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State Department spokesperson welcomes Pope Francis’ opposition to criminalization laws

Ned Price is openly gay, said pontiff ‘speaks with authority’

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State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Institute's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. Price, who is openly gay, welcomes Pope Francis' recent comments against laws that criminalize LGBTQ and intersex people. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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. 

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State Department

Russian activist meets with US global LGBTQ+, intersex rights envoy

Aleksander Voronov visited the State Department last week

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Aleksandr Voronov from Coming Out, a Russian LGBTQ rights group based in St. Petersburg, met with Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad, at the State Department last week. (Photo courtesy of Stern's X account)

WASHINGTON — A Russian activist last week met with the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights at the State Department.

Jessica Stern on March 29 posted to her X account a picture of Aleksandr Voronov of Coming Out, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group that was previously based in St. Petersburg.

“I was honored to host Coming Out activist Aleksandr Voronov at the State Department,” said Stern. “Russia’s Transgender ban and designation of the so-called ‘LGBT movement’ as extremist undermines the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Russians. We stand with all LGBTQI+ persons.”

Voronov told the Washington Blade he “gave her an update on the situation with LGBTQ rights in Russia.” Voronov said Stern “was very supportive and unbelievably kind.”

The Kremlin over the last decade has cracked down on LGBTQ+ rights.

The Russian Supreme Court last November ruled the “international LGBT movement” is an extremist organization and banned it. The Moscow Times on March 31 reported authorities in Orenburg, a city near the country’s border with Kazakhstan that is roughly 900 miles south-southeast of Moscow, arrested a gay bar’s owner and charged him with “extremism.”

Voronov fled Russia and now lives in Lithuania. 

“Most of the organizations and public activists, such as me and the organization I lead, were forced to leave the country, but continue working ‘in exile,'” Voronov told the Blade. “Most openly queer-places were closed during last months; but there are still lots of activists, organizations and of course ordinary LGBTQ individuals in Russia who are still there, and will be staying there. And we try to support them as much as we can.”

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State Department urges Burundi to respect human rights

Country’s president on Dec. 30 called for public stoning of gay people

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Burundian President Évariste Ndayishimiye (Screen capture via Gentil Gedeon Official YouTube)

WASHINGTON — A State Department spokesperson on Thursday urged Burundian leaders to respect human rights.

“We call on all of Burundi’s leaders to respect the inherent dignity and universal rights, including equal access to justice, of every member of Burundian society,” the spokesperson told the Washington Blade in a statement.

Burundian President Évariste Ndayishimiye on Dec. 30 said gay people should be publicly stoned. He also said any Burundian who lives outside the country and openly identifies as LGBTQ+ should not return. 

Activists and French MP Marie Lebec are among those who sharply criticized Ndayishimiye’s comments. The statement the State Department spokesperson sent to the Blade does not specifically reference LGBTQ+ people. (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 subsequently appointed Jessica Stern as the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad.)

“Respect for and support for human rights promotes peace, security and prosperity,” the State Department spokesperson told the Blade. “That respect is an essential precursor to spur the economic growth necessary to improve conditions for all Burundians.”

The spokesperson added the U.S. “condemns calls for violence or discrimination against any individuals for exercising their human rights.”      

“The United States is committed to promoting respect for the human rights of all individuals, at home and abroad,” said the spokesperson. ”Promoting respect for and protection of the human rights of all individuals is a U.S. foreign policy priority, and the Biden-Harris administration is committed to ensuring U.S. diplomacy and development reflects this.”

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State Department hosts five intersex activists from around the world

Group met with policy makers, health officials, NGOs

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The State Department last week hosted a group of intersex activists from around the world. (Courtesy photo)

WASHINGTON — The State Department last week hosted five intersex activists from around the world.

Kimberly Zieselman, a prominent intersex activist who advises Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad, brought the activists to D.C.

• Morgan Carpenter, co-founder and executive director of Intersex Human Rights Australia

• Natasha Jiménez, an intersex activist from Costa Rica who is the general coordinator of Mulabi, the Latin American Space for Sexualities and Rights

• Julius Kaggwa, founder of the Support Initiative for People with Atypical Sex Development Uganda

• Magda Rakita, co-founder and executive director of Fujdacja Interakcja in Poland and co-founder of Interconnected UK

• Esan Regmi, co-founder and executive director of the Campaign for Change in Nepal.

