Rights advocates are praising the State Department’s decision to create a senior-level position for a special envoy who will oversee the U.S. government’s global efforts for LGBT equality.
“This is a welcome development and historic moment in the U.S. government’s progress in promoting the dignity and equality of LGBT people around the world,” said Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, in a statement released after Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement of the position last week.
“The creation of the special envoy position is a significant advance in the increasing institutionalization of LGBT rights in U.S. foreign policy,” she continued. “With opponents in both houses of Congress and in countries around the world, the potential of this position to heighten credibility and increase resources for LGBT issues in international development and cooperation comes just in time.”
“While there is currently strong momentum in the United States toward equality, there are many places in the world where the LGBT community is at risk, sometimes even for their lives,” added Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin in a press release. “This is an important way for the United States to facilitate diplomatic conversations with countries where we see ongoing violence, harassment and discrimination of LGBT people.”
The new envoy will be appointed later this month. The State Department is “in the final stages of selecting an openly gay Foreign Service officer as the United States’ first-ever diplomat to focus on LGBT issues,” Mother Jones notes. Kerry specifically wanted “a career Foreign Service officer from inside the institution, someone who is part of the fabric of the institution, a diplomat by training,” a State Department official told The Boston Globe. Senate confirmation is not required.
Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, has introduced legislation to establish such an envoy. His bill died in the last session of Congress, but he reintroduced it recently, with Rep. Alan Lowenthal of California introducing a companion bill in the House of Representatives. Markey praised Kerry’s move, telling the Globe the envoy “will be a global model for defending LGBT rights around the world.”
Markey’s bill is a “very helpful vote of confidence,” the State Department source told Mother Jones, adding, “We wouldn’t want to wait for passage to do something we’ve long thought was the right thing to do and which has been in process.” Whether the bill would pass in the Republican-controlled Congress is doubtful, given some legislators’ stated hostility to LGBT rights.
U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, said at a recent hearing that he does not “construe homosexual rights as human rights,” but he later backtracked — somewhat.
Meanwhile, there are many nations that do not consider LGBT rights to be human rights. The HRC press release notes that same-sex conduct is criminalized in 76 countries, and in 10 it’s punishable by death.