Metro Weekly

Bill would prioritize LGBT rights as part of U.S. foreign policy

Ed Markey - Credit: Senate Democrats/flickr

Ed Markey – Credit: Senate Democrats/flickr

Legislation that would direct the State Department to make international LGBT rights a priority of American foreign policy was reintroduced in both houses of Congress last week.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) reintroduced the International Human Rights Defense Act on Jan. 29. If signed into the law, the legislation would instruct the State Department to devise a global strategy for preventing and responding to discrimination and violence against LGBT people. In order to coordinate such efforts, a special envoy for LGBT human rights would be established within the State Department. Such an envoy would serve as the principal advisor on LGBT issues to the secretary of State and help coordinate efforts to promote international LGBT rights with local advocacy groups, governments, multilateral organizations and the private sector.

“When President Obama addressed the nation and committed to defending the human rights of the LGBT community, we made that commitment to the world,” said Markey, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in a statement. “With the rights of the LGBT community under attack around the globe, we must stand hand-in-hand with them in the struggle for recognition and equality everywhere. It is vital to have a dedicated position at the State Department spearheading that effort.”

Last month, Obama made history as the first president to spell out bisexual and transgender in LGBT during a State of the Union address. “As Americans, we respect human dignity, even when we’re threatened,” Obama said. “That’s why we defend free speech, and advocate for political prisoners, and condemn the persecution of women, or religious minorities, or people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. We do these things not only because they’re right, but because they make us safer.”

The bill was introduced with 26 cosponsors in the Senate and 45 in the House. So far, Reps. Chris Gibson (N.Y.) and Richard Hanna (N.Y.) are the bill’s only Republican cosponsors in the House while no Senate Republicans have yet signed on as cosponsors. 

With Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, the bill’s future seems bleak. Days before the bill’s reintroduction, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations said that he does not believe LGBT rights are human rights.

“I am a strong believer in traditional marriage and do not construe homosexual rights as human rights,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said during a Jan. 27 hearing on Nigeria. Smith went on to question whether the Obama’s administration’s views on LGBT rights have affected or hindered in anyway U.S. support to Nigeria to combat Boko Haram.

“On a day when 12 men were reportedly arrested for simply attending an alleged LGBT wedding in Nigeria, and as reports keep emerging about the impact of Nigeria’s anti-LGBT law on the lives of Nigerians, it is unconscionable that Representative Smith would not only object to the basic human rights of LGBT people, but argue that their rights should not be part of the administration’s policy in Nigeria,” said Ty Cobb, Director of HRC Global, in a statement.

Obama has been asked to appoint a special envoy on LGBT human rights before. In a letter sent to Obama in October, 25 senators urged the president to make the appointment “as soon as possible to ensure that it is carried over into the next administration.”

“We must do what we can as a nation to enforce the precept that all human beings, regardless of where they live, are entitled to a basic set of human rights which include the right to love who they choose without fear of punishment or death,” Lowenthal said in a statement. “LGBT rights are human rights.”

International Human Rights Defense Act (2015)

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Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's former political editor and White House correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @JustinCSnow.

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