Special U.S. Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer and Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine are among the officials with whom the activists met.

Zieselman told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 the activists offered State Department officials an “intersex 101” overview during a virtual briefing.

More than 60 Save the Children staffers from around the world participated in another virtual briefing. Zieselman noted the activists also met with Stern, U.N. and Organization of American States officials, funders and NGO representatives while in D.C.

“The people we met were genuinely interested,” Rakita told the Blade.

Stern in an exclusive statement to the Blade said “the visiting intersex activists clearly had an impact here at State, sharing their expertise and lived experience highlighting the urgency to end human rights abuses, including those involving harmful medical practices against intersex persons globally.” Andrew Gleason, senior director for gender equality and social justice at Save the Children US, in a LinkedIn post he wrote after attending his organization’s meeting with the activists echoed Stern.

“There are many learnings to recount from today’s discussion, but one thing is clear, this is unequivocally a child rights issue, and one that demands attention and action at the intersection of LGBTQI+ rights, reproductive rights and justice, disability justice and more,” wrote Gleason. “Gratitude to the panelists for sharing such poignant testimonies and providing insights into what organizations like ours can do to contribute to the broader intersex movement; and thank you to Kimberly for your leadership and bringing this group together.”

The activists’ trip to D.C. coincided with efforts to end so-called sex “normalization” surgeries on intersex children.

Greek lawmakers in July passed a law that bans such procedures on children under 15 unless they offer their consent or a court allows them to happen. Doctors who violate the statute face fines and prison.

Germany Iceland, Malta, Portugal and Spain have also enacted laws that seek to protect intersex youth. 

A law that grants equal rights and legal recognition to intersex people in Kenya took effect in July 2022. Lawmakers in the Australian Capital Territory earlier this year passed the Variation in Sex Characteristics (Restricted Medical Treatment) Bill 2023.

Intersex Human Rights Australia notes the law implements “mechanisms to regulate non-urgent medical care to encourage child participation in medical decisions, establish groundbreaking oversight mechanisms and provide transparency on medical practices and decision making.” It further points out the statute “will criminalize some deferrable procedures that permanently alter the sex characteristics of children” and provides “funding for necessary psychosocial supports for families and children.”

“It’s amazing,” Carpenter told the Blade when discussing the law and resistance to it. “It’s not perfect. There was some big gaps, but physicians are resisting every step of the way.”

The State Department in April 2022 began to issue passports with an “X” gender marker.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. Zzyym in October 2021 received the first gender-neutral American passport.

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US global LGBTQ+, intersex rights envoy speaks at Mexico City conference

Jessica Stern reiterated condemnation of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act

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Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad, speaks at an LGBTQ+ Victory Institute co-organized conference in Mexico City on July 20, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Editor’s note: International News Editor Michael K. Lavers will be on assignment in Mexico City through Sunday.

MEXICO CITY — The special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad on Thursday said politicians around the world target LGBTQ+ and intersex people as a way to “distract” from their own governance failures.

Jessica Stern spoke at the opening of the LGBTI Political Leaders from the Americas and the Caribbean Conference in Mexico City that the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute co-organized with advocacy groups from Mexico, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Honduras and Brazil.  

She once again condemned Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act that President Yoweri Museveni signed in May.

The bill contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality” and criminalizes the “promotion of homosexuality” with up to 20 years in prison.

“One might argue that a meeting like this could be labelled promotion of homosexuality and we could all be held criminally liable for being in this conference room today,” said Stern.

“[The Anti-Homosexuality Act] includes a duty to report clause that would require doctors, landlords and even family members to report anyone that they have reason to suspect is homosexual and that basically creates a surveillance state for all LGBTQI+ persons just for being,” she added.

Stern said the Anti-Homosexuality Act and similar laws around the world contain provisions that “are intentionally and explicitly vague because the goal is not to keep anyone safe from LGBTQI+ people.” Stern added politicians use hate speech, blackmail, extortion and violence to target LGBTQ+ and intersex people and make them into “boogeymen.”

