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U.S. diplomat speaks at Costa Rica same-sex marriage conference

Eric Catalfamo of the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica, left, speaks at the opening of the Civil Marriage Equality Congress in San José, Costa Rica, on Nov. 9, 2017. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — An official with the U.S. Embassy in Costa Rica on Thursday stressed the U.S. continues to support the rights of LGBT and intersex people around the world.

“Our government has a strong commitment to support the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people,” said Eric Catalfamo at the opening of the Civil Marriage Equality Congress that is taking place at the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights in the Costa Rican capital of San José.

Catalfamo, who spoke on behalf of U.S. Ambassador to Costa Rica Sharon Day, said the embassy continues to work with Costa Rican LGBT rights advocates.

He noted embassy personnel took part in San José’s 2016 Pride march, which included a tribute to the 49 people who were killed inside the Pulse nightclub on June 12, 2016. Catalfamo also pointed out the embassy flies the rainbow flag throughout the month of June.

Catalfamo in his speech noted he himself is gay and cited Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s Pride month statement in which he said, among other things, the State Department and the U.S. “will continue to support the human rights of LGBTI persons together with like-minded governments, businesses and civil society organizations globally.”

“The dignity and equality of everyone is engrained into the constitutional, fundamental principles of the U.S.,” said Catalfamo, referring to the statement.

Catalfamo also highlighted efforts to secure marriage rights for same-sex couples in the U.S. that culminated with the 2015 Obergefell decision that allowed gays and lesbians to tie the knot throughout the country.

Conference is ‘very important’

Hundreds of activists from across the Western Hemisphere are expected to attend the three-day conference, which is the first of its kind in Latin America that focuses exclusively on marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Herman Duarte of Fundación Igualitos, a Costa Rica-based group that advocates for marriage rights for same-sex couples, organized the conference alongside HduarteLex, his law firm that fights discrimination based on sexual orientation. Two Costa Rican advocacy groups — Acceder and Asociación Costarricense de Derecho International — are also co-hosting the gathering that Catalfamo described as “very important.”

Catalfamo spoke alongside Swiss Ambassador to Costa Rica Mirko Giulietti, Dutch Ambassador to Costa Rica Peter Hof, Alice Shackelford of the U.N. and Bertrand-Xavier Asselin of the Canadian Embassy in Costa Rica. Duarte and Evan Wolfson, founder of Freedom to Marry, also took part in the conference’s opening panel.

State Department seeks to highlight pro-LGBTI efforts

The conference is taking place a year after President Trump’s election.

The State Department and its personnel continue to work with LGBT and intersex rights advocates around the world, even though many of them have become increasingly critical of U.S. foreign policy under the Trump administration.

Tillerson in August told U.S. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) — who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — the special U.S. envoy for the rights of LGBT and intersex people will remain in place under a State Department overhaul. Deputy Assistant Secretary of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Randy Berry — a career Foreign Service officer who former Secretary of State John Kerry named to the position in 2015 — remains at the State Department.

The State Department in recent weeks has publicly condemned the ongoing anti-LGBT crackdowns in Egypt and Azerbaijan.

Reports indicate Tillerson over the summer raised the ongoing crackdown against LGBT Chechens in a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert have both publicly condemned the crackdown, but Tillerson and Trump has yet to do so.

The U.S. last month led efforts to block the removal of a reference to discrimination that includes sexual orientation from an Olympics resolution at the U.N. The U.S. on Sept. 29 voted against a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution that includes a provision condemning the death penalty for those found guilty of committing consensual same-sex sexual acts.

An American official told the Washington Blade after the vote the U.S. “did support language in the resolution against the discriminatory use of the death penalty based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, while also requesting changes to make the larger resolution in accordance with U.S. law” that says the death penalty is legal. The official noted the resolution’s main sponsors “did not take those edits onboard, so we were unable to support the larger resolution, which called for a global moratorium on the death penalty, in spite of the fact that it included parts that we support.”

The State Department on Oct. 26 issued a statement that acknowledged Intersex Awareness Day. Nauert a week earlier promoted Spirit Day, which is a campaign that seeks to combat bullying.