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U.S. State Department

U.S. provides support to LGBTQ+ groups in Ukraine, surrounding countries

Special envoy in regular contact with activists, groups



Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights abroad, spoke with the Washington Blade on March 18 about Russia's invasion in Ukraine and its impact on the country's LGBTQ community. (Photo courtesy of OutRight Action International)

WASHINGTON — The special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights abroad on Friday said she and her office continue to provide support to advocacy groups in Ukraine and in countries that border it.

Jessica Stern told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview that she has held “multiple roundtables” with Ukrainian activists and organizations “to make sure that my office and I both have the relationships and then getting information directly from people on the frontlines.” Stern also noted she has also spoken with LGBTQ+ rights organizations in Poland, Hungary and other countries that “would be receiving LGBTQI Ukrainian refugees” and regional and international groups “that are closely monitoring and supporting LGBTQI Ukrainians in this incredibly difficult time.”

“The first and most important thing that the U.S. has been doing has been establishing contact with people who are advocating for and servicing LGBTQI Ukrainians, and then in all instances, trying to find ways to support them,” said Stern. “One of the things that’s been really important has been to identify the sort of patterns of human rights abuses, violations and vulnerability that they’re tracking that we need to be aware of.”

Stern said the State Department has “activated” its grant mechanisms to provide financial support to LGBTQ+ organizations in Ukraine and in surrounding countries.

“One of the things we’ve been focused on has been ensuring that LGBTQI Ukrainian organizations and LGBTQI organizations in the surrounding countries have the financial resources to provide emergency support to this population that finds itself facing double and triple discrimination,” she said.

Stern told the Blade a “top priority” is to ensure that humanitarian assistance to Ukraine “is distributed without discrimination.”

“One of the message that my office has been conveying and with working with others at the State Department to convey is that LGBTQI Ukrainian refugees are at heightened risk and that they should be supported and that anyone providing humanitarian assistance should actually be on the watch for instances of discrimination or violence they may be subjected to.”

Stern said her office has not received “too many stories of (discrimination) incidents, but we have to been able to sound the alarm.”

“The institutions and partners, we work with have been taking that seriously,” she said.

Russian airstrike kills Kharkiv activist

Stern spoke with the Blade less than a month after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.

A Russian airstrike in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city that is less than 30 miles from the Russian border in the eastern part of the country, on March 1 killed Elvira Schemur, a 21-year-old law student who was a volunteer for Kharkiv Pride and Kyiv Pride. A group of “bandits” on the same day broke into the Kyiv offices of Nash Mir, an LGBTQ+ rights group, and attacked four activists who were inside.

“The case of Nash Mir was really horrific and really demonstrated the kind of opportunistic violence that LGBTQI persons, human rights defenders and organizations can be subject to right now by both state and non-state actors,” said Stern.

Stern told the Blade that activists have also said many Transgender and gender non-conforming Ukrainians have decided to remain in the country because they cannot exempt themselves from military conscription.

“What I’ve been told is that many Trans and gender non-conforming Ukrainians are sheltering in place, and even in some cases staying in places where they are at risk of being attacked by missiles and bombs and definitely in harm’s way simply because they’re concerned that they don’t have a way of being exempted from military conscription,” she said.

Stern cited the case of a Trans man who tried to leave Ukraine and “in an effort to prove who he was, who he said he was, he was actually forced to remove his shirt and show his chest” at the border.   

“Unfortunately, that’s not the only humiliating and potentially violent incident that I’m hearing us,” she said.

Stern expressed concern about safety of gay men who are conscripted into the Ukrainian armed forces. Stern also noted “all women are at risk in times of war and conflict.”

“There’s absolutely a concern about the safety and well-being of lesbian and bisexual and Trans and intersex women,” she said.

Challenges for LGBTQ+ Ukrainians ‘will be enormous’

Stern told the Blade the State Department is “working to provide as much support as possible for all Ukrainians that want to leave the country.”

She noted many LGBTQ+ activists in Ukraine with whom she spoke immediately after the invasion began said they did not want to leave. Stern acknowledged some of them have now fled the country.

“The invasion has just been so violent that even the most committed activists that people we both know have had to change their strategy,” said Stern. “So, in every instance where I’m hearing of an individual or a group that is at risk and wants to leave, we’re doing everything we can to help give them the support they need.”

