President Biden said in a memorandum Thursday that his administration will “advance the human rights” of LGBTQ individuals around the world by building on principles established in 2011 under the Obama administration.
The White House released the memorandum shortly after Biden said in a speech at the State Department that he wants his agencies to “reinvigorate our leadership on the LGBTQI issues and do it internationally.”
The memorandum says, “brave lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+) activists” around the world “are fighting for equal protection under the law, freedom from violence, and recognition of their fundamental human rights.”
“The United States belongs at the forefront of this struggle – speaking out and standing strong for our most dearly held values,” the memorandum says. “It shall be the policy of the United States to pursue an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex characteristics, and to lead by the power of our example in the cause of advancing the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world.”
The memorandum impacts such agencies as the Departments of State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security.
Some policies advanced in the memo likely would receive bipartisan support. Others, though, would not. The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT advocacy group, applauded the memo and noted that same-sex marriage – an issue that divides many liberals and conservatives -- is still illegal in most of the world. Biden was the first president or vice president in the nation’s history to publicly support same-sex marriage.
The memorandum orders all agencies to strive toward reaching six goals. They are:
- Combatting the “criminalization of LGBTQI+ status or conduct abroad.”
“Agencies engaged abroad are directed to strengthen existing efforts to combat the criminalization by foreign governments of LGBTQI+ status or conduct and expand efforts to combat discrimination, homophobia, transphobia, and intolerance on the basis of LGBTQI+ status or conduct,” the memorandum says.
- Protecting ‘vulnerable LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers.”
The administration, the memorandum says, “shall enhance their ongoing efforts to ensure that LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers have equal access to protection and assistance, particularly in countries of first asylum.”
- Provide “foreign assistance to protect human rights” and “advance nondiscrimination.”
Agencies shall “expand their ongoing efforts to ensure regular Federal Government engagement with governments, citizens, civil society, and the private sector to promote respect for the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons and combat discrimination,” it says.
- Deliver “swift and meaningful” responses to “human rights abuses of LGBTQI+ persons abroad.”
“When foreign governments move to restrict the rights of LGBTQI+ persons or fail to enforce legal protections in place, thereby contributing to a climate of intolerance, agencies engaged abroad shall consider appropriate responses,” the memorandum says.
- Build coalitions of “like-minded nations” and engage “international organizations in the fight against LGBTQI+ discrimination.”
“Bilateral relationships with allies and partners, as well as multilateral fora and international organizations, are key vehicles to promote respect for and protection of the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons and to bring global attention to these goals,” the memorandum says.
Goals of such coalitions include countering discrimination and broadening the number of countries “willing to support and defend the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”
- Roll back Trump-era policies that are inconsistent with the memorandum.
Within 100 days of the memorandum, agencies must review their policies and “rescind any directives, orders, regulations, policies, or guidance inconsistent with this memorandum, including those issued from January 20, 2017, to January 20, 2021,” the memorandum says.
Photo courtesy: Markus Spiske/Unsplash
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.