Briefing with Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons Jessica Stern On the First Annual Interagency Report on Implementation of the Presidential Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons Around the World

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Briefing with Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons Jessica Stern On the First Annual Interagency Report on Implementation of the Presidential Memorandum on Advancing the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons Around the World

Jessica Stern, U.S. Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex (LGBTQI+) PersonsBureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor

Via Teleconference

MR PRICE:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.  Thank you very much for joining us.  And I’m especially pleased to introduce Jessica Stern – as you know, she’s our Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ persons – on this momentous occasion.

As you know, the administration has placed human rights at the center of our foreign policy.  And a year ago, in February of last year, President Biden issued his Memorandum on Advancing Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons Around the World.  And last June, he appointed Jessica to this very important position.  And now today, Special Envoy Stern is with us to unveil the first annual interagency report on the implementation of the Presidential Memorandum.  This is a product reflecting a whole-of-government approach, led by the State Department.

And Special Envoy Stern will offer brief remarks and then will have an opportunity to take some of your questions.  So without further ado, I will turn it over to the Special Envoy.

MS STERN:  Thank you, Ned, for the very kind introduction.  And good afternoon to everyone, if it’s afternoon where you are, or hello if you’re in a different time zone.

As Ned noted, in his first weeks in office, President Biden signed a Presidential Memorandum entitled, quote, “Advancing the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons Around the World.”  This memorandum makes clear that promoting and protecting the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is a U.S. foreign policy priority.

And today, I’m really happy to talk to you about the first interagency report, outlining how the U.S. Government has worked collectively towards fulfilling the memorandum’s goals.

This is a historic first for the United States.  The report outlines how U.S. Government agencies engaged abroad are working to become more LGBTQI+-inclusive.  And it shows that many individual actions across the U.S. Government, taken together as a whole, create institutional change and improve the daily lives of LGBTQI+ persons.  The report highlights the progress that is possible when we actively reach out to other governments, multilateral institutions, and civil society.

This work is essential, because LGBTQI+ persons face violence, stigma, lack of access to basic services, and, in approximately 70 countries, criminalization of their status or behavior.  And in many places, LGBTQI+ persons are targeted as a way of undermining democracy itself.

Through determined diplomacy and targeted foreign assistance, the United States is combating the criminalization of LGBTQI+ status or conduct, promoting protection of vulnerable LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers, responding to human rights abuses committed against LGBTQI+ persons, strengthening relationships with like-minded governments, engaging international organizations on the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons, and working to rescind policies inconsistent with our nation’s values.

So that being said, I want to highlight several successes, starting with the Department of State, which set a historic precedent as the first federal government agency to offer the X gender marker on an identity document by providing, as of April 11th, the X gender marker as an option on U.S. passport applications. The X signifies unspecified or another gender identity.

The Department of State also launched a flagship program as part of the Biden administration’s Presidential Initiative for Democracy Renewal – the Global LGBTQI+ Inclusive Democracy and Empowerment Initiative, also known as GLIDE, that seeks to ensure democracies are inclusive of LGBTQI+ persons, representative of their communities and families, and responsive to their needs and concerns.  The new initiative builds on the track record of success under the Global Equality Fund, which has provided over $100 million in financial support to protect and promote the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons in more than 100 countries since its inception.

The Department of State also led the successful expansion of a United Nations resolution on elections to include sexual orientation and gender identity, becoming only the second resolution in the history of the General Assembly to do so and the very first via consensus.

From the Department of State, I want to move on to the Peace Corps, where approximately 60 percent of Peace Corps posts reported implementing specific LGBTQI+ equity practices within their operations, like hosting LGBTQI+ human rights organizations to inform in-country strategy and volunteer placement.

From there, we move on to the Department of Health and Human Services, which now ensures that its Notice of Funding Award Guidance includes clear guidance to support nondiscrimination.

And then on to USAID, which reinstated a reporting mechanism to track overall foreign assistance which advances LGBTQI+ human rights.

And next onto the Department of Treasury, which is pursuing how to win shareholder support to promote strengthened safeguard protections for LGBTQI+ persons and how to foster stronger multilateral development bank implementation of existing safeguard policies for LGBTQI+ persons.

And then my last example for you comes from the Department of Homeland Security, which issued revised guidance to recognize informal same-sex marriages for the purposes of obtaining refugee or asylee status, even if they are not officially recognized by officials in countries of origin.