“The goal is to distract from crushing issues like corruption and poverty and climate change that don’t have easy solutions,” she said. “Scapegoating LGBTQI+ persons has real consequences. Turning an entire group of people into a threat to your society is not just a useful way to manipulate a domestic populace, in a world connected through social media the threats metastases regionally and globally.”

Stern in her speech cited Human Rights Campaign statistics that indicate more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in U.S. state legislatures in 2023, with nearly half of them specifically targeting Transgender and nonbinary people. Stern noted state lawmakers have approved 70 of them: Fifteen ban gender-affirming care for minors, four “censor” school curricula and two “target drag performances.”

“What an absolute tragedy,” said Stern.

“The truth is the United States is not alone in these anti-LGBTQI attacks,” she added.

Stern noted Thalía Rodríguez, a prominent Trans activist, is one of 32 LGBTQ+ or intersex people who were reported murdered in Honduras in the first 10 months of 2022. Stern also referenced statistics from Colombia Diversa, a Colombian LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, that indicate 41 LGBTQ+ and intersex people — six of whom were activists — were killed in the South American country between January and August 2021.

“This is completely unacceptable, and this is why we come together in rooms like this,” said Stern.

Stern in her speech also highlighted LGBTQ+ and intersex rights advances in the Americas and the Caribbean.

She noted Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis and Barbados decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations in 2022. Stern pointed out the Brazilian Supreme Court in 2021 ruled a law that seeks to combat domestic and gender-based violence “must be valid for all trans women.” 

Stern also referenced the 20 Mexican states that now allow people to update their names and gender markers “via a simple administrative process.”

“This region is setting an example that is inspiring others around the world,” she said.

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. These efforts include support for marriage equality in countries where activists say it is possible through legislation or the judicial process.

The U.S. has imposed visa restrictions against Ugandan officials after Museveni signed their country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act.

Stern in her speech said the Biden-Harris administration has pledged to combat so-called conversion in the U.S. and around the world. Stern also noted the Global Equality Fund, a U.S.-led initiative that seeks to promote LGBTQ+ and intersex rights around the world, has given more than $115 million to recipients in more than 100 countries since 2011.

“That would not be possible without the partnership of many governments in this region,” she said.

Stern also noted she is the highest-ranking lesbian woman at the State Department.

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Rufus Gifford resigns as State Department’s chief of protocol

Openly gay Mass. native was US ambassador to Denmark from 2013-2017

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Rufus Gifford (Photo via Twitter)

WASHINGTON — The State Department’s openly gay chief of protocol on Monday announced he is leaving his post.

Rufus Gifford in a tweet said he is “tremendously grateful” to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and President Joe Biden “to have been given the chance to serve as” chief of protocol.

“Was an honor like no other,” said Gifford.

“I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact of this State Department,” he added. “I leave believing in the power of diplomacy more than ever.”

Gifford was the U.S. ambassador to Denmark from 2013-2017. 

He unsuccessfully ran for Congress in his native Massachusetts in 2018. The U.S. Senate in December 2021 confirmed Gifford for the State Department position.

“On behalf of the State Department, I want to thank Rufus Gifford for his serve as (chief of protocol),” said Blinken in a tweet. “Our relationships with countries around the world are stronger because of Rufus and his team’s important work on behalf of our nation.”

Biden’s re-election campaign on Monday named Gifford as its finance chair.

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US restricts Ugandan officials’ visas

Country’s president on May 29 signed Anti-Homosexuality Act

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LGBTQ+ and intersex activists protest in front of the Ugandan Embassy in D.C. on April 25, 2023. (Washington Blade photos by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Friday announced the U.S. has imposed visa restrictions against Ugandan officials after the country’s president signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller in a press release did not specifically identify the Ugandan officials who the U.S. sanctioned. The statement, however, noted Ugandan “individuals believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda” and specifically referenced human rights abuses against LGBTQ+ and intersex people and the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

“As directed by President Biden, the U.S. government will continue to evaluate additional actions under this policy, as well as the use of other tools at our disposal, to promote accountability for Ugandan officials and other individuals responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic process in Uganda, abusing human rights, including those of LGBTQI+ persons, or engaging in corrupt practices,” said Miller.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on May 29 signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which contains a death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality.”

