President Joe Biden's nominee for secretary of State says he will appoint an envoy for LGBTQ+ rights and let the U.S. embassies display the LGBTQ+ Pride flag without restrictions.
Antony Blinken made the remarks at his confirmation hearing Tuesday, CNN reports. Donald Trump's administration had left the envoy position vacant -- it had been established by President Barack Obama -- and did not allow embassies to fly the Pride flag on official flagpoles without special permission, although they could display it inside or on exterior walls.
Appointing the envoy is "a matter, I think, of some real urgency," Blinken told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Randy Berry had held the envoy post during the Obama administration.
"We've seen violence directed against LGBTQI people around the world increase," Blinken said. "We've seen, I believe, the highest number of murders of transgender people, particularly women of color, that we've seen ever." That's definitely true in the U.S., where at least 44 trans people died by violence in 2020, the highest number since records have been kept, and the situation is dire in many other countries as well.
"And so I think the United States playing the role that it should be playing in standing up for and defending the rights of LGBTQI people is something that the department is going to take on and take on immediately," he added.
He said he will let embassies fly the Pride flag. Obama had issued blanket approval for its display, but the Trump administration had forced embassies to seek permission to fly it on official flagpoles, and most requests for permission were denied.
Blinken further said he would reject the findings of the Commission on Unalienable Rights, an advisory committee established by Trump's second secretary of State, Mike Pompeo. The committee was tasked with viewing human rights through the lens of "natural law," often used as code for exclusion of LGBTQ+ rights. Its report, issued last August, denounced the "proliferation" of rights in recent decades.
"What Pompeo's commission disparages as 'proliferation' is in fact a process to ensure respect for the rights of people who traditionally have been marginalized or neglected," Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, wrote in Foreign Policy last year.
Blinken's promises Tuesday were followed by several actions by Biden and his administration after he was sworn in as president Wednesday. On his first day in office, Biden signed an executive order to assure that all federal agencies will fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in line with last year's Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County. The court found that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in banning sex discrimination in employment, also bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Biden's order came a few days after Trump's Justice Department had issued a last-minute memo saying the department should limit how it applies the court's findings and even suggested employers could legitimately cite religious faith to justify discrimination.
"Unlike racial discrimination, the Supreme Court has never held that a religious employer's decision not to hire homosexual or transgender persons 'violates deeply and widely accepted views of elementary justice' or that the government has a 'compelling' interest in the eradication of such conduct," the memo read in part, according to The Wall Street Journal.
But the Justice Department and other arms of the federal government will not take this view under Biden, and he plans to quickly reverse many more of Trump's anti-LGBTQ+ policies, including the transgender military ban. And the White House website now allows users to choose pronouns, including gender-neutral ones.