24 Senators co-sponsor Markey bill to create position in Dept. of State to coordinate efforts to promote international LGBT human rights

Boston (June 13, 2014) – As the nation celebrates National LBGT Pride Month, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, today introduced legislation that would affirm LGBT human rights are a foreign policy priority for the United States government. Specifically, The International Human Rights Defense Act (S. 2472) would direct the Department of State to make preventing and responding to discrimination and violence against the LGBT community a foreign policy priority and devise a global strategy to achieve those goals establish a position in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor responsible for coordinating that effort. Senator Markey made the announcement alongside leaders from MassEquality; AIDS Action Committee; Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Youth (BAGLY); HRC Massachusetts; and other community groups and advocates at Fenway Health, the Massachusetts’s premier health care center serving the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

More than 80 nations around the world have laws that criminalize homosexuality, prohibit public support for the LGBT community, or promote homophobia. In seven countries, homosexuality is punishable by death. The adoption of these hateful laws has sped up in recent years, and the effects of discriminatory laws can be felt throughout society.

“For the United States to hold true to our commitment to defending the human rights of all people around the world, we must stand with the LGBT community in their struggle for recognition and equality everywhere,” said Senator Markey. “The International Human Rights Defense Act will foster a coordinated effort across the federal government and relevant agencies so we can meet the enormous challenge before us and work to ensure equality for all people around the globe.”

“We applaud Senator Markey's vision and leadership on this vital issue,” said MassEquality Executive Director Kara Coredini. “Given the amount of hatred and ignorance that the LGBT community has been subjected to both nationally and internationally, Senator Markey is continuing a tradition of making Massachusetts a Beacon of light when it comes to basic human rights. Here in the Commonwealth, we need to do better.  As a state, we have an innate obligation to this nation to ensure that all people are treated with dignity, respect and fairness, not just locally, but abroad.”

“Fenway Health is delighted to host Senator Markey and help participate in this important conversation about advancing the rights of LGBT people around the world,” said Fenway Health President & CEO, Stephen Boswell, MD. “Fenway strongly believes that access to health care is a right, not a privilege and we’re pleased that Senator Markey is helping to bring this and other LGBT issues to the attention of our elected officials.”

A copy of the International Human Rights Defense Act can be found HERE. A one-page summary can be found HERE.

Specifically, This International Human Rights Defense Act directs the Department of State to: 

  • • Make preventing and responding to discrimination and violence against the LGBT community a foreign policy priority and devise a global strategy to achieve those goals. 
  • • Coordinate efforts to promote international LGBT human rights with local advocacy groups, governments, multilateral organizations, and the private sector. 
  • • Create the position of “Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Peoples” in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, which will be responsible for all inter-bureau and inter-agency coordination of the United States government’s efforts to defend human rights for the LGBT community internationally. 
  • • Continue to include a section on LGBT international human rights in the annual State Department Report on Human Rights. 

Original Cosponsors: Senators Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Oreg.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.)

Quotes of endorsement for the International Human Rights Defense Act

Human Rights Campaign, Chad Griffin, President

“In many nations around the world, the rights of LGBT people are trampled and violated on a daily basis. These brave individuals persistently face the threat of harassment, discrimination, and violence, and we must do everything we can to ensure their rights are fully included in and championed by America’s foreign policy. Passing this legislation is an important step in that direction, and I commend Senator Markey for introducing it."

Advocates for Youth, Stephen Chukwumah, activist 

“In my country, Nigeria, people are being discriminated, victimized, beaten, and tortured because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. The new anti-LGBTQ law that recently passed is a horrible burden on the youth of Nigeria. Every day we face homophobic slurs, neighbors that turn on us, the constant threat of violence—we shouldn’t have to live this way.” 

Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, Kerry Kennedy, President

“At a time when politicians are seeking personal gain by scapegoating sexual minorities, Senator Markey speaks truth to power with this historic legislation, which will entrench the protection of LGBT people around the world as a policy priority of the United States and reflect our role as a beacon of decency and freedom. The recent passage of anti-gay laws in Uganda and Nigeria and the threat of new legislation in other countries make this an incredibly important and timely piece of legislation. By proposing an ambassador-level post dedicated to coordinating the United States' response to the trend of criminalizing LGBT people, Senator Markey has significantly advanced the cause of international LGBT human rights.”

Amnesty International USA, Steven Hawkins, Executive Director

"Around the globe, LGBT people face threats, violence, and discrimination on a daily basis. The United States can and must play a lead role in ending the human rights abuses that the LGBT community faces around the world. The International Human Rights Defense Act will help to ensure that the United States lives up to its global commitment to protect and advance LGBT rights as human rights."

International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Jessica Lynn Stern, Executive Director

“LGBT persons are over-represented among the homeless, among school drop-outs, and among the poor. We also know that pressure from the outside often helps, especially if it comes in the form of dialogue. This is why we support the International Human Rights Defense Act and its proposal to create a dedicated high-level position at the U.S. Department of State to engage foreign governments to promote democracy, equality, and human rights for LGBT persons. Discrimination against LGBT persons is based on prejudice and to change prejudice requires commitment. The International Human Rights Defense Act creates the infrastructure to make it happen.” 

American Jewish World Service. Ruth Messinger, President

“Around the world, LGBT people are ostracized, threatened and assaulted because of who they are and whom they love. As Americans, we understand how wrong it is for governments to sanction hate against minorities and trample upon their rights. Moreover, we believe firmly that our great nation cannot stand idly by as these kinds of indignities are perpetrated, and we urge our government to do all it can to protect the human rights of LGBT people worldwide.  We applaud Senator Markey for introducing this bill, and we call on Congress to act quickly and pass it.”

Human Rights First, Elisa Massimino, President and CEO

“Universal rights are for everyone, everywhere.  At a time when some governments are undermining this bedrock principle by pursuing laws and policies that discriminate against LGBT people, we welcome Senator Markey’s leadership to ensure that tackling this problem remains a priority in U.S. foreign policy.”

Council for Global Equality, Michael Guest, Senior Advisor

America's humanitarian, political, development, and commercial interests thrive best in countries that protect the human rights and democratic freedoms of LGBT and other minorities.  We need a Special Envoy to help other countries understand why treating LGBT people fairly and equally is not only right, but in their national interests as well.  The Council for Global Equality strongly supports this bill and urges that it move quickly through committee, to a floor vote.