The special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad in an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade ahead of Pride month highlighted the White House’s efforts in support of LGBTQ rights around the world.
Jessica Stern pointed out to the Blade the State Department’s decision to offer passports with an “X” gender marker “is an important example of how we’re expanding resources to people who are targeted because of gender identity and expression.” She also noted U.S. embassies and consulates over the last year have publicly condemned violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Andrea González, a transgender activist in Guatemala who was shot to death on June 11, 2021, near her Guatemala City home, participated in the State Department’s International Visitors Leadership Program.
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols is among the U.S. officials who condemned González’s murder. William Popp, the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power visited the headquarters of González’s group, Reinas de la Noche, to express their condolences over her death.
The U.S. Consulate General in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, condemned the so-called honor killing of Doski Azad, a trans woman whose brother reportedly shot her in the head and chest in January after she returned to the region. The State Department in May 2021 in a statement to the Blade described the so-called honor killing of Ali Fazeli Monfared, an Iranian man whose relatives murdered him after they learned he was gay, as “appalling.”
Stern noted the Biden administration’s continued support of LGBTQ rights abroad also includes marriage equality in countries where activists say such a thing is possible through legislation or the judicial process.
“The administration acknowledges that married or not, LGBTQI+ people, couples and their families deserve full equality, access to legal protections and should have their families legally recognized,” she said. “All of this is consistent with President Biden’s commitment to LGBTQI+ equality and marriage equality specifically.”
President Biden in February 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. The White House four months later named Stern, who was previously the executive director of OutRight Action International, as the next special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad.
Biden, who is Catholic, was vice president in 2012 when he publicly backed marriage equality during on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” He spoke in favor of the issue before then-President Obama did.
A law that allows same-sex couples to marry and adopt children took effect in Chile in March.
Same-sex couples in Switzerland will be able to legally on July 1 after voters last November overwhelmingly approved a “Marriage for All” law.
Lawmakers in Cuba continue to consider a new family code that could pave the way for marriage equality on the island. Honduran President Xiomara Castro, who took office in January, has publicly backed marriage equality in her country.
The Privy Council’s Judicial Committee in London in March upheld a Bermuda law that rescinded marriage rights for same-sex couples. The same judicial body, which is an appellate court for British territories, also ruled same-sex couples don’t have a constitutional right to marry in the Cayman Islands.
Stern last month spoke at the 2022 ILGA World Conference that took place in Long Beach, Calif.
She spoke with the Blade before she traveled to Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam. Stern will also visit Lithuania, Sweden and the Netherlands before she returns to the U.S. on June 8.
Malaysia is one of the upwards of 70 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Mauritania are three of the handful of nations in which homosexuality remains punished by death.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price, who is openly gay, during a May 2021 interview with the Blade said the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the Biden administration’s five priorities in its efforts to promote LGBTQ rights abroad. Stern noted that “among a wider set of priorities, marriage equality is one element of our longstanding and ongoing commitment to advance the rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”
“All human beings should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, regardless of who they love,” she said.
Stern acknowledged potential critics of the White House’s efforts to champion marriage equality and other LGBTQ-specific issues around the world. Stern stressed, however, the “only thing that holds us back is hatred and intolerance.”
“We see autocracy is on the rise globally. We see that democratic institutions and democracies themselves are being undermined and we see LGBTQI+ people are often the canary in the coal mine,” she said. “We need to fight back against these homophobic and transphobic trends.”
The State Department on April 28 released a report on the implementation of Biden’s memo.
USAID and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief a few weeks earlier announcedthey delivered more than 18 million doses of antiretroviral drugs for Ukrainians with HIV/AIDS. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last August after he met with Biden at the White House pledged his country will continue to fight anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
Stern noted Canada and Germany are among the other countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ rights abroad as part of their respective foreign policies.
“Every administration sets its own priorities. We know what a positive impact President Biden’s staunch support of LGBTQI+ rights has had on this community domestically and on our support for LGBTQI+ people internationally,” she said. “Thankfully, governments around the world are increasingly normalizing the idea that LGBTQI+ people are entitled to recognition under the law and affirming that their rights need to be an explicit part of a human rights agenda.”