The Biden-Harris administration has said it will “evaluate” the law’s implications and how it may impact U.S. aid to Uganda. Miller in his statement noted the State Department has also “updated its travel guidance to U.S. citizens to highlight the risk that LGBTQI+ persons, or those perceived to be LGBTQI+, could be prosecuted and subjected to life imprisonment or the death penalty based on provisions in the law.”

“The United States strongly supports the Ugandan people and remains committed to advancing respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Uganda and globally,” said Miller.

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American officials postpone Uganda PEPFAR meeting

April 25 letter cites need to assess Anti-Homosexuality Act impacts

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a World AIDS Day event in D.C. hosted by the Business Council for International Understanding on Dec. 2, 2022. U.S. officials have postponed a Uganda PEPFAR meeting in order to assess the Anti-Homosexuality Act's impact on the program. (Screen capture via U.S. Department of State YouTube)

WASHINGTON — American officials have postponed a meeting on the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief’s work in Uganda in order to assess the potential impact the country’s Anti-Homosexuality Act will have on it. 

Uganda PEPFAR Country Coordinator Mary Borgman on April 25 sent a letter to the PEPFAR Uganda Country Operational Plan 2023 on behalf of Amb. John Nkengasong, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Health Diplomacy who oversees PEPFAR.

“I want to thank you for your diligent efforts during the past several weeks for developing the Uganda COP23 plans in a highly complex and shifting landscape,” said Nkengasong in the letter.

“In light of the recent developments with the potential signing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) and how that could impact our ability to provide services and assistance, I have made the decision to postpone the Final COP Presentation meeting previously scheduled for April 28,” he wrote. “This postponement will allow us more time to collectively and effectively assess the legal and programmatic implications of the evolving legislation and broder environment in Uganda, which impacts PEPFAR-supported HIV/AIDS programs, and make relevant adjustments in order to resolve COP23 plans as appropriate.”

Nkengasong stressed he is “grateful for the resilience and grace that the team has shown during this difficult time.”

“With regards to current programming, we will continue to assess the needs of PEPFAR Uganda and adapt programs as required to ensure the safety of our staff and beneficiaries and help ensure access to health services remains intact,” he added.

Ugandan MPs in March passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

The bill, among other things, would impose the death penalty upon anyone convicted of “aggrevated homosexuality.” 

Treatment Action Group Government Relations and Policy Associate Kendall Martinez-Wright last week during a protest outside the Ugandan embassy in D.C. noted the Anti-Homosexuality Act “will hamper the already struggling efforts in terms of eradicating HIV.” Other activists who spoke noted Family Watch International, an Arizona-based group the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as a hate group, have cultivated strong ties with Ugandan lawmakers who put forth the bill.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and Victor Madrigal-Borloz, the independent U.N. expert on LGBTQ+ and intersex issues, are among those who have sharply criticized the Anti-Homosexuality Act. Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad, last month during a panel with four Ugandan activists the Center for Strategic and International Studies hosted said the Biden-Harris administration is “investing the potential impact of the Anti-Homosexuality Act on U.S. foreign assistance.”

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, in a letter he sent to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on April 25 asked them to reconsider Uganda’s participation in the African Growth and Opportunity Act if the Anti-Homosexuality Act becomes law.

“As you know, Uganda is a beneficiary of AGOA, which was signed into law in 2000. AGOA provides duty-free treatment to imports originating from beneficiary African countries. However, beneficiaries of AGOA must meet certain eligibility criteria, one of which is to not engage in ‘gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.’” wrote Wyden. “Relevant to this criterion, jurisprudence in international human rights law clearly supports respect for an individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity as integral to fundamental human rights.”