“Most people do not become refugees,” she added. “You know, most people cannot leave … the global community should do everything we possibly can to affirm the human rights and provide support for Ukrainian refugees.”

President Biden shortly after he took office issued a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ rights around the world.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last November pledged his country would continue to fight discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity after he met with Biden at the White House.

Letters that Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality and Ukraine Caucuses sent to Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the eve of the invasion noted Ukraine in recent years “has made great strides towards securing equality for LGBTQ people within its borders and is a regional leader in LGBTQ rights.” These advances include a ban on workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and efforts to protect Pride parades.

Stern reiterated the challenges for LGBTQ+ people inside Ukraine “will be enormous” as the conflict drags on.

“In all war and conflict, anyone who is vulnerable and vulnerable before the conflict remains at heightened risk and even becomes at greater risk,” she said. “Where people have access to weapons and LGBTQI people are unsafe. In a context where the rule of law is weak, LGBTQI people are at risk as the Nash Mir case showed us immediately.”

“I’m very worried that discrimination and violence will rise for LGBTQI people in Ukraine,” added Stern. “I’m extremely concerned that the track record from the Russian government on these issues is a harbinger of danger for LGBTQI Ukrainians in Russian occupied parts of the country.”


U.S. State Department

State Department travel advisory warns of potential anti-LGBTQ+ violence

FBI issued similar warning this week



State Department (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Friday issued a worldwide travel advisory that warns of potential violence against LGBTQ+ people and LGBTQ+-specific events.

“Due to the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations, or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests, the Department of State advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution,” reads the advisory. “The Department of State is aware of the increased potential for foreign terrorist organization-inspired violence against LGBTQI+ persons and events and advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution.”  

The advisory further urges U.S. citizens to:

  • Stay alert in locations frequented by tourists, including Pride celebrations and venues frequented by LGBTQI+ persons.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive information and alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency overseas.
  • Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Homeland Security Investigations earlier this week issued a similar advisory.

The advisory notes June 12 will mark eight years since the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla.

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U.S. State Department

Former State Department spokesperson named UN ambassador’s deputy

Ned Price is gay



Former State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Institute's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield has announced former State Department spokesperson Ned Price will manage her D.C. office.

Thomas-Greenfield in a statement to Politico on Feb. 16 said Price’s “judgment and expertise will be a tremendous asset to me and the entire USUN team.” Price, who is gay, in a post to his personal X account acknowledged his appointment.

“I am grateful to (U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield), (Secretary of State Antony Blinken) and my colleagues across the administration for the opportunity to help promote America’s interests and values in the U.N. and broader multilateral system together with our allies and partners,” wrote Price.

Price on Jan. 20, 2021, became the first openly gay State Department spokesperson. He stepped down in March 2023 in order to become a senior advisor to Blinken.

Price was previously a senior communications official for the National Security Council and worked at the Central Intelligence Agency.

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U.S. State Department

Antony Blinken visits Nigeria

State Department has not said whether LGBTQ+ rights specifically raised



Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Nigerian President Bola Tinubu in Abuja, Nigeria, on Jan. 23, 2024. (Photo courtesy of Blinken's X account)

WASHINGTON — The State Department has not said whether Secretary of State Antony Blinken specifically raised LGBTQ+ rights during his trip to Nigeria last week. 

Blinken was in the country between Jan. 23-24. He also visited Cabo Verde, Cote d’Ivoire and Angola while in Africa.

A State Department spokesperson on Jan. 26 told the Washington Blade that Blinken while in Africa “had private conversations with public sector representatives engaged in the health field and with civil society representatives involved in human rights, democracy, education and food security work.”  

Jan. 24 post on Blinken’s X account includes a picture of him meeting with representatives of Nigerian civil society organizations. The post does not indicate whether any of those with whom Blinken met represent LGBTQ+ advocacy groups and/or identify as LGBTQ+.

“Nigerian civil society organizations are critical to strengthening institutions and protecting human rights,” said Blinken. “I sat down with a few leaders to discuss the U.S.-Nigeria partnership to work on shared challenges and deliver on the fundamental aspirations of our peoples.”

Blinken also visited the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research in Lagos, the country’s largest city.

