WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday noted the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has saved more than 25 million lives since its launch in 2003.
Blinken, who spoke at the Business Council for International Understanding’s World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C., said the more than $100 billion the U.S. has earmarked for PEPFAR over the last two decades has funded 70,000 new community health clinics, 3,000 new laboratories and the hiring of 340,000 health care workers.
“Entire public health systems formed, with over a dozen countries which have either reached their HIV-treatment goals or managed control of the virus altogether,” said Blinken.
Then-President George W. Bush in 2003 signed legislation that created PEPFAR. California Democrat Barbara Lee, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief White House medical advisor who is retiring at the end of this month, are among those who played a key role in PEPFAR’s creation.
“PEPFAR has benefitted from bipartisan support, as we’ve heard, across four presidencies, across ten Congresses,” said Blinken. “It’s resulted in an investment of more than $100 billion to the global HIV/AIDS response. This is the largest commitment by one country ever to address a single disease.”
Lee and Fauci were among those who attended the event alongside U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator John Nkengasong; Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine; Dr. Deborah Birx, the former White House Coronavirus Response Director, and HIV and Hepatitis Policy Institute Executive Director Carl Schmid.
Blinken in his speech noted “the systems put in place by PEPFAR have become an integral part of the health security architecture of countries around the world.”
Blinken also said PEPFAR has bolstered responses to COVID-19, Ebola and the avian flu.
“We are continuing to build on PEPFAR’s many successes to create a stronger global health security architecture to prevent, to detect, to respond to future health emergencies. Doctor Fauci, you once said that PEPFAR ‘shows what the goodwill of a nation can do,’ and you were right,” said Blinken. “PEPFAR also shows us what American diplomacy can do: Bring together governments, bring together the public and private sectors, communities to tackle challenges that none of us can actually effectively deal with alone and that creates and has created a healthier, safer and ultimately more secure world.”
Five-year PEPFAR strategy to target LGBTQ+ people
Blinken acknowledged there is still “very serious work still required for us to end the global HIV health epidemic by 2030,” noting HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately impact LGBTQ+ and intersex people and other marginalized groups.
“Too many countries still have fragile and insufficiently resourced public health systems, which makes it difficult to offer services beyond HIV/AIDS treatments, and that undercuts our capacity to respond to emerging threats,” he said.
Blinken noted the U.S. on Thursday announced a new PEPFAR strategy that will help “fill those gaps” over the next five years. It includes the following:
• Targeted programming to help reduce inequalities among LGBTQ+ and intersex people, women and girls and other marginalized groups
• Partnerships with local organizations to help reach “hard-to-reach” communities.
• Economic development and increased access to financial markets to allow countries to manufacture their own antiretroviral drugs, tests and personal protective gear to give them “the capacity to meet their own challenges so that they’re not dependent on anyone else.”
“This latest PEPFAR strategy will keep making advancements like that possible so that millions more people can live healthy lives and live lives to their full potential,” said Blinken.
State Department spokesperson welcomes Pope Francis’ opposition to criminalization laws
Ned Price is openly gay, said pontiff ‘speaks with authority’
WASHINGTON — State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday said he welcomes Pope Francis’ recent comments against criminalization laws.
“His Holiness using his voice in this way is something that will be noticed by people and governments around the world,” Price told the Washington Blade during his daily press briefing. “He obviously speaks with authority that perhaps no one else can. We welcome those remarks.”
Francis, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Rt. Rev. Ian Greenshields of the Church of Scotland on Sunday after they left South Sudan publicly denounced criminalization laws and said their respective churches should welcome LGBTQ+ and intersex people. Francis during an exclusive interview with the Associated Press on Jan. 24 described criminalization laws as “unjust” and said “being homosexual is not a crime.”
The Vatican’s tone towards LGBTQ+ and intersex issues has softened since Francis assumed the papacy in 2013, but the church continues to consider homosexuality a sin. The Vatican remains opposed to marriage rights for same-sex couples.
Price on Monday referred to President Joe Biden’s memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad as part of his administration’s overall foreign policy.
The openly gay State Department spokesperson in May 2021 told the Blade the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the five priorities for the White House in its efforts to promote LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad. Singapore, Barbados, Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis have legalized homosexuality since that interview.
“We will continue, as an administration, as a government, to doing (sic) what we can, perhaps in a very different way, but practical steps that we can to promote and protect the rights of LGBTQI+ persons around the world,” said Price on Monday, referring to Biden’s foreign policy memorandum.
