Background Briefing on Secretary Clinton's Remarks in Recognition of International Human Rights Day and the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
Via Teleconference
December 6, 2011

MR. VENTRELL: Good afternoon, everyone. This afternoon’s call is on background. We have [Senior State Department Official] here to talk about the Secretary’s speech. Hereafter he’ll be referred to as Senior State Department Official. And having said that, let’s go ahead and turn it on over.

[Senior State Department Official], are you there?


MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Go ahead.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Hi, everyone. Thanks very much for joining today. I guess I want to get fairly quickly to your questions, but I just want to say that it was – Secretary Clinton’s speech today was a – was, I think, intended to be a – the start of a conversation, or the continuation of a conversation. She was very intent on making it respectful in tone but firm on principle. And the speech that she gave really articulated the way that the protection of human rights for LGBT people fit into the broader comprehensive human rights policy of the United States, and, I think, invited both those who have been longstanding defenders of the human rights of LGBT people as well as those who have had a more difficult time reconciling those commitments with other personal beliefs or political beliefs or religious beliefs, as she said, into a conversation to try to make progress together.

And so the mood in the room was extremely positive. There was a lot of applause and even some hooting and hollering when she finished. It was an august setting, and I think the real message of the day was one of affirmation and setting an affirmative agenda for – just as the boundaries or barriers for human rights for other categories of people have fallen, or have at least begun to fell – begun to fall or be felled in the last 63 years, since the Universal Declaration was signed – she issued a call to action for all of us and all the world to make progress on this human rights struggle.

So with that I’ll open it up to any questions you might have.

OPERATOR: If you’d like to ask a question, please press *1 on your touchtone phone. To withdraw your question, please press *2. Again, to ask a question, please press *1. One moment, please.

One moment for the first question.

The first question comes from Chris Johnson. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi there, [Senior State Department Official]. I have a question regarding the memo that President Obama put out earlier today. I’m not really sure who – the person to ask about it, who – coming from the White House or the State Department – but it has – does affect a lot of State Department programs and agencies. I’m just kind of wondering if you could talk a little bit about what is different than what was being done before, as relative with this memo. Why do you think this is going to be strengthening our existing initiative? It’s covering – like, what’s really new here? As a result of this memo, what is the State Department going to be doing now that it hasn’t been doing already?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think what’s new and different about the memo is that, first of all, it’s the first ever whole of government – whole of U.S. Government strategy for protecting the human rights of LGBT people abroad, and so the fact that it’s not just about the State Department. Indeed, it does build on a lot of the things that the State Department is already doing, but it applies to all federal agencies doing activities abroad, and so it’s really a whole of government approach. And I think that whole of government approach is something that we’ve seen across our human rights policy in the Obama Administration.

The President has spoken about the way that we put human rights as a central plank of our foreign relations in many relationships, and it is a goal around the world, and that we approach it in a way that we are not just having people like me, whose full-time job it is to occupy ourselves with concerns of human rights, but also people whose daily grind is, most of the time, spent on different things. Human rights is always part of the conversation because it’s part of our objective – our long-term strategic objective of building a more rights-respecting and therefore more stable world. And so I think the memo fits into that broader rubric of kind of taking a whole of government approach to human rights, and I think it’s groundbreaking because it’s the first time that – and I think that is groundbreaking. But it’s the first time that the U.S. Government has had a whole of government approach to protecting the human rights of LGBT people.

QUESTION: If I could just follow up on that very quickly, Secretary Clinton’s speech – were there any individuals in attendance within the countries who were not – who did not react favorably to the speech, anyone who did not – remained seated after she gave her remarks, or anything along those lines?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I wasn’t really – I myself was so rapt with watching the speech that I wasn’t paying attention to who was sitting and who was standing. All I can say is that 95 percent of the hall was standing at the end and there was a sustained standing ovation. And I think part of that is attributable to the facts that she came not – as I said in the introduction, she came not to wag a finger, but to really invite a conversation. And in the end of the speech, she talked about how opinions about human rights for LGBT people are still evolving, but how the truth isn’t evolving – the truth is immutable, and that we’ve seen time and time again before the way that opinions evolve in a way that they converge with truth and that that’s what she expects in this case. And I think the audience felt the spirit of respect and also the spirit of hopefulness that she brought to the speech.

OPERATOR: The next question comes from Josh Rogin. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Two quick questions. The first one is: how do we – what part of the government will evaluate the treatment of LGBT issues in foreign countries? How will that be determined, based on what metrics? And how will we know which country is doing good or bad? And the second one is, does the Administration consider to be marriage a human right, and therefore should countries’ willingness to allow LGBT community members to marry whom they wish as one of the evaluating factors?

Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: In answer to your first question, I think you can look at the Country Reports and Human Rights Practices, which each – every one of the country reports includes a section on LGBT human rights – human rights of LGBT people. So you can get a sense of how we report on the conditions of human rights for LGBT people around the world. There’s not a scorecard or a report card per se, but you get a sense of the kinds of violations that people suffer, et cetera, and that would be one place to look. And that’s a place where we’ve made progress in the last couple years, and we’ll continue to make progress in terms of enhancing the quality of our reporting in that respect. And so that would be a good place to look.

Moreover, I think, I’ve seen a couple early press stories today, I think, maybe got a different impression. But the speech was really about an affirmative agenda. It was about setting – expanding the reaches of human rights as a positive/affirmative goal. It wasn’t about scoring people. It was about setting a goal for us to all reach for together. And so it wasn’t about the conditionality of anything. It was about the positive purpose behind it.

In terms of your second question, I think the Secretary and the President have both spoken about their personal views on marriage. And I think that one of the things that comes up a lot in the international context is that, as in America, elsewhere there’s a ongoing debate about gay marriage. But whatever our position on gay marriage, I think one of the things that many of us have been working toward finding an agreement on is the fact that no matter what you think about that question, we can all agree that people ought not be killed or imprisoned for who they are and who they love.

OPERATOR: Again, if you would like to ask a question, please press *1 on your touchtone phone.

The next question comes from Andrew Harmon. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Hi, [Senior State Department Official]. Thanks so much. Regarding this Global Fund that was officially announced, have grants already been disbursed to human rights groups? And can you give us a sense of particular regions or nations that State considers a priority?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: [The State Department] has already made several grants in the past. But this new fund will make permanent or bolster the efforts to support civil society organizations around the world, doing a variety of things to help build their capacity to do the work that they do, partly because we think that over the long run, change is unlikely to be sustainable and sustained if there aren’t people on the ground who are making the case for it and kind of institutionalizing the changes.

Sorry. What was the second half of your question?

QUESTION: Well, if you could just give us a sense of any particular regions or nations --


QUESTION: -- that this fund considers a priority?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. I mean I think a couple things. One, there are around 80 countries in the world where LGBT status or conduct is still criminalized, so certainly, those 80 countries would be priority areas. The Secretary and the Presidential Memo both make clear that it’s a – it’s part of our human rights policy that we do not think that it should be criminal to be gay. So those are places where I think investing in civil society, particularly in order to make the progress in terms of the legal realm that allows civil society to continue progress and foster tolerance would be priority areas, if you were looking for some.

OPERATOR: The next question comes from Karen Ocamb. Your line is open.

QUESTION: Thank you. And thank you for holding the conference call. I’m wondering what precipitated this speech. Why are you doing this now? Is it jumping off from World AIDs Day, or what? And secondly, did Secretary Clinton write this speech, or how much of this speech did she write, and who wrote it?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, I think that there’s no magic in when this speech was given, other than that this weekend is Human Rights Day and the Secretary typically remarks on Human Rights Day. I would say that this speech is the continuation of what has been since the Secretary came into office – a consistent engagement and ramping up of U.S. engagement in our diplomacy and assistance on the human rights of LGBT people. So I don’t see it as, kind of, coming out of thin air in the least, since for a long time, ever since – certainly since I started over two years ago, it’s been clear that this is a priority for the Secretary. She sees this as work undone in human rights in the world and work that she can be a voice for a help support. So that’s the focus. That is the explanation of the timing.

Sorry. I’m forgetting the second half of your question as well.

QUESTION: Who wrote the speech? How much input did she have, in other words?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, she has a terrific amount of input into all of her speeches, but this is a speech that is very much crafted in her voice and with her guidance and her intentions in mind. I mean, she knew when she was going to give the speech. She knew that, as she said in the speech, that it is a topic that is still sensitive for some, and she wanted to be aware of that, sensitive to that, respectful of that. As she said in the speech, she wanted to give people a chance to raise what they were concerned about, afraid about, et cetera. And yet it’s something on which she also said in her speech over time – over the course of her life, her own sensitivities and convictions have deepened.

And so I think, as I said at the outset, the speech was – because of her guidance and because of the work that she did on the speech, she worked through multiple drafts and makes edits and captures exactly what kind of tone she wants and writes out paragraphs longhand, et cetera. And I think in doing that, she really – she very purposefully made it both firmly principled and also unimpeachably respectful. And I think in that respect, it reflects her broader vision and her leadership in this area.

QUESTION: Thank you.

OPERATOR: Again, please press *1 if you’d like to ask a question. I’m showing no further questions at this time.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Thank you, operator, and thank you to all the callers. As a reminder, this call was on background. We’ll put out a transcript later, but all the remarks were as a Senior State Department Official. Thank you very much.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you all for joining.

PRN: 2011/T57-15