Increasing Support and Resources for LGBT Rights

Conference hosted by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development
and the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany
Berlin, December 5, 2013
Ambassador John B.  Emerson

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me first say thank you to our hosts, the German Development Agency and the German Lesbian and Gay Federation.

State Secretary Gudrun Kopp, Axel Hochrein, the United States knows we can better advance our mutual goals by working with like-minded partners – and that is why we welcome and support Germany in this important conference.

I’d like to recognize the civil society activists from the Global South and East here with us tonight.  Civil society organizations are a critical component to advancing the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.  The work you do is so important.  Without your work, our work would simply not be impossible.  Thank you for traveling to Berlin for this conference.  Thank you also for making sure that what is discussed here has resonance with and supports the work you do in your countries.  Through the Global Equality Fund, which enjoys the support of the United States, Germany, and six other like-minded governments, as well as private sector partners, we are proud to have you here.

I would also like to welcome colleagues from the Department of State and USAID.  The protection of human rights is a core pillar of America’s foreign policy.  As President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, and most recently, National Security Advisor Rice have all made very clear: protecting the human rights of LGBT communities everywhere is a priority of comprehensive human rights policies.

Almost exactly two years ago to the day, President Obama signed the first-ever Presidential Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of LGBT Persons, in which he instructed all U.S. agencies around the world to oppose efforts by other countries to criminalize homosexuality, discriminate against gays or lesbians, or permit abuse of people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender communities.  The Memorandum requires that federal agencies work together to meet common goals in support of LGBT persons and their human rights, including combating criminalization of LGBT status or conduct.

Our Secretary of State at the time, Hillary Clinton, announced this historic development on Human Rights Day 2011 at UN headquarters in Geneva.  Our government must stand up, she said, throughout the world, for a long-oppressed, often abused, and often forgotten minority.  This new policy, she noted, was sure to run against some people’s deeply-held personal, political, cultural or religious beliefs.  Progress would be neither easy nor swift.  But progress is necessary.

Sexual orientation and gender identity, like skin color or any other inherent human trait, can take various forms.  It can be grounds for a multitude of differences among us, but it cannot be grounds for discrimination.  Even strongly-held personal beliefs are just that: personal.  When they clash with the human rights of minorities – any minority – to live with the same choices and dignity as the majority, free from oppression, threat, harassment, bullying, social stigma, or isolation, then those personal beliefs must evolve.  As Hillary Clinton noted, “Like being a woman, or like being part of a racial, religious, tribal or ethnic minority, being LGBT does not make you less human.”

The fundamental principle that guides our LGBT work is that all people deserve to be treated with dignity, no matter who they love, as President Obama said in his second inaugural address last January and repeated when he spoke at the Brandenburg Gate here in Berlin in June.

As with racial discrimination, the U.S. certainly does not have a perfect record on this count, but we are trying to get it right.  We know that one way forward on difficult matters is to talk to each other about things we consider important; and this is important:  It is about standing up for people.  No religion, no belief system, can justify violence, oppression, or deliberate cruelty.

I am proud to report that since President Obama issued the Memorandum two years ago, much has been achieved.  Working with our partners, over $7.5 million has been allocated through the Global Equality Fund to civil society groups in over 50 countries to combat discriminatory legislation, protect human rights defenders, and bolster the capacity to document human rights violations.

Through the work of USAID, we have sought to ensure that our development assistance is inclusive of the needs of LGBT persons.  This includes measuring the economic costs of homophobia.  Our Embassies and USAID missions around the world have worked and will continue to work closely to include LGBT persons and their human rights concerns in U.S. diplomacy and assistance – whether it be at the United Nations, in Latin America training police on LGBT human rights, or through our ongoing conversations with foreign governments where we continue to raise the human rights of LGBT persons as an issue of concern.

The Memorandum also explicitly directed U.S. agencies to “enhance” efforts with “governments, citizens, civil society and the private sector” to ensure that foreign assistance builds respect for the human rights of LGBT persons.  And this is precisely what all of you have been discussing today and will continue to discuss tomorrow.  The work we are doing with all of you is an example of how we are enacting the goals President Obama outlined.

In pursuing the President’s goals, we have learned a great deal from many of you and your institutions who are represented here this evening. Your experiences and best practices have helped to shape our own funding strategies and goals. We look forward to continue learning from one another.

On behalf of the United States, and as announced yesterday by the White House, I am pleased to confirm that the U.S. will host the next conference on LGBT funding, human rights and development next year.  We hope to continue the work that was started today, in partnership with all of you.  Our goal will be to ensure that the assistance that we all provide is smart, strategic, coordinated and maximized, to promote the full realization of rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people around the world.