Rainbow Railroad participates in new US refugee resettlement program
State Department announced Welcome Corps on Thursday
WASHINGTON — A group that works with LGBTQ+ and intersex refugees and asylum seekers will participate in a State Department program that will allow American citizens to help refugees resettle in the U.S.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday announced Welcome Corps, which a senior State Department official noted will allow Americans to “form private sponsor groups to support refugees and help them integrate into American society as thriving members of their local communities.” Another senior State Department official told reporters the program in its first year hopes to “mobilize at least” 10,000 Americans “to step forward as private sponsors and offer a welcoming hand to at least” 5,000 refugees.
Rainbow Railroad is among the organizations with which the State Department has partnered to help implement the program. The Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration is also participating in Welcome Corps.
“We are excited to see the impact of this program, which will empower communities of care — LGBTQI+ Americans supporting LGBTQI+ refugees. This program will help at-risk LGBTQI+ people get to safety across the United States,” said Rainbow Railroad in a press release. “As an organization with extensive experience and expertise in private sponsorship, including in Canada, Rainbow Railroad was proud to be a consultative partner in the development of this new U.S. program, advocating for a model that will support LGBTQI+ persons at risk.”
“We are excited to be recognized as a private sponsorship organization by the U.S. consortium which is going to be operating this private sponsorship program,” added the organization. “This is an important moment for global LGBTQI+ rights and the advancement of refugee support in the United States, and we look forward to the opportunity to get more at-risk LGBTQI+ people to safety through this new program.”
Rainbow Railroad in 2022 helped resettle LGBTQ+ and intersex refugees from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Russia and more than 30 other countries. 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 White House earlier this month announced the creation of a humanitarian parole program for Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans that officials said combines “safe, orderly and lawful pathways to the United States, including authorization to work.”
Cubans, Haitians and Nicaraguans through a U.S. Customs and Border Protection app “can seek advance authorization to travel to the United States and be considered, on a case-by-case basis, for a temporary grant of parole for up to two years, including employment authorization, provided that they: Pass righrous biometric and biographic national security and public safety screening and vetting; have a supporter in the United States who commits to providing financial and other support and complete vaccinations and other public health requirements.” The Biden administration also announced it will expand the use of “expedited removal” of Cubans, Nicaraguans, Haitians and Venezuelans who enter the U.S. from Mexico without legal authorization.
Immigration Equality and the Organization of Refuge, Asylum and Migration are among the myriad organizations that sharply criticized the White House over its expanded use of “expedited removal.”
The Biden administration has sought to end Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the pandemic, but Texas and more than a dozen other states filed a lawsuit. The U.S. Supreme Court last month ruled the Trump-era must remain in place. Oral arguments are expected to take place in the case next month.
State Department reiterates calls for ‘thorough’ investigation into Kenyan activist’s murder
Edwin Chiloba found inside metal box on Jan. 4
WASHINGTON — State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday reiterated calls for Kenyan authorities to thoroughly investigate the brutal murder of Edwin Chiloba, a prominent LGBTQ+ and intersex activist and model.
“We urge and expect the Kenyans to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into his death,” Price, who is openly gay, told the Washington Blade during his daily press briefing. “And of course if there’s anything we can do to assist, we stand ready to do that.”
Authorities in Uasin Gishu County in western Kenya on Jan. 4 found Chiloba’s body inside a metal box that had been left on the side of a road.
The Nairobi Star on Sunday reported Jackton Odhiambo has confessed to killing Chiloba because he cheated on him.
The newspaper notes authorities have arrested three other people who allegedly helped dispose of Chiloba’s body. The Nairobi Star further reported that two of Odhiambo’s friends who reportedly helped him murder Chiloba remain at-large.
“We sent his condolences to his family, to his loved ones but also to the LGBTQI+ community in Kenya during their time of mourning,” said Price on Monday. “There are so many in that community in Kenya who benefitted from his leadership, from his visibility, from his support.”
“Violence against LGBTQI+ persons — or anyone, of course — is unacceptable, but when violence stems from possible bias or stigma, it indirectly harms all members of the targeted community,” he added. “The ultimate act of intolerance has no place in free and open societies.”
Price is among those who has publicly condemned Chiloba’s murder.
Kenya is among the countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized.