And as I draw towards my conclusion, I just want to say our work has only just begun, and throughout my time serving as the U.S. Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons – which I think is the longest title in the State Department, but Ned can correct me if I’m wrong – I have found that colleagues at the Department of State and really at each agency to be eager and ready to advance the cause of protecting and promoting the dignity, inclusion, and human rights of every LGBTQI+ person.  And simply put, in the darkest places, we are finding the brightest lights.  Thank you.

And with that, I’m happy to take your questions.  Back to you, Ned.

MR PRICE:  Thanks very much.  It’s a long title but – and a very important one, an important position.  Operator, do you mind repeating the instructions to ask a question?

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  And ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your touchtone phone.

MR PRICE:  We’ll give it just a moment for people to filter into the queue.

OPERATOR:  Again, if you do have a question, please press a 1 then 0.

MR PRICE:  We’ll go to the line of Bianca Hillier, please.

QUESTION:  Hello, can you hear me?

MR PRICE:  Yes.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thank you so much, Special Envoy Stern, for speaking with us today.  I have a question:  What did those informal marriages to refugees and asylum seekers grant those people the ability to do?  How directly does that help people?  Thank you.

MS STERN:  Hi, Bianca.  I’ve followed your work but never met you.  Great to hear your voice.

It was a fact that stood out to me when I read the report as well, because I think it’s really significant.  As you’re probably aware, in approximately 70 countries worldwide, homosexual status or conduct is criminalized.  And the number of countries globally that have any form of recognition of equal marriage, civil unions, or family recognition in other forms for LGBTQI couples is few and far between.

So although I’m not versed in the technical specifications of the DHS policy, I can tell you this is a very important form of recognition.  And what it means is that for the sake of LGBTQI couples and their families, who have no access to legal recognition by their own government, the United States is recognizing grounds of persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and recognizing that their families are valid and valuable.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.

MR PRICE:  Great.  We’ll give it just another moment.  If anyone else wishes to ask a question, please raise your hand now.

OPERATOR:  And again, if you do have a question, please press 1 0.

MR PRICE:   Okay.  Well, seeing no additional questions, I want to thank the Special Envoy.  I want to thank all of you for joining today’s call.  For those of you who have questions you wish to ask offline, I think you know how to contact us.  Please do reach out and we’d be happy to work with you from there.  Thank you very much.  Have a good day.

MS STERN:  Thank you.

MR PRICE:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.  Thank you very much for joining us.  And I’m especially pleased to introduce Jessica Stern – as you know, she’s our Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ persons – on this momentous occasion.

As you know, the administration has placed human rights at the center of our foreign policy.  And a year ago, in February of last year, President Biden issued his Memorandum on Advancing Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons Around the World.  And last June, he appointed Jessica to this very important position.  And now today, Special Envoy Stern is with us to unveil the first annual interagency report on the implementation of the Presidential Memorandum.  This is a product reflecting a whole-of-government approach, led by the State Department.

And Special Envoy Stern will offer brief remarks and then will have an opportunity to take some of your questions.  So without further ado, I will turn it over to the Special Envoy.

MS STERN:  Thank you, Ned, for the very kind introduction.  And good afternoon to everyone, if it’s afternoon where you are, or hello if you’re in a different time zone.

As Ned noted, in his first weeks in office, President Biden signed a Presidential Memorandum entitled, quote, “Advancing the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons Around the World.”  This memorandum makes clear that promoting and protecting the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is a U.S. foreign policy priority.

And today, I’m really happy to talk to you about the first interagency report, outlining how the U.S. Government has worked collectively towards fulfilling the memorandum’s goals.

This is a historic first for the United States.  The report outlines how U.S. Government agencies engaged abroad are working to become more LGBTQI+-inclusive.  And it shows that many individual actions across the U.S. Government, taken together as a whole, create institutional change and improve the daily lives of LGBTQI+ persons.  The report highlights the progress that is possible when we actively reach out to other governments, multilateral institutions, and civil society.

This work is essential, because LGBTQI+ persons face violence, stigma, lack of access to basic services, and, in approximately 70 countries, criminalization of their status or behavior.  And in many places, LGBTQI+ persons are targeted as a way of undermining democracy itself.

Through determined diplomacy and targeted foreign assistance, the United States is combating the criminalization of LGBTQI+ status or conduct, promoting protection of vulnerable LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers, responding to human rights abuses committed against LGBTQI+ persons, strengthening relationships with like-minded governments, engaging international organizations on the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons, and working to rescind policies inconsistent with our nation’s values.