“The work that the U.S. and Nigeria are doing together goes back to the start of the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the extraordinary PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) program,” said Blinken on a Jan. 24 X post. “I had the opportunity to tour the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research and see firsthand the work they are doing to improve public health.”

Blinken on Jan. 23 met with President Bola Tinubu in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, and later held a joint press conference with Foreign Affairs Minister Yusuf Tuggar.

“As I told the president and the foreign minister, the United States will support Nigeria as it works to bring about a more secure, a more peaceful and a more prosperous future for its people,” said Blinken. 

“Fundamentally, this outcome is an investment in the foundations of an inclusive, democratic society — a focus on equal opportunity for all regardless of ethnicity, religion or any other group distinction,” he added. “That helps build the social cohesion. That also deters banditry, deters terrorism, deters violent extremism.” 

Blinken during the press conference also highlighted PEPFAR and its work in Nigeria.

“Over the last 20 years, we’ve invested $8.3 billion in HIV and tuberculosis prevention, care, and treatment and in strengthening the public health system, reaching millions of Nigerians,” he said. “That effort will continue.”

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that commits the U.S. to the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. 

Vice President Kamala Harris last March spoke about LGBTQ+ rights during a press conference with Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo in Accra, the country’s capital.

Ghana and Nigeria are among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. Homosexuality remains punishable by death in areas of Nigeria that are under Sharia law.

Then-Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan in 2014 signed the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act that, among other things, punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage in his country with up to 14 years in prison and bans membership in an LGBTQ+ advocacy group.

Authorities in Gombe state last October arrested 76 people who were “celebrating homosexual birthdays” and planning to “hold a same-sex marriage.” 

Police in Delta state last August took into custody more than 200 people who were attending a same-sex wedding at a hotel. Authorities later paraded some of those who were arrested in front of journalists. 

LGBTQ elected officials from d.c. and maryland participate in a protest with activists outside the nigerian embassy in northwest washington on sept. 12, 2023. (washington blade video by michael k. lavers)

“In our own programming and diplomatic engagements, we work with international partners in bilateral and multilateral forums to encourage strong and sustained support for democratic governance, respect for the human rights of all, labor rights, media freedom, a strong civil society and government transparency and accountability,” said the State Department spokesperson with whom the Blade spoke on Jan 26.

The spokesperson earlier in the week noted the promotion of “democracy, good governance and respect for human rights of all persons is at the center of our foreign policy, including in our relationships with our African partners.” 

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U.S. State Department

State Department urges Ugandan government to investigate stabbing of prominent activist

Steven Kabuye attacked outside home on Wednesday



Steven Kabuye (Photo via X)

WASHINGTON — A State Department spokesperson on Thursday urged the Ugandan government to investigate the stabbing of prominent activist Steven Kabuye and prosecute those who committed it.

“We call on the government of Uganda to investigate this assault, as it would every other violent assault, and to prosecute those responsible to the full extent of the law,” the spokesperson told the Washington Blade in a statement.

Kabuye is the co-executive director of Coloured Voice Truth to LGBTQ Uganda.

A video he posted to his X account on Wednesday shows him on the ground writhing in pain with a deep laceration on his right forearm and a knife embedded in his stomach.

Coloured Voice Truth to LGBTQ Uganda Advocacy Officer Hans Senfuma on X wrote two “unknown individuals who were on a motorcycle” stabbed Kabuye at around 8 a.m. near his home as he was going to work. Kabuye remains in the hospital, but a source told the Blade the knife used to stab him in the stomach did not damage any organs.

“He’s expected to heal soon,” said the source.

The stabbing took place less than seven months after Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed his country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The State Department a few weeks after the Anti-Homosexuality Act took effect announced visa restrictions against unnamed Ugandan officials. The World Bank Group later announced the suspension of new loans to Uganda.

The Biden-Harris administration has removed Uganda from a program that allows sub-Saharan African countries to trade duty-free with the U.S. and has issued a business advisory for the country over the Anti-Homosexuality Act. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last month announced sanctions against current and former Ugandan officials who committed human rights abuses against LGBTQ+ people and other groups.

Uganda’s Constitutional Court on Dec. 18 heard arguments in a lawsuit that challenges the Anti-Homosexuality Act. 

