New comprehensive legislation introduced in the U.S. House Thursday seeks to enshrine into law U.S. policy against anti-LGBT human rights abuses overseas and the process by which LGBT people facing persecution can seek asylum in the United States.
Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.) introduced the legislation, known as the Greater Leadership Overseas for the Benefit of Equality, or GLOBE Act, on the heels of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a historic U.N. document affirming basic human rights for people across the globe.
Titus in a statement billed the legislation as an attempt to codify into law Obama administration policies against anti-LGBT human rights abuses at a time when “LGBTI individuals continue to face violence, hatred and discrimination around the globe” amid perceived inaction from the Trump administration.
“We in Congress will not stand idly by as the administration fails to acknowledge and respond to the plight of vulnerable populations, including LGBTI people,” Titus said. “The GLOBE Act builds on the accomplishments of the Obama administration and the work of various members, groups and coalitions to establish a broad set of directives to reinstate our leadership in advancing equality.”
The findings of the legislation document continued anti-LGBT human rights abuses overseas, including laws criminalizing homosexuality in Uganda, Nigeria and Egypt and laws in at least eight countries punishing being gay with the death penalty. The bill also notes authorities in the Russian semi-autonomous Republic of Chechnya last year were reportedly complicit in the round-up, torture and murders of men perceived as gay.
Meanwhile, President Trump infamously told the U.N. General Assembly in September the United States will “honor the right of every nation in this room to pursue its own customs, beliefs and traditions,” which critics have interpreted to mean the country has abandoned its role in advocating for international human rights. Trump has also said nothing about the reported anti-gay human rights abuses in Chechnya, although an international report is expected next week on the atrocities.
The GLOBE Act breaks down its approach to combating anti-LGBT violence overseas in several ways for both documentation and response and is hailed as a “vision bill” that would provide a comprehensive roadmap for U.S. policy.
Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said the GLOBE Act is “a fitting tribute to International Human Rights Day and to the 70th anniversary of U.S. leadership in support of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
“It affirms that countries that persecute their LGBTI citizens share neither our values nor the commitment to democratic principles that is in our country’s strategic interests,” Bromley said. “We applaud this effort and urge bipartisan support for this bill.”
First, with respect to documentation, the bill would codify the recording of anti-LGBT abuses in the annual State Department report on human rights in countries overseas. The GLOBE Act would also require the secretary of state, with the USAID administrator, to produce an annual strategic review of anti-gay criminalization laws.
With respect to response, the bill would also codify the U.S. LGBT international envoy position at the State Department, which has been vacant since Randy Berry, now U.S. ambassador to Nepal, left the position. The GLOBE Act would also establish an interagency group to respond to urgent threats directed at LGBT people, a process started during the Obama administration within the National Security Council.
The GLOBE Act would also codify the Global Equality Fund in the State Department and the LGBTI Global Development Partnership at USAID to assist human rights defenders overseas. The bill would also codify non-discrimination in service delivery for all programs and services funded by U.S. assistance through any foreign affairs agency, contractor or subcontractor.
The bill would also require the president to submit to Congress a list of foreign individuals responsible for or complicit in anti-LGBT human rights abuses. Individuals on the list would be ineligible for U.S. visas, making them ineligible for entry to the United States and subject to removal. Additionally, the bill expresses the sense of Congress individuals on the list should be considered for sanctions designations.
The GLOBE Act would require PEPFAR, a federal program that provides retroviral drugs globally to combat HIV/AIDS, to monitor those non-discrimination provisions as well as criminal sanctions overseas for the use of PEPFAR-funded communities, such as condoms. The bill would also overturn the Global Gag Rule and the Anti-Prostitution Pledge, widely criticized on U.S. assistance overseas implemented by the Trump administration.
Under the rubric of immigration reform, the legislation would codify LGBT people as a group eligible for asylum and refugee determinations under the Immigration & Nationality Act. The bill repeals a one-year filing deadline for all asylum cases and mandates equal treatment in all U.S. immigration proceedings for immigrants with unmarried same-sex partners who come from countries where same-sex marriage isn’t legal.
The bill also expresses the sense of Congress the United States should engage with international organizations, including the United Nations and the World Bank, to protect international LGBT rights, and prioritize efforts within the State Department to ensure foreign governments don’t impede assignment of LGBT U.S. citizens serving abroad and support visa requests for their partners.
David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, said the positions articulated in the GLOBE Act stand in contrast to the silence from the Trump administration.
“While Donald Trump and Mike Pence remain recklessly silent on anti-LGBTQ atrocities around the globe, it’s crucial that the United States Congress fill the void and make clear LGBTQ rights are human rights,” Stacy said. “Congress must send a powerful message that the United States will continue to be a global leader in advancing the human rights of all people — including LGBTQ people.”
Introduced at the close of the 115th Congress, the legislation has six co-sponsors who are all Democrats: Reps. Eliot Engel (N.Y.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Alan Lowenthal (Calif.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Nita Lowey (N.Y.), Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) and Mark Takano (D-Calif.).
Noel Clay, a State Department spokesperson, said the department has a policy of not commenting on pending legislation when asked about the GLOBE Act, but added the U.S. government is committed to defending LGBT human rights abroad.
“More broadly speaking, the United States continues to stand up and speak out to protect and defend the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms of people everywhere – including LGBTI persons,” Clay said. “Advancing universal human rights is in our national interest, and as Secretary [Mike] Pompeo has said, LGBTI persons deserve the same respect, freedoms and protections as everyone else.”