The Global Respect Act, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives this week, is a "common-sense, straightforward human rights bill" aimed at fighting anti-LGBTQ+ actions abroad, says its lead sponsor, Rep. David Cicilline -- and he's optimistic about its chances in the Senate.
The act is designed to keep homophobic or transphobic abusers from other countries from entering the U.S. Under its terms, anyone who has been engaged or complicit in abuses based on a person's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity would be denied a visa or, if they already have one, see it revoked. Among the actions it lists are torture or other inhumane treatment; prolonged detention without charges or trial; causing the disappearance of a person through abduction and clandestine detention; or "other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of such persons."
It could be applied to government officials and private citizens alike, and the U.S. government would keep a list of people involved in such actions. The bill would also task the State Department with assigning one senior official to track violence and discrimination against LGBTQ+ people abroad.
Supporters of the legislation note that such violence and discrimination is rampant, as about one-third of the world's nations have laws that criminalize same-sex relations, and many have other laws or policies that further marginalize LGBTQ+ or intersex people.
"In the past years, we have seen a dangerous increase in violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people and their families," Cicilline, a gay Democrat from Rhode Island, said during floor debate on the bill. "And so, when my colleague on the other side of the aisle says, 'What's the need for this?' Tell that to the victims who are being tortured, and detained, and murdered because of who they are."
An existing law, the Magnitsky Act, allows for denial of visas to human rights abusers in general, but under it, denial is discretionary, not required, and it has been used only once in a case of anti-LGBTQ+ actions -- in 2017 against Ramzan Kadyrov, leader of the Russian republic of Chechnya, where in the past few years LGBTQ+ citizens have been detained, tortured, and sometimes killed.
The Global Respect Act passed the House by a vote of 227-206. Six Republicans joined 221 Democrats in voting for the bill, while the votes against it were all from Republicans. Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania was an original cosponsor.
The legislation now awaits action in the Senate, where it has been referred to the Foreign Relations Committee. Lead sponsors of the Senate version are Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, a Democrat, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a Republican. The seven other original cosponsors are five Democrats and two Republicans, the latter being Rob Portman of Ohio and Susan Collins of Maine.
While Republicans in the evenly split Senate have managed to block much progressive legislation -- the Equality Act, aimed at protecting LGBTQ+ rights in the U.S., hasn't come to a vote there -- Cicilline is optimistic about the Global Respect Act's chances.
"This is a common-sense, straightforward, human rights bill, and with Senators Shaheen and Murkowski leading the charge in the Senate, I'm confident that it will receive a favorable vote from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and receive the Republican support we need to pass the bill out of the Senate," Cicilline, who chairs the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, tells The Advocate in an emailed statement. "I look forward to seeing President Biden sign the bill."
The Biden administration has expressed support for the act, although recommending that Congress make it somewhat flexible to allow the administration "to act in the national interest," as a statement from the White House said. However, "the sentiments reflected in this bill are deeply shared," the statement said. The White House also noted that anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination remains common domestically as well and called for passage of the Equality Act.