Republican Michigan Congressman Tim Walberg on Oct. 8 defended the Anti-Homosexuality Act in a speech he gave at Uganda’s National Prayer Breakfast. The Young Turks reported Museveni is among those who attended the event.

Kabuye during an interview with the Associated Press on Thursday said “politicians who are using the LGBTQ+ community as a scapegoat to move people away from what is really happening in the country.” Kabuye further attributed the attack against him to the growing intolerance against LGBTQ+ Ugandans these officials have fueled.

“We urge respect for the human rights of all Ugandans, including LGBTQI+ persons,” the State Department spokesperson told the Blade on Thursday. “We call on the government of Uganda to respect and protect those who advocate for the safety and freedom of all Ugandans.”

It is not immediately clear whether Ugandan police have made any arrests in connection with the stabbing.

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U.S. State Department

Negotiations to release Griner stalled for now diplomat says

“We have made a serious proposal to free American prisoners. We did not see a serious response from the Russian side to our proposal”



Elizabeth Rood, the U.S. chargée d’affaires in Moscow (Photo Credit: Embassy of the United States, Russia)

MOSCOW – In remarks published Monday, Elizabeth Rood, the U.S. chargée d’affaires in Moscow, told Russia’s state-owned RIA news agency that talks to free jailed Americans Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan were continuing through the “designated channel.”

During the long ranging interview covering a variety of subjects, Rood was asked if she intended to visit the imprisoned WNBA star who is serving time in a Mordovian prison.

“Of course, we are going to do this as soon as the Russian authorities give us permission to visit Brittney Griner in the new colony where she was recently transferred,” the American diplomat responded and in answer to a follow-up question regarding Griner’s status Rood answered; “As far as we understood from talking to her, she is healthy and doing as well as can be expected in her difficult circumstances.”

RIA then focused on the negotiations asking for some of the details including the possibility of convicted arms dealer Viktor Bout being included in the “exchange list” in the potential prisoner swap deal between the Russian and American authorities.

“I can say that the United States continues to discuss with the Russian authorities through special channels the issue of the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.  As we have already said, the United States has submitted a serious proposal for consideration. We finalized this proposal and offered alternatives. Unfortunately, the Russian Federation has so far received no serious response to these proposals, ” the U.S. chargée d’affaires answered.

“However, I would like to emphasize that the main concern and the first priority of the US Embassy is to ensure the well-being of the American citizens who are here. And the situation is not limited to the names of those who are mentioned in the media headlines – a number of American citizens are kept in Russian prisons. We are extremely concerned about the condition of each of them, and we continue to follow their affairs very closely and support them in every possible way,” she added.

RIA then asked: “What did you mean by “serious response” from Russia? Moscow has repeatedly stressed that the negotiations are being conducted through professional channels… What does the American side mean by “serious response”?

Rood answered telling RIA; “I mean, we have made a serious proposal that reflects our intention to take action to free American prisoners. We did not see a serious response from the Russian side to our proposal.

By “serious answer” do you mean consent? RIA asked in a follow-up question.

“I mean an answer that would help us come to an agreement,” she answered.

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U.S. State Department

Kimberly Zieselman named advisor to special U.S. envoy for LGBTQ+, intersex rights

Intersex activist describes appointment as ‘milestone’



Kimberly Zieselman (Photo courtesy of Kimberly Zieselman)

WASHINGTON — The State Department has named a prominent intersex activist as an advisor to the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad.

Kimberly Zieselman on Oct. 16 announced on her Twitter page that she will work with Jessica Stern.

Zieselman is the former executive director of interACT: Advocates for IntersexYouth and author of “XOXY: A Memoir.”

“As an intersex woman, it’s not only an incredible honor to serve this administration and work with Special Envoy Stern, but my appointment isalso a milestone for the intersex community which has been historically marginalized, if not entirely erased across the globe,” Zieselman told the Washington Blade this week in a statement.

President Joe Biden in 2021 signed a memo that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy. The State Department earlier this year began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

“The Department of State is committed to promoting and protecting the human rights of all individuals, including intersex persons, who often face discrimination, harmful medical practices, violence, and social stigma solely based on their sex characteristics,” a State Department spokesperson told the Blade in response to Zieselman’s appointment. 

