Antony Blinken, President Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. Secretary of State, promised during his confirmation hearings that he would name an envoy for LGBTQI rights and allow U.S. embassies to fly Pride flags, in a reversal of Trump administration policy.
Blinken, a longtime aide to Biden who previously served as national security advisor during his time as vice president and a former staffer for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, made the comments under questioning from U.S. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday.
Markey asked Blinken if he would appoint a special envoy with special expertise in dealing with human rights issues that directly impact the LGBTQ community, and whether he would raise the position of an LGBTQI envoy to an ambassadorial level, to which Blinken responded affirmatively.
“The answer to both questions is yes, absolutely,” Blinken said. “This is a matter of some real urgency. We’ve seen violence directed at LGBTQI people around the world increase, we’ve seen the highest number of murders of transgender people, particularly women of color, that we’ve seen ever, and so I think the United States playing the role it should be playing, in standing up for and defending the rights of LGBTQI people, is something the [State] Department is going to take on, and take on immediately.”
Markey also asked if Blinken would “repudiate” the findings of the report issued by the Commission on Inalienable Human Rights and instead adhere to the principles regarding LGBTQI people as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, something to which Blinken also responded affirmatively.
The commission’s report had previously been criticized for adopting an interpretation of international law that prioritizes national-level legislation over the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The authors of that report opined that individual nations have “some leeway to base their human rights policy on their own distinctive national traditions,” and that “new rights” need to be tested for consistency with “constitutional principles and moral, political, and legal traditions.” LGBTQI advocates and critics of the commission have noted that such language is often used to refuse to recognize LGBTQI rights under the guise of promoting “religious freedom.”
Markey also asked Blinken if he would grant U.S. embassies abroad leeway to fly rainbow Pride flags to celebrate LGBTQI anniversaries or other occasions, such as Pride Month, something to which Blinken agreed. Under the Trump administration, the State Department adopted a policy allowing the Pride flag to be hung or flown on embassy property, but explicitly refused to allow the flag to fly on embassy flagpoles.
Blinken is expected to garner support from all Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when his nomination is ultimately voted upon. But Sen. Lindsey Graham, a fierce supporter of former President Donald Trump, indicated that he was open to voting for Blinken.
According to The Washington Post, some other Republicans may be inclined to vote against Blinken’s nomination, on the grounds that the Biden administration’s foreign policy is seen by some as a return to the policies advanced by the Obama administration. Other Republicans may balk at Blinken’s refusal, under questioning from U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), to agree to consult with Congress before moving forward with any major policy decisions, such as the Iran nuclear deal.
Instead, Blinken promised that the Biden administration would attempt to engage in “genuine consultations” with lawmakers, but did not agree to run all decisions regarding the United States’ entrance into various international agreements past Congress.
“There are sometimes good reasons, in fact, reasons that advance our national security, for why a treaty is not advisable,” Blinken told Barrasso. “So I think we have to look at this on a case-by-case basis.”
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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org