State Department spokesperson sharply criticizes new Russia propaganda law
Statute ‘pushes LGBTQI+ persons further to the margins of Russian society’
WASHINGTON — State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Tuesday sharply criticized the anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the day before.
Price, who is openly gay, noted to reporters during a press briefing the law “further criminalizes the sharing of information about LGBTQI+ persons.”
“The law is another serious blow to freedom of expression in Russia, and a continuation of the Kremlin’s broader, long-running crackdown against marginalized persons, dissenting voices, civil society and independent media that it has intensified, as it has failed to achieve its objectives in its unconscionable war against Ukraine,” said Price.
“The law pushes LGBTQI+ persons further to the margins of Russian society, fueling and amplifying the prejudice, discrimination, violence and stigma they face. The legislation is a clear attempt by the Kremlin to distract from its own failures by scapegoating vulnerable communities and creating phantom enemies,” he added. “We stand in solidarity with LGBTQI+ persons in Russia and around the world who seek to exercise the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes that all human beings are free and equal in dignity and rights.”
The law that Putin signed on Monday expands the existing “Protecting Children from Information Advocating a Denial of Traditional Family Values” statute that took effect in Russia in 2013.
The new law will ban so-called LGBTQ+ propaganda and materials that discuss gender reassignment surgery and LGBTQ+ and intersex issues to minors, which it categorizes as the promotion of pedophilia. Russian media reports indicate the new law will apply to films, books, commercials, media outlets and computer games.
Anyone who violates the law could face a fine of up to 10 million rubles ($165,152.80.) Authorities could also force businesses and organizations to temporarily close, and foreigners who violate the law could face arrest, incarceration for up to 15 days, a fine of up to 5,000 rubles and deportation.
Putin signed the law against the backdrop of Russia’s continued war against Ukraine.
U.S. envoy for LGBTQ+, intersex rights cancels Indonesia trip
Prominent Islamic group criticized Jessica Stern’s planned visit
WASHINGTON — The special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad’s trip to Indonesia has been cancelled after the country’s most prominent Islamic group criticized.
Jessica Stern had been scheduled to arrive in Indonesia on Dec. 7.
The Washington Post reported Anwar Abbas, the vice chair of the Indonesian Ulema Council, in a statement on Friday said the group “cannot accept guests whose purpose of coming here is to damage and mess up the noble values of our nation’s religion and culture.”
U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia Sung Kim in a statement announced Stern would no longer travel to the country.
“One of the reasons the United States and Indonesia have such a strong relationship is that we both uphold values such as democracy, human rights, diversity and tolerance. Those values should apply to every member of society, including LGBTQI+ persons,” said Kim. “In every country, dialogue about human rights is crucial. Dialogue, after all, is fundamental to democracy. Advanced democracies oppose hatred, intolerance and violence against any group of people, and encourage dialogue that reflects the broad diversity of their societies.”
“While we look forward to continuing our dialogue with religious leaders, government officials and members of the public on the important topic of ensuring respect for the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons, after discussions with our counterparts in the Indonesian government, we have decided to cancel Special Envoy Stern’s visit to Indonesia,” added Kim. “Knowing that around the world LGBTQI+ persons experience disproportionate levels of violence and discrimination, it is important to continue the dialogue and ensure mutual respect for one another, rather than pretending that the issues do not exist. Countries like Indonesia and the United States can learn from one another about how to counter hatred and ensure more prosperous, inclusive societies for all.”
A State Department spokesperson on Friday told the Washington Blade that “after discussions with counterparts in the Indonesian government and with Indonesian human rights advocates, Special Envoy Jessica Stern and Ambassador Sung Kim decided to cancel the special envoy’s visit to Indonesia planned for Dec. 7-9.”
“We will continue to work with our Indonesian partners to promote democracy, human rights, diversity and tolerance,” said the spokesperson.
“While we are disappointed that Special Envoy Stern will not travel to Indonesia at this time, it is important to continue the dialogue and ensure mutual respect for every member of society, including LGBTQI+ persons,” added the spokesperson. “Indonesia is a valued partner of the United States, and we seek to work together with Indonesia to counter hatred and intolerance and build more prosperous, inclusive societies.”
President Joe Biden in February 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.
Consensual same-sex sexual relations are decriminalized in most of Indonesia, but officials in Aceh province in 2021 caned two men under Shariah law after their neighbors caught them having sex. The Indonesian government in recent years has faced criticism over its LGBTQ and intersex rights record.
