Secretary Antony J. Blinken At the 2024 Pride Month Convening on U.S. Foreign Policy: National Security, Inclusive Development, and the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons

Secretary Antony J. Blinken At the 2024 Pride Month Convening on U.S. Foreign Policy: National Security, Inclusive Development, and the Human Rights of LGBTQI+ Persons

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you, everyone.  Good afternoon.  Please, have a seat.  First let me say to my friend Katherine Tai welcome, welcome.  Thank you, Katherine, for being here with us today.  We’re all looking forward to hearing from you.

Now, I’m usually the one who gets called out by Jessica.  (Laughter.)  So this was a great moment to actually get to return the favor.  (Laughter.)  But I have to tell you, and I think pretty much everyone in this room knows it, we have an extraordinary force of nature in Jessica leading our efforts around the world.  I couldn’t be more grateful for it.  The difference that she and her team are making every day in ways big and small is incredibly powerful, and I get a chance to see that up close.  And you’ll be hearing more about that through the course of this afternoon, but Jessica, to you, to the entire team, thank you, thank you, thank you.  (Applause.)

And for so many in this room I could say the same thing, because this is an extraordinary community of people who are working every day – not just on this day but every day – to make a real difference.

On his first day in office – and you heard the letter from the President, but on his very first day in office President Biden issued an executive order stating that, and I quote, “All human beings should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love.”

It’s as simple as that.  LGBTQI+ rights are human rights.  And our government has a responsibility to defend them, to promote them – here and everywhere.

Upholding these rights is crucial to safeguarding and accelerating our renewal at home.  Our ability to stand up for human rights and democracy internationally is also tied directly to whether we’re strong on these fronts here in our own country.  So much of what we do, we see the connections between what we’re doing and how we’re doing at home, what we’re doing and how we’re doing abroad.  And this is no different.

It’s also profoundly in our national interest – and vital to our national security, which gets us to what Jessica shared with you earlier; really, the focus that we’re bringing today.  But it’s in our national security interest to stand up for LGBTQI+ persons around the world.

When nations came together 75 years ago, they affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights respect for “the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.  [That’s] the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

And we see that here at the State Department every single day.  Countries that respect the rights of every individual tend to be more stable, more healthy, more democratic, more prosperous.  Those that discriminate against LGBTQI+ persons tend to be less free and tend to be less equal.  The correlation is as clear as day.

Sixty-four countries currently criminalize consensual sex, same-sex conduct, between adults.  In 11 of them, having same-sex relations is punishable by death.

Last year – you all know this – Uganda enacted a law further criminalizing consensual same-sex conduct with penalties that included imprisonment, including life imprisonment.  People convicted of so-called “aggravated homosexuality” face the death penalty.

In Hungary, the government is smearing, scapegoating, stigmatizing LGBTQI+ persons – vilifying them with degrading labels, denying them equal rights, normalizing violence against them.

Two months ago, Iraq’s parliament passed legislation that punishes same-sex relations with up to 15 years in prison.  Anyone who engages in so-called promotion of homosexuality can be imprisoned for ten years.

In Indonesia, the parliament passed a new criminal code banning extramarital sex.  In a nation where same-sex couples cannot marry, these laws effectively make all same-sex conduct illegal and they undermine privacy for all Indonesians.

Since 2021, the State Department has helped lead a whole-of-U.S. Government effort to ensure that every person, everywhere, can live free from violence and discrimination, with their equal rights respected.

We’re defending and promoting LGBTQI+ rights around the world, and we’re doing it in several key ways.  And that’s what I wanted to just spend a few minutes highlighting for you today.

First, we’re applying diplomatic pressure to urge governments to reverse discriminatory laws and practices.  Seven nations have decriminalized consensual same-sex conduct over the past two years.  Greece, Liechtenstein, Thailand voted to legalize marriage equality this year.  More countries are banning so-called “conversion therapy.”

Now, first and foremost, these achievements are possible because of incredibly courageous human rights defenders and government partners on the ground.  But I believe America’s support is indispensable.  When we engage – sometimes publicly, sometimes privately, sometimes both – when we share our own knowledge and experience, we can and we do achieve change.