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U.S. State Department

Blinken, Lavrov speak about Brittney Griner

Call took place after public acknowledgment of deal to secure U.S. citizens release



Secretary of State Antony Blinken (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday spoke with his Russian counterpart about efforts to secure the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.

The Associated Press reported Blinken urged Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to accept a deal to obtain the release of Griner and Whelan, an American citizen who is serving a 16-year prison sentence after his conviction for spying. American officials have reportedly expressed a willingness to release Viktor Bout, a Russian arms dealer who is serving a 25-year prison sentence in the U.S., as part of a prisoner swap.

Blinken, according to the AP, described the call with Lavrov as a “frank and direct conversation.”

“I urged Foreign Minister Lavrov to move forward with that proposal,” said Blinken. “I can’t give you an assessment of whether that is any more or less likely.”

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Griner — a Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife, Cherelle Griner, — after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. The State Department has determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.

Brittney Griner’s trial began in Moscow on July 1.

It continues to take place, even though she had pleaded guilty to charges that she smuggled drugs in Russia. Brittney Griner faces up to 10 years in prison if she is convicted.

Friday’s call took place two days after Blinken for the first time publicly acknowledged the U.S. has offered Russia a deal to secure the release of Brittney Griner and Whelan.

“We are determined to bring her home along with Paul (Whelan) and for that matter, any and every American who is being unjustly detained anywhere in the world,” said Blinken on June 15 during a roundtable with LGBTQ+ and intersex journalists in which the Washington Blade participated. “It’s something that I am personally focused on, and I want to leave it at that because it is obviously an ongoing issue. But just know that this is a matter of intense focus for us.”

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U.S. State Department

U.S. demands regular access to Brittney Griner in Russia

Out WNBA star detained in Moscow in February.



MOSCOW — U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan on Tuesday said Russian officials have denied consular visits to detained WNBA star Brittney Griner three times this month.

“For the third time in a month, Russian authorities have denied an embassy visit to detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner,” said Sullivan in a statement the U.S. Embassy in Moscow posted to its Twitter account. “This is unacceptable. We call on @mfa_russia (Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry) to provide timely consular access, in line with Russia’s international and bilateral obligations.”

Griner — a center for the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife — was taken into custody at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February. Russian officials said customs inspectors found hashish oil in her luggage.

The State Department earlier this month determined Russia “wrongfully detained” Griner. 

A Russian court on May 13 extended her detention for another month. The Women’s National Basketball Players Association, a union that represents WNBA players, has endorsed a petition that urges the Biden administration to “prioritize” Griner’s release.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Tuesday told reporters during his daily press briefing that a consular official “was able to speak with” Griner “on the margins of her court proceedings” on May 13.

“That consular official came away with the impression that Brittney Griner is doing as well as might be expected under conditions that can only be described as exceedingly difficult,” said Price.

“But sporadic contact is not satisfactory,” he added. “It also may not be consistent with the Vienna Convention, to which Russia has subscribed. That is why we continue to urge the Russian government to allow consistent, timely consular access to all U.S. citizens detained in Russia, in line with those very legal obligations, and to allow us to provide consular services for U.S. citizens detained in Russia.”

Price on Tuesday also said Secretary of State Antony Blinken “had an opportunity in recent days to speak with” Griner’s wife.

Blinken spoke with her on May 14.

He conveyed once again the priority we attach to seeing the release of all Americans around the world, including Brittney Griner in the case of Russia, Paul Whelan in the case of Russia — those are Americans who we consider to be wrongfully detained,” said Price.

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U.S. State Department

State Department: Russia ‘wrongfully detained’ Brittney Griner

WNBA star to appear in Moscow court on May 19



(Screenshot via Russian television)

WASHINGTON — The State Department has determined Russia “wrongfully detained” WNBA star Brittney Griner earlier this year.

Russian authorities in February took Griner — a center for the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife — into custody at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport. Officials said customs inspectors found hashish oil in her luggage.

Griner is among the WNBA players who play in Russia during the league’s off-season.

“The Department of State has determined that the Russian Federation has wrongfully detained U.S. citizen Brittney Griner,” a State Department spokesperson told the Washington Blade on Tuesday. “The U.S. government will continue to provide appropriate consular support to Ms. Griner.”