Authorities in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, in 2017 arrested 51 people who were attending a “gay party” at a sauna. The closure of an Islamic school for Transgender people in the city of Yogyakarta in 2016 also sparked outrage.
Indonesian lawmakers are currently debating a bill that would criminalize sex outside of marriage.
State Department says U.S. has raised LGBTQ+, intersex rights with Qatar
Secretary of State Antony Blinken to travel to country on Nov. 21
WASHINGTON — A State Department official on Friday said the U.S. has raised LGBTQ+ and intersex rights with the Qatari government ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
The World Cup begins in Qatar on Sunday.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken will travel to the country on Monday in order to open the fifth annual U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue.
State Department Spokesperson Ned Price in a statement he released on Friday said Blinken will meet with Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and other officials. Blinken is also scheduled to attend the U.S. men’s soccer team’s match against Wales that will take place on Monday in Al Rayyan.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Daniel Benaim on Friday during a virtual briefing that previewed Blinken’s trip said he would “not going to get ahead of Sec. Blinken on his specific plans.” Benaim, in response to the Washington Blade’s question about whether Blinken plans to raise LGBTQ+ and intersex rights with Qatari officials, added they are “certainly an issue that we have raised with the Qatari government at depth and will continue to do so.”
Qatar is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death.
Human Rights Watch last month published a report that noted “arbitrary” arrests of LGBTQ+ and intersex people between 2019 and September 2022 and several cases of “severe and repeated beatings” and “sexual harassment in police custody” during the aforementioned period. World Cup Ambassador Khalid Salman earlier this month described homosexuality as “damage in the mind” during an interview with a German television station.
Peter Tatchell, a British activist, on Oct. 25 protested the country’s LGBTQ+ and intersex rights record while standing outside the National Museum of Qatar in Doha, the country’s capital. British comedian Joe Harry Lycett has challenged David Beckham to walk away from a £10 million ($11.84 million) deal to be a World Cup ambassador.
Ten captains of European soccer teams that will compete in the World Cup have said they will wear “one love” armbands to show their support for LGBTQ+ and intersex people. The U.S. men’s soccer team while in Qatar will have a redesigned logo with the Pride flag in its badge.
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.
U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, Liechtenstein sits down with Blade
Scott Miller married to Gill Foundation founder Tim Gill
WASHINGTON — A law that extended marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples in Switzerland took effect on July 1, 2022, three days before the Fourth of July. Scott Miller, the openly gay U.S. ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein, on that day noted the marriage and adoption equality law in a speech that marked the Fourth of July.
“The Swiss constitution states, ‘the Swiss Confederation shall … ensure the greatest possible equality of opportunity among its citizens.’ This is a powerful statement which acknowledges equality as one of the most basic principles of democracy,” said Miller. “Today, this is especially true as we celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage and the right of adoption.”
“Tim (Gill) and I know very acutely what it means when a government, and the rest of the citizens of a country, say you are entitled to the same rights and benefits to live happily in love who you love,” added Miller. “So, I am immensely … immensely proud that we get to celebrate our Independence Day on this historic day in Switzerland.”
Miller, whose husband, Tim Gill, founded the Gill Foundation, assumed his post last December after the U.S. Senate confirmed him. Miller is one of seven openly gay and lesbian American ambassadors.
Miller on Sept. 23 told the Washington Blade during an interview in D.C. that his Fourth of July speech “was perhaps one of the more meaningful aspects of my ambassadorship so far.”
“I talked about the expansion of rights and our work to make a more perfect union,” he noted. “Tying that to equality was, I think, one of the most profound moments of this experience thus far.”
Miller spoke at first Liechtenstein Pride in June
Miller was previously an account vice president of the Switzerland-based UBS Wealth Management bank in Denver. Miller also co-chaired the Gill Foundation’s board of directors until the U.S. Senate confirmed his ambassadorship.
Miller while in D.C. attended the Global Chiefs of Mission Conference at the State Department and visited the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. Miller also attended Elton John’s performance at the White House that took place hours after he spoke with the Blade.
Miller noted he has known President Joe Biden “from when he was a senator, and my work with him started on LGBTQ rights.”
“Needless to say, when he called last April I was shocked,” said Miller, referring to Biden’s decision to nominate him for the ambassadorship. “I had never really considered that as a possibility.”
