November 10, 2021

By Ryan Kaminski, UNA-NCA Emerging Human Rights Leader Honoree

Originally published by the Center for American Progress on November 16, 2020

Executive Summary

America must restore its leadership role in advancing LGBTI equality and human rights more broadly on the global stage.

Over the past four years, the world has grimaced as America has turned inward and receded from the global stage, backing away from anything not perceived to be the narrowly defined U.S. self-interest. Among the principles and aims that the current administration has largely abandoned has been support for universal human rights, unless those rights were seen to align with the administration’s priorities. Those priorities, in turn, have shown little concern for the distinctive challenges faced by marginalized individuals and communities whose human dignity is routinely—and sometimes intentionally—assaulted. Among the most marginalized, vulnerable, and persecuted of these individuals and groups are those defined by their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics: lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, intersex (LGBTI) people and others within the larger queer and nonbinary community.

Living up to what should be America’s commitment to human rights requires an affirmation that sexual and gender minorities are humans of equal dignity and value as every other human. It also requires genuine efforts to understand and address the day-to-day challenges that those minorities face. Prioritizing human rights and dignity will ultimately entail finding effective means for Americans to reinvigorate and recommit to the values and common ground that define us as a people. Returning to a human rights-based approach is not only in America’s global interest, but it is also in line with the American values that will shape and guide the achievements of the next administration.

The authors of this report advocate for a substantive refocusing of U.S. policy and strategic priorities related to the rights of LGBTI people and human rights more broadly. The United States must quickly demonstrate to the world that it genuinely cares about and is committed to defending and promoting the dignity, rights, and inclusion of LGBTI people at home and abroad. The United States must shift direction and adopt a more thoughtful foreign policy paradigm, manifesting its care and commitment in its public declarations, policy pronouncements, and funding priorities. The United States must also earn its way back to leadership by building upon strong and consistent moral principles and actions. The time for a new LGBTI global agenda is now.

What does such an LGBTI global agenda look like in practice? First, the United States must offer decisive leadership and action, advancing policy to make the world safer for all marginalized people, including those within the LGBTI community. Such leadership is predicated on swift and ambitious actions. Within the leading global and multilateral institutions, and at the earliest possible date, the United States needs to champion efforts that recognize that LGBTI people are extremely vulnerable to routine discrimination and violence as well as global threats such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Without safety, peace, and security, there can be no well-being, freedom, opportunity, or development for the LGBTI community and other marginalized groups.

As LGBTI communities around the world are increasingly accepted as a constituent and valued part of diversity, this status will need to be monitored, defended, and sustained through comprehensive investments in international relief and development as well as through appropriate diplomatic initiatives to overcome the legacy of generations of persecution and exclusion. Therefore, the United States must lead the world in a new era of inclusive development and in a closer, stronger, and explicitly principled linkage between diplomacy, defense, and international development.

This report puts forward an intentionally bold and transformative agenda in support of LGBTI people around the world. The authors advocate for leadership initiatives and the requisite follow-through to change the existing paradigm of persistent marginalization, insecurity, exclusion, abuse, and violence that defines the lives of so many LGBTI people worldwide. Among the changes the next administration should prioritize include:
  • Protecting and promoting the human rights and dignity of LGBTI people
  • Pursuing firm multilateral development agendas that elevate anti-poverty and inclusive economic growth strategies for LGBTI people
  • Adopting LGBTI-inclusive data-driven public health responses, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Building a fair, humane, and workable immigration system that protects LGBTI immigrants and refugees
  • Using soft power and leading by example
Immediate action is also needed to reverse recent measures that have sought to redefine and limit the meaning and scope of human rights and which have prioritized freedom of religion over other human rights. Instead, a narrative must be advanced that affirms the universal nature of human dignity, building support for those whose life experiences show little evidence of such a reality. In this context, the dignity, rights, and security of LGBTI people everywhere and their full inclusion in social, economic, and democratic participation must be protected and promoted.

In the same spirit and determination that drove the establishment and adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the United States must invest the necessary political will to forge lasting solidarity and collaboration with governments and civil society around the world. America must reengage with international institutions designed to promote cooperation and hold all states, including the United States, accountable to their human rights commitments. And it should earn a credible leadership role as the world moves together toward a stronger, more robust, pragmatic, and measurable shared global commitment to respecting universal human dignity and human rights and the norms and standards that align with these principles, for all persons—without exceptions.

At the same time, the United States should elevate the role of international humanitarian relief and development so it becomes an integral part of the national discourse, foreign policy, and the nation’s global engagement priorities. America should ensure that leading voices in international development have a seat at the table when decisions are made, are amply funded and prioritized in foreign policy, and are guided by human rights commitments. And the United States should build broad public support for the dedicated and effective efforts of development-focused organizations and ensure that America commits its energy and resources to support a robust global civil society to meet the needs of the most marginalized, including LGBTI people.

LGBTI issues are successfully being advanced through multilateral economic development institutions, particularly as an issue of inclusion within economic development and anti-poverty programming. But fully leveraging the institutional heft of the development community is still an ongoing process that can benefit tremendously by a firm LGBTI-inclusive U.S. development agenda. America can once again become a global leader on economic development and advance the well-being of the most marginalized groups, but it must first reinvigorate its dedication to multilateralism through consistent policy engagement and investments.

In 2020 and amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is perhaps seeing the largest shock to health systems at all levels of society. For the United States to emerge from this public health catastrophe, which is partly of its own making, it must respect the role of data and science within strong national and international public health systems. In response to significant quantitative data gaps on LGBTI people, the United States must invest in inclusive qualitative and quantitative data collection. These data are critical to create evidence-based targeted interventions as well as inclusive and effective public health responses.

Furthermore, the next administration will need to restore and strengthen humanitarian protections and uphold accountability and due process in its enforcement of America’s immigration laws. While the Trump administration displayed unprecedented levels of cruelty through its use—and often violation—of U.S. immigration laws, it has also exposed and exploited ways in which the laws themselves are inadequate and in need of significant reform. For LGBTI people in particular, it is imperative to build a fair, humane, and workable immigration system.

Finally, the United States must regain credibility by supporting the dignity and rights of LGBTI people at home. The world has noticed the Trump administration’s anti-LGBTI policies, which have left like-minded partners abandoned and authoritarian leaders emboldened. The world sees when the U.S. government fights against transgender service members, hinders transgender citizens’ ability to access health care, argues against LGBTI people’s right to work, and ignores an epidemic of violence and death mostly affecting Black and Latinx transgender women.

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