The spokesperson said Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens “will lead the interagency team for securing Brittney Griner’s release.”

Russia announced Griner’s detention shortly after it invaded Ukraine.

Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine who had been in a Russian custody since 2019, returned to the U.S. last week after the Kremlin released him in exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian citizen who had been in an American prison on drug trafficking charges. Griner is scheduled to appear in a Moscow court on May 19.

“Brittney’s status change is an important moment in the movement to bring her home safely and swiftly,” said National Black Justice Coalition Deputy Executive Director Victoria Kirby York in a statement. “It means there is now a two pronged approach focused on both legal and political strategies.” 

“It has become clear that Brittney’s legal team has acted in good faith to clear her name through Russia’s legal system, and that the Russian government has been actively trying to leverage Brittney’s detainment for political purposes tied to their war on Ukraine,” added York. “This is unfortunate, especially because Griner’s status as a Black, lesbian, woman leaves her vulnerable to increased discrimination and abuse at the hands of the racist and homophobic Russian government. We urge the U.S. government to do all it can to bring her home before she is no longer able to maintain her safety in a nation at war.”

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U.S. State Department

Report details U.S. efforts to promote LGBTQ+ rights abroad

White House policy memo issued in 2021



Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and other State Department officials help raise the Progress Pride flag over the State Department on June 25, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Thursday released a report on the implementation of President Biden’s memo that committed the U.S. to the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights abroad.

The report notes last June’s appointment of Jessica Stern as the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ rights abroad and the issuance of passports with “X” gender markers that began on April 11.

Stern on Thursday told reporters during a conference call the State Department has created the Global LGBTQI+ Inclusive Democracy and Empowerment Initiative “that seeks to ensure democracies are inclusive of LGBTQI+ persons, representative of their communities and families and responsive to their needs and concerns.” Stern also noted roughly 60 percent of Peace Corp posts have implemented “specific LGBTQI+ equity practices within their operations.”

Stern highlighted the U.S. supported the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in a resolution in support of “democratization and enhancing periodic and genuine elections” the U.N. General Assembly adopted last November. Stern also noted the U.S. Agency for International Development again tracks how its foreign assistance programs promote LGBTQ+ rights.

Chantale Wong, the U.S. director of the Asian Development Bank who is the first openly lesbian American ambassador, on Wednesday told the Washington Blade during an exclusive interview that she expects the U.S. government will endorse a proposed LGBTQ-specific safeguard for the ADB. Stern on Thursday noted the Department of Homeland Security has issued guidance to recognize informal same-sex marriages for the purposes of obtaining refugee or asylee status, even if they are not officially recognized by officials in countries of origin.”

The report also highlights how the Commerce, Defense, Justice, Labor, Treasury and Health and Human Services have implemented the memo that Biden issued in February 2021.

“This memorandum makes clear that promoting and protecting the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is a U.S. foreign policy priority,” said Stern. “The report outlines how U.S. government agencies engaged abroad are working to become LGBTQI+ inclusive. It shows that many individual actions across the U.S. government taken as a whole create institutional change and improves the daily lives of LGBTQI+ persons.”  

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a statement echoed Stern.

“It remains vitally important that we address the violence and discrimination faced by LGBTQI+ persons while acknowledging the effects of the intersections of race and ethnicity, gender, disability, religion and national origin, to name a few,” said Blinken. 

“As the report demonstrates, the U.S. government advances these priorities by supporting efforts to end the criminalization of LGBTQI+ status and conduct, seeking to protect vulnerable LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers, providing foreign assistance to protect the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons and advancing  non-discrimination protections, responding to human rights abuses of LGBTQI+ persons abroad, building coalitions of like-minded nations, and engaging international organizations in the fight against LGBTQI+ discrimination,” added Blinken. “Our collective efforts drive toward the goal of ending violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, and sex characteristics. Equality and equity build stronger societies for all.”

USAID Administrator Samantha Power on Thursday said the memo “was a call to action based on a simple premise: That all human beings should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear, no matter who they are or whom they love.”

“Over the past year, as today’s report demonstrates, USAID has made important progress toward achieving these ambitions through a commitment to LGBTQI+ inclusive development in our policies and programs that reach millions of people around the world,” said Power.

The full report can be read here.

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