Connect with us

State Department

State Department releases annual human rights report

Conversion therapy, treatment of intersex people documented



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:


State Department

American officials postpone Uganda PEPFAR meeting

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



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.

Continue Reading

State Department

State Department spokesperson to leave post

Ned Price is first openly gay person named to role



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.

Continue Reading

State Department

State Department spokesperson welcomes Pope Francis’ opposition to criminalization laws

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



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. 

Continue Reading

State Department

Rainbow Railroad participates in new US refugee resettlement program

State Department announced Welcome Corps on Thursday



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. 

Continue Reading

State Department

State Department reiterates calls for ‘thorough’ investigation into Kenyan activist’s murder

Edwin Chiloba found inside metal box on Jan. 4



Edwin Chiloba (Photo courtesy of Edwin Chiloba's Instagram page)

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.

Continue Reading

State Department

State Department spokesperson sharply criticizes new Russia propaganda law

Statute ‘pushes LGBTQI+ persons further to the margins of Russian society’



State Department spokesperson Ned Price, center, speaks at the LGBTQ Victory Fund's International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in Washington on Dec. 3, 2022. Price, who is openly gay, has criticized an anti-LGBTQ+ propaganda law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed this week. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

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.

Continue Reading

State Department

U.S. envoy for LGBTQ+, intersex rights cancels Indonesia trip

Prominent Islamic group criticized Jessica Stern’s planned visit



Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad. (Photo courtesy of OutRight International)

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.

Continue Reading

State Department

Blinken: PEPFAR shows ‘what American diplomacy can do’

Secretary of state spoke at World AIDS Day event in D.C. on Friday



Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at a World AIDS Day event at the Hay-Adams Hotel in D.C. on Dec. 2, 2022. (Screen capture via U.S. Department of State YouTube)

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. 

Continue Reading

State Department

State Department says U.S. has raised LGBTQ+, intersex rights with Qatar

Secretary of State Antony Blinken to travel to country on Nov. 21



Harry S Truman U.S. State Department Building, Washington D.C. (Photo Credit: USGOV/GSA)

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.

Continue Reading

State Department

U.S. ambassador to Switzerland, Liechtenstein sits down with Blade

Scott Miller married to Gill Foundation founder Tim Gill



U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein Scott Miller in D.C. on Sept. 23, 2022. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

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.

Continue Reading