So that being said, I want to highlight several successes, starting with the Department of State, which set a historic precedent as the first federal government agency to offer the X gender marker on an identity document by providing, as of April 11th, the X gender marker as an option on U.S. passport applications. The X signifies unspecified or another gender identity.

The Department of State also launched a flagship program as part of the Biden administration’s Presidential Initiative for Democracy Renewal – the Global LGBTQI+ Inclusive Democracy and Empowerment Initiative, also known as GLIDE, that seeks to ensure democracies are inclusive of LGBTQI+ persons, representative of their communities and families, and responsive to their needs and concerns.  The new initiative builds on the track record of success under the Global Equality Fund, which has provided over $100 million in financial support to protect and promote the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons in more than 100 countries since its inception.

The Department of State also led the successful expansion of a United Nations resolution on elections to include sexual orientation and gender identity, becoming only the second resolution in the history of the General Assembly to do so and the very first via consensus.

From the Department of State, I want to move on to the Peace Corps, where approximately 60 percent of Peace Corps posts reported implementing specific LGBTQI+ equity practices within their operations, like hosting LGBTQI+ human rights organizations to inform in-country strategy and volunteer placement.

From there, we move on to the Department of Health and Human Services, which now ensures that its Notice of Funding Award Guidance includes clear guidance to support nondiscrimination.

And then on to USAID, which reinstated a reporting mechanism to track overall foreign assistance which advances LGBTQI+ human rights.

And next onto the Department of Treasury, which is pursuing how to win shareholder support to promote strengthened safeguard protections for LGBTQI+ persons and how to foster stronger multilateral development bank implementation of existing safeguard policies for LGBTQI+ persons.

And then my last example for you comes from the Department of Homeland Security, which issued revised guidance to recognize informal same-sex marriages for the purposes of obtaining refugee or asylee status, even if they are not officially recognized by officials in countries of origin.

And as I draw towards my conclusion, I just want to say our work has only just begun, and throughout my time serving as the U.S. Special Envoy to Advance the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons – which I think is the longest title in the State Department, but Ned can correct me if I’m wrong – I have found that colleagues at the Department of State and really at each agency to be eager and ready to advance the cause of protecting and promoting the dignity, inclusion, and human rights of every LGBTQI+ person.  And simply put, in the darkest places, we are finding the brightest lights.  Thank you.

And with that, I’m happy to take your questions.  Back to you, Ned.

MR PRICE:  Thanks very much.  It’s a long title but – and a very important one, an important position.  Operator, do you mind repeating the instructions to ask a question?

OPERATOR:  Thank you.  And ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to ask a question, please press 1 then 0 on your touchtone phone.

MR PRICE:  We’ll give it just a moment for people to filter into the queue.

OPERATOR:  Again, if you do have a question, please press a 1 then 0.

MR PRICE:  We’ll go to the line of Bianca Hillier, please.

QUESTION:  Hello, can you hear me?

MR PRICE:  Yes.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thank you so much, Special Envoy Stern, for speaking with us today.  I have a question:  What did those informal marriages to refugees and asylum seekers grant those people the ability to do?  How directly does that help people?  Thank you.

MS STERN:  Hi, Bianca.  I’ve followed your work but never met you.  Great to hear your voice.

It was a fact that stood out to me when I read the report as well, because I think it’s really significant.  As you’re probably aware, in approximately 70 countries worldwide, homosexual status or conduct is criminalized.  And the number of countries globally that have any form of recognition of equal marriage, civil unions, or family recognition in other forms for LGBTQI couples is few and far between.

So although I’m not versed in the technical specifications of the DHS policy, I can tell you this is a very important form of recognition.  And what it means is that for the sake of LGBTQI couples and their families, who have no access to legal recognition by their own government, the United States is recognizing grounds of persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and recognizing that their families are valid and valuable.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.

MR PRICE:  Great.  We’ll give it just another moment.  If anyone else wishes to ask a question, please raise your hand now.

OPERATOR:  And again, if you do have a question, please press 1 0.

MR PRICE:   Okay.  Well, seeing no additional questions, I want to thank the Special Envoy.  I want to thank all of you for joining today’s call.  For those of you who have questions you wish to ask offline, I think you know how to contact us.  Please do reach out and we’d be happy to work with you from there.  Thank you very much.  Have a good day.

MS STERN:  Thank you.