“For this reason, I strongly urge you to communicate immediately to the Ugandan government, and President Yoweri Museveni directly, that Uganda’s beneficiary status under AGOA will be revoked should he sign the legislation and allow it to be enacted,” added the Oregon Democrat. “President Museveni was an early and active proponent of AGOA and knows first-hand the significance of the legislation and the seriousness that Congress employed in shaping it. The significance of Uganda losing its AGOA beneficiary status will not be lost on President Museveni and other leaders in sub-Saharan Africa.”

The Washington Blade has reached out to the State Department for comment on Wyden’s letter.

Museveni, meanwhile, on April 20 sent the Anti-Homosexuality Act back to Parliament for additional consideration before he signs it.

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State Department releases annual human rights report

Conversion therapy, treatment of intersex people documented

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The State Department (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

WASHINGTON — The State Department’s annual human rights report that was released on Monday details the prevalence of so-called conversion therapy and the treatment of intersex people around the world.

The report notes LGBTQ+ and intersex rights groups in Kenya have “reported an increase in so-called conversion therapy and ‘corrective rape’ practices, including forced marriages, exorcisms, physical violence, psychological violence, or detainment.” The report cites the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights that said “infants and children born with physical sex characteristics that did not align with either a typical male or female body were subjected to harmful medical practices for years in attempt to ‘normalize’ them.” 

A landmark law that extended legal protections to intersex Kenyans took effect last July.

The report notes “many reports of conversion attempts conducted or recommended by evangelical and Catholic churches” in Brazil, even though the country has banned conversion therapy. It also cites the case of Magomed Askhabov, a man from the Russian republic of Dagestan who “demanded a criminal case be opened” against a rehabilitation center in the city of Khasavyurt in which he and other residents “were physically abused and subjected to forced prayer as part of their ‘treatment’ for homosexuality.”

“There were reports police conducted involuntary physical exams of transgender or intersex persons,” notes the report. “The Association of Russian-speaking Intersex reported that medical specialists often pressured intersex persons (or their parents if they were underage) into having so-called normalization surgery without providing accurate information about the procedure or what being intersex meant.”

The report notes Afghan culture “insists on compulsory heterosexuality, which forced LGBTQI+ individuals to acquiesce to life-altering decisions made by family members or society.” The report also refers to LGBTQ+ and intersex activists in the Philippines who criticized former President Rodrigo Duterte after he “mockingly” endorsed conversion therapy and joked he had “cured” himself of homosexuality.

The report indicates “social, cultural and religious intolerance” in Kiribati “led to recurrent attempts to ‘convert’ LGBTQI+ individuals informally through family, religious, medical, educational, or other community pressures.”

Hungarian law “prohibits Transgender or intersex individuals from changing their assigned sex/gender at birth on legal and identification documents and there is therefore no mechanism for legal gender recognition.” The report also cites statistics from the Háttér Society, a Hungarian LGBTQ+ and intersex rights group, that indicate one out of 10 LGBTQ+ and intersex Hungarians have “gone through some form of ‘conversion therapy.'”

The report notes then-British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government in April 2022 announced plans to ban conversion therapy based on sexual orientation in England and Wales. Activists sharply criticized the exclusion of Transgender people from the proposal, and the British government later cancelled an LGBTQ+ and intersex rights conference after advocacy groups announced a boycott.

‘Human rights are universal’

Congress requires the State Department to release a human rights report each year. 

President Joe Biden last June signed a sweeping LGBTQ+ and intersex rights executive order. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the beginning of this year’s report notes the mandate directed the State Department to “specifically include enhanced reporting on so-called conversion ‘therapy’ practices, which are forced or involuntary efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, as well as additional reporting on the performance of unnecessary surgeries on intersex persons.” 

“Human rights are universal,” Blinken told reporters on Monday as he discussed the report. “They aren’t defined by any one country, philosophy, or region. They apply to everyone, everywhere.”

The Biden-Harris administration in 2021 released a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad.

The State Department released the report hours before U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield hosted a meeting at the United Nations that focused on the integration of LGBTQ+ and intersex rights into the U.N. Security Council’s work.

Lawmakers in Uganda on Tuesday approved a bill that would further criminalize LGBTQ+ and intersex people in the country. Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in dozens of other countries around the world.

