As word has spread that Brunei plans to implement a new penal code that imposes the death penalty for same-sex relations, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., have reintroduced legislation in the U.S. Congress to promote and protect the human rights of LGBTQ people around the world.

With 19 co-sponsors in the Senate and more than 80 co-sponsors in the House as of April 1, the International Human Rights Defense Act (H.R.1857/S.861) would codify the position of Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons at the U.S. State Department and enshrine U.S. policies into law to help protect the human rights of LGBTQ people around the globe.

“To promote our fundamental values of equality, equity, and diversity, we cannot go half way at home and we certainly cannot halt the extension of these values at our border,” said Lowenthal, in introducing the bill. “Our nation has what I see as a major role in defending the innate rights of all human beings across the globe -- including the LGBT community -- to live, love and prosper.”

These champions of LGBTQ equality have introduced the International Human Rights Defense Act in each of the last three congresses, but the bill has yet to pass. Nonetheless, former Secretary of State John Kerry took initiative under President Obama to appoint career diplomat Randy Berry as the nation’s first-ever LGBTI Special Envoy in February 2015, a position Berry filled with great success until the end of that administration.

“With the awful news recently from Brunei and the silence once again from this White House, we are once again grateful that human rights champions in Congress are stepping up to demonstrate that our nation should be better than this,” said HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy. “With so many countries trying to punish LGBTQ people just for being who they are, it is crucial that we step up, not back, in defending their human rights and dignity.”

The last few years have seen an unfortunate spike in attacks on LGBTQ people in places like Brunei, Chechnya, Egypt, Indonesia and elsewhere around the world. It is essential that the U.S. take a leading role in combating human rights abuses against LGBTQ people around the globe, but the Trump-Pence White House has remained shamefully silent.  The failure of both Donald Trump and Mike Pence to condemn the atrocities publicly is deafening. Further, despite promises to appoint an LGBTI Special Envoy, neither Secretary of State Mike Pompeo nor his predecessor have done so.

In addition to creating the special envoy position, the International Human Rights Defense Act would require that the State Department:

  • Prevent and respond to discrimination and violence against the LGBTQ community;
  • Devise a global strategy to address discrimination against the LGBTQ community;
  • Coordinate with local advocacy groups, governments, multilateral organizations and the private sector to promote international LGBTQ human rights; and
  • Continue to include a section on LGBTQ international human rights in the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

HRC applauds Sen. Markey and Rep. Lowenthal for their leadership and calls on members of Congress to urge the Trump-Pence Administration to take action to protect the human rights of all people -- no matter who they are or who they love.

To learn more about HRC’s international work, check out hrc.org/global.


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