June marks lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) pride month. As communities worldwide celebrate with parades, festivals, and workshops, LGBTI people globally acknowledge success in their fight for equality as well as much work that remains to be done. President Obama acknowledged as much in his proclamation declaring June as LGBT Pride Month when he wrote that “…we are also reminded that we are not truly equal until every person is afforded the same rights and opportunities – that when one of us experiences discrimination, it affects all of us – and that our journey is not complete until our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.”
Secretary of State John Kerry placed the topic at the U.S. Foreign Policy table recently by appointing Ambassador Randy Berry as the U.S. State Department’s first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI persons. In announcing the post, Secretary Kerry declared:
Defending and promoting the human rights of LGBT persons is at the core of our commitment to advancing human rights globally – the heart and conscience of our diplomacy. That’s why we’re working to overturn laws that criminalize consensual same-sex conduct in countries around the world. It’s why we’re building our capacity to respond rapidly to violence against LGBT persons, and it’s why we’re working with governments, civil society, and the private sector through the Global Equality Fund to support programs advancing the human rights of LGBT persons worldwide.
According to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) 2015 report on State Sponsored Homophobia, 75 countries in the world still criminalize homosexuality and LGBTI people around the world are still at a higher risk of discrimination, violence, and persecution.
A recent IVLP project on Preventing and Responding to Bias Motivated Violence Against the LGBTI Community sought to address this topic by assembling 13 activists, lawyers, and civil society leaders for a two-week study-tour. Their program sought to examine hate crimes legislation in the Untied State; explore how law enforcement agencies work within communities to protect citizens from hate based violence; and provided opportunities to meet with legal aid and other advocacy organizations that support the rights of LGBTI people.
In Washington, DC, these IVLP participants were guests at a White House conversation on combating bias-motivated violence against LGBTI persons around the world co-hosted by the Council on Global Equality. In addition, participants met privately with Special Envoy Randy Berry as well as with Judy and Dennis Shepard, parents of slain gay college student Mathew Shepard in whose name, along with James Byrd, the US federal legislation on hate crimes is named. When one participant asked for advice from Judy Shepard, her response was immediate and simple: “Know in your heart that you are right, and never, ever give up.”
The participants’ exchange program provided an opportunity to share best practices with each other and with US American advocacy organizations, facilitated the creation of new networks to promote the support of LGBTI people, and supported the work of committed, global activists who are working to support LGBTI people and realize a more equal world.
While the number of countries that criminalize homosexuality has decreased in recent years, there is much work to be done before homophobia and transphobia are considered as offensive in global cultures as other forms of discrimination such as racism and sexism. In keeping with U.S. Foreign Policy, the IVLP and other exchange programs are working to bring about that reality by connecting LGBTI activists with each other and with American organizations, and by reiterating that LGBTI rights are human rights and human rights are LGBTI rights.