By: Lauren Walleser/ TRT Assistant Editor—
BOSTON, Mass.—After a roundtable discussion with key members of the Massachusetts LGBTQ community last month at Fenway Health, United States Senator Edward J. Markey announced new legislation—the International Human Rights Defense Act—that will create a position within the U.S. Department of State devoted specifically to global LGBT issues, and will make those issues a priority in U.S. foreign policy.
“At the heart of the new legislation is a requirement that a special envoy on LGBT issues be created in the State Department to represent our views, as a country, to the rest of the world,” Markey said in an exclusive interview with The Rainbow Times. “And it is with the intention of ensuring that we’re elevating this issue in country after country using the prestige and the influence of the United States to advance the LGBT agenda.”
Markey is sponsoring the legislation, along with 24 cosponsors in the Senate, though he said he believes that number will rise. [pullquote]“At the heart of the new legislation is a requirement that a special envoy on LGBT issues be created in the State Department to represent our views, as a country, to the rest of the world,” Markey said in an exclusive interview with The Rainbow Times. [/pullquote]
“As a Senator from Massachusetts, I think we have a responsibility to continue to be at the forefront of advocacy for the LGBT community,” said Markey. “We’re kind of the beacon of LGBT progress for the whole country, and I think we have to be for the whole world as well, and we need someone in the state department who will represent that point of view.”
In press release on his website, Markey said “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.”
According to the press release, the Act directs the State Department 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.
Wilfred Labiosa, clerk and board member of MassEquality, was one of many individuals representing state-wide LGBT organizations at the roundtable, which served to announce the legislation and receive feedback from the community. [pullquote]“We’re kind of the beacon of LGBT progress for the whole country, and I think we have to be for the whole world as well, and we need someone in the state department who will represent that point of view.”—Senator Markey[/pullquote]
“We were the first state with marriage and we were the first state with legislation in favor and support of LGBT youth, and I think this is a very good first step as well to be able to bring that message of inclusion and acceptance all around the world in regards to LGBT issues,” Labiosa said with regards to the legislation.
Labiosa expressed a need to be inclusive of all countries where LGBT issues need to be addressed—including those with anti-LGBT policies and laws—in Africa, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean.
“I’m not saying the United States has to bring its message, because we need to be culturally competent and linguistically appropriate, but more that we need to be knowledgeable about what’s happening in other parts of the world,” said Labiosa.
Labiosa also said he hopes the announcement of the legislation will lead to more people educating themselves about the diversity of LGBT issues around the world, beyond those that are most prominent in the media—such as the anti-LGBT propaganda laws in Russia that were much discussed during the Olympics, as well as same-sex marriage in the U.S.
“There’s so much need of LGBT acceptance around the globe that is not about gay marriage all the time. Gay marriage is the least of the issues around the globe,” he explained. “It is more about acceptance of being LGBT, so it is important for them to be able to recognize that there is diversity.”
Nelson Roman, board president of The Principality of Western Massachusetts—a philanthropic organization within the International Imperial Court System—was also present at the roundtable, which was closed to the press.
“I felt contextually [the roundtable] was very good. There were points that were brought up that I definitely think were great around focusing on tangible and very specific actual measures of change, and without forgetting our own struggles here at home around LGBT youth,” said Roman. “I think, on an international scale, the LGBT movement being out of the closet is 50 years old. Think about that. We have a lot of LGBT international individuals who are aging, who are coming into retirement, who are transgender, who end up being homeless or living on the streets.”
Markey also said the roundtable discussion was positive, as those present offered “some suggestions about how to make the case for the legislation.”
“The who’s who was here from the LGBT community, and I felt a lot of enthusiasm for the legislation,” he said. “It is giving me a lot of additional momentum towards seeing it become a law.”
For more information, including a full list of sponsors and endorsements, as well as a copy of the proposed legislation, visit www.markey.senate.gov.