Second, where human rights abuses are carried out against LGBTQI+ persons, we hold the perpetrators accountable.  When Uganda enacted its Anti-Homosexuality Act, we redirected U.S. Government assistance so that it doesn’t go to those carrying out this abusive policy, while at the same time increasing aid to Ugandan people who need it more than ever before in the LGBTQI+ community.  We sanctioned Ugandan officials who were involved in gross human rights violations.  We ended Uganda’s eligibility for beneficial trade status under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act until – until – it repeals the legislation and addresses its human rights situation.

We remain committed to partnering with the people of Ugandan, as we’ve done for years with investments in improving healthcare and education, expanding economic opportunity, strengthening accountability and the rule of law.  We’ll make sure that our resources continue to lift up the Ugandan people – not enable their repression.

Third, we’re increasing protections for vulnerable LGBTQI+ persons, and we’re doing that, again, around the world.  We’ve expanded access here in the United States to the Refugee Admissions Program.  We’ve got new options like NGO referrals and sponsorship by individuals and organizations, and we’re also providing financial and settlement support.  We’ve increased access to mental and physical health services for refugees, including from the LGBTQI+ community.  We’ve strengthened training for refugee and asylum officers to better serve those communities.

Precisely at a time when this community is increasingly vulnerable, it’s important – urgent – that we step up to provide the support, the help, the assistance that we can and to do that in a very deliberate way.

We’re also strongly supporting LGBTQI+ human rights organizations, and we’re doing it on the ground, where every single day these organizations are acting at tremendous risk and showing through their actions what can actually be accomplished.  We’re proud to administer the Global Equality Fund.  This provides essential aid to the work of groups in more than a hundred countries around the world.

Finally, we’re doubling down on our efforts to bring LGBTQI+ rights and perspectives to the fore in multilateral and regional organizations.  For example, in the UN Human Rights Council, we brought our strong support to the first-ever UN resolution to condemn and combat discrimination against – and violence against intersex persons.  Forty-seven countries from every part of the world actually co-sponsored the resolution.  The council adopted it in April without a single “no” vote.  That’s – that result is actually the product of roll-up-your-sleeves diplomacy that our team engaged in in Geneva, and I’m very proud that we got it.

Today, I’m announcing that the United States is updating our own interpretation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  This is one of the key treaties committing nations to upholding universal rights.  That means that, starting from now, the United States considers sexual orientation and gender identity as covered by this treaty.  (Applause.)  In our regular reporting to the council on human rights, we will continue to include incidents of discrimination or abuse committed against LGBTQI+ persons, now with the clear framework of this well-supported interpretation.  That will further empower our efforts.

We’ve come a long way, here at home and in our advocacy for rights around the world.  But you heard it from Jessica, you know it, you live it every day:  We also continue to face a long road ahead.  This community knows better than most, maybe better than anyone, change doesn’t happen overnight, and don’t expect attitudes and laws to transform in one fell swoop everywhere.  But here’s what we do know, here’s what you know better than anyone:  Our voice, our partnership, our experience can help make a difference, can help accelerate change, can literally help to save lives.

That’s why I am so proud of the work that we do, proud of the work that you do.  It’s why I’m grateful that all of you are here today, this afternoon, for what I think is an important moment, an important conversation, because ultimately, any movement is only as strong as the people who make it up.  That’s all of you and so many others that you work with and represent.

And as I’m looking around this room, and knowing folks who are also tuning in, and as I look around the world and get to hear from so many people that I meet with the extraordinary privilege of helping to represent the country around the world, what I see above all else is strength, resilience, determination.

From our diplomatic colleagues, who know that none of this gets done alone; from our State Department team, many of whom are with us today, whose members show almost superhuman stamina in their own advocacy; leaders from the private sector, from academia, from international organizations, who are teaming up with us to deliver – to deliver – a better future; and especially from the activists on the frontlines, who are indispensable to the safety and security of LGBTQI+ around the world, and you know undertake their work at extraordinary personal risk – each of you is an inspiration.  Each of you is a motivation.  Each of you, in so many ways, is our conscience.

Activists, all of our civil society partners:  You know how much work remains to achieve full equality and full rights.  But our promise is this:  We will be with you every step of the way.  We’ll persevere with you.  We’ll listen to you.  We’ll learn from you.  We’ll help resource and support your fight.  And we’ll bring our strength together with yours so that finally together we can build a world where all people are genuinely free – free to be who they are, free to love who they love.

Thank you and have a great afternoon.  (Applause.)

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