Obama administration champions LGBT rights
Written by Philip Howell-Williams on March 02, 2015.
Human rights groups in the US are singing the praises of the Obama administration for some recent developments which greatly further the cause of LGBT rights both in the States and across the world.
In a historic move which sends out a strong global message, the State Department announced earlier this week the appointment of US Foreign Service officer, Randy Berry, as the first ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons. His remit is to coordinate government policy aimed at ending discrimination and violence against LGBT individuals around the world.
Berry will work alongside the Global Equality Fund – an organisation set up in December 2011 to champion LGBT rights – liaising with governments, private companies and individuals to initiate and support a variety of programmes. One major focus is to overturn laws criminalising same-sex conduct. He has quite a job on his hands given that homosexuality is still criminalised in 76 countries and punishable with death in some (stand up Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia).
While the US is undoubtedly at the vanguard of promoting equality for the LGBT community and the Obama administrative has gone further than any previous government in this area, there is still a long way to go until true equality is reached. To give one example, transgender people are banned from serving in the military although Human Rights Campaign estimates that 15,000 transgender people are currently serving while hiding their true identity. It is hoped that this ban could soon be lifted as recently-appointed Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter, has indicated that he is prepared to reconsider this issue with the support of the White House.
In another move welcomed by groups working for LGBT causes, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is taking steps to protect transgender people needing urgent accommodation by refusing to fund homeless shelters which force transgender people to share rooms with individuals of their original gender.
Of course Asia’s stance on LGBT rights is some way behind that of the US. Homesexuality is still illegal in Singapore, Burma and Malaysia and same-sex marriage has not yet been legalised in many Asian countries including Hong Kong, Japan and China. Perhaps with the appointment of the new US envoy LGBT rights change is coming in these countries.