FACT SHEET: Promoting and Protecting the Human Rights of LGBT Persons: A United States Government Priority

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

On May 17, the international community marks International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT).  This day, and every day, the United States is taking steps to promote respect for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons both at home and around the world.   Among the areas in which the U.S. Government has made significant progress are the following:

Making the Advancement of LGBT Rights A Foreign Policy Priority:

  • On December 6, 2011, President Obama released the Presidential Memorandum on International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of LGBT Persons, which directs departments and agencies to combat criminalization of LGBT status or conduct abroad; protect vulnerable LGBT refugees or asylum seekers; enhance assistance to protect human rights and advance nondiscrimination for LGBT persons; and help ensure swift and meaningful responses to human rights abuses of LGBT persons abroad.
  • On the same day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a landmark speech in Geneva, stating that “The Obama Administration defends the rights of LGBT people as part of our comprehensive human rights policy and as a foreign policy priority,”  and underscoring that LGBT rights are human rights, and human rights are LGBT rights. 
  • During the course of this Administration, we have launched two global funding partnerships – the Global Equality Fund and the LGBT Global Development Partnership – which have provided millions of dollars in assistance, including emergency assistance, to LGBT civil society activists and organizations. 
  • Our diplomats have opened U.S. embassies and consulates to LGBT communities around the world, marched in Pride parades, and raised the human rights of LGBT persons in countless bilateral and multilateral meetings.  In forums ranging from the U.N. General Assembly to The Human Rights Campaign to the Tonight Show, President Obama and senior administration officials have spoken publicly, engaged privately, and made clear our conviction that all persons deserve to live lives free from violence and discrimination. 

Changes to Department and Agency Staffing, Policies, and Practices

  • The State Department revised its Foreign Affairs Manual to allow same-sex couples to obtain passports under the names recognized by their state through their marriages or civil unions and in 2010, the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs announced new procedures for changing the sex listed on a transgender American’s passport, streamlining the process and simplifying requirements to ensure greater dignity and privacy for the applicant.
  • We have steadily expanded coverage of the conditions for LGBT persons in every country in the world in the State Department’s annual Human Rights Reports.  The State Department continues to provide information on discriminatory laws and societal practices for U.S. citizen travelers through the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Country Specific Information (CSI).
  • A number of Departments and Agencies, including State, USAID, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and the Peace Corps are providing new training for staff and implementing partners to better understand the issues of gender identity and sexual orientation and agency roles in advancing the human rights of LGBT persons. 
  • In June 2014 USAID launched its LGBT Vision for Action: Promoting and Supporting the Inclusion of LGBT Individuals that demonstrates the Agency’s commitment to LGBT inclusion.  
  • In February 2015, Secretary of State John Kerry announced the appointment of Randy Berry as the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.  Special Envoy Berry joins USAID Senior Coordinator Todd Larson in leading the U.S. Government’s efforts to advance the human rights of LGBT persons.  Six openly gay U.S. Ambassadors are serving at Embassies around the world.  And, this year, the Peace Corps also created a position devoted to training staff to support LGBT Peace Corps Volunteers. 

Work in the Multilateral Arena

  • In 2010, the United States joined the LGBT Core Group at the UN in New York for the first time.  That year, on Human Rights Day, Ambassador Susan Rice spoke alongside the UN Secretary General at a panel discussion on the Human Rights of LGBT individuals – marking the first time the United States had co-sponsored such an event. 
  • In December 2010, the United States led efforts at the UN General Assembly to reinsert language on sexual orientation into a resolution on extrajudicial, summary, and arbitrary executions, after the language’s removal in committee.  The amendment was approved by a 93-55 margin.  In 2012, that resolution included language on gender identity for the first time.
  • At the UN Human Right’s Council’s June 2011 session, the United States, South Africa, and Latin American and EU countries led efforts to pass the first UN resolution on the human rights of LGBT persons.  The resolution also called on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to produce the first global report, published in November 2011, on discrimination and violence toward persons based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.  In September 2014 the United States co-sponsored the second U.N. Human Rights Council resolution on the human rights of LGBT persons. 
  • With the support of the United States, the World Health Organization has begun discussions on the negative repercussions of stigma, discrimination, and other barriers to care for LGBT persons in the health system as a whole.  In 2013 the Pan-American Health Organization passed a ground-breaking resolution on LGBT health, which emphasized that equal access to care is a health issue and called on countries to collect data on access to health care and health facilities for their LGBT population. 
  • At the 2013 and 2014 high-level meetings of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the United States co-sponsored ministerial level events on the human rights of LGBT people.  In 2014, USAID co-hosted an UNGA event on LGBT Inclusion, Extreme Poverty, and Religion.  In collaboration with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the Arcus Foundation, the event featured a conversation with religious leaders on the importance of religion as a positive force to advance the human rights and livelihoods LGBT persons around the world.
  • In March 2015, the United States worked with partners to defeat a proposal in the 5th Committee of the UNGA that would have rescinded a UN Secretary General administrative bulletin allowing the same-sex spouses of all UN staff, regardless of their nationality, to receive spousal benefits.
  • The Doha Declaration, a consensus document adopted by Member States in April 2015 during the Thirteenth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, includes groundbreaking language that the United States introduced on the need to provide “specialized training to criminal justice professionals to enhance capacities for recognizing, understanding, suppressing and investigating hate crimes motivated by discrimination of any kind, to help engage effectively with victim communities and to build public confidence and cooperation with criminal justice agencies.”
  • The Treasury Department encourages the multilateral development banks (MDBs) to strengthen attention to LGBT issues in their human resources policies, and to protect the human rights of LGBT persons and advance social inclusion and non-discrimination through MDBs’ projects, including, for example, studies to measure the economic cost of discrimination against LGBT persons, and steps to ensure that LGBT persons can access projects’ benefits without being exposed to harm.

