The State Department’s annual human rights report that was released on Tuesday notes anti-LGBTQ persecution and violence remains commonplace in many countries around the world.
The report notes consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in Jamaica and dozens of other countries. Iran and Afghanistan are two of the handful of nations in which homosexuality is punishable by death.
he report specifically cites the case of Alireza Fazeli Monfared, an Iranian man whose relatives killed in in May 2021 after they discovered he was gay and non-binary. The report also notes the Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan in August 2021 “increased fears of repression and violence among LGBTQI+ persons, with many individuals going into hiding to avoid being captured by the Taliban.”
“Many fled the country after the takeover,” reads the report. “After the takeover, LGBTQI+ persons faced increased threats, attacks, sexual assaults, and discrimination from Taliban members, strangers, neighbors and family members.”
The report includes statistics from Associação Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais, a Brazilian transgender rights group, that indicate 80 trans people — most of whom were Brazilians of African descent who were younger than 35 — were reported killed in the first six months of 2021. The report also cites Cattrachas, a lesbian feminist human rights group in Honduras that noted 17 “violent deaths of LGBTQI+ persons” in the country between January and August 2021.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken pointed out to reporters there are more than 1 million political prisoners in 65 countries. These include Yoav de la Cruz, a gay Cuban man who was sentenced to six years in prison last month after he livestreamed the first anti-government protest that took place on the island on July 11, 2021.
The report notes Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s continued efforts to rollback LGBTQ rights, which include a decree his government issued on Aug. 6, 2021, that restricted the sale of children’s books with LGBTQ-specific themes. The report also includes incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence, discrimination and hate speech in Poland.
This report focuses on 2021, and does not include details of human rights abuses that Russian forces have carried out against Ukrainian civilians during the ongoing war in their country. Blinken nevertheless criticized Russia throughout his remarks.
“In many years running, we have seen an alarming recession in democracy, in rule of law, respect for human rights in many parts of the world,” said Blinken. “In the time since releasing our previous report, that backsliding has, unfortunately, continued. In few places have the human consequences of this decline have been as stark as they are in the Russian government’s brutal war on Ukraine.”
Blinken also described human rights as “universal.”
“People of every nationality, race, gender, disability and age are entitled to these rights, no matter what they believe, who they love, or any other characteristics,” he said. “This is especially important as a number of governments continue to claim, falsely, that human rights need to be applied based on global context. It’s no coincidence that many of the same governments are among the worst abusers of human rights.”
The report also notes LGBTQ rights advances around the world.
The Botswana Court of Appeals in November 2021 upheld a previous ruling that decriminalized homosexuality in the country. The report also notes the European Commission sanctioned Hungary over its efforts to curtail LGBTQ rights and Poland in response to so-called “LGBT-free zones.”
‘We do not claim a moral high ground’
President Biden in 2021 released a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.
The White House last June named then-OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern as the next special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad. The State Department on Monday began to issue passports with “X” gender markers.
The State Department released its report less than a month after Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law his state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Lawmakers in dozens of other states across the U.S. have introduced similar measures and others that specifically target transgender children.
“We’re not trying to pretend that these are not issues that we are grappling with here in the United States,” said Acting Assistant Secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Lisa Peterson in response to the Washington Blade’s question about the release of the report against the backdrop of anti-LGBTQ measures in the U.S. “This report, because it is very clearly focused on the rest of the world, we do dig in on other countries. We do not have a mandate to do a report on our own circumstances.”
“The universal nature of human rights also means that we have to hold ourselves accountable to the same standards,” said Blinken. “Even as this report looks outward at countries around the world, we’ve acknowledged from day one of this administration that we have challenges here in the United States.”
“We take seriously our responsibility to address these shortcomings and we know that the way we do it matters; together with citizens and communities, out in the open, transparent, not trying to pretend problems don’t exist, or sweeping them under a rug,” he added.
Peterson echoed Blinken before she took reporters’ questions.
“We can’t be credible advocates for human rights abroad if we don’t live up to the same principles at home,” said Peterson. “We do not claim a moral high ground, but we do, in the words of our Constitution, resolve to form a more perfect union, which means that we must continue to address the many human rights challenges in our own country.”