President Obama Is Set to Announce a Historic First For LGBT Rights

President Obama Is Set to Announce a Historic First For LGBT Rights
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

The global LGBT community officially has the U.S. on its side.

The Boston Globe reports that the U.S. State Department is creating a new senior-level special envoy with the express mission of fighting for the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people across the globe. The new position will be created and filled by the end of February, and will have high-level authority to respond to anti-LGBT crackdowns across the globe.

What the job entails: According to Mother Jones, current Secretary of State John Kerry intends the position to help fight anti-gay prejudice in countries like Gambia, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Uganda as well as others of the 76 nations that currently criminalize homosexuality. The envoy will help coordinate the federal government's responses to human rights abuses committed against LGBT people overseas, as well as serve as its representative in diplomatic conversations concerning LGBT rights.

A department official told Mother Jones that Kerry "insisted the envoy be a career Foreign Service officer from inside the institution, someone who is part of the fabric of the institution, a diplomat by training." (The officer will also be openly gay, which kind of comes with the territory.) The appointment will also bypass Republican resistance to a piece of legislation introduced by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) intended to create a similar position.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission's Jessica Stern told BuzzFeed News that the position was needed "to ensure that the policy is implemented and that the policy is coordinated and that there is someone with authority to speak with their counterparts in other governments."

LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign released a statement applauding the decision.

"For the first time in our nation's history, LGBT people around the world will have a dedicated, full-time senior advocate in the U.S. State Department," said the group's president Chad Griffin. "President Obama and Secretary Kerry have shown tremendous leadership in championing the rights of LGBT people abroad, and we look forward to working closely with whomever is selected for this new role, as we continue to push back against laws and attitudes that lead to human rights violations against LGBT people."

Why you should care: With the creation of a senior position dedicated entirely to protecting LGBT people from violence and abuse, the State Department is sending a clear message: LGBT rights are human rights.

The new envoy will also end the United State's legacy of silence on LGBT issues, such as in Nigeria, where the State Department raised few objections to an anti-gay law that criminalized homosexual conduct and membership in LGBT advocacy organizations. This diplomatic role will be critical, because international disinterest enables homophobia and leads to a more dangerous world for LGBT people everywhere. Hopefully, the State Department's new advocate will help hold perpetrators of human rights abuses accountable for their actions. That's good news for everyone.

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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