Remarks at a Virtual Panel Discussion on U.S. Engagement on LGBTI Issues

Stephen Biegun, Deputy Secretary of State

Greetings to everyone assembled here today.  Let me begin by thanking my longtime friend, Damon Wilson, for the warm introduction and to extend my sincere appreciation to the Atlantic Council and glifaa for organizing this event and for bringing us together to celebrate Pride in June.  For nearly 30 years, the Employee Affinity group, glifaa, has been instrumental in advancing LGBTI rights for Department of State employees, other foreign affairs agencies, and at posts around the world.

At the heart of your work is my personal priority: advancing American values of equal treatment of every person with respect, dignity, and equality under the law. It’s because of this, that I welcome the opportunity to join you all today on the important diplomacy we are engaged in to advance human rights for LGBTI persons.

Protecting and defending human rights is at the heart of American foreign policy.  In this regard, the United States proudly advances efforts around the globe to protect LGBTI populations from violence, criminalization, discrimination, and stigma.  As Secretary Pompeo has said, LGBTI persons must be free to enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In support of the LGBTI community, President Trump has pledged to help end criminalization around the world.  The Department has established an LGBTI Decriminalization Working Group led by our human rights bureau (DRL) to formulate a decriminalization strategy.  The strategy supports local efforts to repeal legal provisions that criminalize LGBTI status and/or conduct in the roughly 70 countries that currently maintain such laws.  This strategy is a key element in our broader LGBTI human rights policy.

In March, we issued our annual human rights reports, which spotlighted the stark reality that human rights abuse against LGBTI persons remains commonplace in many countries around the world.  But we are holding governments accountable.  While there remains much work to be done, we are seeing some signs of progress including in countries like Botswana, Angola, and Gabon.

We also recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has had outsized impact on marginalized communities around the world, and we are working to make current LGBTI programs flexible and responsive to the impact the pandemic is having on individuals in this community.  Our programs are providing resources for emergency assistance, capacity building, security trainings, and legal assistance through the Global Equality Fund.

And it’s not just abroad where we focus on these issues.  We need to lead by example.  At the State Department, our management team, led by Under Secretary for Management Brian Bulatao and our Director General Carol Perez, is working hard to recruit, retain, and promote a diverse workforce, and to build a culture of inclusion.  We continue to identify ways our workplace can be more inclusive for our LGBTI employees as well as for all of our employees.  One area of focus is affording our LGBTI personnel and their families, full diplomatic privileges and immunities.  Similarly, we are exploring policies that will better address the needs of our transgender colleagues.

The world has come a long way in furthering the human rights of the LGBTI community, but there is still much work to be done.  Thank you for the leadership shown by the Atlantic Council and glifaa in hosting this event.  I look forward to continuing our cooperation together to promote a world where every person is treated equally with respect, dignity, and equality under the law.

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