With much of the recent debate on LGBT rights (or the lack thereof) focused on the Russian anti-gay laws and how they will impact the Winter Olympics, scheduled to begin Feb. 7, 2014, in Sochi, it was encouraging to see the UN General Assembly include a positive focus on LGBT rights. Also it is important to note that 85 nations have backed a UN General Assembly declaration in support of LGBT rights.
As a gay American I am proud of my country and the progress we have made in providing civil and human rights to LGBT Americans. Although we are still far from achieving our goals (in most states members of the LGBT community can still be fired from a job for no reason other than their sexual orientation or gender identity, and same-sex marriage is still not legally recognized in most states), we are moving forward. We have a president who understands that in order to "form a more perfect union," we must include all Americans.
It is important that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), under the leadership of Administrator Rajiv Shah, continues to take a lead in pursuing global initiatives promoting the rights of LGBT individuals. USAID was a co-host and one of the organizations promoting the convening of an important meeting of global LGBT public and private donors held at the Ford Foundation during the UN General Assembly meeting the morning of Sept. 24, 2013. The meeting was co-hosted by the Swedish International Development Corporation Agency (SIDA) and the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice.
In addition to those from the United States, there were senior officials from the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Austria attending the meeting, along with representatives of the World Bank, the U.S. State Department, and the UN. In addition, attendees included representatives from business such as GoogleX and foundations such as Arcus, Open Societies and the Victory Institute.
This is another step forward for USAID and a continuation of the work they spoke of last December at the celebration of their agency's accomplishments and the announcement of their LGBT Global Development Partnership. At that time it was made clear that this was only a beginning. Since that time USAID's partnership with Astraea and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund resulted in the initiative's first two trainings on an international level, which took place in the Colombian cities of Cartagena and Bogotá.
As reported in the Washington Blade by Michael Lavers, at a separate meeting:
Secretary of State John Kerry and representatives from 10 countries issued a declaration that calls for an end to anti-LGBT violence and discrimination.
Members of the LGBT Core Group at U.N. that includes the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton and ministers from Argentina, Brazil, Croatia, El Salvador, France, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Norway declared their "strong and determined commitment to eliminating violence and discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity."
"We reaffirm our conviction that human rights are the birthright of every human being," the statement reads. "Those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) must enjoy the same human rights as everyone else."
Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Affairs Dean Pittman told the Blade during an interview from New York on Friday the meeting and the declaration underscores the U.N. and the U.S. are committed to "pursuing and advancing LGBT rights around the world."
"Everybody's reinforced the idea that everyone deserves human rights," Pittman said.
The statement by nations of the UN and the meeting of funders in conjunction with the UN General Assembly are huge steps for the LGBT community. They represent another big step forward for the global community and a promise kept by the United States and USAID at their celebration last December. Dr. Claire Lucas, Senior Advisor for Public-Private Partnerships at USAID who worked on and attended the meeting in New York, said:
I am excited that USAID is taking a leading role in convening partners to solve this very important development problem. Individually, and even more so collectively, strategic investments in global LGBT equality can make a very positive impact on the lives of people around the world.
While there will be many bumps in the road as we work to gain civil and human rights for the LGBT community around the world, it is heartening to know that progress is being made. Many people have fought for these rights, and many have died in the fight. And unfortunately we cannot say unequivocally that more won't die before the fight is won. But one day, hopefully in our lifetime, we will be able to say that all God's children are recognized and respected for who they are and have equal rights as human beings.