Metro Weekly

U.S. House approves Global Respect Act to combat LGBTQ rights abuse

Bill would deny visas to foreign nationals who have committed anti-LGBTQI violence, torture, or murder abroad.

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline – Photo: U.S. House of Representatives.

On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill intended to crack down on human rights abuses against LGBTQI people in other countries by imposing sanctions on foreign individuals known to be involved in anti-LGBTQ harassment or violence abroad.

The measure, known as the Global Respect Act, passed the House by a 227-206 vote, with six Republicans — Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), John Katko (N.Y.), Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), Peter Meijer (Mich.), Tom Reed (N.Y.), and Maria Elvira Salazar (Fla.) — voting with Democrats, who unanimously favored the bill, reports The Hill.

Under the bill, visas would be denied to, or revoked from, people who have committed or been complicit in the torture, prolonged detention, without charges or trial, abduction, or murder of LGBTQ people, or any other “flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of such persons.” The bill would also deny visas to those who have acted on behalf of a person who has committed human rights abuses against LGBTQI individuals abroad.

The bill requires the names of the individuals whose visas would be revoked to be updated “periodically” by the president. It also requires the State Department to assign at least one senior officer tasked with tracking reports of violence or discrimination against LGBTQI individuals in foreign countries.

A similar measure has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), which has nine co-sponsors, including three Republicans: Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), and Rob Portman (Ohio).

In remarks on the House floor, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the bill’s sponsor, urged his colleagues to support the bill, saying that a “yes” vote would “send a strong message across the world that every member of the LGBTQI community deserves to live with dignity and free from violence, unlawful detention, torture, and other forms of brutality.”

“Let me be clear: this bill protects LGBTQI people from murder, and torture, and other forms of violence. Rejecting this proposal is you are saying people like me can be murdered and tortured with no consequence,” Cicilline said. “And whether that’s your intention or not, that’s the impact of your vote.

“In the past years, we have seen a dangerous increase in violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people and their families. 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,” he added.

Noting that anti-LGBTQ violence is often sanctioned or even ordered by government officials in other countries, Cicilline recounted various instances of anti-LGBTQ violence, including Camila Díaz Córdova, a transgender woman from El Salvador who died after being arrested, beaten, and thrown from a moving vehicle; I.J., a man who was abducted, imprisoned, and tortured by authorities in Chechnya as part of an ongoing “purge” ordered by Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic; a gay man who fled from Sudan to Egypt only to be kidnapped and beaten in his new home; and gay men who have been thrown off rooftops and stoned to death by ISIS.

Cicilline also sought to push back against Republican justifications for voting against the bill, noting that the measure doesn’t duplicate existing legislation in the Global Magnitsky Act, a law approved by Congress authorizing the U.S. government to sanction human rights offenders, freeze their financial assets, and ban them from entering the United States. He noted that the Global Magnitsky Act has only been used once for LGBTQI human rights violations, despite a myriad of documented abuses.

He also rejected claims that the bill will infringe on the religious freedoms of people who believe homosexuality is immoral — a justification frequently cited by conservatives when voting against legislation expanding LGBTQI rights.

“The Global Respect Act is different because it requires sanctions if a foreign national commits gross human rights violations against LGBTQI people. It doesn’t have overly broad language…. It doesn’t create any new definitions. It has the definition in existing law of what gross human rights violation is. It doesn’t prevent speech or religious beliefs. This bill targets conduct — actions. Global Magnitsky has never, nor will this bill ever be used to impede anyone’s right to say or believe anything. It’s their actions — the gross human rights violations — that’s at issue,” Cicilline said.

“And when my friend on the other side of the aisle said it’s ‘cancel culture’ — when did preventing murder, torture, and violence and standing up for human rights become cancel culture?”

At least 68 countries currently have laws criminalizing consensual same-sex relations, according to the global rights group Human Rights Watch. Many of those countries also have additional polices that target LGBTQI individuals for arrest, torture, or sexual abuse.

“Tragically, thousands of LGBTQ individuals are subjected to attack, harassment, arrest and murder every year, suffering under state-sanctioned discrimination and an alarming surge of violence,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said on Wednesday in a statement following Tuesday’s vote. “Yet, those responsible all too often act with impunity, never facing consequences for their crimes. The Global Respect Act will help counter that injustice, barring offenders from entering the United States, gathering new data on anti-LGBTQ human rights violations and holding perpetrators accountable, including through additional sanctions.”

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