Protecting LGBT rights should be permanent part of U.S. foreign policy

“It's normal that you were beaten because Russian people hate fags.”

“We should take you to the streets and stone you to death — how many like you are there?”

“This thing is an abomination. … We get information from sources interested in seeing the society cleansed.”

These quotes from Russia, India, and Nigeria, not delivered by homophobic thugs but by the actual police and government officials tasked with protecting their citizens, are chilling reminders of the struggles facing LGBT people around the world. Every day, we know that people are facing discrimination and violence based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. We know that gay men are being lured into situations where they will be beaten and humiliated on camera. We know that lesbians are being violated with corrective rape in order to “turn them straight.” And we know that transgender people live under the most extreme risk of violence at the hands of private citizens and even state authorities. 

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The past two years have brought a sharp regression on the rights of LGBT people in many parts of the world. Countries as important and populous as Russia, India, and Nigeria have passed new laws that severely restrict the rights of their LGBT citizens, sometimes making them criminals by definition. What’s worse is that these laws are spreading as nearby nations have introduced copycat laws, often as an attempt to impress their powerful neighbor.

The United States has a unique role to play in combatting these awful truths and doing what it can to make life better for LGBT people worldwide. It is imperative that the U.S. government stands united in the commitment to combat discrimination and violence directed toward people simply because of who they are or who they love. 

Although we are living in an age, it seems, of unprecedented partisanship, protecting the human rights of LGBT people is an issue that we all can agree on. Yesterday, the International Human Rights Defense Act was introduced on a bipartisan basis, led by Congressman Tierney of Massachusetts and Congressman Gibson of New York. This bipartisan introduction sends the message that the United States intends to continue to be a beacon of hope that will work to defend the rights of the most vulnerable as a crucial part of its foreign policy vision.

The bill, which was first introduced in the Senate last month by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), will ensure that the U.S. Department of State continues its efforts to combat abuses against LGBT people and provides additional tools for that work. It will also create a special envoy in the State Department charged with reporting on and responding to issues of violence and persecution affecting LGBT people.

A special envoy would elevate the issue of the rights of LGBT people and cement the defense of those rights as a prominent aspect of our foreign policy goals at minimum cost. Having a special envoy in place would mean having a dedicated figure in the State Department who works with embassies on LGBT issues. It would also create an office to coordinate between bureaus and agencies to further the U.S. government’s efforts on issues affecting LGBT people, and a designated point of contact to make sure that embassy staff around the world can communicate with LGBT rights defenders on the ground. A number of already existing special envoys devote attention to issues such as human rights in North Korea, international energy affairs, and Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The abuse and persecution of LGBT communities abroad deserves similar attention.

Human Rights First and Log Cabin Republicans firmly believe that human rights are not part of a partisan platform; they are an American ideal. President George W. Bush’s administration made important initial steps in protecting LGBT people with initiatives such as PEPFAR, which helped millions of HIV-positive people worldwide, and President Obama’s administration has expanded American efforts to defend the rights of LGBT people by mandating the inclusion of LGBT issues in its foreign policy. It is in keeping with that spirit that we have worked together with members of Congress from both parties to ensure that this is a bipartisan bill.

It is our hope that Congress will honor the history of our nation by being worldwide leaders in supporting those who are most vulnerable through the passage of this important bill.

Angelo is the executive director of Log Cabin Republicans. Gaylord is advocacy counsel at Human Rights First and leads the organization’s campaign to combat violence against LGBTI people globally.