I was honored to attend an event at the U.S. State Department yesterday to mark LGBT Pride Month. The event was hosted by Gays & Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (GLIFAA), a 1,000-strong organization representing LGBT employees in State and the US Agency for International Development. While many of GLIFAA’s members are stationed around the globe, the State Department’s main auditorium was packed with close to one thousand foreign affairs workers, administration official and LGBT activists.
Secretary Hillary Clinton and US AID Administrator Rajiv Shah addressed the gathering. A panel consisting of Dan Baer, Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality; and Cary Johnson, director of the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission, discussed future steps in integrating LGBT human rights into U.S. foreign policy. NCTE is a member of the Council for Global Equality and has been honored to work with and through the Council dialogue with the State Department on steps to advance LGBT equality.
Secretary Clinton when she proudly spoke of the Department’s new policy making it far easier for transgender people to obtain an accurate and appropriate passport. The Secretary also noted that, consistent with a change adopted by the Office of Personnel Management in December, the State Department’s Equal Employment Opportunity policy now explicitly prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. I was sitting perhaps thirty feet from Secretary Clinton when she spoke, and hearing her mention these new policies brought home for me again: yes, we really did it.
These are not the only steps the State Department has taken to advance transgender equality in the last year. For the first time, the Department’s annual Human Rights Reports have specifically addressed evidence of persecution based on gender identity in countries around the world. The Department is working to support LGBT human rights advocates in Africa, Asia and the Middle East by consulting with them on local conditions and providing emergency aid to those whose advocacy has put them in danger. The Department is working to protect LGBT refugees around the world, and to support the national and regional organizations that work on their behalf. The Department has made the United States an increasingly vocal defender of LGBT human rights around the world, such as when it condemned in May the conviction of Tiwonge Chimbalanga and Steven Monjeza in Malawi, helping ultimately to secure a pardon in that case. And the State Department has been a leader within the federal government in providing equal benefits to LGBT employees and their partners at every level.
In short, the State Department has shown a true commitment to equality for all LGBT people in every aspect of its work. We look forward to working with Department, along with the rest of the Council for Global Equality, to ensure that this work continues, and that the Department continues to set an example for the rest of the federal government.