(Editor's note: This is a breaking news story that will be updated as new information arrives.)
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama on Tuesday morning issued a history-setting presidential memorandum that sets new federal policy and strategy on global LGBT rights.
"Our deep commitment to advancing the human rights of all people is strengthened when we as the United States bring our tools to bear to vigorously advance this goal," Obama said in the memo.
Gay rights groups immediately praised the Obama administration's commitment to LGBT equality around the world.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton illuminated the new strategy in a remarkable speech about LGBT rights in recognition of Human Rights Day (Dec. 10) in Geneva today. "It should never be a crime to be gay," Clinton said, in reference to efforts in places like Nigeria and Uganda where the governments are trying to criminalize homosexuality.
"Today I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people whose Human Rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today. In many ways they are an invisible minority. They are arrested, beaten, terrorized, even executed. Many are treated with contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way or too often even join in the abuse. They are denied opportunities to work and learn, driven from their homes and countries and forced to suppress or deny who they are to protect themselves from harm. I am talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual and trance gender people. Human beings born free and given bestowed equality and dignity who have a right to claim that which is now one of the remaining Human Rights challenges of our time. I speak about this subject knowing that my own country's record on Human Rights for gay people is far from perfect until 2003 it was still a crime in parts of our country."
Clinton also repeated her mantra: "Gay rights are Human Rights, and Human Rights are gay rights."
"The Obama Administration has made a tremendous difference in the lives of LGBT people in the United States and this new strategy helps to extend that presidential leadership across the globe," said HRC President Joe Solmonese, who met with Secretary Clinton earlier today in Geneva. "There is no question that the administration's record of advancing equality for LGBT people has been enhanced by the leadership of Secretary Clinton who consistently underscores the simple truth that LGBT rights are human rights."
Obama's presidential memo is the first-ever global LGBT strategy plan issued by any American government. The memo orders all government agencies involved in foreign affairs to promote LGBT human rights across the world and encourage the decriminalization of LGBT people and the humane treatment of LGBT refugees and those requesting asylum.
"As Americans, we understand that no one should be made a criminal or subject to violence or even death because of who they are, no matter where they live," Solmonese said. "Today's actions by President Obama make clear that the United States will not turn a blind eye when governments commit or allow abuses to the human rights of LGBT people."
Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, applauded Clinton's speech and the White House's commitment to global LGBT rights.
"Secretary Clinton spoke about LGBT rights at the UN in Geneva and expressed a strong U.S. position in support of respect and fair treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people worldwide, making a case that ensuring our human rights is a basic responsibility of the United States and the world," Keisling said. "Concurrently, President Obama released a Presidential Memorandum directing all federal agencies abroad to promote and protect the human rights of LGBT people in U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance work.The National Center for Transgender Equality applauds their continued leadership in this area."
Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, was also impressed by today's developments.
“Hearing the United States Secretary of State speak passionately about ending violence and discrimination against LGBT people throughout the world left me with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. To imagine what the world would be like if the vision Secretary Clinton laid out were to come to pass, is to imagine a world of such deep and enduring humanity that any dream can be realized," Kendell said.
"Between the initiatives outlined in the President’s memo, and the visionary speech of Secretary Clinton, it seems possible that my children could grow up in a world where LGBT people are no longer terrorized or victimized based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. It seems possible that LGBT people could become, as the Secretary put it, `free and equal in dignity and rights' around the world. This is a day to remember, and one that will mark the beginning of a new era in the international recognition of our community.”
Presidential Memorandum -- International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons
MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES
SUBJECT: International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons
The struggle to end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons is a global challenge, and one that is central to the United States commitment to promoting human rights. I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation. That is why I declared before heads of state gathered at the United Nations, "no country should deny people their rights because of who they love, which is why we must stand up for the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere." Under my Administration, agencies engaged abroad have already begun taking action to promote the fundamental human rights of LGBT persons everywhere. Our deep commitment to advancing the human rights of all people is strengthened when we as the United States bring our tools to bear to vigorously advance this goal.
By this memorandum I am directing all agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons. Specifically, I direct the following actions, consistent with applicable law:
Section 1. Combating Criminalization of LGBT Status or Conduct Abroad. Agencies engaged abroad are directed to strengthen existing efforts to effectively combat the criminalization by foreign governments of LGBT status or conduct and to expand efforts to combat discrimination, homophobia, and intolerance on the basis of LGBT status or conduct.
Sec. 2. Protecting Vulnerable LGBT Refugees and Asylum Seekers. Those LGBT persons who seek refuge from violence and persecution face daunting challenges. In order to improve protection for LGBT refugees and asylum seekers at all stages of displacement, the Departments of State and Homeland Security shall enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure that LGBT refugees and asylum seekers have equal access to protection and assistance, particularly in countries of first asylum. In addition, the Departments of State, Justice, and Homeland Security shall ensure appropriate training is in place so that relevant Federal Government personnel and key partners can effectively address the protection of LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, including by providing to them adequate assistance and ensuring that the Federal Government has the ability to identify and expedite resettlement of highly vulnerable persons with urgent protection needs.
Sec. 3. Foreign Assistance to Protect Human Rights and Advance Nondiscrimination. Agencies involved with foreign aid, assistance, and development shall enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure regular Federal Government engagement with governments, citizens, civil society, and the private sector in order to build respect for the human rights of LGBT persons.
Sec. 4. Swift and Meaningful U.S. Responses to Human Rights Abuses of LGBT Persons Abroad. The Department of State shall lead a standing group, with appropriate interagency representation, to help ensure the Federal Government's swift and meaningful response to serious incidents that threaten the human rights of LGBT persons abroad.
Sec. 5. Engaging International Organizations in the Fight Against LGBT Discrimination. Multilateral fora and international organizations are key vehicles to promote respect for the human rights of LGBT persons and to bring global attention to LGBT issues. Building on the State Department's leadership in this area, agencies engaged abroad should strengthen the work they have begun and initiate additional efforts in these multilateral fora and organizations to: counter discrimination on the basis of LGBT status; broaden the number of countries willing to support and defend LGBT issues in the multilateral arena; strengthen the role of civil society advocates on behalf of LGBT issues within and through multilateral fora; and strengthen the policies and programming of multilateral institutions on LGBT issues.
Sec. 6. Reporting on Progress. All agencies engaged abroad shall prepare a report within 180 days of the date of this memorandum, and annually thereafter, on their progress toward advancing these initiatives. All such agencies shall submit their reports to the Department of State, which will compile a report on the Federal Government's progress in advancing these initiatives for transmittal to the President.
Sec. 7. Definitions. (a) For the purposes of this memorandum, agencies engaged abroad include the Departments of State, the Treasury, Defense, Justice, Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Export Import Bank, the United States Trade Representative, and such other agencies as the President may designate.
(b) For the purposes of this memorandum, agencies involved with foreign aid, assistance, and development include the Departments of State, the Treasury, Defense, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, the USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Export Import Bank, the United States Trade Representative, and such other agencies as the President may designate.
This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by any party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.
The Secretary of State is hereby authorized and directed to publish this memorandum in the Federal Register.