Biden in February 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.
Miller said his embassy has “a depth of relationships with the LGBTQ community and activists and organizations in Switzerland and Liechtenstein.”
Liechtenstein, a small and predominantly Roman Catholic country that has yet to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples, in June held its first-ever Pride event. Miller was among those who organizers invited to speak.
“It will be a discussion that I think activists will have to work on a lot,” he said, referring to marriage equality efforts in Liechtenstein. “I will support (them) in any way I can.”
Miller said he was not surprised that Biden issued the foreign policy memo, but he added he “knew coming into this where his heart was on LGBTQI+ issues.”
“I didn’t really need a memo or any directive from the State Department,” Miller told the Blade. “I’m the president’s personal envoy. To know that I am going to be able to continue the same work that I was doing and have this different platform and help people improve lives, there’s a profound responsibility with that.”
“I’m glad obviously that it’s been further directed to my other colleagues, but it was work that I was doing,” he added.
Countries that seek to curtail LGBTQ+ rights ‘an outlier’
Miller spoke with the Blade against the backdrop of efforts in Hungary, Poland and other European countries to curtail LGBTQ+ and intersex rights. Giorgia Meloni, the anti-LGBTQ+ and intersex head of Italy’s far-right Brothers of Italy party, is poised to become the country’s next prime minister after general elections that took place on Sept. 25.
“I’m so entirely focused on Switzerland and I’m lucky that we are in a position of stepping forward and advancing rights and extending more rights to people,” said Miller. “There will always be a push pull on any civil rights costs. We see that even in our own country here as it relates to women’s reproductive rights, and disability rights. So ultimately, I look at this sense that progress will be made. It won’t always be linear, and it won’t always be without taking a step backwards at time.”
“This is where leadership matters and to have my president, our president, be a leader on this sends a message to those other countries that you’re going to be an outlier in the eyes of democracy if this is how you treat a portion of your community,” he added. “That’s the messaging we need to continue to spread, but obviously it’s an immense concern whenever you have a leader starting to single out any individual part of a society.”
Miller also praised the Swiss government’s response to the war in Ukraine.
He noted Switzerland adopted EU sanctions against Russia days after the war began on Feb. 24. Miller also pointed out Switzerland has welcomed Ukrainian refugees into the country, and his embassy has worked to process visas that would allow them to travel to the U.S.
“Europe’s response has been good, and Switzerland’s has been good, but again the leadership of the United States on this issue has brought us closer together with Europe in a way that I hadn’t experienced in my lifetime,” said Miller.
Blinken speaks at U.N. LGBTI Core Group event in New York
Gathering took place on eve of U.N. General Assembly
NEW YORK — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday spoke at an LGBTQ+ and intersex rights event that took place on the eve of the U.N. General Assembly.
Blinken in his remarks at the LGBTI Core Group, a group of U.N. countries that have pledged to support LGBTQ+ and intersex rights, noted the meeting took place at “a time when the movement for equality is showing some encouraging momentum.”
He pointed to the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual acts over the summer in St. Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda. Blinken also noted the Vietnamese Health Ministry’s announcement last month that it no longer considers LGBTQ+ people to be sick.
“At the same time, for that progress, which is real and which is worth underscoring, we know that people worldwide continue to experience alarming levels of violence, discrimination, isolation,” said Blinken. “Risks are the highest for people with disabilities, people of color, refugees and LGBTQI+ women. Transgender people are often denied access to legal identity documents that reflect their names and gender markers. Intersex people, including minors, continue to be subjected to unnecessary surgeries without their consent.”
Blinken further stressed that members of the U.N. LGBTI Core Group and countries around the world “have work to do to ensure that LGBTQI+ people have the same rights, the same protections as all other people.”
“Defending these rights is central to the health of our democracies,” he said. “Any system where some groups are treated as ‘less than’ simply because of who they are is fundamentally flawed.”
President Joe Biden in February 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 White House four months later appointed Jessica Stern as its special envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights overseas.
The State Department in April began to issue passports with “X” gender markers. The White House’s efforts in support of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad now includes marriage equality in countries where activists say such a thing is possible through legislation or the judicial process.
Blinken in his speech noted Biden in June issued a sweeping executive order that, among other things, prohibits the use of federal funds to support so-called conversion therapy. The ceremony, which occurred during the White House’s annual Pride reception, took place against the backdrop of the passage of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law and efforts in several other states across the country to curtail the rights of transgender students.
