Congressman Lowenthal and Senator Markey Reintroduce Legislation Affirming U.S. Commitment to International LGBTQI Rights

February 3, 2021
Press Release
Legislation creates a permanent LGBTQI Special Envoy at the State Department

Congressman Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today announced they will reintroduce the International Human Rights Defense Act, a bicameral effort to reaffirm the United States' role as a world leader in the promotion of LGBTQI equality. Nearly 70 nations around the world have enacted laws that criminalize homosexuality, as abuses in Russia, Tanzania, Uganda, Indonesia, Central America, and elsewhere demonstrate a continued threat to the fundamental rights of LGBTQI communities in every region of the world. The coronavirus pandemic has also exacerbated the threat to LGBTQI communities, who frequently lack access to adequate health care, often live in unsafe or unwelcoming environments, and have faced discrimination and stigma associated with the spread of COVID-19.

At the urging of Congressman Lowenthal and Senator Markey, then-Secretary of State John Kerry first appointed a Special Envoy for LGBTQI rights in 2015. While the Trump administration left the position vacant, President Joseph Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have committed to filling this role early in the Biden administration. The International Human Rights Defense Act would make the special envoy position permanent and allow for the position to be named at the rank of Ambassador.

“The United States has a chance to once again be a global leader on human rights issues. We must promote and defend our fundamental values of equality, equity, and diversity, both at home and abroad,” said Congressman Lowenthal, a member of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s Executive Committee. “We cannot halt the extension of these values at our borders. The United States must continue to defend the innate rights of all human beings across the globe—including the LGBTQI community—to live, love, and prosper. We can and must do no less.”

“The United States must reaffirm its support for the promotion and protection of LGBTQI rights around the world and reengage as a leader on these issues after four years of harmful and discriminatory policies,” said Senator Markey, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “This legislation will make it clear that the United States is committed to protecting the human rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The COVID-19 crisis has put LGBQTI communities all around the world at greater risk and this moment requires a concerted and global effort to recommit to the protection of human rights everywhere.”

A copy of the legislation can be found HERE.

The International Human Rights Defense Act would direct the Department of State to renew efforts in defending the human rights of LGBTQI people around the world. Specifically, the act would direct the Department of State to:

  • Prevent and respond to discrimination and violence against the LGBTQI community;
  • Devise a global strategy to address discrimination against the LGBTQI community;
  • Coordinate with local advocacy groups, governments, multilateral organizations, and the private sector, to promote international LGBTQI human rights;
  • Create the permanent position of "Special Envoy on the Human Rights of LGBTQI People" in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, at the Department of State, which will be responsible for coordinating the efforts of all federal programs to defend the human rights of the LGBTQI community internationally, and allow for that position to be appointed at the rank of Ambassador;
  • Track and report on all U.S. Government programs, projects, and activities that relate to prevention and response to criminalization, discrimination, and violence against LGBTQI people internationally; and
  • Continue to include a section on LGBTQI international human rights in the annual State Department Report on Human Rights. 

“The Council for Global Equality is delighted that Senator Markey and Representative Lowenthal are reintroducing IHRDA as a global LGBTQI priority in the new Congress,” said Mark Bromley, Chair of The Council for Global Equality. “We urgently need a U.S. global strategy to respond to the egregious human rights abuses targeting LGBTQI communities globally, especially in this time of COVID-19, as marginalized communities are facing unprecedented new threats.  And we need a Special Envoy to coordinate that work.  This bill provides both the leadership and the policy framework needed to operationalize President Biden’s commitments to global equality.  We applaud the bill’s introduction and call for its swift passage as a human rights priority.”

“The International Human Rights Defense Act will ensure that the rights of all LGBTQI people -- from every background -- continues to be a top priority in America’s foreign policy,” said Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David. “This legislation would strengthen the ability of the Biden administration and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQI people at home and abroad. Thank you to Senator Ed Markey and Representative Alan Lowenthal for their leadership as human rights champions in Congress.”

“For the last four years, the Trump administration has undermined LGBTQI+ rights. Now, we have an opportunity and a duty to make meaningful change to protect and promote LGBTQI+ communities around the globe,” said Rori Kramer, Director of U.S. Advocacy at American Jewish World Service. “We commend Senator Markey and Representative Lowenthal for this legislation that will enshrine the Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTQI Persons into the State Department, making necessary steps for full inclusion.”

“The US lost credibility under the Trump Administration as a reliable voice in support of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex people at home and abroad. Trump courted governments hostile to human rights, including the rights of LGBTQI people, such as Egypt, where imprisonment and torture is routine; Hungary, where an authoritarian government has curtailed the rights of trans people and LGBT families; and Poland, where local authorities have declared ‘LGBT free’ zones. It’s time to restore US credibility through the passage of the International Human Rights Defense Act, which institutionalizes a firm commitment to promoting LGBTQI rights everywhere,” said Graeme Reid, Director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch.

“Over the last four years, LGBTQI people have been at the forefront of vicious attacks, our basic rights questioned in countries around the world and by the highest office in the US. This is precisely why we need the International Human Rights Defense Act,” said Jessica Stern, Executive Director, OutRight Action International. “LGBTQI people cannot be left to suffer because of changes in the White House.  We need the IHRDA to ensure that the US protects and upholds LGBTQI rights as a consistent, integrated and essential foreign policy priority.”

"LGBTQ+ rights are human rights, and the United States has a moral obligation to defend and advance the human rights of LGBTQ+ people around the world," said Equality California Executive Director Rick Chavez Zbur. "Whether it's Russia, Iran or one of our allies, any country that commits human rights abuses must be held accountable. Congressman Lowenthal has been a champion for human rights and full, lived LGBTQ+ equality throughout his career, and we're deeply grateful to him for his continued leadership on this urgent issue."

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