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Op-ed: Dear Gay Ambassadors, Be Straight About Trade Deal

Op-ed: Dear Gay Ambassadors, Be Straight About Trade Deal


Activists Cleve Jones and Jerame Davis ask: Why are America's out ambassadors arguing in favor of giving special 'favored nation' status to virulently anti-LGBT countries, including one that stones gays to death?

Recently, a number of gay ambassadors to nations that would be signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or other trade agreements authored an op-ed that made some bold claims about using U.S. trade policy to promote LGBT human rights around the world. We would like to set the record straight on this issue.

The TPP will do nothing to promote LGBT equality in signatory countries. In fact, it is our fear that if the TPP is enacted, we will see further slippage of human rights for LGBT people around the globe. We're told that the TPP contains "enforceable human rights standards" and that we needn't worry about countries like Malaysia, where LGBT people can be jailed for 20 years or more, or Brunei, where the newly adopted penal code prescribes stoning LGBT people to death. We're told TPP standards will be enforced. But no one has offered proof these standards actually exist.

In June of last year, four national LGBT organizations -- Pride at Work, the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force, and the National Center for Transgender Equality -- co-signed a letter to President Obama demanding that Brunei and Malaysia be removed from the TPP until their laws that target LGBT people and women were revoked. We did not get a response. In February of this year, Pride at Work called upon the newly appointed Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons -- one of the editorial's authors -- to address this issue as well. This too did not elicit any response.

Why are Malaysia and Brunei even being considered as signatories to the TPP if their laws aren't currently up to standard? Substantive negotiations for TPP have been ongoing since 2010, yet Brunei enacted their "stone the gays" law just last year. Does it make sense that these "enforceable human rights standards" that will "lift up LGBT lives" exist if Brunei is willing to pass this heinous penal code in the last stretches of the negotiations for TPP? Why would they jeopardize billions of dollars of potential profits if they actually thought there would be repercussions? Signing this deal will send a message to the world that you can abuse, imprison and kill LGBT people and still have preferential access to coveted U.S. markets.

Despite repeated requests for the language of these supposed standards, we have yet to see a single word of the text the proponents claim exists. The secrecy surrounding TPP, including its classification as a top-secret document, means that no one who has actually read the text is allowed to talk about the specifics in the language. But people who have read it tell us that they cannot find enforceable human rights standards in the more than 1,100 pages of the deal. Drafts of various portions of TPP that have been leaked also contain no such language. How is the Administration promoting "transparency, public participation, accountability, and the rule of law" by signing secret deals no member of the public can view and includes countries that subject LGBT people and female rape victims to death by stoning?

When the Senate passed the Fast Track bill that will enable the TPP to move forward, it included a strong, enforceable anti-slavery provision that was directed at Malaysia. Our own State Department, for which all but one of these ambassadors works, lists Malaysia as a Tier 3 human trafficking nation -- the worst classification. Yet the administration and proponents of TPP in the House oppose the anti-slavery provision and are working to remove it. Is giving tacit approval to slavery an "enforceable human rights standard?"

Our position as the largest economy in the world gives us unique power to improve the plight of the oppressed worldwide. People before profits should be our guiding principle in every trade negotiation, but that is not the case with the TPP, regardless of the misinformation campaign being waged by its proponents.

The ambassadors' editorial is yet another cynical move by the Administration to obscure the horrendous truth about this monstrous deal. "Trust us" is not good enough when the lives of our extended community are at stake. Show us the text. Without it, these half-promises and pinky-swears aren't worth the time it took to read them.

JERAME DAVIS is the Executive Director of Pride At Work, the LGBT labor organization which has led the LGBT response against the TPP. CLEVE JONES is the founder of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. He works as a community organizer for UNITE HERE, the hospitality workers' union.

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Jerame Davis and Cleve Jones