 2011, the State Department's Global Equality Fund ( GEF ), a partnership of 13 governments as well as a number of corporations and private foundations, has allocated more than $30 million to frontline advocates in 80 countries. In 2015, the Global Equality Fund provided nearly $11 million — including $4.2 million in U.S. foreign assistance, and an additional $6.6 million provided by government, corporate, and private foundation funding partners — to support civil society organizations and activists around the globe working to advance and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.
USAID supports a wide array of field-based and Washington-based programs and funding mechanisms that are either LGBT-specific or LGBT-inclusive. For example, USAID's LGBTI Global Development Partnership — key activities to date include awarding over 100 grants to LGBTI civil society organizations and training over 1,700 LGBTI entrepreneurs and businesses.
PEPFAR and USAID have launched a $7 million public-private partnership with the Elton John Foundation. The project, called health4men, focuses on strengthening community capacity and expanding access to non-discriminatory HIV services for men who have sex with men and transgender persons in South Africa.
In June 2014, USAID awarded Linkages Across the Continuum of HIV Services for Key Populations Affected by HIV ( LINKAGES ), a $225 million project over five years. It is PEPFAR and USAID's first global project dedicated to serve key populations with HIV prevention, care, and treatment services. Key populations include men who have sex with men, sex workers, and transgender persons. LINKAGES is implemented by FHI 360 in close collaboration with Pact, University of North Carolina, and IntraHealth International.
The State Department and the Department of Justice provide training on LGBT issues to law enforcement officials and NGOs. For example, in 2014, the State Department sponsored counter hate crimes training for law enforcement officials from Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, and Mexico. In addition, State supports a Violent Crimes Task Force in Honduras that investigates and supports the prosecution of LGBT-related homicide cases.
The State Department is committed to ensuring that the global refugee protection system is responsive to the needs of LGBT refugees. The Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration ( PRM ) works with partners to identify protection issues for the most vulnerable/at-risk, including LGBT refugees and asylum seekers and develops targeted interventions to address immediate gaps. PRM consistently engages governments and international organizations, including UNHCR, to promote protection of and assistance to this population.
In late February 2015, USAID's Being LGBT in Asia convened a landmark regional dialogue in Bangkok that was attended by 200+ delegates from 30+ Asia-Pacific countries and supported by the United Nations Development Programme ( UNDP ), and the Embassy of Sweden in Bangkok. USAID is studying the successes of this program and is establishing correlative programs in other regions.
Coming Together, Taking Action, and Speaking Out
U.S. diplomats and development professionals work with host countries around the world to address discriminatory laws, support affirmative steps, and to encourage more inclusive policies. We continue to work in partnership with like-minded governments, civil society organizations, religious leaders, and the private sector.
The U.S. Government has pushed back publicly and privately against discriminatory legislation, including in Uganda and The Gambia. And senior U.S. officials continue to speak in support of LGBT persons around the world, as President Obama has done in trips to Russia, Senegal and, most recently, Jamaica.
In June 2014 the White House hosted the first-ever Global LGBT Human Rights Forum, which brought together the faith community, private sector, philanthropy, HIV and other health advocates, LGBT activists from around the world, and the broader human rights community to discuss how to work together with the U.S. government and others to promote respect for the human rights of LGBT individuals around the world. National Security Advisory Susan Rice delivered keynote remarks.
In November 2014, the State Department and USAID hosted the third Annual Conference to Advance the Human Rights of and Promote Inclusive Development for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Persons ( LGBTI ). The conference was the largest such gathering to date, bringing together senior leaders from government, civil society and the private sector to discuss and strategize on how to most effectively protect the human rights of LGBT persons and promote their inclusion in development programs.
In June 2015, the White House convened a dialogue to address bias-motivated violence against LGBT persons around the world. Representatives from civil society organizations, partner governments, and multilateral organizations, as well as law enforcement officers and U.S. government agencies participated in a series of panel discussions on community efforts to prevent and respond to bias-motivated violence; the role of law enforcement and the judiciary in addressing bias-motivated violence; and government action as a tool to help protect LGBT persons from violence. Following this dialogue, the Department of State is focusing its anti-violence efforts in specific countries of opportunity with the goal of reducing violence and using resources and expertise from across the U.S. government.
In June 2016, in partnership with the American Bar Association, the State Department launched "Justice Works," a global mechanism that aims to provide technical support to local government and civil society organizations responding to, and eliminating impunity for, violence impacting LGBT persons. In addition to providing technical and financial support, Justice Works will establish and build a global network of hate crimes experts available to share expertise and best practices, with the ultimate objective of reducing and preventing anti-LGBT bias-motivated violence.
U.S. Embassies, Consulates, USAID Missions, and Department of Defense installations around the world host and participate in Pride events. In 2014, for the first time, the Department of Defense's Tri-Service Color Guard participated in the Washington, D.C. Capital Pride Parade.