The State Department announced Thursday it will appoint a special envoy focused on promoting the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people worldwide. It is expected that Secretary John Kerry will appoint the new special envoy before the end of February 2015. Senate confirmation is not necessary for the new position.
“We’re not going to sit around and permit what we have fought for so hard to be undone,” Kerry said in June 2014. “And as I said earlier, LGBT rights are human rights and human rights are LGBT rights, so we will protect them, period.”
He further explained, “All of us right now are more than aware of…the trend if you will, in some places for anti-LGBT laws that are metastasizing in various places. And for some it’s, obviously, easy to get alarmed by that. But let me just share this with you: I don’t think it’s time to get alarmed. I think it’s time to get active.”
U.S. Senator Patty Murray said of the special envoy news: “We’ve made a lot of progress on equality for LGBT Americans during the past few years, but around the globe we continue to see widespread discrimination and hatred. It is welcome news that the State Department is creating a special envoy to focus on equality for LGBT people worldwide, which is a key component of the International Human Rights Defense Act that I introduced with Sen. Markey and more than 20 of our colleagues.”
Murray added her support. “I’m pleased the State Department is showing American leadership on human rights and that the United States stands in support with the LGBT community.”
“The announcement that Secretary Kerry will appoint a special envoy is a major milestone in the fight for equality worldwide, sending an important message to foreign governments that protecting the rights of LGBT people will remain a key foreign policy priority of the United States well beyond the current administration,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “We look forward to working together with the special envoy to encourage foreign governments to protect the rights of their LGBT citizens and to usher in a new era of support for the human rights defenders around the world who struggle daily to combat discrimination, persecution, and violence.”
The State Department has indicated that the new special envoy will be a career foreign service officer who is openly gay. The special envoy will be tasked with advancing the State Department’s initiatives to protect the human rights of LGBT people, with responding to discrimination and violence against LGBT people, and with building partnerships with LGBT activists around the world.
Human Rights First has advocated for the appointment of a special envoy for the human rights of LGBT people, urging President Obama to build on his administration’s progress in advancing equality by creating this position. The organization has also advocated for the introduction and passage of the International Human Rights Defense Act, a bill to create a special envoy for the human rights of LGBT people in that State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
“For the first time in our nation’s history, LGBT people around the world will have a dedicated, full-time senior advocate in the U.S. State Department,” said Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin. “President Obama and Secretary Kerry have shown tremendous leadership in championing the rights of LGBT people abroad, and we look forward to working closely with whomever is selected for this new role, as we continue to push back against laws and attitudes that lead to human rights violations against LGBT people.”
Griffin added, “While there is currently strong momentum in the United States toward equality, there are many places in the world where the LGBT community is at risk, sometimes even for their lives. This is an important way for the United States to facilitate diplomatic conversations with countries where we see ongoing violence, harassment and discrimination of LGBT people.”