Activists in Ukraine with whom the Washington Blade has spoken since Russia launched its war against the country in February 2022 have said LGBTQ+ and intersex people who lived in Russia-controlled areas feared Russian soldiers would target them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The report’s release also coincides with Republican efforts to curtail LGBTQ+ rights in states across the U.S.

Volunteers with the Parasol Patrol, a group that protects children and young people from protesters at drag queen story hours and other LGBTQ+-specific events in the U.S., at a recent protest. (Photo by Jon Farina)

The report notes LGBTQ+ and intersex rights advances around the world in 2022.

Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, St. Kitts and Nevis and Singapore decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations last year. 

The report notes Chile’s marriage equality law took effect on March 10, 2022, but lists violence against LGBTQ+ and intersex people as one of the “significant human rights issues” in the country. Switzerland, Slovenia and Cuba also extended marriage rights to same-sex couples in 2022.

Jaime Nazar, left, Javier Silva with their two children shortly after they married in Santiago, Chile, on March 10, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The report cites the case of Brenda Díaz, a Trans Cuban woman with HIV who is serving a 14-year prison sentence because she participated in an anti-government protest in July 2021. The report also notes several LGBTQ+ and intersex journalists — including Nelson Álvarez Mairata and Jancel Moreno — left the country because of government harassment and threats. 

The Cuban government also blocked the websites of Tremenda Nota, the Blade’s media partner on the island, and other independent news outlets. 

The full report can be found here:

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State Department spokesperson to leave post

Ned Price is first openly gay person named to role

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State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Institute's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 3, 2022. Price, who is openly gay, will step down at the end of the month. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — State Department spokesperson Ned Price will step down at the end of this month.

Price has been at the State Department since the first day of the Biden-Harris administration, and is the first openly gay person named to the role. Price was previously a senior communications official for the National Security Council and worked at the Central Intelligence Agency.

“Ned began as spokesperson on January 20, 2021,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday in a press release that announced Price’s resignation. “Within days of taking on the role, he restored the department’s daily press briefings, giving journalists the chance to regularly ask tough questions of our policy. Throughout the more than 200 briefings he has since held, he’s treated journalists — as well as colleagues and everyone else he interacts with — with respect.”   

“Ned has helped the U.S. government defend and promote press freedom around the globe and modeled the transparency and openness we advocate for in other countries,” added Blinken. “His contributions will benefit the department long after his service.”

Blinken said Price’s “firm grasp of the policies underlying our messaging made him that much more effective in his role.”

On a personal level, I have constantly benefited from his counsel, as have so many members of the department,” said Blinken. “Fortunately, I’ll be able to continue to do that, as Ned will continue to serve at State, working directly for me.”  

“For people in America and around the world, Ned Price has often been a face and voice of U.S. foreign policy,” added Blinken. “He’s performed with extraordinary professionalism and integrity. On behalf of the department, I thank Ned for his remarkable service.”

Price during a May 2021 interview with the Washington Blade said the decriminalization of consensual same-sex sexual relations is one of the five priorities for the Biden-Harris administration in its efforts to promote LGBTQ+ and intersex rights abroad.

Blinken last June spoke to this reporter and five other LGBTQ+ and intersex journalists during a roundtable at the State Department. Price and Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for LGBTQ+ and intersex rights, are among those who also participated.

Russia’s continued crackdown on LGBTQ+ and intersex rights are among the issues about which Price spoke during his briefings. Price’s tenure also coincided with WNBA star Brittney Griner’s arrest in Moscow, and her eventual release from a Russian penal colony where she had been serving a 9-year sentence after a court convicted her of smuggling drugs into the country.

The State Department has not announced who will succeed Price.

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Rainbow Railroad participates in new US refugee resettlement program

State Department announced Welcome Corps on Thursday

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A flyer from the U.N. Refugee Agency in Ciudad Hidalgo, Mexico, on Jan. 29, 2019, advises migrants who are fleeing violence, persecution, war or discrimination have a right to apply for refugee status. Rainbow Railroad is participating in a new State Department program that will allow American citizens to help refugees resettle in the U.S. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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. 

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