International Human Rights Defense Act

Filed under: International

The Problem

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people around the world continue to face harassment, violence, and bigotry. Seventy-two countries criminalize same-sex sexual activity. That means that more than one third of United Nations Member States criminalize consenting, adult, same-sex sexual relations. In up to ten countries, same-sex sexual relations may be punishable by death, and so-called anti-LGBTQ “propaganda” laws inhibit LGBTQ advocacy in at least three countries.

What is more, the U.S. Department of State’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices have documented hostility toward LGBTQ citizens in every region of the world. These violations include murder, rape, torture, death threats, extortion, imprisonment, loss of employment and access to health care, as well as restrictions on freedoms of assembly, press, and speech.

What is the International Human Rights Defense Act?

The International Human Rights Defense Act would build a framework into U.S. diplomacy to protect LGBTQ rights worldwide. The bill would make preventing and responding to discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ community a foreign policy priority and permanently create a Special Envoy within the State Department who would serve as principle advisor to the Secretary of State on LGBTQ issues. The Special Envoy would, among other duties, coordinate LGBTQ policies for all bureaus and offices of the State Department and in the international programs of other federal agencies; represent the United States in diplomatic matters relevant to the human rights of LGBTQ people; and work to ensure that the needs of LGBTQ people seeking resettlement and protection are incorporated into federal government policy. 

In addition, the Special Envoy would be responsible for developing and helping implement a U.S. global strategy to prevent and respond to discrimination and violence against LGBTQ people. The Special Envoy would be tasked with monitoring and assessing the impact of government programs and policies in advancing LGBTQ rights abroad. 

After significant advocacy by the Human Rights Campaign and coalition partners, in February 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry used his existing authority to appoint the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTQ Persons. This appointment is a significant step in the fight for LGBTQ equality around the world. The International Human Rights Defense Act would build on Secretary Kerry’s appointment and make the position permanent in law, which would prevent any current or future Administration from being able to eliminate it.

Finally, the bill would require the State Department to include LGBTQ human rights as a required section in the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, as well as develop a global strategy to prevent and respond to discrimination against the LGBTQ community internationally.  

What was the Status of the Bill in the 114th Congress?

The International Human Rights Defense Act was introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) on January 28, 2015, and in the Senate by Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) on January 29, 2015, but was not voted on in the 114th Congress.

What is the Current Status of the Bill?

The International Human Rights Defense Act has not yet been reintroduced in the 115th Congress.


For more information, please contact Read about other Federal Legislation pertinent to the LGBTQ community here.

Last Updated: April 20, 2017