“Standing up for LGBTQI+ people is a top priority for our administration,” said Blinken.
Blinken also referenced the 1969 Stonewall riots.
“Everything we’re doing builds on the work of literally generations of advocates who have — and still are — risking so much to put LGBTQI+ people and their rights on the map,” he said. “And I have to say, as I read the history, learn the history, hear of experiences, I’m quite in awe of generations of advocates who have done so much to put us where we are today. The work we’re doing is only possible because of the work they did — but not only the work they did, the courage that they showed.”
“The 1969 protest at the Stonewall Inn marked a turning point in our nation’s struggle for LGBTQI+ rights and helped galvanize the global movement,” added Blinken. “This is something that is seared into the memories, seared into the consciousness of so many of us. And particularly for me as a native New Yorker, it’s something that I have seen and been inspired by for many, many years.”
Blinken further noted “Stonewall is also a stark reminder of all the places worldwide where people are still subject to abuse simply for being themselves.”
State Department spokesperson Ned Price, Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir; Permanent Brazilian Representative to the U.N. João Genésio de Almeida Filho, Peruvian Foreign Minister Cesar Landa Arroyo, Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt and OutRight Action International Executive Director Maria Sjödin are among those who attended the event alongside Stern and Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ+ and intersex issues.
Dennis Rodman discouraged from traveling to Russia to seek Brittney Griner release
Former NBA star says he plans to ‘go this week’
WASHINGTON — The U.S. on Monday discouraged former NBA star Dennis Rodman from traveling to Russia in order to help secure Brittney Griner’s release.
Rodman on Saturday told NBC News while he was at a D.C. restaurant that he “got permission to go to Russia to help that girl.”
“I’m trying to go this week,” said Rodman.
A Russian court earlier this month convicted Griner — a Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife, Cherelle Griner — of smuggling drugs into the country and sentenced her to nine years in a penal colony. Brittney Griner’s lawyers have appealed her sentence.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price on Monday told reporters during a press briefing that Rodman “would not be traveling (to Russia) on behalf of the U.S. government.” A White House source told the Washington Blade the administration is “really not thrilled about Rodman and he definitely was not given permission by (the) U.S. to negotiate with Russia over” Brittney Griner’s release.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has publicly acknowledged the U.S. has offered Russia a deal to secure the release of Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, another 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. A spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry has confirmed negotiations between the two countries over a potential prisoner swap have begun.
“We put forward a substantial proposal to Russia to seek the freedom of Paul Whelan and Brittney Griner,” said Price on Monday. “We believe that anything other than negotiating further through the established channel is likely to complicate and hinder those release efforts.”
“We’ve also provided very clear guidance to American citizens owing to a number of threats, not the least of which is the threat of wrongful detention, that Americans should not travel to Russia,” he added. “That has been our message to private Americans across the board.”
Rodman in 2014 traveled to North Korea with a group of former NBA players who played in an exhibition game for leader Kim Jung Un’s Birthday. Rodman has made several other trips to North Korea in recent years, despite the country’s deplorable human rights record.
Blinken holds roundtable with LGBTQ+, intersex journalists at State Department
Brittney Griner, Saudi Arabia among issues discussed
WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on this week reiterated the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights around the world is a key element of U.S. foreign policy.
“We are determined, starting with our boss, the president, that the United States be a champion for these rights around the world and a defender of the rights when they are under siege,” said Blinken on Wednesday during a roundtable with six LGBTQ+ and intersex reporters at the State Department. “Unfortunately, this is something that we see, you know very well, to be the case all too often in all too many places: Basic human rights, out of reach, under threat, active rollback in many places. And for that reason we try to focus all of our missions in our embassies as well as the senior officials here on the challenges that we see.”
The Washington Blade is among the media outlets the State Department invited to the roundtable, which was the first time a secretary of state sat down with a group of LGBTQ+ and intersex journalists during Pride Month. Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad, and State Department spokesperson Ned Price, who is openly gay, are among those who attended the roundtable with Blinken.
The roundtable took place a day after a Russian court once again extended the detention of Brittney Griner, a center for the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife.
The State Department has determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” Griner at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February after customs inspectors found hashish oil in her luggage.
Blinken on May 14 spoke with Griner’s wife, Cherelle Griner.
