Seeking to build on the Obama Administration commitment to making the United States fight for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) equality both at home and abroad a foreign policy priority, Congressman Alan Lowenthal, along with Senator Edward Markey, have introduced the International Human Rights Defense Act of 2015 in both the House and Senate.
"We must do what we can as a nation to enforce the precept that all human beings, regardless of where they live, are entitled to a basic set of human rights which include the right to love who they choose without fear of punishment or death. LGBT rights are human rights," Congressman Lowenthal said.
More than 80 nations around the world have laws that criminalize homosexuality, prohibit public support for the LGBT community, or promote homophobia. In seven countries, including Nigeria, home to 175 million people, homosexuality is punishable by death.
"President Obama, as well as both Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry have affirmed our nation's commitment to LGBT equality as a critical component of our international human rights objectives," Congressman Lowenthal said.
"However, we do not yet have a comprehensive foreign policy strategy for addressing LGBT discrimination overseas. We do not even have one central individual office responsible for coordinating between the myriad of government bureaus and agencies to achieve these objectives. It is time for that to change."
The legislation would direct the Department of State to make international LGBT human rights a foreign policy priority and would establish a position in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor responsible for coordinating that effort.
Specifically, the Act directs the Department of State to:
• Make preventing and responding to discrimination and violence against the LGBT community a foreign policy priority and devise a global strategy to achieve those goals;
• Coordinate efforts to promote international LGBT human rights with local advocacy groups, governments, multilateral organizations, and the private sector;
• Create the position of “Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Peoples” in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, which will be responsible for all inter-bureau and inter-agency coordination of the United States government’s efforts to defend human rights for the LGBT community internationally; and
• Continue to include a section on LGBT international human rights in the annual State Department Report on Human Rights.
The bill is the first bill introduced by Congressman Lowenthal since the new Congress began earlier this month.
“I am proud to partner with Sen. Markey,” Congressman Lowenthal said. “He has been a steadfast defender of human rights and shares my deep concerns about the rights of the LGBT community around the globe.”
Sen. Markey is the original author of the bill and was its lead sponsor in the 113th Congress.
“When President Obama addressed the nation and committed to defending the human rights of the LGBT community, we made that commitment to the world. With the rights of the LGBT community under attack around the globe, we must stand hand-in-hand with them in the struggle for recognition and equality everywhere," Sen. Markey said.
"It is vital to have a dedicated position at the State Department spearheading that effort. The International Human Rights Defense Act will support a coordinated effort across the federal government to support our position as a model for defending LGBT and human rights around the world, and I thank Rep. Lowenthal for his partnership on this important legislation.”
Original cosponsors in the House include (44): Representatives Tony Cardenas, Matt Cartwright, David Cicilline, Steve Cohen, Gerrald Connolly, Susan Davis, Suzan DelBene, Ted Deutch, Keith Ellison, Eliot Engel, Anna Eshoo, Elizabeth Esty, Chris Gibson, Alan Grayson, Luis Gutiérrez, Richard Hanna, Alcee Hastings, Jim Himes, Mike Honda, Sheila Jackson Lee, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Hank Johnson, William Keating, Derek Kilmer, Barbara Lee, Ted Lieu, Sean Patrick Maloney, Betty McCollum, Jim McDermott, Jim McGovern, Jerrold Nadler, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Scott Peters, Mark Pocan, Jared Polis, Mike Quigley, Jan Schakowsky, Brad Sherman, Kyrsten Sinema, Adam Smith, Jackie Speier, Mark Takano, Dina Titus, Nydia Velázquez, and Frederica Wilson.
Original cosponsors in the Senate include: Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.Y.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Bob Casey (D-Penn.).
The bill is endorsed by: the Human Rights Campaign, Advocates For Youth, American Jewish World Service, Human Rights First, Freedom House, Equality Federation, Council for Global Equality, Anti-Defamation League, Global Justice Institute, Metropolitan Community Churches, the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, PFLAG National, Transgender Law Center, Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, and International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.