New Year, New Congress: What to Watch on LGBT Human Rights

As Congress enters its 114th session, human rights must take the spotlight. This blog series will address what we at Human Rights First believe should take top priority in Washington in the next year.

Despite strides within the United States toward greater equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, governments around the world continue to mistreat their LGBT citizens, whether subjecting them to criminalization, persecution and violence or fostering climates permissive of violations of human rights against this already marginalized community. The human rights of LGBT people have been a top concern of the Obama Administration so far, but Congress must continue to fight this battle as well.

Here are our top three priorities for the 114th Congress to promote the protection of LGBT people globally:

1. Pass the International Human Rights Defense Act

Last year a bipartisan group in Congress cosponsored the International Human Rights Defense Act, which would create a special envoy in the State Department for the human rights of LGBT people. A special envoy would coordinate continued U.S. leadership on the global stage, upholding the focus within the U.S. government on issues affecting LGBT people. The bill, introduced in the U.S. Senate by Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, is expected to be reintroduced this Congress.

2. Pass the Global Respect Act

The Global Respect Act, introduced last year by Representative David Cicilline (D-RI) would ban foreigners who have committed gross violations of basic human rights against LGBT individuals from entering the United States and direct the State Department to report these violations in its annual Human Rights Report. Every year, thousands of LGBT individuals around the world are targeted for harassment, attack, arrest, and murder on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Global Respect Act would ensure that violators of the human rights of LGBT individuals are no longer afforded impunity for their crimes. We expect the bill to be reintroduced this Congress.

3. Support Diplomatic Action to Respond to Discriminatory International Laws

Last year, Uganda’s Constitutional Court struck down the Anti-Homosexuality Law just days before President Museveni traveled to Washington, D.C., for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit. The ruling striking down Uganda’s draconian anti-gay law followed the news that the United States, the World Bank, and several other Western countries would enact sanctions on Uganda. While the ruling was based on process, activists there say the pressure played a key role in the court decision and its timing. Congress should support and promote efforts to make such reviews automatic when new laws criminalize sexual identity, such as in Nigeria, Chad and Brunei.

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Published on January 6, 2015

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