Earlier this week, California Democratic Rep. Robert Garcia and Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey introduced the International Human Rights Defense Act to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to protecting and promoting LGBTQ+ rights.
The bill is Garcia’s first piece of legislation focused on LGBTQ+ rights. He is the first out immigrant elected to Congress.
With this act, the State Department would be directed to document and respond to bias-motivated violence against LGBTQ+ people abroad and create a national strategy to prevent and address criminalization, discrimination, and violence against LGBTQ+ communities in the future.
Markey joined Garcia and California Rep. Sara Jacobs, vice chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus, outside the Capitol to announce the bill’s introduction.
“As representatives from more than a hundred nations gather for this year’s Summit for Democracy, the United States must make clear to its partners that LGBTQI+ rights are human rights, and human rights are the foundation of a strong and healthy democracy,” Markey said. “We have a moral obligation to safeguard the freedom and fundamental rights of LGBTQI+ communities around the world stage and ensure the U.S. is unwavering in its commitment to upholding human rights for all people.”
Jacobs echoed the urgency of defending the rights of marginalized people worldwide.
“The rise of anti-LGBTQI+ rhetoric and violence isn’t just happening in the United States; it’s happening all around the world,” said Jacobs. “That’s why we need to make it clear that the United States doesn’t tolerate this hatred and discrimination. Our bicameral legislation takes a clear position declaring that we are in solidarity with the LGBTQI+ community in the United States and around the world and that we’ll continue to push for human rights, equality, and justice for all people – no matter who they are or who they love.”
LGBTQ+ communities face growing threats as 69 countries criminalize homosexuality, underscoring the need for U.S. leadership, Garcia told The Advocate.
“Being an LGBTQ immigrant and the first elected to Congress, issues around global human rights are really important,” he said. “I obviously am very aware that I had not immigrated to the U.S., I would be in a much different position as it relates to my civil rights and my ability to be openly gay and be a fully-fledged member of our community.”
Garcia noted that LGBTQ+ rights around the world are still not guaranteed. Republicans in America want to take the community’s rights away rather than expand them, he argued.
“As we know that folks in our country are trying to roll back rights for us here, the situation for much of the rest of the world is in a much more difficult position if you look at the particularly 67 countries around the world that have the criminalization of same-sex relationships and if you look at the countries — and there’s about a dozen — that you can actually be killed or face certain deaths because of same-sex relationships,” he says.
Citing Uganda as an example, Garcia explained that governments worldwide continue to criminalize LGBTQ+ people’s existence. He warns that some of this anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment is reflected in the American right.
“So we’ve got to be engaged, not just fighting the fight here at home and also across the world,” he says.
Last week, Uganda passed one of the world’s most extreme antigay laws, imposing a 20-year sentence for those convicted of identifying as LGBTQ+ and sentencing some people to death.
“In our march for equality and justice, we have to fight here and abroad. We also have to understand that what happens here at home impacts our global initiatives and vice versa,” Garcia says. “So when we’re seeing the bill, it’s happening in Uganda, some of the conversations happening in Ghana and other places across the world, either rolling back rights, that should be very concerning to us.”
Government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, David Stacy, explained the importance of engaging diplomatically to ensure the rights of LGBTQ+ people globally.
“The State Department’s Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Peoples has been essential in advancing the work of protecting LGBTQI+ people all over the world. At a time when LGBTQI+ people are facing violence, persecution, and even outright bans on existence in some countries, the position of the Special Envoy is indispensable to combat these trends on the international stage,” Stacy said. “The International Human Rights Defense Act, which would ensure that LGBTQI+ rights are a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy and make this position a permanent part of the State Department, would signal to the world that the U.S. has an ongoing commitment to working on these issues, even as administrations come and go.”
Garcia said that on the first day of introducing the bill, it had 65 co-sponsors. He says he hopes his Democratic colleagues and Republicans will support the measure.
“I encourage Republicans to get on board as well — and we’re going to talk to some of them — but at the end of the day, I think that this is a continued commitment by the Democratic caucus to support LGBTQ+ rights globally,” Garcia said.
He added, “So folks attacking trans folks here, or folks trying to roll back education support on issues about the community, trying to ban certain books, all of that will impact what happens internationally.”
For that reason, it’s critical to codify into law a consistent office that focuses on global rights for LGBTQ+ people, he explained.
“It exists right now because President Biden opted to support a special envoy to do that work, but it’s not codified into law,” Garcia said. “Obviously, [former] President Trump chose not to appoint anyone or have that office operational, so it’s imperative that we have something consistent promoting global human rights.”