Representative for Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs and Cultural Affairs. Officials with the State Department’s Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs and Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs on Monday met with Griner’s teammates to discuss her detention and efforts to secure her release.
“We’re very much engaged with them,” said Blinken.
He added the State Department is “very focused” on securing Griner’s release.
“We are determined to bring her home along with Paul (Whelan, an American citizen who is serving a 16-year prison sentence in Russia after a court convicted him of spying) and for that matter, any and every American who is being unjustly detained anywhere in the world,” said Blinken. “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.”
Trevor Reed, a former U.S. Marine who had been in a Russian custody since 2019, returned to the U.S. in late April after the Kremlin released him in exchange for Konstantin Yaroshenko, a Russian citizen who had been in an American prison on drug trafficking charges.
“We are working day and night relentlessly to bring Brittney, to bring Paul home, to bring every American who’s unjustly detained around the world,” said Price.
Price further described the decision to extend Griner’s detention through at least July 2 as “an injustice on top of broader injustice.”
“She should be released,” said Price.
LGBTQ+, intersex rights part of ‘efforts to defend democracy’
President Biden in February 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 White House four months later appointed Stern, who was previously the executive director of OutRight Action International.
Blinken noted the State Department in April began to issue passports with “X” gender markers. Blinken also highlighted the U.N. General Assembly’s adoption of a free elections resolution last November that specifically includes sexual orientation and gender identity.
Price during a May 2021 interview with the Blade said the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the Biden administration’s five priorities in its efforts to promote LGBTQ+ and intersex rights around the world. Stern recently noted “among a wider set of priorities, marriage equality is one element of our longstanding and ongoing commitment to advance the rights of LGBTQI+ persons.”
Blinken during the roundtable said U.S. efforts to promote LGBTQ+ and intersex rights around the world are “attached to our own efforts to defend democracy and human rights around the world.”
“This is a deadly serious time around the world,” said Blinken. “And in some ways whether or not the rights of this community remain protected or defended and advanced or whether they are being increasingly trampled on is the canary in the coal mine because we know as go the rights of critical groups, ultimately so goes everyone, so that’s another reason we’ve got to be so attentive to this.”
“If threats, acts, violence, repressive repression, laws are being increasingly wielded against the LGBTQ community, then you can almost bet that that’s going to be expanded to other groups, other communities,” he added. “It’s indicative of an even larger problem.”
The roundtable took place two days after the White House announced Biden would travel to Saudi Arabia in July.
The kingdom is among the handful of countries in which consensual same-sex sexual relations remain punishable by death.
“The president will be bringing up rights issues across the board when he’s in Saudi Arabia, as he does in any country where we have or he has concerns,” said Blinken in response to the Blade’s question about the trip. “As he said the other day, his views on human rights have not changed. The challenge, and I think the responsibility that we have, is to make sure that we are most effectively advancing the issues of values of this country.”
Blinken said the U.S. welcomes the Saudi government’s efforts to combat extremism — 15 of the 19 men who carried out the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks were Saudi citizens — and to counter Iran’s influence in the Middle East. Blinken also noted the country’s role in the continued ceasefire in Yemen.
“We have an opportunity … to maybe have something enduring in terms of the longer lasting cease fire and peace negotiations that profoundly advances our values, as well as our interests in putting in the rights of people of all kinds in Yemen who’ve been suffering terribly,” he said.
“At the same time, we have been very determined from day one to recalibrate the relationship, not rupture it, recalibrate, because we had concerns that it wasn’t as effectively as it could be advancing our own interests and our own values,” added Blinken. “So, we took the time to do that.”
Blinken noted the State Department has used the “Khashoggi Ban” — named after Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul in 2018 — to sanction more than 70 Saudi citizens and others who have targeted journalists, government critics and others in a third country. Blinken also told the Blade that he raises “individual cases where we have concerns, as well as systemic challenges” with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud during their meetings.
“We have a real engagement on these issues,” said Blinken. “We’ve also seen some positive steps on individual cases, but there are also systemic challenges.”
“It’s a long way of saying that there are complex issues,” he added. “Human rights, including LGBTQI rights, are something that is central to our foreign policy, but it’s not the totality of it. And everything has to be reflected in what we do and we have to make a judgment, which may be right or maybe wrong, about what is the most effective way to advance these issues in this agenda.”
Blinken told the Blade that he is “quite confident that everything I’ve just said to you will be reflected in what the president does and says when he’s in Saudi Arabia.”
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