Obama sets new course for LGBT rights in U.S. foreign policy


WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Tuesday directed that the federal government and all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons globally.

In a memorandum to all federal agencies and executive department heads, the President wrote, “The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights.”

“I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world — whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation.


“No country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere.”

The President’s memo details six major points in the administration’s new comprehensive strategy to combat LGBT human rights abuses abroad:

Combating Criminalization of LGBT Status or Conduct Abroad.

Agencies engaged abroad are directed to strengthen existing efforts to effectively combat the criminalization by foreign governments of LGBT status or conduct and to expand efforts to combat discrimination, homophobia, and intolerance on the basis of LGBT status or conduct.

Protecting Vulnerable LGBT Refugees and Asylum Seekers.

Those LGBT persons who seek refuge from violence and persecution face daunting challenges. In order to improve protection for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers at all stages of displacement, the Departments of State and Homeland Security shall enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure that LGBT refugees and asylum seekers have equal access to protection and assistance, particularly in countries of first asylum.

In addition, the Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security shall ensure appropriate training is in place so that relevant Federal Government personnel and key partners can effectively address the protection of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, including by providing to them adequate assistance and ensuring that the Federal Government has the ability to identify and expedite resettlement of highly vulnerable persons with urgent protection needs.

Foreign Assistance to Protect Human Rights and Advance Nondiscrimination.

Agencies involved with foreign aid, assistance, and development shall enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure regular Federal Government engagement with governments, citizens, civil society, and the private sector in order to build respect for the human rights of LGBT persons.

Swift and Meaningful U.S. Responses to Human Rights Abuses of LGBT Persons Abroad.

The Department of State shall lead a standing group, with appropriate inter-agency representation, to help ensure the Federal Government’s swift and meaningful response to serious incidents that threaten the human rights of LGBT persons abroad.

Engaging International Organizations in the Fight Against LGBT Discrimination.

Multilateral fora and international organizations are key vehicles to promote respect for the human rights of LGBT persons and to bring global attention to LGBT issues.

Building on the State Department‘s leadership in this area, agencies engaged abroad should strengthen the work they have begun and initiate additional efforts in these multilateral fora and organizations to counter discrimination on the basis of LGBT status; broaden the number of countries willing to support and defend LGBT issues in the multilateral arena; strengthen the role of civil society advocates on behalf of LGBT issues within and through multilateral fora; and strengthen the policies and programming of multilateral institutions on LGBT issues.

Reporting on Progress.

All agencies engaged abroad shall prepare a report within 180 days of the date of this memorandum, and annually thereafter, on their progress toward advancing these initiatives. All such agencies shall submit their reports to the Department of State, which will compile a report on the Federal Government’s progress in advancing these initiatives for transmittal to the President.

In a major policy speech delivered Tuesday marking the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Dec. 10, 1948 by the U.N. General Assembly, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed the president’s directive:

“Today, I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people who’s human rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today,” Clinton said.

“In many ways, they are an invisible minority. They are arrested, beaten, terrorized, even executed. Many are treated with contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way — or too often, even join in the abuse,” said Clinton.

“They are denied opportunities to work and learn, driven from their homes and countries and forced to suppress or deny who they are to protect themselves from harm. I am talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people: human beings born free and given, bestowed equality and dignity who have a right to claim that, which is now one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time.”

Clinton’s speech was in recognition of Human Rights Day, delivered to members of the U. S. mission to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

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