Supporting LGBT Activists and Individuals around the world

  • Since its inception in 2011, the State Department’s Global Equality Fund, a partnership of 11 governments as well as a number of corporations and private foundations, has allocated more than $19 million to frontline advocates in 50 countries. 
  • In fiscal year 2014, USAID invested approximately $3.3 million in stand-alone programs specifically designed to address the needs of the LGBT community as well as an additional $113 million in programs related to health and human rights that were particularly relevant to members of the LGBT community.  For example, the Agency’s LGBT Global Development Partnership operates in 15 countries and consists of 28 resource partners including multinational corporations, foundations, NGOs and a university.  One of the Partnership’s projects, with the Williams Institute at UCLA, resulted in a report on the economic costs of discrimination: The Relationship Between LGBTI Economic Inclusion and Economic Development: An Analysis of Emerging Economies.
  • PEPFAR and USAID have launched a $7 million public-private partnership with the Elton John Foundation.  The project, called health4men, focuses on strengthening community capacity and expanding access to non-discriminatory HIV services for men who have sex with men and transgender persons in South Africa.
  • In July 2014 at the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, USAID announced Linkages Across the Continuum of HIV Services for Key Populations Affected by HIV (LINKAGES), a $73 million award over 5 years. It is PEPFAR and USAID’s first global project dedicated to 15 key populations, which includes gay men, other men who have sex with men, and transgender persons as specific populations to reach with HIV services.
  • The State Department and the Department of Justice provide training on LGBT issues to law enforcement officials and NGOs.  For example, in 2014, the State Department sponsored counter hate crimes training for law enforcement officials from Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, and Mexico.  In addition, State supports a Violent Crimes Task Force in Honduras that investigates and supports the prosecution of LGBT-related homicide cases. 
  • In late February 2015, USAID’s Being LGBT in Asia convened a landmark regional dialogue in Bangkok that was attended by 200+ delegates from 30+ Asia-Pacific countries and supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Embassy of Sweden in Bangkok.

Coming Together, Taking Action, and Speaking Out

  • U.S. diplomats and development professionals work with host countries around the world to address discriminatory laws and practices and to encourage more inclusive policies.  We continue to work in partnership with like-minded governments, civil society organizations, religious leaders, and the private sector.
  • The U.S. Government has pushed back publicly and privately against discriminatory legislation, including in Uganda and The Gambia.  And senior U.S. officials continue to speak in support of LGBT persons around the world, as President Obama has done in trips to Russia, Senegal and, most recently, Jamaica.  
  • In June 2014 the White House hosted the first-ever Global LGBT Human Rights Forum, which brought together the faith community, private sector, philanthropy, HIV and other health advocates, LGBT activists from around the world, and the broader human rights community to discuss how to work together with the U.S. government and others to promote respect for the human rights of LGBT individuals around the world.  National Security Advisory Susan Rice delivered keynote remarks
  • In November 2014, the State Department and USAID hosted the third Annual Conference to Advance the Human Rights of and Promote Inclusive Development for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Persons (LGBTI).  The conference was the largest such gathering to date, bringing together senior leaders from government, civil society and the private sector to discuss and strategize on how to most effectively protect the human rights of LGBT persons and promote their inclusion in development programs.
  • U.S. Embassies, Consulates, USAID Missions, and Department of Defense installations around the world host and participate in Pride events.  In 2014, for the first time, the Department of Defense’s Tri-Service Color Guard participated in the Washington, D.C. Capital Pride Parade.