Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Human Rights Issues
“People everywhere long for the freedom to determine their destiny; the dignity that comes with work; the comfort that comes with faith; and the justice that exists when governments serve their people -- and not the other way around. The United States of America will always stand up for these aspirations, for our own people and for people all across the world. That was our founding purpose.”
President Barack Obama, September 25, 2012
“There are few areas where I think our task is so clear, and what we need to do is make sure that we are working for that larger freedom for all people, and for the rights and the dignity of LGBT persons around the world.”
Secretary John Kerry, September 26, 2013
The U.S. Department of State has significantly expanded efforts to promote and protect the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons over the past year. Through our private engagement with governments and civil society, public diplomacy, foreign assistance, and work in multilateral fora we have conducted activities in the following five areas of focus under the Presidential Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of LGBT Persons. We have also institutionalized these efforts throughout the Department.
Combating Criminalization of LGBT Status or Conduct Abroad
Our Embassies around the world regularly engage with civil society and host governments on laws that criminalize consensual same-sex conduct between adults. We have developed decriminalization strategies in regions where LGBT conduct is criminalized. Even in countries where we do not have a formal decriminalization strategy in place, we are working to support decriminalization efforts and to ensure greater legal protections for LGBT persons. We have also focused on raising awareness of countries that criminalize same-sex conduct through the annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Country Specific Information (CSI) sheets.
Protecting Vulnerable LGBT Refugees and Asylum Seekers
Through the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM), the Department has focused on identifying protection gaps for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers and developing targeted interventions to address those gaps.
Training and Capacity-Building: All new PRM employees are trained on LGBT issues. The Department also funds the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other nongovernmental and international organization partners to develop training materials focused on LGBT refugees and asylum seekers and strengthen institutional capacity to address their unique needs. In one example, PRM supported the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to conduct a regional workshop for LGBT advocacy organizations from six countries on the protection needs of LGBT migrants and asylum seekers.
Programming: PRM has supported nongovernmental partners to conduct research and pilot new programs to support LGBT refugees and asylum seekers in urban areas, and has also provided targeted assistance to partners working to provide safe shelter and services for LGBT survivors of gender-based violence.
- Humanitarian Diplomacy: Department leadership is continually engaging, both privately and publicly, on behalf of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers. PRM annually communicates information to all embassies about the U.S. refugee resettlement process, including as it relates to LGBT applicants.
Foreign Assistance to Protect Human Rights and Advance Nondiscrimination
The Global Equality Fund is a multi-stakeholder initiative including governments, private foundations, and corporations that works to advance the human rights of LGBT persons globally. The Fund supports local civil society organizations with direct small grants to undertake short term projects, builds institutional capacity through long-term programs providing technical assistance to local and national civil society organizations and provides emergency support for advocates, civil society organizations and LGBT people under threat because of their work. Since the Fund was launched in December 2011, more than $9 million has been provided to support activists and individuals working to promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons in over 50 countries worldwide. The Department continues to pursue new partnerships with foreign governments, foundations, and corporations in this important effort.
U.S. Responses to Human Rights Abuses of LGBT Persons Abroad
Responding quickly and effectively to violence and discrimination against LGBT persons is a priority for the State Department. To that end, we have developed a rapid response mechanism to address negative developments around the world. Elements of that response include:
regular and prompt reporting from post on negative developments;
convening of a task force representing relevant Department and interagency stakeholders;
coordinating with NGOs on the ground and in Washington;
making high-level public statements as appropriate;
delivering private messages to the government, coordinating with other like-minded missions in country and in Washington; and
- providing emergency funds to protect human rights defenders and NGOs under threat due to their work, to assist with safety and security, and to support emergency advocacy efforts, as needed.
Engaging International Organizations in the Fight Against LGBT Discrimination
The Department works in partnership with a diverse group of countries to develop LGBT-related resolutions, statements, and side events at the UN and in other multilateral fora. We aim both to pass resolutions specific to LGBT issues, and to highlight LGBT issues by making statements from the floor, co-sponsoring side events, and empowering LGBT people and LGBT-friendly civil society. Examples of multilateral engagement include:
Secretary Kerry participated in the first-ever UN LGBT Ministerial Event in September 2013 where he delivered remarks reaffirming the United States’ commitment to promoting and protecting the human rights of all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, and emphasizing that working towards freedom and dignity for all people is essential in fulfilling the UN’s original purpose “to promote social progress and better standards of life, in larger freedom.”
In March 2011 the United States co-chaired a core group of over 30 countries that worked to submit a joint statement on the Rights of LGBT Persons, entitled “Ending Acts of Violence and Related Human Rights Violations Based On Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,” at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
With the support of the United States, the UN Human Rights Council passed the “Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” resolution in June 2011which called for an end to discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The United States makes LGBT-related recommendations to countries as a part of the Universal Periodic Review process.
U.S. efforts have resulted in a groundbreaking Pan-American Health Organization resolution on LGBT health.
The United States and like-minded partners spearheaded and continue to promote efforts to strengthen OSCE human rights commitments on tolerance and nondiscrimination to include LGBT persons.
- The Department has also supported financially the Unit for the Rights of LGBTI Persons at the Organization of American States (OAS), which in November 2013 became the Rapporteurship for the Rights of LGBTI Persons. In 2012 and 2013, the Department co-sponsored the OAS Resolution on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity.