International Human Rights Defense Act
114th Congress: H.R. 590; S. 302
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.
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, and 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.
Although then-Secretary of State John Kerry appointed the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons in 2015 that appointment has not been codified into law and could be reversed by any future administration (currently, the position is vacant). The International Human Rights Defense Act would 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. In February 2018 there were reports that State Department officials have been ordered to pare back passage of the upcoming Country Reports on Human Rights Practices that deal with LGBTQ discrimination and women’s rights, highlighting the importance of codifying this section of the report.
What is the Current the Status of the Bill?
The International Human Rights Defense Act has not yet been reintroduced in the 115th Congress.
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. The bill did not receive a vote.
Last Updated: March 29, 2018