Standing Strong With LGBTI Persons Abroad

Todd Larson is the Senior LGBT Coordinator at the U.S. Agency for International Development. He wrote this post for LGBT History Month.

Since February 2014, I have been honored to serve as the Senior LGBT Coordinator at USAID, with a mandate to coordinate the Agency's implementation of President Obama's December 6, 2011 memorandum "International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of LGBT Persons" - and lead ongoing efforts to ensure regular U.S. Government engagement with governments, civil society, and the private sector to build respect for the human rights and development of LGBTI persons around the world.

At USAID, we've succeeded in making LGBTI inclusive development part of our DNA. In recent years, we've launched and run ground-breaking programs like the LGBTI Global Development Partnership and Being LGBTI in Asia. And, in coordination with local LGBTI leaders, we've trained our staff in over 55 countries on LGBTI inclusion. We've seen firsthand the impact of our efforts, such as through greater participation of the LGBTI community in elections in countries such as Guatemala. There is certainly a lot to be proud of, but progress has been uneven.

As we have all seen in news headlines, discrimination, stigmatization, violence, and exclusionary laws continue to negatively impact the lives of millions of LGBTI persons around the world. The denial of access to education, health services, housing, and employment is a prevalent and tragic manifestation of global discrimination against LGBTI persons. Over 70 countries and territories criminalize same-gender relations - several of which may legally impose the death penalty - and, as we are far too often and tragically reminded, anti-LGBTI violence can be deadly.

While some countries have made headway in advancing the human rights and development of our LGBTI brothers and sisters, there has been some backsliding and we know that there remains much work to be done in other countries. At this special moment in history, under this luminary President, we have a unique opportunity to make a real and sustainable global difference - always following the lead and (when safe to do so) elevating the voices of local activists.

Early in my career, my partner was assassinated while working for the United Nations. In the aftermath of this tragedy, I had no official standing to take even the most basic steps, such as obtaining copies of reports describing the circumstances surrounding his death. Though I eventually prevailed, it was only through unofficial channels on the basis of personal connections. This was treatment to which no one should be subjected.

Thanks in large part to advances shepherded at the U.N. by the Obama administration, for U.N. employees going forward, such mistreatment will be a thing of the past.

In addition to the ignobility of the aftermath of the loss of my partner, later in my career, a boss fired me for being openly gay. I fought back through internal appeals mechanisms and - after significant time and energy - eventually again prevailed. That confrontation in defense of my livelihood - for reasons having nothing to do with my job performance or competence - was, again, treatment to which no one should be subjected.

Mine are just two stories among many others. Countless of my LGBTI brothers and sisters around the world are continuously under attack to a much greater degree, often with disastrous, life-threatening consequences.

We have been fortunate to be part of history in the making under the first president to assume global leadership in this space. It is up to all of us, especially those who have been the beneficiaries of such dramatic improvements in domestic laws and policies in recent years, to join together to stand for all LGBTI persons everywhere. To quote President Obama, when all people "...are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free."